Last Sunday we decided to take the train to Chiang Mai, which is in the north of Thailand. This was done in two stages - back to Bangkok in the afternoon and then a sleeper leaving in the evening. Unfortunately the first class option is very popular, and needs to be booked a few days in advance, so we went with reclining seats instead. The seats did technically recline I suppose, but not more than a token gesture. The result was an uncomfortable trip, but we got to Chiang Mai and only a few hours late.
We are now staying a few miles out of town following a recommendation on tripadvisor. A9 Place is a comfortable hotel and in a quiet neighborhood, with everything we need on the door step but no noisy club music to keep us awake.
Yesterday we went to an elephant sanctuary. It was quite an abrupt start as we had made the booking on line and had not received the confirmation we were told to expect, so didn't think it was happening. When the bus came to pick us up at half eight we were still asleep. Oh well, 5 minutes later and we were off. The sanctuary is only an hour away in a beautiful valley, and is home to over 30 elephants. Most of them used to be working elephants, but were abandoned when logging was banned about 20 years ago. A couple were born in the jungle and have been rescued after their parents died. They are considerably more mischievous, and can be easily identified as they have two handlers (Quan) each while the others only have one.
We started off by helping with the feeding. This consisted of holding out large pieces of fruit so the elephants could take it with their trunks. This lasted until they had eaten a large basket filled with bananas and various melons each, so about 10 minutes.
Then we went to a large enclosure where one herd was eating. Being rescued elephants they are not actually related (apart from some of the youngsters) but have formed herds anyway, for friendship and to protect the young. This was the first glimpse we got of their playful nature, as one decided to clamber over a fence just for a challenge, despite the gate being open right next to it. Apparently they break a fence at least once a fortnight, not that they actually run away - they stay where the food is, but it is good to see them living on their own terms.
In the afternoon we went elephant washing in the river. Enough people with buckets can get an elephant clean in about 5 minutes, and after a good soaking they go looking for some nice dry mud to cover their backs with. The mud protects them from sunburn, and gives next day's tourists something to wash off. The elephants certainly seem to enjoy a splash around, perhaps it also helps them build up a good appetite for their evening meal.
With each elephant eating up to 200 kilos of fruit a day the sanctuary has an impressive food bill. The elephants do not work and do not perform tricks, this really is a sanctuary, and it is supported through eco-tourism. If you ever get the chance to go and support the work they do here I would thoroughly recommend it. It was a very informative day, and a wonderful opportunity to spend time with these noble creatures while contributing towards their care.