Archive for April 19th, 2010

While in Chiang Mai, Kelly and I had two of our most memorable experiences of the trip thus far — a visit to Tiger Kingdom and Baan Chang Elephant Park.

Tiger Kingdom, located ten or so miles outside of the city, is a park where visitors pay to interact with tigers; the money collected pays for the park’s upkeep and tigers’ care.   After deciding which age group you would like to see, you are escorted to a holding pen, where two or three people at a time are allowed to enter (with the tiger’s handlers, of course) and you can then sit with, lay with and even PET the tigers.

How is this possible?  A lot of people insist that the tigers MUST be sedated in order for a strange human to get so close to such a deadly animal.   The park staff were quick to assure us that none of the tigers are sedated and that no chains are ever used to restrain them.  We learned that tigers are actually pretty lazy animals.  They sleep about eighteen hours a day and only hunt at dawn and dusk out of necessity.   Visiting hours at the park are between these feeding times and since the tigers are well fed and have no need to hunt, they mainly just lay around all day.   Surprisingly, they are pretty indifferent to the people around them that are scratching their bellies and stroking their coats.

Kelly and I sat with the young 3-5 month tigers and then spent some time with the adults. I’ll admit that it was a little scary to be sitting next to a 300+ pound carnivorous cat, but so cool to be that up close and personal with a FRICKEN TIGER. Everyone should be happy to know that no Siegfried and Roy mauling took place, although the thought did cross my mind.

3-5 Month Olds


The big guy...please don't rip our faces off.


 Kelly forked over the extra dough to play with the newborns while I snapped photos. The babies were much more playful and it was cute watching them pounce and nip all over Kelly. We left the park that day with huge smiles on our faces, in awe of our time spent with these incredible animals.

You know you want one

Chiang Mai is also a great place to have an ‘elephant experience’, something that I really wanted to do. Most travelers achieve this on a two or three day trek to the hill-tribe villages, in which an hour or so elephant ride through the jungle is included.

Unfortunately, most of the trekking companies have you ride in a wooden ‘chair’ strapped to the elephants back and the trip culminates with a ‘show’ where the elephant paints pictures for its audience. We wanted no part of this scene and really wanted our money to go to an organization that was concerned with the well-being of the elephants and not the exploitation of them.

After doing some research, we settled on a day visit to Baan Chang Elephant Park. Owned and operated by a Thai family, the park is home to twelve elephants (two babies!) and provides a safe and healthy environment for the animals to live long happy lives, without having to perform in shows or act as beasts of burden. The park does not believe in separating babies from their mothers or using chairs for riding. Visitors fees help pay not only for the upkeep of the park and food/care for the elephants, but also goes towards the purchase or rescue of other exploited elephants.

Upon arrival at the park, we immediately changed into our stylish mahout clothes.  A mahout is basically a trainer that is assigned to an elephant for life, thus developing a very close relationship with the animal. We made friends with the elephants by feeding them bushels of bananas and sugar cane. You can place the treat right into their mouth or hold it out for them to scoop in with their trunk.   It was so much fun and Kelly and I even got a kiss from one of them!

Elephant kisses. My face in this picture says it all.

So cute

We were then taught how to get on and off the elephants neck and several mahout commands for riding (bareback, of course)…how to turn left, turn right, stop, go, etc.

Kelly learning her mahout commands

After lunch, we were assigned an elephant and began our two hour ride through the jungle. Kelly and I were thrilled to be riding Mamoo, as she was a mother elephant whose baby walked with us the whole way. The ride itself was a little uncomfortable, but still pretty amazing.

Jungle Ride!

Once out of the jungle, the elephants were led into a large pool (with us still on top), where we were given brushes to bathe our elephants. We spent some time scrubbing Mamoo, getting sprayed with water from her trunk, and laughing at Mamoo’s baby splash and swim all around us. This was definitely our favorite part of the day!

When bath time was over, everyone took showers, said goodbye to the elephants, and were shuttled back to our respective guesthouses. It was a fantastic day and such an amazing experience to be able to spend time with the elephants.  It’s easy to see why people dedicate their lives to making a healthy home for these lovable animals.

Me, Mamoo, and baby

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