A Travellerspoint blog

Tigers

I think we've lost our minds.

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In Thailand, nothing is impossible. Want to ride an elephant? Ok. Want to play with monkeys? Ok. Want to pet a grown tiger? Sure. But why???? Dan’s sister, Julia, was born in the year of the Tiger and when she found out that in Chiang Mai you can actually interact with tigers, there was no stopping her! So we found ourselves at Tiger Kingdom staring through a wire fence at dozens of tigers of varying sizes.

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At the Kingdom, there were 3 experiences up for grabs. Small tiger, medium tiger, or large tiger. Any guess as to which I agreed to? The smallest tigers, of course! I was feeling brave, but not that brave! The baby tigers were 2 months old and were adorable. We were able to spend about 15 minutes with them ($40 US) and were able to touch them on the back and stomach. We were not allowed to touch their paws or face. One of the tigers was very playful and bit Julia’s toe through her sock. She yelped and said that their little teeth were very sharp.

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WE did not get in with the large tigers but many people did. I think they were a little bit crazy! One guy was leaning against a huge tiger and the handler said, "Hey tiger...you hungry? There's some yummy white meat behind you" and the tiger slowly turned and looked at the the guy leaning on him. That would have been enough for me to tear out of there!

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This was another place where I was in awe and appreciative of the opportunity to interact with the animal but felt a little guilty about the exploitation of the animal. They were a conservation camp, or were supposed to be, but I’m not sure that the Thai idea of conservation matches up with the U.S. idea. That being said...the tigers were pretty darn cool.

Posted by SusanConradWang 04:17 Archived in Thailand Tagged chiang_mai tigers Comments (0)

Elephant Camp

Elephant kisses are sticky. (In case you were wondering).

sunny 85 °F

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Thais love and revere elephants. There are many elephant camps all over Chiang Mai set up to take care of the many elephants in Thailand. Elephants are safer in camps because of poachers that want the elephant’s tusks. Elephants can also be a real nuisance to farmers because they can eat an entire crop of vegetables in one go. Seriously. They eat all day and a herd could wipe out a farmer’s entire crop. The elephants are not really safe in the wild anymore in Thailand.
We visited a camp that focuses on conserving elephants and also showcases their talents. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to a place where elephants perform. Our guide put it to me like this: Elephants used to have 2 jobs in Thailand. They were transport or they did heavy lifting in the logging and construction industries. With modern technology, they are no longer needed for these jobs. They can’t run wild because of poachers and the elephants are quite clever. It is very expensive to keep elephants because of the amount that they eat and the fact that each elephant requires a mahout (caretaker). The performances provide some mental stimulation for the elephants and help to pay for the care and feeding of the elephants. She assured us that we would see no cruelty, only smiles. I tried to keep an open mind. (The tour was part of a packaged day. If I hated it, I could go and wait in the lot until it was over. Truth is, whether I attended or not, it was still going to happen and will continue to happen for as long as the elephants needed caring for.)

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We met the elephants and gave them treats that we purchased. They love bananas and sugar cane. As soon as I walked over to them with the treats, 5 trunks snaked my way and they were blowing air at me and lightly stomping their legs in excitement. They wrapped their trunks around my hand and were pulling for the treats. I was surprised by how close we could get to the elephants. I was standing in between two and their trunks were wrapping around my waist and arms. They are pretty curious creatures.

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After the elephants interacted with the people at the camp, the mahouts led the elephants down to the river for a morning scrub. The baby elephants were hilarious. They rolled on to their sides and completely sunk into the water. All we could see of the one was his trunk…he was using it like a snorkel. The elephants seemed to enjoy being scrubbed with the bristly brushes. Toward the end of the bathing, the camp employees started indicating that we should go take a seat for the show.

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The elephant show was ok. The elephants were treated kindly and a few of them were real hams. They walked holding each other’s tails, raced one another in a dexterity course where they had to pick up items with their trunks, and some of the huge elephants demonstrated how they were utilized in the logging industry. The show was designed to show the power, dexterity, and cunning of the elephants. My favorite part was the elephants painting pictures. I would not believe that an elephant had painted it if I had not seen it.

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My feelings about the elephant camp were mixed. I think it is sad that elephants cannot be safe in the wild due to man’s encroaching on and taking their territory and the fact that there is a real demand for their tusks. They are very beautiful creatures and should be in the wild, but that is not possible. I did not see any cruelty so that made me feel a smidge better.
In case you were wondering what a mahout is, a mahout is the elephant’s caretaker. There is one mahout per elephant and it is a huge commitment. The elephants bond with their mahout and it is a long-term relationship. The mahout, bathes, feeds, trains, and spends time with his elephant. It can be very distressing to an elephant if his mahout decides to quit.

Posted by SusanConradWang 04:14 Archived in Thailand Tagged elephants chiang_mai Comments (0)

Thailand's Hill Tribes

An elephant ride into a different world.

sunny 94 °F

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I look a little worried that the mahout left the elephant to take our picture. Didn't seem like such a great idea to me!

Thailand has several Royal Projects and one involves helping the people of the hill tribes to learn new agricultural methods and to receive occupational training in an effort to reduce poverty. We visited a village that has 7 different groups of hill tribe families that live in a collective community that farm together but makes handicrafts unique to their tribe. Our guide gave us some background on the different dress of the tribes. Here are my favorite 2 tribes and their stories:

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Palong: The Palong women wear beautiful silver belts around their waist. The belt is never taken off. They even sleep with it on. The only time it is removed is when the woman dies and then it is given to her daughter or daughter-in-law. Our guide told us the story of the belts: Long ago, the Palong women were from the heavens and had wings like a bird, including tail feathers. They would come to earth to fly and play. One day, a prince caught one of the Palong because he thought she was so beautiful. He tied a belt around her waist so she could not escape. The gods became angry with the Palong because she allowed herself to be caught. She lost her wings as punishment and had to wear the belt forever. The Palong women wear a silver belt to this day.

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Karen-Padung: This tribe is also called the “Long Neck” tribe. They are actually from Burma/Myanmar and are political refugees. The Thai government is trying to help them by not allowing them into major tourist areas where they will be exploited. They make and sell handmade items in their villages and that is the only place you can buy the goods. Their movements and settlements are very closely monitored. In order to visit them, we had to travel into the mountains. (We took an elephant ride to their village). Our guide told us that there are a lot of misconceptions about the women and why they have the brass rings around their neck. It is not for beauty, although all of the women we met were very beautiful.
Long ago, a young Karen-Padung woman went into the jungle and did something very, very bad that insulted the gods. (We were never told exactly what she did). It made the gods so angry that they sent a tiger into the village to kill as many women as it could. The tiger would raid the village and gobble up young women. This went on for years before the elders decided to hold a ceremony to try to appease the gods. They held the ceremony and the gods told them what to do. They were to gather all of the young women born on a Wednesday under a full moon. Once they had all of those girls collected, they were to stand in a circle while chicken bones were thrown. The landing of the bones indicated the chosen female. The chosen girl had her neck wrapped in bronze and the area below her knees wrapped with bronze rings. That girl was housed in a hut at the front of the village. When the tiger came hunting for girls, he would see her first. She no longer looked like a regular woman and confused the tiger so he left the village alone. The rings are for the neck and legs because the tiger had killed the girls by biting them on the neck and then dragging them away by the leg. The brass rings covered the 2 vital areas for a tiger attack. Over time, more and more parents wanted their daughters protected in this manner until it became a part of the women’s dress for the tribe.
The village had a set of rings available for inspection. It was HEAVY. Many of the women also had handkerchiefs or pieces of cloth tucked under the rings for comfort. The girls get their first ring at 6 and add one ring a year until they are 12. At 12, they may stop or they may continue to add rings. It is kind of a point of no return if they continue past 12. It permanently changes their physical form if they continue on with the rings. Life without the rings around the neck is not possible for women that decide to continue adding the extra weight and height. It makes their neck too unstable. From what I saw, most of the women in the village decided to continue adding rings.

Ahka Tribe: The Ahka tribe is the most poverty stricken of the tribes in Thailand and the most numerous. We saw ladies selling goods all over the city every day. Their costumes are beautifully adorned with silver pieces. You could hear them as they walk around because they announce themselves with a little wooden frog that sounds like a frog chirping when you rub a stick over it.

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Posted by SusanConradWang 03:19 Archived in Thailand Tagged hill_tribe chiang_mia Comments (0)

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