Hilltribes and Elephant Rides

Fresh from our wounds from an organized trip gone bad (the one in Bangkok), Lindsay and I decided to give it another go in Chiang Mai. This time we signed up for a trip that led us on a hike to a hilltribe north of Chiang Mai, an elephant ride and finally whitewater rafting. The Floating Market/monkey show/cobra show/sick-elephant ride/wooden carving/gem factory was completely shown up by today’s trip. Our guide did take us one place we didn’t know we were going, but it was pleasant and free.

We were picked up at 8:30 this morning by a joyful Thai man and taken to a butterfly and orchid farm outside of the city. “Oh no,” I thought, “here comes another monkey show for 200 bahts ($5) each.” But instead we were led into an oasis of butterflies and orchids. Lindsay was in heaven. Snapping photos like her life depended on it, trying to figure out how flowers could be that pretty.

Then we moved on to a long-neck hilltribe camp. We hiked about 2 miles after a bumpy road ride. No one in our group seemed quite convinced that this tribe was authentic. But I guess I was easily fooled. Instead of questioning, I remained silent. These chicks looked for real. And interestingly, this tribe, known as the Karen, are refugees from Burma who have been allowed by the Thai government to make a home in the hills of Thailand. The women are what make the tribe so unique. They start wearing rings around their necks at age five. Each year means another ring, until they are 25.

We walked back out past teak trees (pronounced treek by our guide), banana trees, and guava trees. And it was hot. We went onto eat lunch and then hopped on elephants. Quite an experience. These guys seem less than thrilled to walk, but they do it. You could almost feel them roll their eyes when we hopped on their back. But any disdain they had for the American tourist changed once we got our hands on some bananas to feed them. According to our guide, they eat 300 bananas and 20 gallons of water a day. “Very expensive,” he said.

Right after our elephant ride they loaded us onto rafts. I was ready to be unimpressed with Thailand rapids after several trips down western North Carolina and West Virginia rivers, but I couldn’t help but let out a couple of yelps on these brown rapids. I nearly fell out of the raft one time. Carving through the jungle of northern Thailand helped too, seeing landscape unlike anything I had seen before.

Lindsay and I finally feel rested up and in vacation mode here in Chaing Mai. Bangkok’s crowded streets and pollution kept us from being

truly relaxed, and the expensive ways of the

countries’ beaches made us feel our “cheap vacation in Thailand” was not truly being realized. But seeing rural Thailand today by foot, elephant-back and water made us feel like this was a place where we could definitely return.

Tomorrow we are temple hopping and continuing our study of Buddhism. It is amazing how these people seem to truly incorporate their religion into their lives. Patience, a very important aspect of Buddhism, is very apparent in their day to day life. Anyways, off to strike up more deals with the night vendors, does anyone want something Thai?


  1. deborah says:

    AWESOME! I’m taking the picture of you two riding the elephant to school on Monday. My kids will love it! The poor women with the rings around their necks looks like a picture from National Geographic.


  2. Jessica says:

    Michael here … Whit – you may be getting to ride elephants, enjoy some rapids and learn interesting things about cultures on the other side of the world but we get to hang drywall and watch the Little League World Series. Now who’s jealous?


  3. Jessica says:

    Those pictures are awesome! Looks like you guys had a really fun day. How do those women chew their food with those rings? And then the ear jewelry makes my ears hurt! Feeding those elephants looked fun!If you come across any wooden animal toys, I’ll take some of those. Since Whit asked … =)


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