The first venture for my new project was the day trip offered by Maetang Elephant Park. I went on Friday January 21st.
Like many tourist activities in the Chiang Mai area, this one begins with they’re picking you up at your hotel or guesthouse. They arrived about 09:00 for an 08:30 pickup. Let’s face it these guys have to run all over Chiang Mai collecting folks. I couldn’t get too bent about the time, especially when we were the last stop before heading up the road to Maetang. Our guide was a young lady whose nickname happens to be “Boo”. Her English is more than passable, she was pleasant and did a good job of keeping us on schedule.
The initial briefing in the van told me I was in for a busy day. We would see an elephant show, ride elephants through the jungle, visit a Lisu village, ride an oxen cart back to the camp, enjoy a wonderful lunch, take a bamboo raft down the river, visit Tiger Kingdom, visit a Butterfly and Orchid farm and be back at the hotel by 16:30! I had my doubts, but as I recall I was dropped off at just about 16:05 and suspect the last drop was right around the promised 16:30. It was a very fast day!
Boo asked all the passengers to introduce themselves and tell what country they are were from. On this van we had a family of three from Oman, a middle aged Thai couple, two guys from Israel, two from Chile and two from the United States. Later in the morning I asked Boo where most of the tourists are coming from now. She reports that there are a lot of Koreans and Chinese this year. European, American and Australian tourists are not as plentiful as they were a year ago.
|Boo gives us the low down|
Upon arriving at the camp, the first activity was to watch elephant show. We were among the last group to arrive and it was impossible to find a seat with an unobstructed view. There must have been 250 – 300 people in the stands. Most of them were Asian; I heard a lot of Chinese being spoken. The elephant show consisted of introducing the elephants, showing off some of the handling skills. These mahouts definitely had control of their elephants. Some of the skills might have been useful in logging. Most of the skills seem to be taught because tourists are perceived to enjoy them. Tourists who want to see performing elephants can do that at Maetang Elephant Park. Gathering from some of the applause, the tourists enjoyed the show.
|At the Elephant Show|
After the show, we rode an elephant to the village. The staff loaded people, making sure that those traveling together stayed together. Emily, the other American and I were together. At one point on the trip the mahout dismounted, took my camera and made photographs of us. He just left his hook hanging on the elephants ear. “Malee”, the elephant seemed to be very well behaved and responded to voice commands. She stopped on the trail several times, always going uphill. The mahout said something about heavy. Along the trail to the Lisu village were several tree stands, each populated with a person welling bananas and sugar cane. The tourist buys and the elephant snacks. At 20 baht a stop I could have spent 140 or 160 baht.
|The Elephant ride to the village|
|They said it was real ivory|
|One of the vendors|
|One way to get to town|
Back at the camp we were greeted by Boo who collected the group and took us to a table. The buffet was good. It consisted of an assortment of Thai food, some vegetarian, some not. There was fresh fruit. The family from Oman was at our table and seemed to enjoy their lunch. I recalled that on the van they were told that Muslim food was available on the buffet. There is no shortage of opportunities to purchase souvenirs. I noticed that the painting created during the morning show was on sale.
After lunch, waiting to board the rafts we noticed elephants going up the river. Boo was telling us that the elephants only work half a day and then are free in the afternoon. The mahouts have to go with them.
|Haaded up river|
After lunch we were put on bamboo rafts and taken down river. The trip was about 20 or 30 minutes and was very scenic. Straw hats were available and everyone was given an opportunity to steer the raft. The mahout and the cart driver avoided direct solicitation of a tip. Not so with the rafting guide, he even suggested an amount. The bamboo dock where we disembarked was in need of repair. At the end of the ride, the rafts are hoisted on a truck and taken back up river for the next ride down.
|On the raft|
|Going Down the River|
We were re-united with Boo and our van. By this time the people from Chile had gone off in another van to see something different. The rest of us went to Tiger Kingdom. At Tiger Kingdom you can choose to be with small, medium or large tigers. Most people seemed to want to be with the youngest ones so I chose the medium.
I was taken into an enclosure with 2 tigers. They are 11 months old brother and sister. These majestic cats are truly amazing. I was impressed at how well behaved they are. The only warning that the guests are given is to avoid the electric fence and avoid putting you hand in front of their mouths. Seemed like good advice to me.
Questioning the keeper I was told that no drugs are used. The cats are trained by their handlers and live in an environment of mutual respect. When I asked about drug use, the handler told me in no uncertain terms that No they use no drugs, they love their tigers. I’m still amazed at how well behaved these big cats are.
From the Tiger Kingdom we went a very short way down the road to a butterfly and orchid farm. There were butterflies, but not many. It was explained that there are many more in rainy season. The orchids are beautiful. I was impressed with the growing method; the roots are free hanging.
And, as I said at the start of this I was back at my room a few minutes after 16:00.