Tag Archives: elephant

Meeting the elephants of Chiang Mai

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.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Camp 7
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Camp 7

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.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Camp 7
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Camp 7

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.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Camp 7
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Camp 7

At Elephant Jungle Sanctuary locals of Chiang Mai work together with members of the Karen hill-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.

A Karen woman
A Karen woman – from Wikimedia Commons

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.

Camp 7 chang
Camp 7 chang

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.

Camp 7 baby
Camp 7 baby

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.

Chang
Chang

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.

Elephants of the neighboring camp
Elephants of the neighboring camp

The youngsters at this camp were much larger. At every break in the feeding they like to get into the mud.

Adolescent elephant
Adolescent elephant

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.

Elephants walking the trails
Elephants walking the trails

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.

Medicine balls
Medicine balls

The chang gathered again at camp 7 when the medicine balls were ready to serve. The rain had stopped, but it would resume.

Camp 7 elephants
Camp 7 elephants

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.

Camp 7 chang
Camp 7 chang

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 Mai Ban Tan, a beautiful white temple trimmed in gold

We saw Wat Mai Ban Tan from the highway and decided to stop and have a look. We were just east of Udon Thani Province, in Sakon Nakhon Province, on .

Wat Mai Ban Tan
Wat Mai Ban Tan

This is a fairly new temple, and I haven’t found out much about it. There’s still a lot of work being done on the outer grounds (those near the temple are immaculate). The temple and immediate surroundings show that Wat Mai Ban Tan is very well funded.

Ground floor interior
Ground floor interior

I took off my shoes when everyone else did, but I forgot about my hat. Everyone there smiled at me and didn’t say a word. Eventually one of my Thai companions mentioned it, and I took it off.

Ground floor Buddha
Ground floor Buddha

This beautiful little temple on the pond would have to wait until we finished inside.

Small shrine near the temple
Small shrine near the temple

The second level looks down on the first from an interior balcony that runs all the way around (see the 3rd pic up). The walls are lined with statues of venerable departed monks. They’re all very well done, and all executed in the same style, presumably for this space. I was drawn to the one below with his snake staff.

Venerable departed monk
Venerable departed monk

Doors on four sides lead out to an exterior balcony. From there stairs lead up to the third level. I’ve seen vessels like the one shown below claimed to contain a bone fragment of the Buddha, but I have almost no information on this temple.

Third level interior
Third level interior
Third level interior
Third level interior

In two corners are small collections of Buddhas.

Third level interior
Third level interior
Third level interior
Third level interior

Outside we got a close look at Buddha riding a three-headed gold elephant. He is flanked by a pair of Phaya Naga that either have very large horns, or are breathing fire (and have very small horns).

Third level exterior detail
Third level exterior detail

Above the Buddha’s head is the dharmachakra, or “Wheel of the Dharma“. This is the symbol of Buddhism in Thailand. The flag below, alternating with the flag of Thailand, is flown along the way to temples in Thailand – and to Thai temples elsewhere in the world.

The Dhammachak Flag - from Wikimedia Commons
The Dhammachak Flag – from Wikimedia Commons

The elephant is a symbol of physical and mental strength, as well as responsibility and earthiness. The elephant also appears as a guardian of temples and of Buddha himself.

The peacock is a symbol of openness and acceptance. Peacocks flank the four entrances to Wat Mai Ban Tan.

Peacock
Peacock

Flanking the entrance to the smaller temple shown above are one green and one gold Phaya Naga.

Phaya Naga
Phaya Naga

This may be my favorite Phaya Naga so far.

Phaya Naga
Phaya Naga

Inside the temple is a “Naga Buddha”, a Buddha seated on a Phaya Naga. One account I have seen said that a Phaya Naga in the form of a large cobra sheltered the Buddha with it’s hood to protect him from the elements, so as not to interrupt his meditations.  Phaya Naga are often shown as guardians or protectors of the Buddha.

"Naga Buddha"
“Naga Buddha”

On the Phaya Naga’s “hood” is the dharmachakra. This Buddha is very consistent in style with the Buddha in the larger temple.

Back of "Naga Buddha" with dharmachakra
Back of “Naga Buddha” with dharmachakra

Some temples are decorated with collections of Buddhas and other entities and symbols in a variety of styles. At Wat Mai Ban Tan nothing is redundant, and everything fits so well that it appears to have been created specifically for this temple. The exception is the collection of Buddha figures, but those are presented in glass display cases.

Wat Mai Ban Tan temple grounds
Wat Mai Ban Tan temple grounds

Please enjoy the full gallery of 19 pictures below.