Sandra Scott Travels: Visit With Thailand’s Elephants

At one time, there were more than 100,000 elephants in Thailand.

Mainly, they worked in the timber business.

In 1989 the worst flooding in Thai history caused the death of thousands of people. The flood was a direct result of excessive timber harvesting.

To protect the rapidly diminishing forests, the Thai government outlawed timbering. This left thousands of domesticated working elephants and their mahouts, the elephant caretakers, with no job and thus no means of support.

Today, many elephants work in elephant camps. The tourist dollar keeps the mahouts employed and pays for the elephant’s feeding and care. An adult female elephant weighs 3 to 5 tons, is about 8 feet tall and eats about 500 pounds of food a day.

Elephant trek up the river
Elephant trek up the river

While in Chiang Mai, John and I visited the Dao Chiang Mai Elephant Training Center. We fed bananas to the elephants and were reminded to feed them a bunch at a time because they get bored if they are offered one at a time.

Then the mahouts took them for their morning bath in the river.  That was followed by a show of the elephant’s logging skills. At the end of the demonstration one elephant was surprisingly adept at painting a picture.

The next part was my favorite – a one-hour elephant trek through the rainforest, up a creek, and then back to camp through the river.  The mahout sits on the elephant’s neck with one foot behind each ear using his foot to direct the elephant. Elephants are extremely agile especially considering their size.

Elephant bath time
Elephant bath time

I always suggest that people sign up for hotel and airline customer loyalty programs even if they think they will never the points.

We seldom fly on American Airlines but the miles we had with their program came in real handy on this trip.

Before the miles expired in December 2011 we used them to book our hotel room in Chiang Mai.

Using the miles we stayed eight nights at Baan Nam Ping Riverside Resort basically for free. It turned out to be a wonderful choice.

Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second largest city which means it can be hot and busy where as Baan Nam Ping is a small quiet hotel located on a river.

The hotel has a pool plus breakfast, internet connection, and complimentary airport transport, which we really appreciated, are included.

Our room was large with a great porch were we could watch the sun set reflected on the river.

John borrowed a bike for the one-mile ride into the little town to do some shopping. The staff was friendly, helpful, and made tour arrangements that included transport from the hotel.

Each year the Chiang Mai Royal Flora Festival runs for about 10 weeks.

If we had realized it was such an amazing event that covered acres we would have gone earlier in the day so we would have had more time.

For a dollar we bought tickets for the hop-on hop-off tram which made it possible to see most of the displays.

Royal Flower show
Royal Flower show

Many countries were represented with flowers, typical architecture, and music.

It was like a world’s fair with flowers being the theme.

There were gardens devoted to orchids, tropical plants, gourds and many other types of flowers.

There was a music/events stage, a multi-media water show and, in the evening, lights galore.

Needless to say there were restaurants and souvenir shops.

We only had time to see a fraction of what was available.

Mexico resident Sandra Scott and her husband, John, enjoy traveling and sharing that experience with others. She also writes everyday for (rotating on editions … Syracuse Travel, National Destination and Culinary Travel).

1 Comment

  1. Hi Sandra, I’ve read your article and am glad you enjoyed Thailand. But I would like to bring to light a few things you probably didn’t learn when you were in Thailand regarding the elephants. With regards to all the shows, trekking, painting they do, it is a rather gruesome process of which every elephant is put through in order to make them docile enough to take orders and riders. Please see this youtube video:
    It depicts this process I’ve mentioned. Nearly every elephant in tourism (and in the past logging) has been put through this process. It occurs about at age 3 or 4 and lasts for a week or more. There are ways of training elephants through the use of positive reinforcement rather than negative means such as this, but since it is Thai tradition to do so, it is a hard tradition to change. Might I add that up to 40% of the elephants that go through this process will die during or after, and many others will have mental issues (evidenced by constant swaying back and forth or side to side/bobbing of head). In visiting trekking camps, elephant shows, circuses and whatnot, we are all unknowingly supporting this cruel act. I can’t blame you for visiting the trekking camps because you probably had no clue, and most people don’t. So I hope you consider what I’ve said. If you plan to return to Thailand (and I recommend you do as it is an amazing country) please try to visit the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, or Boon Lott’s Sanctuary, or even the Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand where they have an elephant habitat. All of these sanctuaries rescue and rehabilitate abused elephants and allow for hands on experience with the elephants without further abuse. Thank you :) If you have any questions, feel free to email me :)

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