Walking with Elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Asian Elephants are some of the most amazing, graceful and gigantic creatures on Planet Earth.

On a misty morning and up in the high mountains of northern Thailand, I found a herd of formerly-abused Asian Elephants at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. The ensuing shenanigans made for possibly the most fun day of my two week-long northern Thailand/Laos trip.

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Elephants
After a hard trip up the mountain… the view

The ride up to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary was miserable. About 2 hours in the cold and rain in the back of a truck bed with benches on both sides. A small tarp didn’t break the wind or rain nearly as much as it should have and the 8 of us crammed in there was just tough. We ended up laughing about the whole thing which brings you closer as a group but you know, I’m cool with distance if I’m not freezing. Anywho… the ride up the mountain about 60 km north of Chiang Mai was pretty steep but the views are impressive.

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Mud + constant drizzle = plastic rain coat fashion accessories
Elephants
Nom nom

Those who know me are aware of the obligation I feel towards responsible tourism, especially when it comes to impoverished or indigenous tribes and native wildlife. Too often in undeveloped parts of the world you can find tiger “temples” and basically “photobooths” with locals – both of which are usually accessible for only a few dollars and terribly abusive for the animals and people involved. So with that being said, during my brilliant but short stay in northern Thailand’s largest city of Chiang Mai, I decided to check out the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary where both of my concerns were alleviated instantly.

Elephants

Elephants

The sanctuary was started as an experiment in eco-tourism through ethical and sustainable business practices in 2014. The joint-initiative combines international travelers with the Karen Hill-Tribes which dot this part of Asia. As I’m currently living in Myanmar I’ve become very familiar with the Karen as they live in the jungles between Shan State, Myanmar, and the northern provinces of Thailand, it’s great to see this effort in action. The no-riding experience began with a quick overview of what’s up in the valley and the plan for the day. We had about 20 participants in our group and as it was roughly 7:45am and most of us had been enjoying ourselves the night before, not many were paying close attention. I just wanted a coffee.

Elephants

Elephants

We meandered down in to the valley were the elephants were hanging out and munching on some bamboo. The thing about these elephants is that you can tell they’d been abused, could easily see the scars and holes in their ears, yet they didn’t seem to care. The quality of their lives is readily apparent as their days consist of eating bamboo, getting fed treats by travelers, playing the mud, hanging out on the hillsides and washing off in a pristine natural stream.

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It was her idea…
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The world’s largest land animal and an elephant
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Wearing a traditional Karen shirt over my wind jacket

The elephants are very friendly (you are feeding them, after all) and aren’t shy in the slightest – which is both good and bad. You have to constantly keep your head on a swivel as they move about without much regard to who’s around them. The last thing you’d want is to have your foot be stepped on by on of these gigantic creatures. I grew up around Belgium draft horses and there is really no comparison as to how incredibly tall and wide – these animals are easily as wide as a U-Haul truck.

Elephants

Elephants

Elephants

Elephants

After a short time of feeding the elephants, off they went to the mountainside for a bit of graze. The steep muddy slopes make for tricky terrain but their flat feet somehow hold. We were slipping and sliding all over the place. Next was off to the stream at the end of the valley to play in the water with the elephants. Elephants really do engage in an incredible amount of social activity with each other and watching them play about from only feet away was such a uniquely-awesome experience.

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Paradise in the dense Thai jungle

Elephants

Elephants

Elephants
Baby always climbing on mama

Elephants

Elephants

Elephants

We spent about 6 hours with the elephants in total and it was worth every minute. The whole tour plus travel costs runs about 1,500 baht (give or take $40 USD) but for the experience, interaction with the animals and for the cause, it really is worth the expense. I’d do it again in a heartbeat and have recommended the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary to many friends and fellow travelers. I mean, the weather was atrocious and it was my favorite day in Thailand.

Elephants
Elephant paradise

For all my blog entries in Thailand, check out the blog: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Chiang Mai, Thailand: Click Here

Charming Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai is one of the gems of Northern Thailand’s dense jungle region

The jungles of Northern Thailand are still a mysterious and wild place to visit, however a traveler can hang his hat in Chiang Mai while enjoying modern first-world comfort

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For all the high-resolution photos from Chiang Mai, Thailand: Click Here

Chiang Mai
Arrive at airport, hop on tuk tuk, food. And more food.

Chiang Mai! I was really excited to get a chance to really explore Thailand and after so many trips to the islands it was definitely time to get back to some adventure and the jungle way up north was calling me. The flight over really gets you pumped for what’s to come, I mean check out this view from my plane window:

Chiang Mai
Next-level shades of green

So to be completely fair, I had no idea what to expect of Chiang Mai other than the obvious ‘being in the middle of nowhere.’ It’s about 700 km north of Thailand’s capital of Bangkok and it turns out Chiang Mai is actually the largest city in Northern Thailand and, up until recently, had some serious issues with air pollution. I experienced no pollution while there but after being in the islands for so long the sticky humidity was a bit tough. It was also the capital of the Lan Na Kingdom (1296-1768) and was then known as the Kingdom of Chiang Mai (1774-1899) which are important factoids considering the first thing you see upon entering the city are the expertly well-kept old city walls.

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

I was in Chiang Mai to visit a mate of mine that was traveling all throughout Asia after journeying through the Middle East. He told me to expect some craziness and late nights so I left my photography gear at home and was traveling with only my Samsung Galaxy A8 on me. This turned out to be a good call as my sunglasses and watch all were wrecked on this trip (mostly from visiting the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary just outside of town… but that will be in the next post). So after arriving in the Chiang Mai it was time to hit the hostel and drop my bags, then grab some Thai street food and check out the night market. Chiang Mai’s night market is world renowned and is a big part of why TripAdvisor named the city one of its “25 Best Destinations in the World.”

Chiang Mai
Trademark Thai cutoff t’s
Chiang Mai
Pancakes with nutella and banana? Yes please!

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai
Everything from art to t-shirts to watches to electronics are on offer at the night market
Chiang Mai
Obviously a ladyboy show in the middle of the plaza
Chiang Mai
Live music at most bars
Chiang Mai
Muay Thai boxing gyms are located throughout the city for the short- and long-term travelers
Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai’s most famous bar/club is Zoe in Yellow – recommended

 

The diverse night market is a great way to meet people and see the city. The vendors here were incredibly friendly and not nearly as pushy as the ones you find throughout Southeast Asia, Bangkok especially. Ladyboys dancing and inviting onlookers to their show later in the evening and bars scattered throughout the market with live music adds to the ambiance all while tourists and travelers from the world over mingle about and peruse all the goods on show. It’s quite a cool experience even for those looking to party and get some drinks in. We ended up at Zoe in Yellow, Chiang Mai’s most famous bar which morphs into a club around 10:30-11:00 pm. Bars close notoriously early in Chiang Mai so you’ll have to get the evening started straight away. You can try to find clubs open late on the popular Nimmanhaemin Road. We met some cool people at the clubs whom we met up later in the trip, however it was time to crash as we had a full day of siteseeing the next morning. Ready for pictures of Wats (Pagodas, Stupas, Temples)? Well here we go:

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai
Thai temple architecture is unique from neighboring Myanmar and Laos

 

Chiang Mai
Some temples are much more ‘touristy’ than others

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

As a pseudo-professional photography (I’ve been paid but this isn’t a full-time gig at all for me, still a hobby), the picture above taken with a sub-par phone camera makes me proud. The photo below, however, is riddled with lighting issues. The debate I have with myself is this: post and tell the story as fully as possible or omit the photo and just photograph the exterior of the building. I’ll let ya’ll decide.

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

I’ll be back with another post from the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, one of the gems of Chiang Mai and a brilliant experience. Responsible tourism is an important issue to me and to support a local initiative that takes formerly-captive work elephants and let’s them live a full life in a rich and diverse environment was an unreal experience. The zoo was never an option and time ran out on us to do the Flight of the Gibbon zipline adventure, but I’ve heard good things. See ya’ll soon and here are some parting shots from the charming Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai
Police ceremony at the central square
Chiang Mai
Proper Israeli graze, malawach with tomato sauce at Sababa
Chiang Mai
Turkish coffee, hummus with falafel and homemade pita

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

For all my blog entries in Thailand, check out the blog: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Chiang Mai, Thailand: Click Here