Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is an ethical eco-tourism project located approximately 60km from Chiang Mai. They offer Asian elephant encounters that don’t include rides, which can cause permanent damage to the elephants’ backs, and they don’t use hooks.
We were picked up from our hotel in Chiang Mai city. The 1.5 hour drive hits windy roads as it enters the mountains, then at the sanctuary goes extreme off-road. Motion sickness pills are advised.
It was pouring when we arrived. Disposable ponchos were provided. The muddy tracks were slippery, but a spacious sheltered observation deck awaited us. The views above and below are from that deck.
At Elephant Jungle Sanctuary locals of Chiang Mai work together with members of the Karenhill-tribes, best known for women wearing the neck rings that push their collar bones down and make their necks appear longer. The women of these Karen tribes however don’t wear the neck rings. A large number of Karen people migrated from Myanmar to Thailand, settling mostly on the Thailand–Myanmar border.
Thai for elephant is “chang”.
To meet the chang we donned shirts with big pockets, made by the local Karen people, and stuffed the pockets full of bananas. The shirts were very similar to the Guatemalan clothing we bought at Grateful Dead shows 30 years ago. Then we put on the rain ponchos again.
The first elephant I met was an adult female. She was very calm and gentle, but it was still disconcerting to have her trunk busy reaching under the poncho and into my pocket for bananas.
Their trunks are easily agile enough to hold several bananas without crushing them, and still take more.
We peeled the bananas for the baby chang, who weren’t really into waiting for us to finish.
I couldn’t resist the urge to pat the little ones on their heads, even if they are covered with very coarse hairs. They seemed to like me taking their trunk in my hand as if to shake.
Our hosts brought more bananas, and when those were gone we fed the chang sugar cane. It was impressive to hear the adults crunch that thick cane with their teeth.
An elephant may spend 12-18 hours a day eating. An adult elephant can eat between 200-600 pounds of food in a day.
We crossed the stream to meet the chang at the neighboring camp. We fed them more sugar cane.
The youngsters at this camp were much larger. At every break in the feeding they like to get into the mud.
Our hosts served us a delicious lunch of pad thai and chicken wings and fresh fruit.
When we weren’t with the elephants the mahouts took them elsewhere. Adult males don’t hang out with the family groups, and we didn’t meet any. We occasionally heard distant trumpeting.
We made medicine balls for the elephants, mostly bananas and rice, with and without the husks. We didn’t put any medicine in the balls.
The chang gathered again at camp 7 when the medicine balls were ready to serve. The rain had stopped, but it would resume.
When the medicine balls were gone we fed them corn stalks with tiny ears of corn. The babies liked it when we peeled and fed them small ears of corn.
We changed into swimwear and helped the chang with their mud baths. Then we fed them more corn stalks before showering off the mud and getting ready for the ride home.
Below is a 6 minute video of our day with the elephants.
Please enjoy the full gallery of 12 pictures below.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is located on Doi Suthep mountain with a beautiful view over Chiang Mai. It is one of the most sacred temples in northern Thailand.
The first chedi is said to have been built in 1383. It is the most holy area in the temple grounds.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is 15 km from Chiang Mai. I consulted Google Maps for a place to get breakfast on the way out of the city and found a convenient group of restaurants, cafes and shops near scenic Huay Keaw Waterfall, just past the Chiang Mai Zoo.
You can just see the stream and trees from the car park.
I went for a picture of the river, and decided to follow it just a bit further upstream.
It isn’t too far to the waterfall. I saw trails that lead deeper into the Huay Keaw Waterfall area, which looks to be well worth exploring further.
From Huay Keaw Waterfall we started up the winding road into Doi Suthep. The parking area near the temple actually has a large number of restaurants and shops.
You can choose to walk the 309 steps to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Climbing the stairs is a way to achieve Buddhist merit. We chose to pay a small fee to take the tram.
The outer temple grounds feature shrines and gardens and the walls of the inner temple grounds.
There are several viewing platforms looking over Chiang Mai.
The structure below provides much needed shade for the highest platform.
The structure itself is decorated with lots of intricate detail.
According to legend, a bone fragment said to be the shoulder bone of the Buddha was placed on the back of a white elephant, and the elephant was released into the jungle. The elephant climbed up Doi Suthep, stopped, trumpeted three times, then dropped dead. The king promptly ordered the construction of a temple at the site.
Considering the nature of this origin legend, there are very few white elephants at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. The elephant below, although the color of the material from which it is constructed, is the elephant of legend.
To enter the inner temple grounds you must remove shoes and hat, and wear appropriate clothing. There was no one watching to insure that visitors complied. Inner temple grounds are not all sheltered from the sun, so this is one of those times when you have a problem if you were relying on a hat, rather than sunscreen, to protect your head.
