On Hiking With Elephants

We spent our last day in Chiang Mai slapping mud on ourselves and on elephants. One elephant sat on another as we were bathing them. The one in the water didn’t seem to mind too much though.

Thursday, August 15

The night before, we pretty much landed, found our hotel, and went to bed. We were staying at Movenpick, a Swedish hotel, my mom found on Gate One’s tour website. I spent the evening planning out our itinerary for the next three days.

We woke up early to eat breakfast and then meet a friend at Doi Suthep. The cheapest way to get to the mountain was by a shared red taxi. Our bellman told us it was more expensive than it was, however, and so instead we hired a car for the day for a much larger sum.

We started at the Bhubing Palace, much of which was closed because it was a working palace. The gardens were nice though. We then went to Doi Suthep, where we met up with David, an acquaintance from elementary school who became a friend in college. Doi Suthep was very shiny and very touristy.

On our way back to town, we stopped at Huaykeaw Waterfall. Since it was around noon and super hot, we made a stop at a local mall near the Old City. There, we had lunch at the food court before making our way around the major sites of the Old City. It was one of the cheapest meals we had. By mid afternoon, we had reached the front gate, and we parted ways with David until dinner to relax in the pool.

We met up with David again during dinner. My mom was feeling sick and so she decided to stay in the hotel. We walked around the Night Market and had a few beers while shopping. David picked up a traditional outfit for the next day. We had some traditional papaya salad and pad thai at the food court for dinner before heading to bed.

Friday, August 16

We woke up at 6 am to catch our transportation at 7. After a three hour long drive, we arrived in Chiang Rai at the famous White Temple. The White Temple is a modern take on a Buddhist temple, complete with paintings of Superman and Batman. The outside symbolizes hell with sculpted hands rising from the moat. The temple itself represents heaven and the crossing.

There were more tourists at the White Temple than anywhere else we’d ever been yet. It was good preparation for our future China travels to come.

After a buffet lunch and many many pictures, we went to a local Keren Long-Neck Tribe. Traditionally they wear these neck wraps to weigh down their shoulders and make their necks look It did feel a bit awkward asking the villagers to take photos with them at their shops but the children were adorable.

Our final stop was the Golden Triangle, the region where Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar met. We first stopped at a viewpoint to see the entire region before heading to the riverbank to take a cruise to Laos.

We only had thirty minutes in Laos. While there, we were able to taste some local whisky. While there, these three older Indian men tried to take inappropriate photos of my sister. I became furious and threatened them with an umbrella. Their fear was quite satisfying.

Later that evening, David and I went out to a local bar and Zoe in Yellow to catch up before parting ways and heading to bed. Zoe in Yellow was quite fun and packed with people.

Saturday, August 17

The next morning, it was rainy. After breakfast, we packed into an open-air red taxi truck for a very bumpy ride to the elephants at Into the Wild Elephant Camp. Once we arrived, we put on these red vest-like clothes and slipped and slid down the hill to the camp. The camp was open air and full of dogs, to my mom’s horror.

I had done quite a bit of research before selecting this camp. I had read that Pai, the owner, used to be a conservationist working for the Thai government. His elephant supervisors were all Keren people who lived locally. He also gave us the introduction. I had heard that it was unethical to ride elephants. Pai told us that this wasn’t the case and questioned why we cared so much about the ethics of elephant-riding but not horseback riding. He told us that he started saving elephants after seeing the logging industry in Myanmar and that all of his elephants were rescued from farms there.

After the introduction, we accompanied the elephants on a hike where all they did was eat. They could climb the mountain much better than we could. It turns out that elephants must eat 18 hours a day. We also fed them some pumpkin, which they were very enthusiastic about. Following the hike, the elephants wandered off.

After an amazing lunch of chicken curry by our hosts, the elephants came back after a whistle. Some elephants came back early to feed on the watermelon rinds. We fed them some traditional medicine and then stripped down to give them a mud bath and then a real bath. After a bumpy ride home and a quick dinner, we headed for the airport for Hefei. My mom groused about not being able to shower but admitted she also had a lot of fun.

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