Chiang Mai part two: The elephants are smarter than you

For the audio-story, please click here

Ommm…melodious, tranquil and oh so inviting humming sounds move through the overwhelmingly beautiful temple entry and onto the street. They envelop you in a peaceful cloud, harmonizing every atom of your body and synchronizing your breath with your movement, your movement with your heartbeat, your heartbeat with your usually wandering and free-floating thoughts. 


Chiang Mai: Regal capital of ever-present peace


This is the spirit of Chiang Mai, a place where over 300 Buddhist temples and a myriad of monks dictate the rhythm of the Northern Thai capital city, and where peace is much more than an abstract and removed concept – it becomes palpable as not just a theoretical idea, but as a tried-and-tested way of life. 


Of course, there are the noises of countless motorbikes on the main roads of this city which has become a beloved expat haven and a thriving community for digital nomads. And there are the many visitors from all over the world who have come to explore Chiang Mai´s countless highlights. But notwithstanding, the lifeblood that pulses through Chiang Mai´s aesthetically pleasing veins is a deep and abiding peace, a peace that unceasingly cuts through the noise of daily life and to the heart of what the human mind is capable of – being completely at one with itself.



Maybe peace is the secret ingredient after all that connected all the dots and experiences of the 3-week- Chiang Mai stay I was blessed to experience a while ago.


Because there is peace even amidst the eclectic enthusiasm of a Muay Thay Boxing game, there is undeniable harmony in taking in the many vegetarian culinary delights the city has to offer. There is also peace´s cousin´s joy in experiencing the city´s vibrant and surprising night markets, and alas, there was even some peace to be discovered at the end of a 2 day Thai-massage-workshop led by a rather dominant She-Boss-Lady. And, of course, there was peace in communing with Leila, which is where we left off last time…


Walking with elephants: A dazzling day with Leila


Do you know/ remember that feeling when you´ve had a crush on someone for a while and then you finally get to go on a date with them? It´s exhilarating, intimidating, breathtaking, and inducing anxiety and euphoria in equal parts, I find. Palms are sweating, it gets a little harder to breathe, nervous butterflies have a tumultuous dance-party in your stomach… well, that pretty much captures all the feels I was feeling when meeting Leila! Plus a little concern she might, you know, stomp on me. Which she obviously didn´t – or is this a ghost, writing you this? Who knows 😛



Anyways, our mahout-trainers were about to teach us some command-communications which we were very keen to try out. Up until that day, I had not heard anything about mahouts – these elephant keepers have quite an important place in Thailand´s story! They are called “kwan chang” in Thai, which translates to the poetic phrase “one who walks with an elephant”.


I also found out that elephants are Thailand´s national symbol and are deeply entwined with the country´s history, culture and self-image. Leila´s ancestors have loyally served proud kings as well as humble commoners throughout Thailand´s history, be it in warfare, as a pretty up there means of transportation or for agricultural purposes. Elephants got therefore elevated to the rank of shining stars of Thailand´s magnificence. Good on them! They embody prosperity and power and, due to their stardom, also feature heavily in Buddhist art, architecture, and sculpture.


At the beginning of the twentieth century, there were a whopping 100.000 elephants in the former kingdom of Siam. Nowadays, Leila just has around 5000 mates left. Many of them are domesticated, around 1500, though, are free-roaming in the wild. (How cool is that! Imagine just randomly walking through the Thai jungle and casually jumping on a tree because you are suddenly catching two elephants making out!)



With Leila through the jungle: Down to the nitty gritty


After our group of about ten happy campers greeted Leila and her gorgeous elephant-mates, and after watching the mahouts demonstrate how to go about mounting a gigantic animal, it was time to test our courage and learn to steer the elephants through a piece of jungle ourselves.


So, how do you jump aboard an almost two meters twenty tall elephant, you might ask while scratching your head or devouring a handful of chips in front of your slightly too bright screen? It´s nothing like jumping aboard a train or a bike, my friends, I can tell you that much! There were basically two ways to mount Leila (ahem, you know what I mean!):

Option A – Get a running jump over her head onto her back (for real). Option B – Slightly more elegant version: ask Leila to kindly lift her leg in Elephant-speak, get on there and from there, continue onto her back. 


