Thailand: Part 8 Last day at Thai Elephant Camp and Chiang Mai

Saturday, August 1, 2015

We woke up for the 6:30 AM feeding.

Elephant bell:
Drinking from the garden hose:
The mahouts live near the paddock with their elephants. Some of them are as young as 16, and some have children of their own. Looks like there's a new mahout on the way:
Breakfast was a white soup, fried rice, longons, and hot coffee.
Mahout toast:
This photo is proudly and prominently hung in the campsite. The boy aboard the elephant is the Crown Prince's son, the grandson of the king. The hippy told us that Thai Elephant Camp can never sell this elephant now, because they may be able to say some day that the king rode it. Elephants live for 100 years, so it's a big commitment.

 

At breakfast, we finally spent some time talking to the young girls who were staying in a dormitory just below our camp. They are serving with Global Leadership Adventures. It's like a Peace Corps program for students 14 years of age and older. The girls have been here for more than a week planting trees, visiting schools and caring for the elephants. One girl's mom lives in the Heights and attended law school at UT when I did, though I did not know her. It's a small world. Genene was intrigued by the program. Perhaps in a few years…..

We wished Johann a good day. He is off to spend it at the nursery and will go straight to Bangkok from there and then return to Belgium…until the next time.

We went down to the paddock to practice our mount and dismount skills. Our guides required us to try two other mounting methods. We already knew “map long,” which is when the elephant kneels for us to mount. The second method is song soong, in which the elephant remains standing and lifts a leg. As you get your feet on the leg, the elephant raises the leg up, up, up until you can jump to the neck. Tam long means head down, and you scramble right over the top of the head.

The “new recruits”– day-tripper elephant riders–came in. There was a British man who lives and works in London now, but when he mentioned we were from Houston, he said, “Oh, I worked there for several years and our two daughters were born there.” He said he would love to get back to Houston as the work pace was slower than London. We were amazed to find so many Houston connections this morning. We listened to the main guide, Mr. Man, give the elephant lecture word for word. The Asian elephant has a big head and small ears. The African elephant has big ears and a small head. The Asian elephant has one “finger” on the end of its trunk, while the African elephant has opposable fingers. The Asian elephant has five toes on front and four toes on the back. The African has five in the front and three in the back. Both male and female African elephants have tusks. Only the male Asian elephant has tusks, and some of the males do not have tusks. What do you call them? Thanks to my law partner Taylor Goodall, I was able to shout out the answer on the first day: Ladyboys!

Genene was so adept at getting on and off that the guides allowed her to demonstrate to the newbies. I was so proud of her. She went right to the elephant, introduced herself to everyone and gave the commands.

Map long:

Song soong:
Tam long:
Greg did a very good tam long with one small problem at the end.
My song soong:
My tam long (very flattering view):
I could not have done this a few short months ago. My back is much better, and I can get up and down, though it still isn't easy. If I could drop about 20 pounds, it would help.
Balance!
Thank Ganesha I made it!
 
Getting off is like…well, it's like falling off an elephant.
Har har har!
Put the sugar cane right here and no one will get hurt.
 
Today, we were heading into the high forest. Greg had a new mount, Ruby, and he seemed much more relaxed. The “newbies” were taking the route we took two days ago, so our little family of three, our elephants and our mahouts hit the road on our own.
 
We passed these men at work. I'm pretty sure this hole wouldn't pass an OSHA inspection.
 
 

The mahouts foraged for food for their elephants as they walked. They would use their big knives to chop the juicy stalks and throw them up on the trail, where the elephants snagged them and munched away as they walked. The mahouts also foraged for mushrooms for themselves. By lunchtime, they had collected a large bag.

Our lunch stop was very quaint:

 

I told the young mahout how beautiful Thailand was. His immediate reply: “The United States is beautiful too, yes?” I assured him that it certainly was. He said, “I would like to go there some day. I have never ridden a horse and I think I would like to.” Isn't that funny? We've come halfway around the world to ride an elephant, something we think is very exotic. He wants to come to our backyard to do something we think is pretty pedestrian.