Various shrines and effigies are situated around the large gold chedi, which presumably contains the legendary shoulder bone of the Buddha. We joined many other visitors in walking around it in a clockwise direction 3 times.
There are several attractive green glass Buddhas, and many gold ones.
The Phaya Naga decorating many of the roofs are done in stained glass, very similar to those at the Dragon Temple in Chiang Mai’s Old City.
Visitors to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep included many monks.
Some cuter than others.
The temple is located in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. This is surely a beautiful place, with at least a couple of waterfalls and many nature trails. Unfortunately we had neither time nor energy to explore further.
Please enjoy the full gallery of 41 pictures below.
Chiang Mai’s 15 foot high defensive wall protected the Old City for centuries. It was torn down for its bricks when the Japanese occupied Thailand during World War II. In the late 70s the city rebuilt the corners of the wall, and 5 of the gates, using old photographs.
We experienced the wall with a quick look at Chang Phuak Gate, and by just driving around the wall and moat in order to leave and enter the 1-square mile Old City. Some parts of the wall, such as the Fort of Hua-Lin, look to be worth exploring more closely, so I’ll make a point of doing that next time.
Wat Kun Kha Ma, the Horse Temple,is just a few blocks from Chang Phuak Gate.
The story of this temple, as I recall, is simple; once stables, it was made a temple to memorialize a beloved departed horse.
This is a small temple complex, attractive but with few remarkable features other than the horse focus.
Wat Kun Kha Ma does have a Buddha with an animated LED halo, with a sort of spider web above it.
Wat Rajamontean, the Dragon Temple, is a short distance further along Sri Poom Road.
Dragons are unusual at Thai temples, but they’re not what first catches the eye when approaching Wat Rajamontean from the street.
Most or all of the dragons flank the steps up from the street.
The Phaya Naga that decorate the roof are done in stained glass.
Most temples seem to be surrounded by other buildings, but I saw no way to access anything outside of Wat Rajamontean, other than by returning to the street.
There are temple spaces on two levels, each with its own white Buddha.
We went for the dragons, but we stayed for a beautifully detailed temple.
To reach Wat Lok Moli we crossed one of the pedestrian bridges over the moat, leaving the Old City. Wat Lok Moli is just north of it.
The view from across the street promised good things.
Red and green yaksha guard the gate.
Wat Lok Moli was built some time before its first known mention in a 1367 charter.
inside the gate are a pair of white elephants and trees with gold and silver leaves.
The phutthawat (temple complex) is crowded with statues of many faced and/or many-armed entities that reveal their Hindu connections. Phra Phrom, below, is the Thai representation of the Hindu god Brahma.
Below is Phra Mae Kuan Im, the East Asian “Goddess of Mercy“. In Thailand she is often depicted with a mere 2 arms.
The wihan and chedi were built in 1527 by King Ket.
The wihan appears to be built from teak, but the outside eschews the usual gold trim.
The inside is more reminiscent of other Chiang Mai Old City temples.
The exposed brick of the chedi looks its age, but it’s in pretty great shape.
Across from the chedi is a display that appears to feature replicas of chedis of other temples.
I was drawn across the street to an attractive Phra Phikanet, or Ganesha.
How could I resist the general surrounded by an army of roosters? My little Tukata’s explanation: the general loved roosters. I guess so!
That was enough temples for one day, so we took a tuk tuk (my first) back to the hotel.
Please enjoy the full gallery of 51 pictures below.
Chiang Mai is nestled among the forested foothills of Thailand’s mountainous northwest. Old City is dominated by temples and surrounded by a medieval wall and moat.
We immediately noticed that there are a lot of foreigners in Chiang Mai. What I noticed was the large number of North Americans and Europeans. It was only on the second day that I noticed the large numbers of Chinese and Koreans.
Above are the gate to Chiang Mai’s City Pillar Shrine and Wat Chedi Luang and the giant tree that towers over the walls. Below you can see the City Pillar Shrine, the nearest building. There is a small fee to enter this temple complex.
The City Pillar or Lak Mueang was moved here from Wat Inthakhin Sadue Muang in 1800 by King Chao Kawila. I don’t know why this City Pillar is in the shape of a human figure, unlike those in Udon Thani and Ban Dung – or why women are forbidden to enter this shrine.
Next door is a wihan, the shrine hall that contains the principal Buddha images of this temple complex. This is the assembly hall where monks and laypeople congregate.
Among the Buddha images inside is Phra Chao Attarot (Eighteen-cubit Buddha).
Behind the wihan is Wat Chedi Luang. Construction of this temple started in the 14th century, but finished in the 15thn century. It was then 82 meters high and had a base diameter of 54 meters, at that time the largest building in the Lanna Kingdom.
