Aside from these elephant beauties, David and I didn’t get to see much of supposedly-quaint Chiang Mai. David was sick for the first half of our visit, and I was sick for the second half. Fortunately, our day with the elephants arrived in the eye of our food poisoning storm, and we couldn’t have been luckier to enjoy such a unique experience. Unfortunately, we missed out on furniture hunting, the night markets, and my much-anticipated cooking class (but no fear! I found another one later).
We have deduced that our hotel restaurant was the food poisoning culprit, despite its deliciousness. David’s sickness kicked off with a gorgeous English tea overlooking the river. All of the snacks and sandwiches were excellent, especially this creamy bacon and spinach quiche with a sweet-tart tomato jam. I loved the color contrast of the tomato on the blue dishes. Inspiration galore! My food poisoning picked up a few days later with succulent Vietnamese beef and a perfectly-grilled chicken. Is nothing safe anymore?!
But enough of our misery and on to the elephants! Taking care of an elephant for a day is really hard work. All of the brushing and washing and feeding made my muscles sore for a week. But riding the elephants is a whole different story- my thighs were sore for two weeks just from holding on! The elephants were intimidating at first because they are huge, and I didn’t want to be trampled or whacked. But the elephants were very gentle and intelligent. They understood commands and could do things like lie down, spray water with their trunks, help riders mount and unmount (see that foot?!), walk, and open their mouths.
I learned a ton of different ways to assess an elephant’s health and behavior, but the most surprising thing I learned is that elephants only really care about two things: eating and scratching themselves. Elephants eat a truly outrageous amount of food, and it takes them forever to walk any distance because they are constantly hunting for snacks. I can’t really fault them for that. Elephants also get really irritated by the million flies and mosquitos that pester them all day long. They swing their trunks and flick their tails to keep the bugs off of them. They rub themselves against trees and cliffs to scratch the areas they can’t reach. And the professional elephant trainers, while they have a real bond with their elephants, spend most of their time swatting insects. It’s exhausting!
Lunch was a nice way to relax between elephant treks. The food was abundant- crispy fried chicken legs, a bunch of different kinds of sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves, lots of fruit, and some cakey desserts. After lunch, we were instructed to feed much of the leftovers to the elephants (except for the meat and the fruit that was not picked locally, because “it might have chemicals”).
There were quite a few baby elephants frolicking around too. They were nuts. One of the babies was just a few months old, and it did not know what to do with itself. It ran around like a chicken without its head, stepping on people’s feet and trying to snatch as much food as it could. But the baby wasn’t very coordinated, and it smeared banana all over its face. David and I were sitting on a bench, and the baby came over to search for food. When it didn’t find any, it turned around and sat on David’s lap. I have never seen such a crazy sight!
By popular demand, here is the video of the elephant sitting on David’s lap 🙂
For those of you who have been to Chiang Mai and didn’t have to spend your stay recuperating in bed, what did we miss? Is it worth a return visit?