Mae Taeng, Thailand, Asia
We got up this morning and left our big backpacks at reception in Chiang Mai and grabbed some breakfast at the hostel. We got picked up for our trip at about 8:45am and met the other people on our tour. The rest of the group consisted of Glenn (American solo traveler), Christy and Laura (American friends), Jo (American solo traveler), and Mark and Valeska (Swiss couple).
The drive up to the park was about an hour and a half, and we were given a brief overview by our first guide, Ong. She also showed us a video about the park and what they do. We got up to the park at about 10am and immediately got to feed the elephants. They all know exactly when to come to the feeding spots, and they each have their own basket of food waiting for them. They are all given pumpkins, watermelon, bananas and whatever else they like. It is pretty cool, they are so gentle. You can hold a bunch of bananas and they will just take it with their trunk and eat the whole thing and come back for more when they are finished.
We had a walk around the grounds with Ong before having some lunch. They put out a huge buffet with all kinds of food and everything was excellent! We all got a good fill of food and were ready for the afternoon. We fed the elephants and then bathed them in the river. They supposedly love getting bathed, but some of them were being dragged down to the river by their ears, and they didn’t really look like they were enjoying it one bit. After the baths the mahouts (elephants trainers) decided the elephants should put on a show so they made them stand on a platform and give tourists kisses and whatnot. It seemed a bit strange and wrong considering these elephants have all been saved from working lives where they were either logging or begging on the streets in cities. This looked a lot like what they were doing on the streets in their previous lives. I suppose their treatment is different now, but for a nature preserve, I was just thinking they wouldn’t be asked to do anything like that.
We went into the conference room to watch another video about the park, and this one was a little more intense. It showed how the mahouts in the jungle get the elephants to fear them and how they gain control. It was pretty brutal, and the elephants clearly have a better lifestyle now than they did before. After the video we met our new tour guide for the next day and his name is Pada, or Panda. He’s a zany character who doesn’t speak English all that well, but he seems like he’ll be a fun guide.
We grabbed some dinner in the canteen area and had a few beers after dinner. There’s really nothing else to do here, so we just had a chat with some of the other guests and then came back to the room. The accommodation is a lot better than I was expecting. We are in a mud hut, just across the hall from the Swiss couple. Between the rooms is a living room with all carved wood furniture and a view out to an elephant pen. We each had our own bathrooms as well, with cold showers, but still better than what I was expecting. The beds have big mosquito nets over them, so hopefully that will keep out any riffraff tonight!