Apr 15, 2012

Visiting Chiang Mai, Thailand

At one time there were over 100,000 elephants in Thailand. Mainly they worked in the timber business. In 1989 the worst flooding in Thai history caused the death of thousands of people. The flood was a direct result of excessive timber harvesting. To protect the rapidly diminishing forests, the Thai government outlawed timbering. This left thousands of domesticated working elephants and their mahouts, the elephant caretakers, with no job and thus no means of support. Today many elephants work in elephant camps. The tourist dollar keeps the mahouts employed and pays for the elephant’s feeding and care. An adult female elephant weighs 3 to 5 tons, is about 8 feet tall and eats about 500 pounds of food a day.

While in Chiang Mai John and I visited the Dao Chiang Mai Elephant Training Center. We fed bananas to the elephants and were reminded to feed them a bunch at a time because they get bored if they are offered one at a time. Then the mahouts took them for their morning bath in the river. That was followed by a show of the elephant’s logging skills. At the end of the demonstration one elephant was surprisingly adept at painting a picture. The next part was my favorite – a one-hour elephant trek through the rainforest, up a creek, and then back to camp through the river. The mahout sits on the elephant’s neck with one foot behind each ear using his foot to direct the elephant. Elephants are extremely agile especially considering their size.

I always suggest that people sign up for hotel and airline customer loyalty programs even if they think they will never the points. We seldom fly on American Airlines but the miles we had with their program came in real handy on this trip. Before the miles expired in December 2011 we used them to book our hotel room in Chiang Mai. Using the miles we stayed eight nights at Baan Nam Ping Riverside Resort basically for free. It turned out to be a wonderful choice. Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second largest city which means it can be hot and busy where as Baan Nam Ping is a small quiet hotel located on a river. The hotel has a pool plus breakfast, internet connection, and complimentary airport transport, which we really appreciated, are included. Our room was large with a great porch were we could watch the sun set reflected on the river. John borrowed a bike for the one-mile ride into the little town to do some shopping. The staff was friendly, helpful, and made tour arrangements that included transport from the hotel.

Each year the Chiang Mai Royal Flora Festival runs for about 10 weeks. If we had realized it was such an amazing event that covered acres we would have gone earlier in the day so we would have had more time. For a dollar we bought tickets for the hop-on hop-off tram which made it possible to see most of the displays. Many countries were represented with flowers, typical architecture, and music. It was like a world’s fair with flowers being the theme. There were gardens devoted to orchids, tropical plants, gourds and many other types of flowers. There was a music/events stage, a multi-media water show and, in the evening, lights galore. Needless to say there were restaurants and souvenir shops. We only had time to see a fraction of what was available.