In 1545, the upper 30 meters of the structure collapsed after an earthquake.
In the early 1990s the chedi was reconstructed, financed by UNESCO and the Japanese government. The result is somewhat controversial, as some claim the new elements are in Central Thai style, not Lanna style. The top was not reconstructed because no one knows what it looked like.
Some of the temple’s elephants were reconstructed.
From the chedi/stupa there’s more space to get a good look at the wihan.
The chedi is surrounded by impressive buildings and statues and such.
Wat Chedi Luang hosts monk chats daily. Tourists are invited to speak with monks (usually novices) and ask them anything about Buddhism or Thailand.
We had set out on a walking tour of Old City temples. City Pillar Shrine and Wat Chedi Luang are highlights of Chiang Mai’s Old City. They became our first stop because they were near our hotel, and too enticing to save for later.
With over 120 temples within the city walls it is important to prioritize. We had a route and a map, but I’d suggest reviewing each temple on any such tour to be identify the ones you most want to visit. Walking between sites is tiring in the Thai heat, and we spent a good amount of time at many of the temples sites we visited.
City Pillar Shrine and Wat Chedi Luang are a must-see in Chiang Mai.
Even though we left Wat Chedi Luang with new ideas about the length of temple visits, and knowing that it would be important to prioritize, we made it less than a block along Prapokkloa Road before we made an unplanned stop at nearby Wat Phan Tao.
Wat Phan Tao was founded in the 14th century. Like most of the temples of that time, it is constructed from teak with gold accents.
An especially striking teak and gold temple beckoned from Intrawarot Road. We didn’t realize at the time that this is Wat Inthakhin Sadue Muang, the original home of the City Pillar.
Three Kings Monument is a bronze statue of and shrine to Kings Mengrai, Ramkamhaeng and Ngam Muang, who worked together in the late 1200’s to design and build Chiang Mai.
Less than a minute away from our next destination we were drawn into a small alley by the beauty of Wat Lam Chang. The gardens contribute nicely to the beauty of this small temple next to ruins of an old chedi.
Lam Chang means “shackled elephants”. King Mengrai kept his white elephants in the forested area here during the construction of Chiang Mai.
King Mengrai lived at the location of Wat Chiang Man during the building of Chinag Mai.
In 1297 he built Wat Chiang Man as Chiang Mai’s first temple. One of the standing Buddhas below is said to be the oldest intact Buddha in Chiang Mai. It has the year 1465 CE engraved on its base.
Chiang Mai was build to replace Chiang Rai as the capitol of the Lanna Kingdom. Chiang Mai means “New City”. The Lanna Kingdom became the Kingdom of Chiang Mai, a tributary state of Thailand from 1774 to 1899, and then the seat of a ceremonial prince until 1939.
Also inside the wihan is a display with 9 different Buddha statues, with signs suggesting appropriate prayers for 8 of them. Those 8 are each associated with a different day of the week, with Wednesday morning and evening separately represented. Depending on the day you were born, one pose will have particular significance for you.
Before my little Tukata explained further, I saw it as a gallery of the various Buddha statue poses. From left to right they are (above): Earth Touching Buddha, the most common pose found in Thai temples, Sunday Buddha is similar to Contemplation Buddha, and the pose suggests mental insight, and Protection Buddha (Monday).
Below middle: Reclining Buddha (Tuesday), Alms Collecting Buddha (with the bowl for donations – Wednesday morning).
Below: Buddha sitting with Monkey and Elephant (Wednesday evening), Meditation Buddha (Thursday), Naga Buddha (Friday).
There are more poses that appear in traditional Buddha statues. You can learn about them in more detail here.
The ‘Elephant Chedi’ is the oldest construction in the Wat Chiang Man temple complex.
There’s an outdoor shrine to King Mengrai.
I found the shrine below to be a very cool and innovative approach.
Wat Saen Muang Ma Luang (Wat Hua Khuang) is hidden away in the middle of an Old City block, and the buildings seem to be open to visitors at limited or irregular hours, but it’s one of my favorite temple complexes in Chiang Mai.
The area is crowded with structures, but full of spectacular detail.
There don’t seem to be many tourists here.
A Google Maps review suggests that some of the architecture may show a Burmese style.
The stupa would appear to be the oldest structure at the site.
Some reviews warn about the stray dogs. I couldn’t miss them, but they gave us no trouble.
Our walking tour of Chiang Mai’s Old City temples continued, but experience has taught me to limit the size of my posts. I’ll bring you the second half of our walking tour in my next post.
As always, Wikipedia was invaluable in providing information for this post.
Please enjoy the full gallery of 60 pictures below.
Steppin' the miles, enjoying the view, bringing it all to you.