Sunday, November 9, 2008

Oh Mai Oh Mai

It was a public holiday here in Thailand a few weeks ago so Mr A took a few extra days off work and we headed up North to beautiful beautiful Chang Mai. It's about an hour by plane but you can also take the train or the bus.

We honestly didn't do a lot. We were both really tired and just needed to get out of Bangkok and relax. There s tonnes of stuff to do in Chang Mai though. There are some beautiful temples, the night markets and trekking though the mountains. But like I said, we just relaxed.

The one and only activity we did was "Elephant owner for a day" at Patara Elephant Farm. I had always purposely stayed away from elephants treks because they are usually super touristy and the elephants are not treated humanely. But Patara Elephant Farm is different. The are focused on conservation and they have only been offering elephant treks for few years. The owner Ben is really passionate about the elephants and how important they are to Thailand.

We started the day by meeting some of the farmers in the area who help to support the Elephants. They sell their produce to the elephant farm which keeps everyone happy. Some of the farmers have been there supporting the Elephants for three generations. We got given some bananas by an adorable little girl for our elephants and then headed down to get changed into our tre chic elephant trainers uniforms.

Once we were all changed and looking sex-ay, Ben came to talk to us about the elephants and how to approach them before touching them. I learnt a whole bunch of things about elephants I didn't know.

Elephants facts that will make you go WOAH!!!

1. Elephants are registered with the department of transportation in Thailand, not Wildlife. They are still considered a valid form of transport and have a little microchip behind their ear that is just like a number plate!!

2. They eat 200kgs of food a day!

3. They have 6 sets of teeth.

4. Elephants sleep only 4 hours a night! Plus they get up every 30 minutes and switch sides because otherwise it puts too much pressure on their organs.


We also learnt that unlike a lot of places that rescue elephants (which are still good and very needed), Patara breeds healthy elephants with the ultimate goal of releasing them in the wild once Thailand's jungle is revived (it was only 20% of the country, now 30% with the target being 40%). He was so passionate and it really made me appreciate Elephants so much more.

Ben then took us to meet our Elephants. Mine was the cutest! Her name was Nui (pronounced Noo-ee) and she used to be a circus elephant until she got to big. She was very sweet and gentle and flapped her ears as I was approaching which meant she was calm and happy. I fed her bananas. FYI elephant tongues are weird.

After getting to know our elephants a little bit, we got taught how to do a health check. More facts on how to tell an elephant is healthy:

1. They have dirt mark son their sides. Elephants sleep lying down so if they haven't got dirt marks it means they have been sleeping standing up, which means they are sick!

2. Elephants sweat from around their toenails! So if they have dry feet, they are sick!

3. A healthy elephant does six or more droppings in one poop. Any less than that and, you guessed it, they are sick.

And you should also check the consistency and the smell of the poo. Which we all had to do. It kinda smells like grass. Grass and poop.

Then it was elephant bath time! First we had to beat off all the dirt with some leaves. Elephants are very hairy and dirty animals!

Washing Nui was made harder by a rascally little fellow named Pei-Mai.

He was 6 months old and unbelievably adorable! He wanted to play with everyone, wanted anything you had in your hand and kept trying to butt heads with everyone. CUTE!!!
You'll also notice that Nui has a chain around her leg. All the elephants still need to be chained up at night to stop them from eating all the farmers crops. It's a sad compromise that has to made in order to keep the peace and save them.

After that we led out elephants down to the water for a good bath. It basically involves throwing buckets of water over them and then carefully scrubbing all the dirt off so it doesn't rub their very sensitive skin when you ride them. They love it! I got a few videos. Keep an eye out for Pei-Mai!

Then it was our turn for a bath.

It should be noted that Nui is the one doing all the spraying. She was so cheeky! I loved that she had so much personality.

Once the elephants where all spick and span we learnt how to get up on their backs which was super fun!!! Noi was the demonstration elephant so I knew I'd have an easy time getting up. Sort of.

Once everyone was on board, it was off for a trek trough the beautiful country side to a water fall.

It was so very beautiful. The elephants were surprisingly nimble, making their was down muddy tracks and around trees with relative ease. When we arrived at the waterfall the elephants couldn't wait to get in the water. They dunked themselves right under with their trunks sticking out like snorkels. Nui quite promptly dunked me into the water too as soon as she was in.

At the falls there was a delicious Thai feast waiting. It was just nice to sit and relax with everyone and watch the elephants. So cute!

We then trekked back to the camp through a beautiful creek. It was so relaxing. I tell you, travelling by elephant is the way to go. You control them by both voice commends and kicking them behind the ear depending on which direction you want to go. It's pretty easy. The only hard bit is stopping them from eating everything in their paths. One of the guys, Shawn, had MaeBoonSorng Pei-Mai's mother and she was constantly stopping to eat anything and everything. You have to stop them from eating the crops and vegetation in the area to keep the farmers and residents happy. Elephants can be very destructive.

We changed how we were sitting for the last leg of our trip through the creek, with our legs facing the front. This was way more comfortable. It made me feel very regal, like a princess of Siam on her faithful steed.

When we finally got back to camp, we were judged on who was the best elephant handler. It was ME!!! As a prize, I got kisses from Nui!

If you happen to be in Chang Mai, I could not recommend Patara more highly. It's expensive, about $250 AUD but you get so much out of it! All the photos you see here were taken durning the day and you get given them as part of the package. You get around 4 hours riding the elephants and an AMAZING experience!

I was sad to say goodbye to sweet Nui but took away some great memories.

Oh and if you do stay in Chang Mai, don't stay at Elegant Lanna guest house. The service is horrible and I got covered in ant bites. Not good!