Pretty Karen girl

Thailand 2009: Day 3 – Maesa elephant camp, ‘long-neck’ tribe village near Chiang Mai

Date: Dec 15th, 2009

After I checked in, I really didn’t have much time to sleep as it was already past 6am and my tour van would pick me up by 8am. So I went downstairs for breakfast with my laptop in tow.

The lobby of Rux Thai Guesthouse, where they have a restaurant
The lobby of Rux Thai Guesthouse, where they have a restaurant

The breakfast isn’t included in the room fare but my pancakes with ant-tipped honey and coffee cost me 100 baht (Rs. 130, including tip). The van picked me up at 8am and went around collecting all the other tourists from nearby hotels.

I’m not usually the ‘package tour’ kinda guy because the ‘sights’ sometimes offered really don’t interest me and they often include places where you are expected to spend money (souvenir shops, handicraft shops, casinos etc.). But whatever, our first stop was the Maesa Elephant Camp, 20kms from Chiang Mai city.

You can read about the place on their website but we were there for a slew of activities, first of which was the elephant show. Basically, the elephants perform a variety show for us. From greeting us, kicking around footballs, lugging around wood, to painting (which you can buy) and other things that are intended to entice a chuckle from the audience. Amusing, if you are a kid — or one whose easily amused.

I know, I know — they’re elephants and it’s not easy to train any animal to do things like that but you can get a drift how the show is by the several videos visitors have put up on YouTube.

When I started shooting, the autofocus just froze on the camera (“Oh crap” moment #3). This put me off-mood immediately. Mostly because I had my friend, Jyothy Karat‘s 70-200 f2.8 lens mounted on and I thought it was the lens’ fault. It was upsetting because me and Jyothy’s lenses are like a bad omen. I’ve always had bad luck with them. Anyway, I switched off the camera and after a while, it was fine. I did manage to take a few photos of the show but I accidentally deleted them upon return. The only photo I have is this:

An elephant at the Maesa elephant camp
Seriously, this is all I have from the show

So instead, you can check out photos from the camp other people took!

By 11am, it was over and we moved on to our next activity — an ox cart ride! Yup, an Indian flew to a different country to take an ox ride! Needless to say, the back-breaking ride was a complete waste of time for me. Even the woman from Montreal who sat next to me found it terribly annoying.

Ox cart ride at Maesa Elephant Camp
It was hot, sunny and very bumpy
Some resort near Maesa Elephant Camp
Some resort near Maesa Elephant Camp
Some paddy field near Maesa elephant camp
The ride lasted nearly 10 minutes near some village

When we finally got off the ride, it was at some village where stalls were set up with items on sale by the villagers there. I walked with the lady from Montreal, Christine her name was, through the stall as we waited for our next activity.

Which was another ride but fortunately, this was on elephant. Me & Christine got into ours and felt this was way better. Weirdly, as we talked more, me and Christine shared common interests. She, like me, was travelling alone, has her own blog (it’s in French) and is recording a lot of footage from her travels to put up online one day.

The fairly long elephant ride was actually enjoyable. Especially when it went into the river. I’ll post the HD video of it later.

Elephant ride at the Maesa Elephant Camp
The ride takes you all round the camp and follows a nice path

By 12:30pm we were back to where we started the ox ride. I insisted on tipping the mahout since Christine paid for the bamboo shoots the elephant was fed (you’ll see it in the upcoming video).

We then had lunch at the camp restaurant. It was a buffet lunch consisting of food that tasted more like the Indo-Chinese food you get here. Mediocre except for the fried chicken.

Taiwanese girl, Maesa elephant camp
An adorable Taiwanese girl who was part of our tour group

After the mediocre lunch, next up on the itinerary was bamboo rafting on the river surrounding the camp.

Bamboo rafting at Maesa elephant camp
Yes, we were all given traditional farmer hats and no, we couldn’t keep them

It started off well… until we got stuck near some shallow rocks.