 
We returned to the Maetang River, this time at a slightly different crossing.
Genene's elephant is loaded:
Incoming!
TJ's mahout, my constant companion for two days. I could not pronounce his name.
TJ gets a soak.
Greg thinks he looks like this without the elephant too.
Greg's dreams of being kissed by two woman at once finally come true. He was back in good spirits today and seemed to love the day. I was happy for him.
We finished our ride and said goodbye to our elephants. Greg finally “got it.” He had a great day on Ruby and was pleased that he had changed elephants. It made all the difference in the world. I don't cry very often, but I cried when I had to say my final goodbye to TJ. She was an awesome elephant. The animals are so gentle, so protective of us. They could kill us in an instant, and given the cruel treatment that some of them have endured, who could blame them? And yet they protect us. They walk carefully around us, making sure never to put a foot down wrong. We have always heard about the bond between men and horses, but the elephant is bigger, stronger, smarter. They live for 100 years, and the bond with the mahout can last for the lifetime of the mahout or the elephant.
We received certificates of mahout. I don't kid myself: the elephant didn't listen to me at all once my sugar cane and bananas ran out. The real mahouts have the love and respect of their beasts.
We got back in the van for Chiang Mai. We struck up a conversation with a young Belgian couple who had been on the day trip. They loved their ride. They were traveling across the country with nothing but a backpack. Ah, to be young again.
Genene made a pillow out of her backpack and was gone.
We got back to Ratchamancha hotel in the late afternoon. We got a different suite but it was just as spectacular as the first.
Our living room:
Overcoming the withdrawal of three days without wifi:
Like daughter, like father:
On our first evening in Chiang Mai, we had done absolutely nothing. We did not want to leave the city without at least doing some exploration. We had heard that the Night Market was fabulous. The receptionist told us it was a short walk, and she gave us a map.
The only problem is that vitually none of the streets was marked, so we had to remember each turn very carefully. I wanted to leave a trail of breadcrumbs, but the rats and dogs would have eaten them. We saw both. Amazingly, we were able to follow the paper map and find the market, but the walk was a fairly long one, about 45 minutes. By the time, we got there we were pretty ragged out.
Scooters, people, food:
Street food:
Would you buy “fresh sushi” from a street cart? Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. We kept walking.
Fruits are probably safer, but we wanted a meal:
We turned down the main street for the night market, and things got really chaotic. The crowd was wall to wall. It was hard to move, and most of the stalls were selling trinkets and junk. How many flip-flops does one person need? Perhaps we were just exhausted after a long day on the elephants, but the whole thing lost its charm very quickly.
I was the first one to admit defeat. I said, “I've had enough of this.” Greg was waiting for me to say that. He was locked and loaded. He said, “Pick your way to the 7-11! It goes through to the next street.” I was impressed that he had our escape plan ready. We climbed up the steps. I took two final shots of the craziness.
We ducked into the long narrow store. I've never been happier to see a 7-11! We walked through and out the other side and were immediately on a quieter street. I got some great shots of the moat in the old city.
The old city gate of Chiang Mai:

 

We picked our way back carefully exactly the way we had come. Genene is lots of help to us now, as we asked her to help us spot landmarks at each intersection where we had turned. We were happy to be back on a fairly quiet street. Suddenly Greg called out, “Look there. Look who I see.” Across the street were Phil, Antonio and Michael from the elephant camp! We met in the middle of the street and hugged like old friends. In a city of nearly 3 million people, what are the chances that we would meet them again? It was a little bizarre. I got Phil's email and told him we would send photos of his boys and he could send us any that he had of our family. They were headed to the Night Market. We told them to have fun! We wanted no part of it. It was so wonderful to have found them again!

We arrived back at the safe haven of our resort hotel.

We were the last ones in the dining room, but we enjoyed a quiet, family meal together. The streets of Chiang Mai beat us tonight!
Tomorrow, we head further north to another resort. We have some down time and pampering built into our schedule after the elephant camp. We are looking forward to a break in the action.

 

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