Our original plans in Thailand were to spend two weeks in the south and two weeks in the north. The incident with Nolan changed our plans and we ended up spending much more time in the south. We had however, already purchased our tickets to leave Thailand from the northern city of Chiang Mai and so we had to make our way up there.
Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand. One thing we have learned is that although there is a lot to do in big, busy cities, our family nearly always prefers a quieter alternative. So we had decided that rather than stay in Chiang Mai, we would spend our time in the city of Chiang Rai, just a four-hour bus ride away.
Because we had to fly in and out of Chiang Mai and ride a bus to and from Chiang Rai, we only ended up having four days in Chiang Rai.
One of those days was mostly taken up by a visit to the hospital for what turned out to be the last day of Nolan’s bandage changes and wound care. He’s got a few scars, but is all healed up!
Like many tourists in Thailand, we really wanted to see elephants. Elephants are a big deal in Thailand. Historically, elephants were used in the military and for heavy work such as logging. Now, the four thousand or so captive elephants are almost all used in the tourism industry. There are tons of places you can go to ride an elephant or interact with an elephant by giving one a mud bath.
But if you read about elephants in Thailand, you’ll find that the care these elephants receive ranges from not very good, to terrible. The “training” that elephants need so that tourist can safely interact with them is also cruel and fear-based.
But we really wanted to see elephants, so we decided we would look into elephant sanctuaries. A little deeper Google research (I know internet research isn’t always reliable) showed that most of the “elephant sanctuaries” out there are just relabled and reworked versions of elephant tourism.
In any case, we found one that seemed legit. It was called Elephant Valley. Their goal is to take captive elephants from the tourism and logging industries and “rehabilitate” them to the wild. The elephants at the sanctuary move from a smaller location where they learn essential skills to live independent of humans to a 460 acre sanctuary where they live without chains, mahouts and in social groups again.
We spent a couple of days here and came out with a little better understanding of the complexities of trying to do something ethical within the captive elephant industry. In the end, I think this was a good organization to support, and I think knowing what we now know, we would still go back. But it’s complicated. The fact that in their ten-or-so years of existence, they have yet to successfully complete the rehabilitation of an elephant should give you an idea of how complicated the issue is.
Interaction with the elephants was mostly at a distance. Since these elephants had been captive elephants, they were accustomed to eating high calorie density foods given by handlers. I guess they get pretty upset initially if they don’t get this and have to be transitioned away from it. So, we did get to prepare food and feed the elephants.
You would think that the closer interaction with the elephants would be the highlight for the kids. But it turns out that picking up “the largest poop in the animal kingdom” was a lot more fun. And they had a giant swing, a sandbox, and a rotting ping-pong table. And Nolan dug up and caught and ant-lion so…..
We visited a few temples, the night market, and a huge and well-known park. But between the hospital, the elephant sanctuary, and shuttling to and from Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, we didn’t have time for much else.
Our last day in Chiang Rai we spent at Singha Park. Owned by the Boon Rawd Brewery, the park consists of a zoo, bike trail, tea plantations, fruit orchards, restaurants and barley fields. Jane and I rode bikes around the park while Nolan, Margaret and Ashley decided to play at one of the ponds.
So, wearing face masks and washing our hands frequently, we boarded a plane bound for our next destination—–Vietnam!