Our bamboo raft stuck
Our bamboo raft got stuck …
Bamboo rafting at Maesa
… but nothing that a bump from another raft couldn’t fix…
Bamboo raft stuck at Maesa elephant camp
… and we were soon back on our way

The ride was smooth and quite relaxing…

Bamboo rafting at Maesa elephant camp
Our raft ‘driver'(?) didn’t bump his head
The views when taking the bamboo raft in Maesa elephant camp
The view from the bamboo raft

… but after half-an-hour or so, it got quite boring and with the hot sun, me & Christine were kinda itching for it to get over so we could get back to our air-conditioned van.

(I have HD videos of the rafting and I will put them up later… once I figure out how to edit video properly)

We eventually did get back to our van. Next stop, a village inhabited by the people of the Kayan tribe (Wikipedia link). The ‘long-neck’ tribe gained mainstream attention after National Geographic did a documentary on them (or at least, that’s how I got to know of their existence). Originally from Myanmar, fearing the military conflicts in Burma, a lot of Kayans fled to neighbouring Thailand where many of them sought refuge — as tourist attractions.

A Karen girl with her child in Chiang Mai outskirts
A Kayan girl with her child
Karen girl handicraft, Chiang Mai
Most of them make a living off of handicrafts
Pretty Karen girl
Isn’t she pretty?
Young Karen girl selling handicrafts
But you tend to wonder if they were actually happy being there

Again, just like the Tiger Temple at Kanchanburi, the settlement of the Kayan tribe in North Thailand by the Thai government has also drawn controversy. Accusations have been made against these ‘human zoos’ because the ‘village’ actually looked like a bunch of huts/stalls manned by a young girl selling all sorts of souvenirs. Some items made by them, others surely mass-produced. There was even an entrance fee (which I didn’t have to pay).

Kayan village, Chiang Mai
Christine pumped a few hundred Thai baht into the village economy out of sympathy

Freedom aside, I just hope the income the ‘long-neck’ people earn from tourists really do end up in their pockets and not in the hands of the Thai tourism department.

After I took a few videos (which by now, you know you won’t see for a while) we left the ‘village’. I thought the tour was over as I really wanted to get back to Chiang Mai city — but there was one more stop.

At some orchid farm. Not really interested in knowing much about the place while the talk was being given by our guide, I simple walked around and played with the 50mm lens.

A goldfish in Chiang Mai Orchid farm
They had a small aquarium at the farm
Orange flower at Mae Sa Orchid farm, Chiang Mai
I love how these slightly out-of-focus shots turned out
Mae Sa orchid farm flowers
Left: f2, 1/250, ISO100; Right: f2.8, 1/400, ISO100 — both taken using 50mm
Mae Sa Orchid Farm, Chiang Mai
Taken exactly at 4:00pm (I checked the camera info)
Mae Sa Orchid Farm, Chiang Mai
(Not a whole lot of variety in the colour of the flowers there)
Orchid farm, Chiang Mai
Yes, her again
Dog in a sweater at Orchid farm, Chiang Mai
I don’t know why this dog was given a sweater in Chiang Mai’s heat

After this, we were finally done. The tour van dropped us back at our respective hotels and Christine and I exchanged business cards so we’d keep in touch with each others escapades.

Other posts in this series:

Getting ready for my trip

The day I left for Thailand

Day 1 – Suvarnabhumi, Pantip Plaza, Fotofile & MBK

Day 2 – Bridge over the River Kwai and Tiger Temple (Wat Pa Luangta Bua) in Kanchanaburi

Taking the bus to Chiang Mai from Bangkok

Day 3 – Maesa elephant camp, ‘long-neck’ tribe village near Chiang Mai

Day 3 (Part 2) – Chiang Mai Night Market

Day 4 – Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai… and back in town

Day 5 – Leaving Chiang Mai for Phuket

Day 5 (Part 2) – One night in Phuket

Day 6 – Leaving Phuket for Ao Nang by bus (via Phang Nga)

Day 7 – Touring Koh Phi Phi (Maya Bay, Monkey Island & Bamboo Island)

Day 7 (Part 2) – Exploring Railay, Krabi

Day 8 – Flying from Phuket to Bangkok

Day 8 (Part 2) – Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok

Day 9 – MBK, Siam Paragon… and ‘little Arabia’?

Day 10 – Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha) and finally leaving Thailand

Figures, lessons learned, and things I couldn’t do

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