Posts Tagged With: elephant encounters Thailand

 
 

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

Calming Chiang Mai: An elephant always remembers

For the audio-story, please click here

Hurry up, hurry up, we´re gonna miss that bloody train!” My travel companion is slightly out of it after a crazy Tuk Tuk ride through Bangkok´s buzzing concrete jungle. It did rather feel like a stroller ride on Speed, and it also did look rather funny of sorts with all our, or should I say my, mighty luggage squeezed into the Tuk Tuk´s modest space. And us squeezed right next to it like willing pieces of Tetris that somehow miraculously seemed to fit together. 

Anyways, no time left for such silly musings while running through the Bangkok train station, desperately trying to catch the 12-hour-long jungle train ride to Chiang Mai, located 700 km north of Thailands´s capital Bangkok. 

Boarding the train to Chiang Mai, the crown´s diamond 

This is it, this is it!” , I encouragingly mumble to myself while approaching the Thai-Railways-operated train. Better take up running again, I kinda lost my former almost-athlete-momentum – my thoughts ramble on as a smiling, composed train employee helps us to lift our suitcases onto the train. Did that vehicle already start moving while we were just jumping on board? Quite possibly!

We were not in safety-conscious Australia anymore, after all. Nor in rule-laden Europe. No, we were in spiritual, faith-full and for the most part royalty-revering Thailand, and on our intrepid way to Chiang Mai, the Northern capital of the province bearing the same name.

What a wonderful wat

A particularly stunning example of Thailand´s 41,205 Buddhist temples (source- Office of National Buddhism)

 

Image by Jenny Cleary via Pixabay

One of Thailand´s approximately 300.000 monks going about his not-business

 

Bhumibol Adulyadej, image by Hans Brax,maier via Pixabay

Former king Bhumibol Adulyadej was beloved by many of Thailand´s seventy million inhabitants

As indicated, any visitor to the land of the former kingdom of Siam should know that generally speaking,  the Thais love and truly care for their king. The Thai constitution even emphasizes that “the King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated“. Let´s, therefore, remain royalty-positive and take in what former King Rama once said about our new travel destination:

Chiang Mai represents the prime diamond on the crown of Thailand, the crown cannot sparkle and be beauteous without the diamond…

King Rama V, 12 August 1883
 

Thai-train-training: Mind over matter

Friends, what can I say – if Chiang Mai was good enough for King Rama, it certainly would be good enough for us little munchkins. Whether King Rama would have diged that train-carriage, though – I guess that´s a completely different matter. In any case, we were booked in for the second class, which was quite alright. As was to be expected, the first class did look a fair bit nicer, and toilet amenities there were also more agreeable. A freaking lot more agreeable!

But our seats were clearly marked second class, and after my travel companion went on some train explorations and came back with his assessment of our current pee-possibilities (“Yeah, nah. It´s not good“), I decided to once again muster up all my courage and my iron strength of will and turn the train ride into a 12-hour-no-bladder-release-challenge.

While taking that almost heroic decision, I grimly clutched onto my “South- Eastern Asia on a shoestring” travel guide. Taking in as much well-researched information on impossibly alluring Thailand as feasible would be my best ally while defeating the lurking powers of down under.

 

And – taking in those views did its part in distracting me from the nether regions! Lush green landscapes moved past in a perfectly timed speed, allowing the eyes to be soothed after a week amidst the electric creative chaos of Bangkok. Humble shacks, built into the evergreen landscape, with beautiful Thai women carrying a child or two on their backs, passed us by. Contemplating these and other images of Central and Northern Thailand´s beating bountiful green heart, twelve long hours went by.

720 minutes whole minutes, in which I learned that Chiang Mai hosts over 300 Buddhist temples, the so-called wats, a Thai word you might recall from our previous Bangkok adventure. And that the inhabitants speak Northern Thai, otherwise known as  Lanna, owning to the fact that the area of Northern Thailand was the birthplace of the first Thai kingdom, the Lanna Kingdom. For my poet-souls out there: the poetically charming yet linguistically precise way to clothe these words into more eloquent robes lies in referring to the Lanna kingdom as “the land of a million rice fields”.  

On a slightly more trivial side-note: The twelve hours from bustling Bangkok to the land of a million rice fields did expire with zero bladder-release, I am proud to announce. 

Arriving in Chiang Mai: A theory about Germans and a thailicious array of options

We reached Northern Thailand´s largest city around midnight, and a local from our pre-booked hostel was supposed to pick us up from the train station. Or so we thought. That local looked suspiciously Caucasian, though!

