Days 7 & 8 Overnight at the elephant camp
I had breakfast at the hotel before the truck came to pick me up for a two day adventure in the bush. My tour partners would be Max and Emily, a young couple from the UK and Attila, a student from Hungary.
Our first stop was the orchid and butterfly farm, the driver gave us 10 minutes to look around and that was plenty. There was a small tented area with a few orchids, some with unusual colors, but this wasn’t an orchid farm buy any means. I only saw 3 different kinds of butterflies in their small enclosure and none were as large or colorful as the mounted specimens they had for sale.
Next was a hilltribe village, we were again given 10 village to look around; unless their traditional way of living involved selling trinkets along the side of the road it wasn’t the true experience I was hoping for. I did get a couple nice photos though.
We drove further and then stopped at the trailhead to the mountain waterfall. The trek was not strenuous at all, steadily going uphill on a narrow trail; we occasionally had to walk across bamboo logs places over shallow ditches. The water was cool and would have felt better if it wasn’t overcast, but I had a short dip anyways.
At the waterfall
From there we went “white water” rafting in a small river. Most of the ride was through calm water, and the scenery was nice as we paddled along. There were a couple bits with some small rapids that added a thrill to the ride. At one point we were wedged between two rocks, the water lifting the back of the raft up while more water was pouring into the front, we thought we might flip over but our guide got us through shifting our weight and picking up on the side of the raft; it reminded me of that scene from the movie Tammy where they are stuck between two trees. Afterwards we took a bamboo raft a short way further down the river and across to the other side where our truck met us to go to the elephant camp.
Heading down the river
A man poles a bamboo raft along the river bank
Arriving at the camp is where the tour really started to become special; as we were driving up the dirt road some elephants were being lead by and a baby elephant stuck his trunk into the back of the open sided truck and kissed Emily on the cheek, she almost cried with joy. The camp itself was a collection of bamboo huts on stilts, some of the mahoots (elephant handlers) live there with their families and a few young children were playing outside. There were dogs, chickens, oxen and elephants here and there and other small groups of trekkers; it did not have a commercial or touristy feel to it at all. We met our mahout, Pai, who reminded me of my sister-in-law Chong only jacked up on 3 cans of Red Bull. She immediately gave me the nickname Papa, being I was by far the oldest in the camp, and keep us entertained with her banter. We dropped or ruck sacks at our assigned individual huts and then went to the one wood framed building on site for our cooking lesson. It wasn’t very instructional, more of cut this chop that but we got to learn the different ingredients and it was good fun. In Thai culture only the women cook so Emily was assigned so Emily was assigned kitchen duties while us men folk chatted with J Bear, a mahout in training, who told us all about Thailand.
Oxen roaming the camp
Enjoying our home cooked meal
The rain started in the early evening so everyone gather under a large shelter by the open fire where music was played while we chatted with the other guests and the mahoots while drinking beers and experiencing the local culture. It was a surreal experience to just sit there and observe all that was going on, it was a very international group on hand with guests from North America, Europe and Asia all getting to know each other, while trying not to slip on the now muddy grounds as we made our way to the rudimentary toilets. It wasn’t the best nights sleep I’ve had, the thin mattress on the bamboo floor didn’t do my back any favors, but at least we had private huts, the others had a large communal one with everyone on the floor together.
Music and chatting around the evening fire
When the tour guide said it would be 3 star accomodations I didn't know she meant thats how many I would be able to see through the hole in the roof!
The trekkers were fed first in the morning so they could head off on the hike, I felt sorry for them as the rain turned torrential at times and some of them didn’t have rain gear, the air was also cool being we were up in the mountain. Our deluxe breakfast was special as it wasn’t just a hardboiled egg with toast, but came with a hot dog too! After breakfast we were joined by guests that signed up just for a day trip, and then we started our mahout training. We learned some basic commands and how to get on and off the elephant;, this would be a bareback ride which was a big selling point.
First thing was to feed our elephants bananas and corn stalks, they can’t see very well but have a keen sense of smell and hearing. Feeding them gives them the chance to learn your voice as you tell them “bon bon” which means eat eat, and also to taste you and learn you scent while you place food in their mouths or let them grab it from your hands with their trunks. I suppose this makes them associate it with eating so they listen to you as you ride.[img]http://i894.photobucket.com/albums/ac144/sunsetsammy/Thailand/P1081573_zpsa00d3b97.jpg[/img]
Emily and Attila feeding the elephants
You give the elephant the command and they lift one front leg, you them put a foot on there while grabbing their ear and pull yourself up onto their backs, if you are an old fat guy it helps to have 2 or 3 mahoots push you up over the hump. We headed down a trail through the woods and into the river where we dismounted and washed the elephants, not that they needed washing after the heavy rains which thankfully had subsided briefly, but they do seem to enjoy having their backs rubbed as you bath them. We remounted and started off down the river, then up another trail and back to the camp. Elephants have a very hard backbone, between that and having my legs spread so wide to straddle their girth I was glad we weren’t riding much farther than we did.
After lunch the rain started again and day trippers left so it was just the four of us and the mahoots sitting around the shelter talking, drinking tea and munching on some sweet potatoes and corn Pai had roasted in the coals of the ever present camp fire. We also made some medicine for the elephants, that aids in their digestion, it was a twig from a special tree that makes them poop, mixed with tamarind, banana and green rice in the husk; it’s mash together and rolled into balls which are them dried in the sun. I’ve done some pretty fun things the last few years, but this was by far coolest organized tour yet. It was a good bargain too; the whole tour including everything except the beers was only $100[img]http://i894.photobucket.com/albums/ac144/sunsetsammy/Thailand/P1091585_zps42df25be.jpg[/img]
I like this elephant, he almost makes me look thin[img]http://i894.photobucket.com/albums/ac144/sunsetsammy/Thailand/P1091600_zps4a69d034.jpg[/img]
Emily mixing up some elephant ex-lax
Plans were made to meet at a bar later back in Chiang Mai, but it was still raining so after a hot shower and a bite to eat I opted to just call it a night and get a good sleep in my comfortable bed.