Option A was only a feasible possibility for one of the XXL-tall German guys amongst our group. He actually fit in well into the general environment because he looked a bit like a tree himself – tall, nice to look at, and skinny. Watching him jump over Leila´s twin sister Lulu´s head and onto her broad shoulders woke associations of a new Olympic discipline in me. That pretty unusual image is still vividly etched into my memory!

I refrained from over-ambitious Option A – as it already felt like a massive achievement for me to gently step onto Leila´s massive leg (sorry Leila, honesty is just the best policy) and somehow manage to get myself up onto her bare back from there…



We had learned a few commands for straight, left, right, turn, stop, as well as a command called “Bon Soong”, which is Elephant-speak for something like “lift your trunk and open your mouth and I’ll feed you a delicious banana“. We gathered our bravery and employed those commands diligently, keenly attempting to steer Leila through the thicket. Leila being the exceptionally smart elephant-lady she was – she owns the largest brain of any land animal after all, and has three times as many neurons as a human (Take that, Mensa-members-who-are-people-with-very-high-IQs-including Sharon-Stone-who-has-an IQ of-154) obviously had her own viewpoint on things.


Which included following her impulse to scratch her enormous behind on a tree and almost squashing my leg in the process. Oopsie! Next up, our mahouts guided the elephants, with us holding on for dear life, to the river. Again, Leila had a mind of her own and veered off the planned path and straight into the river when she wasn´t supposed to yet. Ah well, you gotta love a little, ahem massive, rebel!

In the end, we all ended up in the middle of the river anyways- splashing each other with muddy water, and bathing Leila, who, let´s be honest, would be totally capable of doing that herself! Kudos to her for allowing us some playtime with her and the other members of this absolutely incredible species.

Tips for finding ethical elephant encounters


Elephant rides can often be a tricky one – do avoid all elephant rides where saddles are involved, as they can injure the elephant´s backs – their spine is not their strong suit (hey, I recommend Yoga for that). For a more compassionate way of elephant riding, stick to where the mahout usually goes – behind its ears, and for a limited amount of time of about 30 minutes max.

Stay clear of any ivory products or elephant paintings and choose elephant- interactions, not entertainment – like time spent bathing and feeding an elephant. Or, and this might be the best option, volunteer at an elephant camp to make friends with the immensely intelligent gentle giants.



Read more on ethical elephant encounters here or here.

In our next Chiang Mai article, published in a week or two, we will finally get to hang out at an exciting night market, get handsy at a Thai massage workshop, and take in some more of Chiang Mai´s best things to experience. The passion for Leila and her elephant mates swept me away this time, friends, what can I say!

Back to you, dear reader: What is your country´s national animal? Also – as Leila is kind of a celebrity now, and this is a fun question: Who are your celebrity crushes? You tell me yours, I´ll tell you mine 😛 As always, would love to hear from you!


Categories: Posts in English, Reiselust- Hungry for travel, Reisen | Tags: , , , , | 50 Comments

Post navigation

50 thoughts on “Chiang Mai part two: The elephants are smarter than you

  1. Thank you for the virtual birthday trip on an elephant’s back! Your smiles tell all – they are amazing animals. I’ve only seen them at zoos and from a distance. I bet it was so cool to be as close as you were to Leila. The baby one is adorable!! To answer your questions – What is your country´s national animal? Hmm…I had to look it up – it’s the American Bison, not quite as big as an elephant, but still very strong and can be quite temperamental. Our state animal is the Badger – much smaller, but can be mean too! Also – as Leila is kind of a celebrity now, and this is a fun question: Who are your celebrity crushes? I don’t really have celebrity crushes, I am reading a book by a local author, though, I think that’s pretty amazing to break into the writer’s world. You tell me yours, I´ll tell you mine 😛 As always, I would love to hear from you! Thank you for the adventures – I look forward to the next one!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lovely Shelley, so very welcome:) Over the luna (moon in Spanish) to provide a little birthday treat for you! Yes, it was an experience of a lifetime to be so close to these gentle giants. And yes – the baby elephant was too cute!!! I wanted to take it with me 😛 Thanks so much for sharing your country´s national animal and your state animal with us! I haven´t learned much about the American Bison or the Badger yet and it´s interesting to learn about it from you. The Spanish national animal is the Bull, btw! The book you´re reading sounds exciting – connecting to people through their (written) words is always special and insightful… One of my celebrity cruhes is Chris Hemsworth, another one Paul Newman 😀 See you soon and enjoy your birthday lovely xxx

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re welcome Maria, I so enjoy adventures with you taking the lead! I’ll be back again soon to see what you’ve been up to! I’m taking it slow this time of year :-)!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Good on you! Its a great time of year for reflection and taking it slow 🙂 See you again soon, enjoy your down time lovely! xx

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I love your writing style Maria Elena! You helped me experience your adventures in 3D. Clearly, you had a blast with Leila and I love how you described the peace in Chiang Mai. I would love to experience the pervading peace and elephants too. Hugs and stuff… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw Brad, thank you so much!!! That’s such awesome feedback 😊😊 I wanted to be a writer since I was 5 so this means so much! Love creating adventures in 3D for you guys!! I would love for you to experience the bountiful energy of peace in Chiang Mai, and the elephant-encounters, as well. I keep thinking about the thing you mentioned, the obstacles to making (travel) dreams a reality… I have done some crazy things in my life to be able to travel so much…. basically, really put it on the very top of my priority list for a long time, sometimes accompanied by big sacrifices – but I wanted to make that dream a reality with a passion… I will address this further in the future, as those are very important aspects you brought up, and I would love to assist you and others in making your travel dreams a reality:) Until then, I´ll happily create more 3 D adventures for you 🙂 Big hugs and happy Thanksgiving to you

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear dost!! Your post is most inspirational and sees like movie.leila became your friend because your kind nature.perhaps the elephants are not harmful for other creatures and human too.you are enjoying there in best way.you are right that Elephants are smarter than human.beautiful thoughts.our national animal is Tiger for your information.oh yaar,i think -it is enough.gather all sweet memories.here is time of midnight.so i am going to sleep.Shubratri.buenas noches.my dear dost!!before sleeping,speak with soul-om shanti om/Ommmm.after speaking with being silent-you feel more peace and take the sleep with peace.Muchas love and Big hugs.amiga💕💕💕💕💕💕

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mere yaar, I feel touched by your loyalty and always so wonderful, thoughtful, and caring comments querida amiga! Its truly a blessing to have you here and as a friend in general 💕 Thank you, dhanyavad mere dost! Also for sharing your national animal with us, and for sharing your fantastic tip for increasing peace before sleep!! I love the Om Shanti mantra!! Know it well from Yoga-teacher-training. Its beautiful and it works!! Love how you say “Before sleeping, speak with soul” 💕 You, my friend, are very soulful indeed! And come from such a soulful culture 💕 Mucho amor and big hugs, y namaste querida 🙂 💕

      Like

      • Mere yaar!! You are too unique blogger because i have not gotten as such soulful blogger like you.i enjoy with my heart when i talk with you.i have decided that i would make a portrait of you.that will be a gift by me to you.I never thought that outside of India or Bhudhdhist Coutries,here will be a girl from Europe who will like the spiritual thoughts.you are too very soulful friend for mine indeed.
        Hey my dear dost!!please tell me-when you see my posts,there ,the column of comment in my posts is presented or not.i am asking so because i am unable to receive any comments on my posts.it is my problem from one week.if you can solve this problem then do.
        Om Shanti Shanti Om🕉.mucho amore(pyaar-प्यार)and big hugs(gale milna-गले मिलना)Namaste querida.Shabba Khair.Buenas Noches😊💕💕💕

