Chiang Mai, Thailand
Elephant Camps Chiang Mai Reviews
Feb 13, 2007
The elephant camps in Thailand are one of the most common destinations of tourists to Chiang Mai. Formerly based on logging camps where elephants were used as heavy machinery, these camps are now just large petting zoos featuring only the Asian Elephant. Fortunately, conditions seem good for the elephants at the camps, and there appear to be several mechanisms to ensure that the animals are well cared for. First, the Mahout (elephant handler) is assigned to a single elephant for life. This tends to foster a sense of concern and camaraderie between man and elephant. Secondly, since the camps exist solely from tourist visits, they are keenly aware that western tourists abhor the appearance of abuse or sickness among the animals, and they go to great lengths to keep the elephants looking happy.
The camps usually offer two main features, a show, where the elephant perform tricks for the audience, and an elephant ride, where tourists take a short tour through the wilderness riding on a bench secured to the elephants back. After several trips to the area, we always take in the show at the Mesa elephant camp. Arriving at the Mesa camp, you will be given ample opportunity to buy whole sugar cane and bunches of bananas to feed the elephants. This is a wonderful way to get up close and really experience these animals. Just before the show, the trainers will take the Elephants to a large stream by the entrance and wash the elephants down before the show. The tourists cameras are going nuts, and the elephants really seem to love the bath.
The elephant show itself consists of the elephants performing a variety of balancing and training tricks before the audience. There are two major tricks that the elephants are taught, Painting and Soccer. On our most recent trip I learned that the elephant paintings are completely trained behavior, the elephants don’t make any special choices about color or topic, they are just repeating something they were trained to do. The elephant soccer consists of one elephant making a goal shot off another elephant who is acting as goalie. The show culminates with a demonstration of some of the techniques used in the old logging days, with elephants pulling and lifting logs.
Although Mesa camp offers an elephant ride, we always go to a different camp with better wilderness, a longer ride, and fewer tourists. The MaeTang elephant camp only offers elephant rides, where you can ford a small river, climb some hills and sometimes get a chance to ride on the head of the elephant like a Mahout. There is a photographer taking pictures of you that you can buy at the end of the ride, and the drivers will take pictures of you with your own camera during the ride as well. The ride drops you off near the Meatang village, which is just a bunch of souvenir stands with traditionally dressed vendors, and you ride in an ox cart back to the start. It’s easy and the scenery is nice enough. If you would like, you can also ride a bamboo raft down the lazy river and get your driver to pick you up at the drop off point.
Despite the obvious tourist orientation of the camps, the elephant camps are good way to spend a day in Chiang Mai. The animals are really interesting and fun, and the situation seems very safe for the tourists and the humans involved. While I have no doubt that there are more exotic ways to find elephants and see the wilderness, the elephant camps remain an easy environmentally conscious way to see these magnificent animals and their interaction with the culture of Northern Thailand.
Part of the Trekking in Chiang Mai travel blog
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