A day with with elephants lovingly tended by the Karen people


Evidently there are over 50 elephant attractions/sanctuaries/camps in northern Thailand. Sorting out which one to visit is a task in itself. Guidebooks have their favorites; hotels have their marketing agreements. A travel agent the Adventurers met just after checking into their hotel in Chiang Mai had her opinions.

The Adventurers chose to ignore all that advice thanks to reading reviews of the Karen Tribe Native Elephants on TripAdvisor. They appeal of encountering elephants with a very small group and getting to interact with them in as natural a way as possible appealed to them.

They were picked up at the hotel at 7:40 am by the leader of the tour, Sun, a well-spoken young man who has high aspirations for his people. He spoke passionately about the need for education and the benefits of higher education. He attended college, speaks four languages, and could get a job in Chiang Mai or Bangkok but chooses to live in a small village in the hopes that others will follow his lead to university.

Their traveling companions were a young French couple, Jennifer and Rudy. The journey to Sun’s village was a two-hour wild road of very windy roads handled ably by Sun (although the French couple were more taken back by the speed than the Adventurers, who just figured Sun knew every twist and turn).

A word about the Karen according to Wikipedia:  “The term ‘Karen’ is an umbrella term that refers to a heterogeneous lot of ethnic groups that do not share a common language, culture, religion or material characteristics. A pan-Karen ethnic identity is a relatively modern creation, established in the 19th century with the conversion of some Karens to Christianity and shaped by various British colonial policies and practices and the introduction of Christianity.”

Indeed, upon entering the village there was a Christian church, and Sun explained that all 300 villagers were of that faith.

Getting out of the SUV, the first order of business was simply to hang with the assembled elephants who were not tethered or tied in any way. They just hung out fairly quietly, except for the incredibly adorable three month old baby who darted among the rest of the herd, which consistently tolerated his antics.

Others who joined them was a older French couple, a Czech couple, and a thirty-something couple from the Sacramento area. She was a long-time pot farmer – medically and now legally – and prone to swinging from sudden laughter to tears. The Adventurers think “edibles” were involved!

After the meet and greet, Sun talked to us about the day ahead, and we were eached assigned an elephant depending on whether you’d signed up for a solo experience or, as we did, as a couple. Our elephant was named Megapaw (phonetic spelling as who knows what it is in Thai), a kindly 40-year-old female.

The first order of business was to put on Karen people-style clothing and  show her we were her friends by feeding her copious amounts of food followed by more food that D helped machete into shape.

After a thorough brushing to get all the dirt off from their sleeping side and head, we walked into the nearby river with Megapaw to give her a bath. There is a lot of scrubbing that goes into bathing an elephant and the patient trainers assisted by throwing water high enough to get her washed off.

The next order of business was to get on for a ride. Both D and L made it on and both opted to walk the three mile jungle trail rather than ride. The issue, so they claim, is that there was very little to hang on to, just a rope behind them. L, in particular thinks, that she might have gotten the hang of it and proceeded if there’d been time for some practice around the [non-existent] ring.

Ironically, the hike was just what the doctor had ordered,  given that they’ve been pretty sedentary (for them). It was a good trail and they were rewarded at the end with a beautiful buffet lunch prepared by the Karen women. (Note: there did appear to be specific roles for men and women but hard to make judgement on people who are living relatively primitively and are entirely self-sufficient off the land.)

The day ended with a goodbye drink of water to each of their elephants, the handy out of a DVD record of their adventure (yes, more photos to come!) and the oh-so-long drive back to the city.

Thank goodness their roof top bar has good food because they couldn’t have done much more…

Hike/moderate/3 miles

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Strolling the streets of old Chiang Mai will all its sights and smells

Today the Adventurers set out on foot to explore Chiang Mai. The hailed a tuk tuk, a motorized three-wheeled vehicle, which took them to the iron bridge where their walk began over the Mae Ping River.

It has the makings of the Seine – maybe – but there was very little river traffic, a bit surprising given that it was the high season. And L isn’t sure there is much to see along it, unlike the Seine.

The made their among the back streets just off the river and then crossed back over where the daily flower market was taking place. It was a wow and they only scratch the surface.

Next stop was the old city of Chiang Mai, which is chock o block with temples. It was once a walled city and vestiges of the old wall remain. To be honest, they managed to visit one. They are all lovely and glistening, but they both agree, somewhat to their embarrassment, if you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all.

For lunch, they went down what they would call an alley but called a soi in Thai to a hole in the wall restaurant reported to have some of the best food in in the city. It has two names, Annandmoms Cafe as well as Kanyana (or something like that). Good food and very funky, just like they like…

Walk/easy/four miles

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A short walk around what they’ve learned in the trendiest part of Chiang Mai

When L booked their hotel – the Akyra Manor – in Chiang Mai, she largely booked it as it was part of the Small Luxury Hotels group, which she’s found over the years to be a reliable indicator of what the name implies.

Upon checking in, the Adventurers learned that they were in the trendiest part of Chiang Mai, kind of like being in the Marais section of Paris, complete with its student vibe. There’s a huge variety of shops and cafes and some interesting graffiti sprinkled about.

They got cleaned up in their huge outdoor tub, the centerpiece of the room – can’t make this stuff up! – and headed to the rooftop bar to enjoy happy hour and the sunset. A lovely elephant presided over the pool…

Walk/easy/1 mile

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A walk to the market at the monastery starts Wednesday morning

While D, Michael Jr. and L had paddled by the market at the monastery across the river from Michael Jr., L didn’t know it was a daily deal until it became the suggested walk early in the morning before heading to the Bangkok airport for their flight to Chiang Mai.

Not only was the walk mainly in the shade, it’s relatively cool in the morning making the trip pleasant. The Adventurers and Michael Sr. stopped for a shadowy as L’s insistence.

The  market was bustling, particularly as it’s relatively in the middle of no where. At toe time, all shoppers came by boat but now scooters, bikes and cars predominate.

L once again wondered about who buys/needs/wants some of the stuff for sale. She gets the fish, meat, produce, rice, clothes etc. But what’s with all the trinkets…

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After a long day, evening at home to celebrate Sally’s birthday

Everyone was pretty pooped after the trip to the River Kwai and beyond on the train, but a celebration was nevertheless in order in honor of Sally turning 70. Among the geezer group, that makes three of us with baby K not hitting that milestone until the fall.

Michael Jr. went out and brought home a feast. Alas, if only L could remember the names of the dishes. One was a pig knuckle (second dish from front) that looked gross but tasted yummy. And all of it super fresh like all the food in Thailand…

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Separating fact from fiction on a visit to the bridge over the River Kwai

It wasn’t until L found out that the Thai adventure group was headed to the bridge over the River Kwai today that she discovered the movie of the same name was fictional. She may have not given it a lot of thought over the years, but her childhood memory of seeing the film is that she was seeing something that had historically happened.

Something did happen but it was more about building the railway. Here’s the true story according to Commonwealth War Graves Commission:

“The notorious Burma-Siam railway, built by Commonwealth, Dutch and American prisoners of war, was a Japanese project driven by the need for improved communications to support the large Japanese army in Burma. During its construction, approximately 13,000 prisoners of war died and were buried along the railway. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 civilians also died in the course of the project, chiefly forced labour brought from Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, or conscripted in Siam (Thailand) and Burma. Two labour forces, one based in Siam and the other in Burma, worked from opposite ends of the line towards the centre.”

The curved-shaped truss spans of the bridge are original, constructed by the Japanese military during WWII,  while the two trapezoidal-shaped bridge spans were provided by Japan as war reparations after the war ended in 1945 (to replace two curved-shaped truss spans that fell into the river after the bridge was attacked and bombed by Allied aircraft.)

All proving the more you sort something out, the more confusing it gets. But bridge as well as a ride on the Death Railway is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand.

So the Adventurers and the Lussier clan drove to Kanchanaburi where they boarded a train that largely went along the river to Namtok. There was pretty scenery along the way to view – and a sense of how the railway was built.

Once there, they enjoyed yet another good lunch before taking the drive back to Amphawa. It was a long but good day…

Top photo by kind Canadian tourists; bottom photo by Dennis Nugent (c) 2018

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Hiccup of a day ends with dinner on the Mae Klong

More kayaking and a trip to a monkey area got interrupted today by a toilet. The one in the guest bathroom began to leak at its base with water seeping out over the beautiful marble floor.

So the menfolk headed to town to get the necessary fix-it parts while L and Sally, whose cold had taken a turn for the worse, stayed behind.

As is usually true for projects of this type, it look longer than expected to fix the problem and by late afternoon, it was really too hot for even a quick kayak.

The troops rallied for a dinner along the Mae Klong river in a village of the same name which featured excellent seafood. That should have been the case as the aqua farm was right next to the restaurant.

Every trip has at least one speed bump…

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