Continued from Chiang Mai Day 2.
Chiang Mai has such an eclectic mix of tourists. There are the typical low budget backpackers, singles and couples. There are the cohorts of girls who all come together and stay in a fancy hotel. There are the older white male sex tourists. Then what surprised me most of all are the tourists who have their whole families with them, kids, parents, grandparents. I don’t remember ever going to a place where all these types of travelers are so well represented.
Our plan today is to see some elephants that Thailand is so famous for. Last night we asked the front desk where we could see elephants, and they suggested this place and said that it was 30min away by tuk tuk and it would cost 400baht each way. This morning, I asked again and they said that it was about an hour away and would cost 1000 baht by car round trip. Hmmm, from my own research on Google Maps, it seems like an hour drive is more like it, so I elected to just hire a car, plus it’s got AC!
The drive was not too inspiring, but our driver was nice. His name is Tom, just like our taxi driver coming from the airport. We talked to him some and this is what he had to say. Both sides of the political party in Thailand are equally shitty. They only care about themselves and not the people. Sounds about right. Chiang Mai has been growing like mad the last 10 years. There are a lot of industries here and the job market has been great. Chiang Mai girls are known to be nice and beautiful. And by beautiful, he specifically said because they have white skin, instead of where he comes from more in the South where they have really dark skin. The white skin beauty thing pretty much goes for much of Asia.
Saw this giant sign, I think that’s the princess on it. Anyhow, the sign is in front of a women’s prison, which I thought kind of ironic that the princess has a sign in it. What is she trying to tell us?
Here! The drive took about 50 minutes, and we saw no tuk tuks on the way here, so hiring a car was the right choice. Before we got here, our drive Tom had called the place and made reservation for elephant rides for us. Good thing we asked, because apparently spots are limited and they sell out quickly.
What does an elephant feel like? Well, they have kind of rough and leathery skin, that part I expected. They are also bristly, which I did not expect. When they hugged you with their trunks, all the bristles tickle the crap out of you.
When we got money out to tip the handler, the elephant used the trunk and grabbed the money right out of RL’s hand and gave it to his/her handler. Cool.
Time for our elephant ride. You can see in the right hand of our elephant driver, he’s got a short club with a metal hook on it. That’s the device that he uses to direct and control the elephant. There’s controversy about the use of metal hooks, but I’ll discuss this more later.
It’s hilarious how our driver is just perched on top of the elephant’s head. I wonder how often they fall off by accident. To tell the elephant commands, our driver would occasionally tap the elephant on the head with the wooden club, or sometimes hook the elephant behind the ear with the metal hook.
We just got the 30 minute ride instead of the hour ride option. Frankly, if there was a 15 minute ride, we would have gone for that. We just wanted to see what it was like to ride an elephant, but didn’t care to actually go on a trek. Our trek took us around the camp, and through the shacks where I imagine all the elephant handlers lived. It does not pay to be an elephant handler.
As we neared the end, we came upon a little house that dolled out some sort of white bread snack and a whole bunch of grass for the elephants. When our elephant came closer to the house and the leaves got thrown out, she made a beeline for it! It reminds me of my dog, I miss him.
That was a fun experience.
So, on the ride back to Chiang Mai, we asked Tom about the different elephant camps around Chiang Mai. He said that there are more than 10 in the area and quality and safety differs. Some are big business operation like Maesa, where we went, and some are small family run operations. Some of the small ones have had safety issues where people fall off elephants, or where the elephants get sick and they don’t have the money to get treated.
With that said, visiting elephants is a really sensitive subject for many Westerners. If you look on Tripadvisor, you’d see pretty heated arguments about the correct treatment for elephants. Some people complain about the metal hooks to steer the elephants, but I don’t see how that’s any harsher than whipping and riding a horse. Remember, an elephant is a GIANT animal, and a little metal hook is really pretty small. We looked behind the ear of the elephant and there were no scars or wounds, not that we are elephant experts or anything…but just sayin’. Elephants have been working animals for a long time now, they move heavy things, and they work. Right or wrong, I just think if people make a stink about exploiting elephants, then they should make a stink about exploiting horses, cows, etc. etc.
I am partly writing this rant because there seems to be a lot of people who love the idea of taking care of an elephant for a day. There are elephant camps where you “pretend” to be an elephant owner for a day. Somehow, certain people LOVE the idea of this and by the way they post on Tripadvisor, you’d think they had saved an elephant just by giving it a shower and feeding it for one day. I certain don’t feel like I’ve saved my dog by just owning it for one day.
We asked our driver for a place to eat lunch, and the first place that he took us to was closed. It was just Songkran(Thai new year) a week ago, so the owners of this shop closed down for renovation and won’t be back until May.
Back on the street of Night Bazaar. They are already setting up the seller’s stands. It’s fucking hot out here right now. Over 100 degrees with high humidity. Barely anyone is walking around out here, there’s this death lull in the air.
Part of the haul from the mini mart. It was just ok. I also got a big bottle of Singha and a big bottle of Chang. The afternoon was spent chilling in the guesthouse and staying out of the heat. It’s too hot to do anything outside. I think I am starting to develop into a Singha man…
The temperature has finally cooled down enough to go out for dinner. Actually, that’s a lie, it’s still fucking hot out here. How about this unattended food stand with chicken that’s been sitting there for who knows how long.
Chiang Mai is a pretty small place, we keep on seeing the same travelers over and over. We saw this one girl at the Sunday Market, at the elephant camp, and along the street on our tuk tuk ride tonight. She was easy to pick out because she was literally a skeletal skinny anorexic:-(
We had to make fun of them. This guy and girl walks up to the temple steps, she’s in this skin tight short dress with flower in her hair and a scarf on(totally over the top for the dress code in this place). Proceeds to kneel multiple times and then guy proceeds to splays down behind her and start taking photos of her praying. Seriously, if you want to pray, pray, don’t be insincere and make a whole show of it(says the guy who makes a whole show of his travels…).
We walked by several bars, and they were all sleazy, catering to sex tourists. How do we know that they catered to sex tourists? They all hired skimpily dressed Thai girls to hang around and drink with the patrons. How do we know the girls are hired? Because there are very few tourists right now, so you just see a bunch of skimpily dressed Thai girls hanging around in the near empty bar, and occasionally you’d see a couple of older Westerner men hanging about.
So, this whole time I’ve only picked on old white male sex tourists, because that’s all we saw. Where are all the lecherous older Asian men? I know they exist but we have yet to see any here. RL replied to that question with, “Lecherous older Asian men like little white girls so they go to America.” Did I mention that RL found a white hair in my beard recently?
To be continued at Train to Bangkok.