Tag Archives: Chaing Mai

An Elephant Caretaker (Mahout) For The Day

6 May

Probably the most amazing experience we had while living in Thailand was visiting Baan Chang Elephant Park.  They rescue elephants and protect them from poachers who are willing to kill them  for money.  They also take in elephants who worked in the logging industry and are no longer able to.  We were able to get up close and personal with the elephants, feed them, ride them and bath them.   It was such a great experience that we want to share  it with you.

There are a few elephant rescue organizations in Chiang Mai and we decided on this one based on cost and good reviews from Trip Advisor.  This sanctuary  is serious about protecting and preserving the Asian elephants from poachers.  Each elephant has its own handler, called a “mahout”.  The mahouts live on the property to care for the elephants 24 hrs a day.  When we arrived, it was explained to us that the elephants are chained to an area for several reasons:

  1. To not walk off in the jungle and be killed
  2. To not wander into the village and cause any harm
  3. To not fight and kill one another
Our guide getting bananas ready

Our guide getting bananas ready

They do exercise the elephants 3 times a day, but until they can gain more funding to buy more land, this is the best protection for them.  They provided us a change of clothes as caring for elephants is dirty business.

Ron feeding bananas to an elephant

Ron feeding bananas to an elephant

We were first given a large basket of banana bunches and pieces of sugar cane to give to the elephants as their snack.  We were told to hold out the banana bunch to them and place it on their trunk and they will grab them and put them in their mouth.  So, we grabbed as many bananas as we could and set off to feed the elephants that were in the far back.  As we were passing the other elephants, they would stick their trunks out to us hoping to have some of our bananas, so we fed them on the way to the back and realized we didn’t have much left after passing all the “beggar” elephants and had to go back and replenish.  The elephants really enjoyed the bananas.  One of them didn’t want the bananas in his trunk, so he let it drop to the ground.  His mahout said he likes to be fed in his mouth, so Ron picked up the bananas and put them directing into his mouth!

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Dee feeding sugar cane to the elephant

After snack time, we practiced how to sit on an elephant bareback (touristy places have bamboo seats that we were told actually harm the elephants), the commands  to make him turn, move forward and stop. The command to make your elephant lay down is “nah long”.  You have to repeat it and do it loudly and your elephant will kneel down so you can climb on.  It was a bit scary at first sitting 2 stories high on such a large animal, but you get use to it quickly.   One of the elephants we were practicing with walked up to the tree in front of us and started scratching herself like a dog would scratch on a post.  She even wiggled her behind.  She was very funny to watch.

After lunch we were ready for our trek into the jungle on our elephants!  Ron and I shared an elephant and once we got on, off we went.

Riding bareback

Riding bareback

The mahout led us as we walked the path into the jungle following the other people in our group on their elephants.  We stopped after a half hour to give the elephants (and us) a break.  When we finished the trek,  we walked the elephants to a pond where we were each given a bucket and brushes to brush down our elephants.  They really seemed to enjoy this since it was quite hot out and they know their routine that dinner comes next.

Our mahout ordered our elephant to lay down in the water and we got along side her and brushed her in the water.  I decided to climb on top of her and brush her from up there and after 10 minutes or so, without warning, she stood up with me on her!  I was like, “whoa, where ya going?!” But our mahout ordered her to lay back down which she did.  Afterwards the facility provides a simple shower for you to get cleaned up and back into your dry clothes.  As all animals, these are amazing creatures and we are grateful at the opportunity we had to meet them up close.  Here are some more pictures from our day:

Riding along

Riding along

Bath time

Bath time

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Chiang Mai: 5 days just wasn’t enough

6 May

Since we’ve been living in Phuket, we thought “shouldn’t we see more of Thailand while we are here”?  Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand, situated in the northern part of the country.  Air Asia, the low-cost carrier here,  makes it pretty easy to get there.

Our room at Le Meridien

Our room at Le Meridien

From what we read, Chiang Mai has a more laid back atmosphere than Phuket.  They have lots of cafes, artsy areas, restaurants that serve organic and gluten-free meals and a much bigger variety of restaurants than we saw in Phuket.  We decided to spend 5 days there and then go to Bangkok for 3 days.

We used points (we ALWAYS use points) and stayed right in the center of town at a Le Meridien.  It was a very nice hotel, centrally located, with one of the most comfortable beds we’ve ever stayed in.

Night market

Night market

There is a street “night market” every night right outside your door from the hotel.  Vendors start setting up around 4:00pm and stay open until midnight.  They sell everything from knock-off tee shirts to fake Tiffany jewelry.

