To Ride or Not to Ride…the Elephant

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We came to SE Asia sound in our decision to NOT ride an elephant. It is the quintessential tourist activity to do here and yet there are many reasons one should not partake (brutal training, back breaking work). My friends and family know I can be holier than thou and they love me anyway, so they humored me as usual when I said we would absolutely not ride an elephant.

And then what did we do? Yes. We did it. We rode an elephant.

And it sucked.

Our intentions were true. In Luang Prabang, tuk tuk drivers called out daily “Elephant camp?” No, no, we’d shake our heads, not for us. We would be heading to Chiang Mai’s Elephant Nature Park (ENP) in a few weeks, where one feeds and bathes but does not ride elephants. We were resolute.

At ENP, we shared a special day with the kids and their grandparents marveling at these beautiful creatures. Our guide, Ruby, pointed out an elephant whose back was deformed from years of giving tourists rides and we were grateful to be here vs down the road where tour buses sat in droves while tourists were paraded in a long line up and down the dirt road on their ellies.

Ellie Moments

Ellie Moments

We listened to Lek, ENP’s founder, discuss the important work necessary to save this graceful creature headed to extinction. We left happy, satisfied and a little smug.

A few weeks later we were in Kanchanaburi province, an area four hours west of Bangkok rich with national parks and green peaks that separate Thailand from Myanmar. I was travel planning weary and had scheduled four days with a tour company to rest my Trip Advisor satiated brain.

Lek & ENP's Ellies

Lek & ENP’s Ellies

In my inquiry, I said we were a family that loves animals but prefers not to ride them. I was a bit perplexed when the suggested itinerary returned with an elephant trek. I responded that we weren’t interested in the trek. No worries, I was told.

After a wonderful 1st day on the tour in gorgeous Sai Yok national park, day two brought a visit from one of the tour company’s lead guides telling us that the trek was ethical, the ellies only worked four hours a day and they lived free in the jungle with the Mon villagers. We were told the ellies would be put to work in the forest industry if they weren’t carrying tourists. The villagers needed a way to pay for the enormous amounts of food the elephants ate. The guide was concerned whether our kids could trek on foot which was our plan. And on and on.

We started to waver.

My family was uncertain and left the decision up to me. And I made an error in judgement. Despite our conviction and all that we’d read telling us NOT to ride an elephant, I went to that “once in a lifetime” place…when would we ever have another opportunity like this? So we said yes.

Fast forward to two beautiful elephants and two mahouts with bull hooks and menacing voices. The instant knowledge that this was wrong. The village leader trying to coax a smile out of us to take a picture while Julia was close to tears and the rest of us were miserable.

Here’s the truth. Riding an elephant is not fun…even if you could not give two hoots about whether its ethical. It’s super uncomfortable and add to it the ethical context and its just not worth it. Read more here: http://adoreanimals.com/blog/the-ethical-elephant-experience/

Learn from our mistake. Enjoy your ellies at great organizations like ENP or Boon Lott’s…bathe them, feed them, whisper sweet nothings to them, but please, please…don’t ride them.

Elephant Nature Park

Elephant Nature Park

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Bath, Feed, Walk, Scoop…& Start Again

I am pleased to welcome a guest blogger this week, one of my two fabulous kids, Julia.  Julia, Sean, Kyle and I volunteered for four days at a wonderful nonprofit this week in Thailand.  Julia, take it away!

Doggy Love

Care For Dogs is an organization that provides shelter, care, and food for dogs in need. Most of the dogs are really sweet-they love to be pet and play. But others are aggressive or scared of people because of what has happened to them in the past. All the dogs are street dogs, and some of them have been saved from awful fates such as the dog meat trade, or abusive owners

Care For Dogs has close to 200 dogs and we spent four days feeding, bathing and walking them.  We also spent a lot of time socializing the shy dogs…just giving them love to help them adjust to humans.  And my parents scooped a lot of poop.

One of the dogs I really liked was Cara. She is medium sized with a white coat and brown markings. She was really nice and she loved the puppies, whenever I went into their area she would always try to get by. She was always happy and playful.

Cara

Cara

The puppies were really cute, there was a litter of six that were brown and really small. The other three were all different types, and they were older and bigger than the the brown ones. They were all teething, so they would bite on my fingers, shoelaces, and hair. The brown ones were so sweet. One time I went in their pen, they were all sleeping but one got up so he could sleep on my lap instead. They were so helpless, sometimes they would fall into a gutter on the ground and cry until I came to carry them out. I felt bad for them because they didn’t have their mother-she was too scared to be rescued. CFD is still trying though.

Oh the Ears!

Oh the Ears!

The big puppies weren’t so needy. Two of them went to the adoption fair on our last day, the other one stayed because he’s sick. The biggest one was white and brown, he looked like Mickey did when Mickey was a puppy. Then there was one who was black and brown striped. The last one was the sick one, he was white.

Hey that's my camera case!

Hey that’s my camera case!

When I saw them they were all locked up in a cage. I gave them water and let them out. They drank the whole bowl of water in a minute, they were so thirsty. The problem with the big ones is that they try to playfight with the little ones, but they are too rough and end up hurting them.
Aw shucks

Aw shucks

On our second day of volunteering, the shelter got a call for twenty puppies. They went to pick them up, managed to get one of the mothers but not the other. The puppies were dewormed and are going into the puppy area in a week.
Hello!

Hello!

Some of the dogs were missing legs, eyes, or ears. There was one who had half of his face gone, but I never saw him.
Celine

Celine

Emily

Emily

Poey Poey

Poey Poey

Care For Dogs slogan is “Saving one dog won’t change the world, but surely the world will change for that one dog.”  You can help by going to http://www.carefordogs.org and making a donation.  You might ask “Why Thai dogs? There are plenty of dogs at home in need.”  This is a valid question.  The average annual Thai salary is under $9,000 annually, so spending money on sterilizing and care for dogs is not a priority.  Think how much impact a small $20 donation could help!

Chiang Mai: Activities for Kids Beyond Tiger Kingdom

We arrived in Chiang Mai from Luang Prabang and started to spin, rudderless. The city — 2nd largest in Thailand — was bigger than anticipated and we were overwhelmed with where to start. Our first base was near the heavily touristed night market and the calls of tuk tuk drivers to take us to see tigers, elephants and the night safari were endless.

Here’s a few activities we found in Chiang Mai with nary a wild animal in sight.

Be in the Art at the 3-D Museum, Art in Paradise 

Located on Chang Klan Road just passed the Shangri La, this museum requires you to interact with the art. Perhaps you won’t see any masterpieces here but you’ll laugh heartily while trying to create your own.

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Make Your Own Art at Noina’s Studio 

A sweet neighborhood studio in the NE corner of old town, Noina offers a three hour course using whichever materials interest you. Kyle did sketching, Julia and I did watercolor and Sean used acrylic. A chill afternoon to just summon our muse was relaxing. 500 baht/pp for three hours.

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Make Edible Art at Thai Farm Cooking School

I think my son is a future chef! We wondered if the kids would be bored at a full day cooking course. But they both dived in, had fun and whipped up wonderful dishes and Sean was particularly apt at making his feast. I am dreaming of a cold, rainy night back in Seattle, when I say “Children, I’d like green curry and phad thai for dinner. Oh, and some mango sticky rice please! Thanks, I’ll be reading in the bath.”

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Be an Archeologist at the Terra-Cotta Garden 

Baan Phor Liang Meun’s Terra-Cotta Arts is a sprawling garden of moss covered clay sculptures. The labyrinth of Buddhas, disciples, and Lanna representations in a sumptuous, verdant setting can mesmerize all people, big and small. The garden can be found a few blocks west of the south Chiang Mai Gate (turn right on Roi 6).

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My mother found out about this gem while chatting up an Aussie Chiang Mai regular. My mom has a genuine sociability to get the inside scoop. It isn’t hereditary. We part ways tomorrow for the duration of our rtw tour and I will have to uncover secret treasured spots on my own.

So did we turn our backs on the mighty tigers and elephants?  Of course not.  More on an incredible day at Elephant Nature Park soon!