Monday, January 24, 2011

A Day Trip to Maetang Elephant Park

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
The village consists of several souvenir shops.  There may be more to it, but the general traffic pattern was past several vendors to a waiting station.  The opportunity to spend money on souvenirs was more than ample. 

They said it was real ivory
One of the vendors
The oxen cart ride back to the park was pleasant.  The driver was all to happy to dismount and take photos. 

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.

Abundant Blessings,   

A New Project

I’m starting a new project.  Much of the detail is still fuzzy but the idea is to gather as much information as possible about the various opportunities for tourists in Northern Thailand to enjoy their stay.   Given my love for elephants I’m starting with places and activities that have to do with the elephant.  However, I will not restrict myself to any particular type of activity.  After a period I hope to publish a consolidated report; maybe even sell it to a guide book or other tourist information entity. 

Here, gentle reader, is where I could use your help.   What categories would you want to see, especially if you were visiting for the first or second time?   Some of the questions I would ask include:
a.       Is it a good value?  (What does it cost and is it worth it)?
b.      Is the activity / venue reputable?
c.       Is the activity / venue helpful to the tourist
d.      In cases where animals are involved, how well are they treated?

Feedback would be greatly appreciated.    Oh, I intend to split this into three writings.  I’ll write to this blog after each venture.  Here I’ll attempt to report the facts as I see them, reserving most of the judgment for the final report.   You, of course, may judge away, in fact feedback might be useful along the way.   I’ll also post to www.asianelephantstories when the information gathered has to do with elephants.  Finally I will write a consolidated report which I’ll hopefully be able to provide to one or more commercial publishers.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Burmese Refugee's

Often I get totally wrapped up in my daily life, which is wonderful, albeit not without its frustrations especially when I’m looking at the plight of the Asian Elephant.  Every once in a while something else comes along that is well worth reporting.  Today is one of those days.

Some time ago I met a couple from Europe who did some volunteer work with Burmese refugees.  I was impressed and commented that I wanted to go with them and photograph the situation.  One thing happened and then another and I still haven’t made it happen. 

This morning a friend sent me a link to an outfit that might do a lot to remove the bile taste many of us get when hearing the word ‘circus’  It’s a group of volunteers who spend their time, money and energy entertaining Burmese refugee children in the Mae Sot area.  Check them out at The video is great!

Did you know there are more than 20,000 refugees in the Mae Sot area?  Given their reluctance to be identified for fear of being deported the number may be low.  May be?  Water may be wet and birds might fly.  That kind of may be, if you know what I mean.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Gratitude! and a Small Announcement

I really have to say something about gratitude.  I bought a t-shirt at a spiritual growth event some time ago that simply says “Gratitude Rocks”!  Things in my life are going exceptionally well.  The more time I spend in prayer and meditation the smoother my life seems to go.  Oh!  Isn’t that what my teachers have been telling me all along?  Yes gentle reader, it is.
At a Chiang Rai eatery I frequent
The Dek Dek school is just amazing.  Each week I find my self more in love with all 25 of them (the number is quite fluid but the average seems to hold).  I spend two mornings a weeks playing with them and trying to get them to speak some English.  I have to admit the playing seems to be going better than the speaking.

What a place to spend a little time!

My attempts to learn Thai are interesting and on most days almost productive.  Always, at the end of the day they are amusing.  These lessons are great for my humility and at the same time allow my brain some exercise.  It’s just fun!
The ‘big’ news is that I am starting a self directed project, collecting information about the various elephant camps, tourist opportunities and conservation efforts in Northern Thailand.

I Love Elephants
Photo's are a bit lacking at the moment.  It's about being between versions of Photoshop.  A technical challenge that will resolve soon.  All in all, I’m very grateful for my life, just as it is! 

Abundant Blessings!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

A Visit to Care for Dogs, Chiang Mai

Just the other day, things are so busy it feels like longer, I had the privilege of visiting Care for Dogs in Chiang Mai.   This is an NGO that really does good work.  You can check them out at  and on their Face Book page at

Nola Kensley was my able tour guide. 

Nola and a few of her friends.
She was careful to point out the two or three dogs who would trick bag you.  Come pet me they would say, and when you do they tend to nip, or bite if you like more vicious adjectives.  One is a little guy with an under bite that so reminded me of my late brother’s little dog.  In the photo below you may notice “Under bite” on the left.  He tends to hang out with dog bigger than him.  
Under Bite, Dog in Charge
I also had the pleasure of meeting co-founder Amadine Lecesne.   I love the dedicated ones, and she is certainly on that list!   You can learn more at

There are something to the tune of a hundred dogs at Care for Dogs on any given day.  Some of them are there just for care, including neutering and spading, and will be returned to their owners.   Many come from nearby temples; most of those will return to their temple after treatment.
When dogs arrive they are put in a quarantine until they have been examined and their status can be determined.   After that they are placed in an appropriate area.   I saw a small area where the dogs with ring worm are kept, another area where dogs were brought from a distance for treatment and are being returned a few at a time.  Most of the dogs are in what I call “general population”.  O.K. it’s a prison term, but it’s appropriate.
Lunch in "Gen Pop"
Sadly, many of the doges are there because they were abused and then abandoned.   I’m amazed that out of a hundred or so, I was warned that two or three might bite.  The rest are trusting and loving.  I wonder what human could endure what these little creatures have and still be loving and trusting.   Each and every dog has a story.  Most of the stories are unknown to me but I will share with you two brief versions of two stories.    First here is a photo of a sweet little dog that was in the quarantine area.  I really don’t know the story, but the expression just got to me.
Love Me!
Then there are two in the same cage.  I call them Shep and Peg Leg.   Both need a better name and both have horrific stories.  Both are as sweet as can be and were grateful for a few minutes of love.    Shep was reported purposefully thrown from a moving motorcycle by it’s driver.  His shoulder was  banged up  by the impact with the ground.  Someone saw the incident and called Care for Dogs.  People went and rescued him from the street.  He’ll make a great pet for someone soon.
Peg Leg, Shep and me
Photo by Nola Kensley
Peg Leg has an unbelievable story, problem is it's true! This dog was neglected until a cancer in his leg advanced to the point that bare bone now protrudes.  A secondary infection has caused massive swelling.   How much can one little dog take?   He is still friendly and just wants to be loved!   How this dog ended up at Care for Dogs is one of those mysterious stories that goes around South East Asia.  God Bless who ever was responsible for his deliverance.   The treatment will be two part.  First he’s on medicine to reduce the inflamation and after that he will have to undergo a very serious surgery.
Happy little lap dog, Peg Leg!
Peg Leg with Nola and Shep
I fully intend to visit Care for Dogs again.  This is a humane organization that is well worth my support, and yours!  Dogs deserve to be loved.  After all we claim to "own" them.  I can imagine Peg Leg's previous owner was proud to own a pure bread Shiatsu; it's a status thing you know.  

Abundant Blessings,