We booked a tour for our second day here to learn how to cook Thai food at an organic farm outside the city.  We were picked up at our hotel and taken to a local farmers market to learn about the different rice they have, the fruits and meats that are for sale and given time to walk the market.  We watched a vendor use a machine to ground fresh-cut coconuts to make coconut milk.  After that it was on to the farm to learn about what they grow.

Emdee cutting lemongrass

Emdee cutting lemongrass

Our guide’s name was Emdee.  She was a blast!  We have never met anyone with such energy before. In the classroom, we were each given a list  of dishes and told to choose 4 main dishes and 1 dessert that we would like to make.  We each had our own cooking station and we began by learning the difference between regular rice and sticky rice.  After getting that started steaming, we learned how to make Tom Ka Gai soup, which is coconut milk with chicken and lemongrass.  It is WONDERFUL and so easy to make!  We were all hungry now, so we ate our soup and then we learned how to make curry paste.  Ron made green curry and I made yellow.  If you make your own paste, you can control how spicy it is.  This works for me since I can’t tolerate spicy and Ron loves the heat.  Once the paste was done, we continued to make our curry  and then ate  that with the rice we had cooked in the steamer.

Potential chefs

Potential chefs

We also made chicken with cashews, chicken with basil, pad thai, and steamed egg rolls.  After that Ron and I decided to make 2 different things for dessert so we could each taste the others.  He made mango with sticky rice and I made banana in coconut milk.  Both were very good but I’d say we both preferred the mango with sticky rice.  Lucky for us, we were given a recipe book so we can prepare authentic Thai food at home.  We had a great time and are now qualified to cook Thai food for our friends 🙂

We spent the next day as elephant caretakers at Baan Chang Elephant Farm, about 45 minutes outside the city of   Chiang Mai.   They rescue Asian elephants who have been mistreated or are in danger from poachers.  It was such an awesome experience, that we have to write about it in a separate blog.DSCN2304

Our Tuk-Tuk driver napping

Our Tuk-Tuk driver napping

After all of our hard work, we decided to just lay by the pool and chill out the next day.  Later in the afternoon we decided to  take a Tuk-Tuk (a type of open air taxi)tour of the center part of the city.  We realized there is a canal going right through the middle of the city and an ancient wall that surrounds it.  Most of the wall is worn away, but you can still see parts of it along the canal.

We found a good review of a Mexican restaurant and tried it one night.  The food was great, especially since Phuket doesn’t really have any Mexican restaurants.

Restaurants in Chiang Mai

Restaurants in Chiang Mai

It was a really nice night out so with the help of Google maps, we decided to walk back to our hotel.  We strolled along the canal and made our way to the river.  Here, we stumbled upon a few restaurants with outdoor seating, live bands and good-looking menus.  We returned to one of them on our last night, called Good View,  and loved the relaxed atmosphere of sitting on the riverfront, outside, listening to American music.

Good View restaurant

Good View restaurant

On our last day in Chiang Mai, we rented a scooter to tour around on our own and after getting to the other side of town, we decided it was way too hot (101 degrees!) to be riding the scooter and changed plans and decided to have a long massage instead.  We found a place that had good reviews not far from our hotel and enjoyed a 90 minute massage for $15US.  Much better idea.

Our only complaint about our hotel was the $20US cost pp for breakfast.  Lucky for us, we passed what looked like an American diner called Butter Is Better Bakery.  We looked at their menu and got so excited to read things like: blueberry pancakes, gluten-free banana pancakes, homemade bagel with cream cheese, biscuits and gravy, etc.  WE FOUND HOME COOKING!!

Butter is Better Bakery

Butter is Better Bakery

We went every single morning and ordered corn beef sandwiches on rye bread for the plane ride to Bangkok!  After being outside the US for almost 3 months, you start to crave some comfort foods.  We found them here. We also found a restaurant on the river for dinner called The Duke.  It was a 3 story American restaurant that had a big variety of dinners and each one was great.

We were walking past a McDonalds and passed this statue of Ronald.  We thought it was interesting because that is the traditional greeting Thai people will give you when saying hello which is pronounced Sa wah dee kaaaa if you are a woman and Sa wah dee cop if you are a man.

Ronald saying Sawadee

Ronald saying Sawadee

We also know how to say thank you in Thai, which is Korb Koon Kaa if you are a woman and Korb Koon Cop if you are a man.  I could get technical here because for a man, the cop is pronounced crop in Bangkok but not in Phuket.

Overall, we liked Chiang Mai and would have preferred to live there and just visit Phuket because we found the cost of things to be a little cheaper, they had more American visitors than Phuket and we didn’t see a large influx of Russian tourists.  We also liked the variety of restaurants including organic ones,  and just the overall “vibe” of the place was very welcoming.

Karakters West

Karakters of Thailand

We did come across a bus that served as a restaurant on one of our walks!

Up next:  Bangkok