Elephant Rides, Baby Elephants and Elephants Bathing at the Maesa Elephant Camp
13 December, 2009 Sunday
As clichéd as it is, we just couldn't visit Thailand without getting close to an elephant. We read about several elephant camps, some less-touristy which were further away from Chiangmai, offering more *authentic* elephant experiences where visitors get to "look after" an elephant for a few days and learn how to handle them.
However, time and money was short for us, and so we settled for a simple half hour elephant ride at the fairly nearby (to Chiangmai) Maesa Elephant Camp. The camp was our last stop on a half day's worth of being driven around, where we also saw tiger cubs, snakes and shot some guns.
The Maesa Elephant Camp offered more than just rides, with the previously mentioned multi-day courses available where visitors can learn more and train to become a "mahout". The camp itself is of course home to all the elephants there, but for visitors, less committed activities also include watching the elephants paint and play football.
Anyway, we were at the camp for a short ride around its grounds, so it was up onto a platform first to get high enough to climb onto a bench on an elephant's back.
Would you feel safe on a strapped down bench like this below? If it was good enough for an elephant, it was good enough for me.
Once we were seated, a bar was placed in front of us like a fairground ride. As the elephant started moving, it was clear why we needed the bar, as its footsteps jolted us back and forth in the slippery seats. Much worse when it was going downhill. Lots of fun though, until I felt desperate for the toilet later.
With each plodding footstep, we could really feel the strength of the beast and as it began its short journey past some greens, it reached over with its trunk to grab some. The mahout half-heartedly tried to hurry it up, but it didn't look like the gesture made any difference.
Halfway through, the mahout kindly jumped off and took my camera to get a shot of us.
He climbs back on by calling the elephant to lean down so that he can jump onto its face.
Along the way, we saw this isolated elephant which was chained up by one of its feet.
There was also a stall selling bananas that visitors can buy to feed their elephant. We thought buying them meant we could feed her ourselves, but handing over the money resulted in the stall holder feeding a bunch directly to the elephant.
Elephants stop at a stream on-route for a drink.
More greens were picked up along the way. This chap was following us with more tourists on its back.
We pass a platform where a mound of rice or bread (we couldn't see properly) awaits the elephant. It waved a pecking chicken away with its trunk before curling it around the mound to bring it back to her mouth.
The final leg of the journey took us past the football pitch before we went back to the original platform to dismount.
Here's a video showing parts of our elephant ride.
Elephants waiting for a fare.
Before our driver could find us, we walked around the camp a little. Linh bought some bananas to feed some elephants herself.
At the time we were there, Linh and I were also lucky enough to see all the elephants and a few baby elephants, taking a bath with their mahouts.
As we left the Maesa Elephant Camp, we saw a massive board with all the elephant and mahout teams and their names.
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