As soon as he opened his mouth, my nagging hunch got confirmed – once again, it was an adventurous German on the run from grey winters and possibly too much self-imposed discipline standing right in front of me! No matter how far you travel, you can never escape the reliable presence of wanderlusty Germans, I thought. As a half-German myself, I should know… 

image by wichitth via Pixabay

Chiang Mai´s abundance is loved by Thais and Germans alike – Image by wichit thepprasit from Pixabay

 

chiang-mai-1670926 image by Michelle Maria on Pixabay

One of Chiang Mai´s fabulous 300 + temples, where Buddhist believers come to worship

Thomas had moved to Chiang Mai some years back and had opened a Backpacker´s with his Thai girlfriend, a kind yet cheeky looking, petite woman we met that same night before checking into what would be our humble new home for the next three weeks. Thomas was a laid-back, rather skinny guy with glasses and light brown hair, and when we started chatting for a while in German, it was rather easy to detect the soothing, melodious dialect of the Bavarians in his speech.

Thomas and his girlfriend, the latter a much more lively and enthusiastic type than Thomas himself, laid out our many Chiang Mai leisure activity options that same night (right, I still had not peed!! 14 hours had gone by…I know, where is the Guinness book of records data-entry-person when you need him/her?!).

From cooking classes to white water rafting, from Thai-massage-workshops, Muay-Thay-boxing events to talk-to-a-monk-sessions – I felt a rush of excitement when perusing through all the exhilarating options. It was one activity that really jumped out at me, though – a one-day-training-experience as an elephant mahout, an elephant rider/ trainer. Getting up close and personal with powerful animals and learning from them? Sign me up! 

Phad Thai, Thailand´s most famous dish

Possible cooking-class- result Phad Thai, a delicious noodle dish – yum!

Water for elephants: Learning to be a mini-mahout

Two days later, we were sitting on a vehicle with a Rasta-haired Italian, an intrepid German couple, and a few fancy Frenchmen riding through the Northern Thailand landscape, not far from the Golden Triangle, where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong rivers. After a short stop at a picturesque butterfly garden, we arrived at our rather-out-of-the-ordinary destination – an elephant camp smack in the middle of the jungle nestled against a murky river. A quick introduction by the elephant trainers later, and…

there´s a rumble. It´s a different kind of sound, not too loud, yet powerful and imposing in its own right. Leaves are rustling, and all eyes are pinned on the horizon,  as the massive shape of a majestic Asian elephant appears in the distance. A self-assured trumpeting noise resounds… and there she is, gorgeous, regal; around 5 tonnes of pure fabulousness, right in front of us tiny and pretty intimidated yet curious humans.

Leila“, I name her quietly and completely awe-struck, just to get some kind of grasp on this almost surreal situation. Slowly, I m allowed to approach her. And then the first of a series of incredibly exciting things happen…

Meeting Leila and hoping she´ll like the treat

Meeting Leila and hoping she´ll like the treat

 

Elephant cuddles

Did you know? An elephant´s skin weighs over 900 kg/ 2000 pounds on average. Holy moly!

 

Leila´s skin is less wrinkled than her African elefant friends´one, btw

Getting up close and personal: Leila´s Asian elephant- skin is less wrinkled than her African elephant friends´one

next time, we will continue on the mahout-for-a-day adventure and find out more about ethical elephant encounters in Thailand – it´s important to distinguish here, more about this in the next post. We will also witness an eclectic, wild and inspirational night market and an intense Thai-massage-workshop, and much more. It will basically be my absolute best of 3 weeks in Chiang Mai for you, plus some juicy insights into the life of an elephant on top!

Back to you, dear reader: Have you ever had any out-of-the-ordinary animal encounters? What stood out to you about it? Or would there be any animals you would be particularly interested in hanging out with? As always, would love to hear from you! 🙂


Healing travel tip: Am gonna share some healing travel tips at the end of some posts from now on. Healing here refers to both the planet and oneself – which are always interconnected in my perception.

Today´s healing tip – If you fly for leisure or work and have the means to, please check out the possibility of flying climate neutral, offsetting your emissions to lessen our impact on mother earth. Mindful flights is a great initiative I´ve just come across. Thank you, enjoy:)

Categories: Posts in English, Reiselust- Hungry for travel, Reisen | Tags: , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: