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Published: August 23rd 2014
Elephants have been an important part of Thai culture for many centuries. Apart from their use in logging, they were use as cavalry in battle. In the many wars with Burma both the Thai and Burmese kings rode on battle elephants. Thousands of battle elephants were employed by both sides during the 300 years of intermittent war.
White elephants were traditionally an important symbol of royal power in Thailand, Burma, Laos and Cambodia. The number of white elephants held by a king was a symbol of his power and prowess. A white elephant was on the flag of Siam until 1916.
In 1989 logging was banned in Thailand. Huge floods had been exasperated by soil erosion and deforestation caused by the logging industry. This lead to unemployment for the elephants and their mahouts (keepers), leaving them with no livelihood. An answer was found to this problem when elephant camps and training schools were established. Here tourists could ride elephants and see shows, giving the mahouts and local villagers a source of income.
Chiang Rai has an elephant camp at the Karen village of Ban Ruammit on the banks of the river Kok. Here there are
30 or more elephants, and rides are available on forest trails behind the village.
Most people go for 30 minute or 1 hour rides, but it is possible to go for longer rides if you want. Be warned though, it can get uncomfortable swaying to and fro in the wooden seat on the elephant’s back after a while.
In the village of Ban Ruammit handicrafts from different hill tribes are also on sale. Karen shirts, Akha shoulder bags, ornaments and decorations are available.
Ban Ruammit elephant camp can be reached by long tail boat from Chiang Rai pier, boats leave at 10.30am. By road it is only about 19 km. It is also possible to hire a long tail boat from Ban Ruammit to take you upstream to visit a nice hot spring.
My driver picked me up at 10 am sharp. I decided to book a private tour to do what I wanted and cross it off the list…but im sure if I had done it on my own it would have been a lot cheaper. I paid 1500THB for the driver for all day to take me to 2
destinations, fuel, lkong boat ride and lunch plus a 300THB for the tribes Village. I wanted to visit one of the elephant villages in the region.
The driver took me to the long boat station, 3.2 km from Cordelia Hotel where I was staying. I would have taken me about 40 minutes to walk. From there I had a very scenic ride, though mountains, hills, rice, corn and pinnaple fields to the elephant village. I was hoping to see the elephants playing with water but this camp is not set up for that…I didn’t get to see them in the water ….good thing I didn’t bring my housing because It would have been a waste…but I got to feed them and take a few photos. No babies in this camp.
5 hours south in the bigger city of Chaing Mai there are more Elephant Camps. If you book though the official website it is chaper and you save all the middle man fee’s and you have options like staying in the village or volunteering for more thatn one day. That would be a real humble experience but since I waited too long to book
I decided just to go to Chiang Rai and visit one of the small elephant villages for a few hours and see the tribes. If you are interested the link for the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mae is www.elephantnaturepark.org
. “You will learn the practice of traditional mahout elephant commands and then learn to ride the elephants, then trek across the river and through the jungle on your elephant, eat an outhentic mahout lunch in the mountains, visit the black mud spa and get dirty playing with your elephant, and then finish the day bathing your elephant and go swimming. Come back to the camp, clean off and either spend the night or return to hotel”…not bad : )
“As the national animal of Thailand, the elephant has a very special place in Thai culture. In fact, Thailand has been associated with elephants for hundreds of years. The national flag was previously a white elephant on a red background and elephants - in particular white ones, were an essential part of royal panoply. However, unlike African elephants, Asian elephants can easily be tamed. In the past, not only were they used for ceremonial purposes, but
they were also used in warfare as battering rams, tanks, fighting platforms and as a general source of terror. Elephants were also used to transport people and goods during the 19th and early 20th centuries and were used extensively in the teak industry.
Elephants have always been part of the culture and way of life in Chiang Mai by Vidx\\\0022';">
also. The first time a Thai king ever visited Chiang Mai was in 1927 and he rode into the city in a grand parade of eighty-four elephants that included four consular elephants belonging to King George V. On that occasion His Majesty was presented with a baby white elephant that had recently been born in a teak logging camp.
Unfortunately, there are very few elephants left in the wild anymore and their very existence is thought to be in considerable danger. Nowadays, elephants are mainly used as tourist attractions in camps and shows up and down the country”.
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D MJ Binkley
Dave and Merry Jo Binkley
Life is good. It is meant to be experienced and treasured.