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh!!! Mere dost, that is such an honor and such an incredibly sweet and amazing gesture of you. Honestly, I feel sooo honored and a bit shy – your paintings are SO fantastic and I cannot believe you would do that for me 💕💕💕 Feeling SO touched querida amiga!!!!! Awww… speechless!!! Shows that you have SUCH incredible and warm heart. Its an absolute honor being your friend mere yaar, mean that from the bottom of mi corazon (my heart). Gracias gracias gracias!! 💕💕💕 Regarding your posts, I left one comment on your beautiful Chinnar-poem, but I think that maybe disappeared? With your philosopher post, comments seem closed. I don´t think I can fix that for you unfortunately, but I will leave some more comments now on your blog to see if they get through to you!! Lets go from there 💕💕💕 Om Shanti Shanti Shanri Om querida 🙂 Pyaar and gale milna y buenas noches you stunning being 💕💕💕 Besos

        Like

      • You are so much kind,amiga. I am trying to accept the reply on my post.💕Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om.💕muchas love and big hugs.😊buenas noches

        Liked by 1 person

      • Amiga, left 3 comments on you blog and think they all disappeared – think its a good idea to contact support from WordPress. Muchos besos xoxoxo

        Like

      • Okay.dhaywaad ,amiga.muchos besos.xoxo.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. What an absolutely fabulous tour you’ve taken me on Maria. I feel as though I’ve been transported through your words into your world. Such magnificent animals and your time with Leila was obviously a magical and very special experience. Thank you for sharing this with us. Your passion for travel shines through in every word you write my friend.
    Our emblem? Well, I’m sure it’s no surprise to you to hear that it’s our renowned kangaroo which I’ve had many encounters with and very recently too. It’s so dry here at the moment and many we saw in the wild on our travels welcomed the water we were able to give them.
    Thank you again for such an engaging post Maria. Hugs and love from down under. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Miriam, thanks so much for your beautiful and heartfelt comment!! I am overjoyed that you resonated with the travel adventure and with my way of bridging the animal -and-human-world 😉 Your wonderful feedback and words of encouragement mean so much! Thanks for sharing your national emblem with us – the kangaroo is basically at the forefront of the Australian population, right? More kangaroos then Aussies Down Under, if I´m not mistaken. So happy you could give our kangaroo-mates some precious water on your travels. I am going to read your post shortly, I´ve had a first look and the photos look amazing!! Can´t wait to delve into it. Love how you transmit the very best Australia has to offer to us! Big hugs and much love, wishing you a wonderful week ahead gorgeous xx

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re right Maria, there are indeed more kangaroos than people in Australia, it’s pretty amazing isn’t it? Thank you for your very kind reply. I’m looking forward to writing about Mungo but just need to muster up the energy after a few very busy full on days.
        Hope you have a wonderful week my friend. Take care xx

        Liked by 1 person

      • Miriam, yeah, it is pretty amazing! 🙂 I am looking forward to your next travel posts, which will be fabulous as usual:) Rest up, though, gorgeous. Life can get so busy at times! Sending you big hugs, thanks for your lovely wishes, lots of love to Melbourne my friend xxx

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Mere yaar !!are you going to sleep,my dear Gypsy Soul!!oh .so much day has passed without our conversation.please,before sleeping,speak with your soul the word”òooommmmm”.okay.Shubhratri.Big hugs and Muchas love,amiga.buenus nothes😊😊😊🤗🤗🤗💕💕💕

    Like

    • Amiga! I have answered your last comment on your blog twice, I think its gone to Spam again? I already missed you, too 😊😊! Dhanwaad mere yaar! Will remember you when reciting the beautiful OM mantra. Or better before, because full focus needs to be on the Mantra 🙂 Much love amiga!!! Shubrabhratri xoxoxo

      Like

      • Yeah.that was in spam.i have resposed just now.see that dear.much love and big hugs,meri jaan!!☺buenas noches,amiga.xoxoxo

        Liked by 1 person

      • ❤️❤️ Muchas gracias amiga 🙂 Oh I just read your new poem and sent a comment because I ADORE it, its so lovely! 🙂 Fantastic work querida. Much love, hugs, and buenas noches querida amiga xoxoxo

        Like

      • Hey amiga!! Have you received my comments.have a wonderful and happy day ,querida amiga.xoxoxo

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hola guapa (hello beautiful), I think so…I think I have answered them all. Dhanyawaad for your lovely wishes, wishing you the same!! Hugs hugs

        Like

      • Yeah.my guapa!!💖💖💖💖bahut bahut dhanyawaad(बहुत बहुत धन्यवाद)-so much thanks.)😊have you theft my heart?dear gypsy soul!! Because whenever i free then on my door of heart,you knock often.😁😁😁😁.hey yaar!! Where has our Poor Andrews disappeared.i want to read his amazing poem.i think -he will come in January.at last he was that guy who met me to you.this time he has an accident by taxi and do to recovery.khair(at last)now the time of night and i have to take dinner and sleep.shabba khair.shubhraatri.Much love and Big hugs,amiga guapa😉Buenas nochesh.☺

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, mere yaar, what joy to read your wonderful comment. Working a lot these days – How cute are you to say “Have you theft my heart?”. Adorable you are! I remember you, too, my friend 🙂 Yes, hope Drew will be back soon to share his wonderful art with us! Thanks for your wonderful friendship and your direct expression of affection, meri jaan Aruna. I love it! Mil (a thousand) bahut bahut dhanyawaad, querida amiga. Shubraatri guapa! Much love and hugs 🙂 Hasta muy pronto. 💖💖💖

        Like

      • Yeah.my guapa!! We both are same-i think but only i am elder than you.plz don’t give attention on my age because my heart is sixteen years as my activity.i have cared my young age and childhood in my heart with most love😊😊😊

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mere yaar, of course, who cares about age? I certainly do not, and often get along much better with people who are a little older. But really, its about soul, consciousness and (self-) responsability for me when connecting with another. Never about age! 💖💖💖 You are beautiful!!! Much love and hugs 🙂

        Like

      • No ,yaar!! I am not but my heart is so much beautiful-may be other agrèe or not.my all students about of 16 to 25 years are my best friends.i will like them because they all have same feelings as i have.old aged are boring for me.age of the soul is none ,it is immortal.by the soul,i feel young and will feeling always until the last breath.dear amiga💖💖💖💖yeah my soul is beautiful so i should feel beautiful myself.true?much love and big hugs,meri jaan.shubhraatri,shabba khair ,my guapa amiga!!buenas noches.om shanti shanti shanti om.🙏🙏🙏.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mere yaar, that is so awesome! Love that your students are your best friends. You are right, the soul is what matters. YES your soul is beautiful and so are you!! Much love and hugs 💕💕💕

        Like

      • Hey meri jaan.i love my love expression with my friends.thanks for your appreciarion.Mil-a thousand time dhayawaad,querida amiga.this time is morning.good morning and Namste,guapa.much love and Big hugs😊hey dear Gypsy soul-what is the meaning of”Hasta muy pronto”?🤔

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hola dear dost, namaste! “Hasta muy pronto” means “until very soon” 🙂 Much love, hugs, and a beautiful day to you 🙏💖

        Like

      • Okay.beautiful conversation between us in three amazing language.☺i feel so much lucky having a friend like you.Namste dear!!Hasta muy pronto😊Much love and Big hugs.have a beautiful and peaceful night with glowing moon and shining star like your smiling face and twinkling star,o mere yaar!!💕💕💕💕💕

        Liked by 1 person

      • Meri jaan, I agree!! I just told a longterm friend about you today, and how I always wanted to find a friend like you. Maybe its also a cultural thing, but I love these direct expressions of affection you do 🙂 So, I feel very lucky about our friendship as well!!! Muchas gracias 🙂 Much love, hugs, and thanks for all your beautiful wishes. Love that poetic phrase of yours!! Mere yaar, you are amazing. Hugs and so much love 💕💕💕Buenas noches 💕💕💕

        Like

      • Querida amiga!! This friendship may be the relation between two souls.is not it?i am drowning in pond of your affection,meri jaan.plz come in my dream because i am going to sleep😴😴😴😴😋😋😋😋.so much love and big hugs.buenas noches,mere yaar💖💖💖💖

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes amiga, I certainly see it this way 💖 The images you convey are so sweet! Haha ok I ll try swing by for a visit in Rajasthan. Buenas noches querida xoxo💖💖💖

        Like

      • So much beautiful reply,dear amiga guapa!!💖hey meri jaan!!go to sleep and let me sleep,yaar.💝💕💕talk to morrow.okay querida amiga!!Sabbakhair😘

        Like

      • Yes, all relaxed with me amiga. Even if you cannot reply someday – I know you will reply when you have time 🙂 Sweet dreams amiga 💖💖

        Like

      • Good morning,querida amiga😊💖💖

        Liked by 1 person

      • Namaste, querida dost! 🙂 💖💖

        Like

      • Shubhratri,my dear dost🌷🌷🌷🌷🙏🙏🙏Namaste ,my gypsy soul!! With love and big hugs,Guapa💖💖💖💖buenas noches,qurida amiga.😊😊😊

        Liked by 1 person

      • Buenas noches amiga, sweet dreams and much love to you, many hugs 🙏💖💖

        Like

      • Oh mere yaar!! Swaagat he aapka Rajasthan me.(you are welcome(swaagat-स्वागत) in my Rajasthan.here is a folk song-keshriya balam padhro mhare desh…….( केसरिया बालम पधारो म्हारे देस…)this song in Rajsthani language but so much sweet.😚😚😚😚💖💖💖💖💕💕💕💕

        Liked by 1 person

      • Bahut bahut dhanyawaad meri jaan 🙂 (First whole sentence in Hindi, yay :)) Listening to your beautiful song now, love it! You know, it has some similar sounds to Flamenco music – I think the gypsys (gitanos in Spanish) originally came from India!!! And moved to Spain, think through Africa… here a Flamenco video with love from Spain 💕💕💕💕https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhg7ND0_yiAhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?

        Like

      • No my guapa!!zypsy is original inhibitant of Mexico.yeah,in India ,here live some vagrant caste buy they are not Gypsy.i am proud of your intelligent mind to capture the words in any language 😊muçhas gracias.💖

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mere dost, maybe there are different type of gypsies https://www.thegreatcoursesdaily.com/history-of-spanish-gypsies-romani-gitanos/ How cool!! Thanks for your sweet words. Have a great weekend mi amiga! Going offline now. Manz hugs xoxoxo

        Like

  6. Hey beautiful lady
    so I read this da ys ago and kept meaning to come back and comment but life etc…(my go to phrase)! So sorry 💋💋

    As always I love this journey you’ve taken us on. The peace and harmony of the culture is amazing and you painted that beautifully for us. I watched a series of films about a muy tai boxer and his elephant…ong bak it’s called and it’s amazing, you will.love it. The connection this country has to animals and their habitat and the poeple is unbelievable.
    Loved the sepia photo and of course you feeding the baby elephant! Oh my gosh…gorgeous.

    When I travel..I’m stopping wherever you are, picking you up and dragging you with me!

    Missed you!
    Mucho love and filakia, omorfi moi

    M
    💋💕🔥😘

    Liked by 1 person

    • Guapisima, ah thanks so much for your wonderful, heartmelting, and fantastico feedback!! As you know it´s all relaxed at A gypsy at heart 🙂 I know that my posts are pretty long and there is not always time for that. Thanks so much for reading and giving me such amazing feedback! Also, how cool that you shared your film recommendation with us. I love it!!! Gotta find that movie ASAP, it sounds super intrigueing!! Yeah, Thailand is something else, no doubt about it. Have you ever been, gorgeous? LOL Love your travel-with-me-idea. But please – no dragging 😛 Happy to be charmed into it 🙂 😛 💕💕💕 You rock girl!! Missed ya too! Btw the “you are a star” mini report might need a bit more time. Aus-and work stuff are bossy atm. So much love and filaki, you amazing woman! Like super amazing!! Hasta luego omorfi moi – ME 😉 💋💕🔥😘

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: