Monday, March 11, 2013

Chiang Mai, Thailand Part 3

We signed up for a Long Neck Tribe and Elephant Ride Tour with the hotel. The tour guide picked us up in a van and along with other participants, we headed off to visit the Long Neck Tribe first. 

I was expecting the visit to be a really authetic one, somewhere in the jungle where the tribe stays, where the members go about their daily activities, allowing me to have a glimpse into how they live. Well, turned out we were brought to a community of tribes which, according to the guide, the government has put together in a bid to preserve their ethnic identities. According to her, many of the tribal members have chosen to move to the cities to work, leaving behind a lot of the elderly, women and children.

A concrete road led up to a sandy ground where the first thing that greeted us were stalls selling different soveniors. The stalls were managed by the different tribes and besides selling the common soveniors which can be bought easily anywhere,  they sold clothes and scarves which they made themselves. As we walked along the sandy path with stalls flaking us on both sides, the guides explained (very quickly) the characteristics of each tribe. We had the opportunity to take photos at each stall but after a while, the novelty kinda wore off. There were only a few wooden houses on stilts. Maybe the rest are located away from the tourist belt so as to maintain their privacy.

We were then left to walk to the end of the path. Hanging onto the possibility of getting more insight into the tribal life the further we walked, we did so without any questions. 

We were greeted with more stalls. Some of the stalls were manned by young girls and they got upset when we did not buy any souvenirs from them. I couldn't help but feel sorry as I supposed they must be depending quite a fair bit on tourism to survive. The elder ladies were more friendly and it was nice trying to converse using merely hand guestures.

We learnt that none of the girls are forced to wear the ornamental rings on their necks, wrists and legs. Instead, after a certain age, they are free to make a choice to continue with the tradition or have the rings removed. Still, many women do opt to keep wearing them. We also learnt that the rings do not actually stretch the neck. Instead, they only create the illusion that the neck is lengthened as the weight of the rings on the shoulders causes them to be pressed downwards. To make it enriching for the children, I posed some questions to them based on my own background knowledge, such as 'Why are the houses built of stilts?' and 'How do the different tribes differentiate themselves?'.Development is one of the topics for Secondary School Geography curriculum so being one of my favorite topics when I was teaching in school, the content came in handy when explaining things to the kids.
Our very own long necked girl

The tribal girl is 2 years older than A.

Handweaving clothes

Next, we headed off to the elephant camp for our ox-cart ride and elephant ride. I had my reservations when I signed up for the tour because I know the controversy behind such 'animal tourism'. A lot of times, animals were not treated well and were fed very little. A big percentage of the money from the tourists went to the boss or staff, leaving little for the welfare of the animals. Afterall, the animals cannot speak back right? As much as I want to find a responsible elephant camp, I do not have access to all the information. So why did I still sign up for it? The answer is simple - the kids. We have always been teaching the kids the importance of respecting people and the environment and I am proud to say that they are doing a great job. The kids always help to sort out the recyclable trash. They make sure they use both sides of the paper and they are careful not to litter. They know that trees are important to both animals and mankind but they have never seen animals interact in its natural habitats. The ones in the zoo are as 'natural' as they have come into contact with and we hoped that the elephant ride would help open their world a little bit more.

The ox cart rides were bumpy and boy, they sure pee a lot. But seeing them so skinny, I felt sorry for adding to the weight just by sitting on the cart.

We were treated to an elephant show after the ox-cart riding where the animals did stunts like head-stand and even kicked soccer. The highlight of the elephant show would be the elephant painting. I had my doubt at first as the elephant kicked up a paint brush with its trunk and paused before dipping it into the correct colors for his work of art. Children at the show came off their seats and stood near the artist as he concentrated on his work. My seat was just in front of the artist and I found myself staring into his eyes, hoping to find his inner thoughts and maybe some hints of how he had been living thus far. Strange but I seemed to find serenity in his eyes. I did not know what to make of it. Was he happy or has he resigned to his fate? Still, I was glad to see him happy when he completed his work. Afterall, he got a treat for that.

Elephant Bath Time

Good Morning

Getting up and down

FIFA Fever
Elephant Style Thai Massage
Artist at Work
Masterpiece going for 500 Baht
Feeding time
After lunch (including in the tour fee), we walked across the river through this old, shaky suspension bridge which made walking a feat itself. The kids were frightened and I had to hide my own fear in order to make them feel safe. It didn't help that the narrow bridge was for a two way traffic. Just thinking about it again gives me the creeps. I sure hope they use the money from the tourists to mend the suspension bridge before anything else.

The picture doesn't show the height well but the bridge is high!
As there were 4 of us, we were assigned the biggest elephant in the camp. At 25 years of age, the elephant towered over many of elephants which we thought were huge already. The trainer was kind towards the elephant, allowing the elephant to wonder off the trail whenever it felt like plucking some grass off some random patch. There was an occasion when the elephant was just chewing away for about 30 minutes and we were left sitting in the sun. The trainer did not say anything and let his charge eat to its heart's content. The elephant did make many pit-stops and as the trainer was very  patient, and we ended up being the last one to return (even though we were the among the first to start out) Still, I rather he did that than to have him hit the animal to rush it. The trainer used mainly his voice to guide and I was glad to see the bond between the trainer and the elephant.

Our friendly guide

Our elephant is eating again, this time, blocking the other elephants behind him.
The kids had a great time on the elephant. They had a good view of the elephant and its amazing skill in manoeuvring its way up and down the steep and rocky terrains. We talked about the elephant's diet and its strength. We talked about how the forest is important to the animals. We talked about how we need to respect their space and use our resources responsibly. Though the weather was hot that day and I was sure I got two tones darker, we were all glad we were able to chat so happily together, as a family.

Walking down the river
Conquering the steep slopes. It felt even steeper when we were sitting on the elephant.
Next up on the itinerary, river rafting. There was nothing much actually. Not much scenery to enjoy and the sun sure made its presence felt. The kids were tired and bored and we were glad that we did not have to do the full course. The tour guide was already waiting for us at the half way mark and we were glad to make our way back to the hotel. However, on hindsight, by the time we made our way back to the hotel, it was only 3pm. The guide seemed to be in a rush throughout the day but I had no complaints because the kids were already tired. It was indeed a fruitful day.

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