Thursday, December 10, 2009

discovering Thailand.... part 5 Chiang Mai...Elephant Safari and Long neck Karen Tribe..


This tour is available in two options ---- coach or private. We opted to take the private tour with our own van and personal driver / tour guide.. The private option offers you a greater flexibility and you can spend as much time at any of the places that you visit. Unlike the tight and fixed schedules of coach tours, the private option allows you to do the tour at YOUR OWN PACE... The cost of hiring a private van and driver is 1500 Baht a day.

Less than 2 hours drive out of Chiang Mai is the valley of the Mae Taeng River. It is a convenient and ideal location for various activities including sports and sightseeing. The Mae Taeng Camp is a well-known elephant camp situated not far away from the heart of Chiang Mai.

As we entered the Mae Taeng Camp we proceeded to the ticket booth to see what rides were being offered. They had bamboo rafting which lasts for 45 minutes ( 400 baht/ person ), Ox - driven cart which lasts for an hour ( 600 baht/ person ) and elephant ride which lasts for an hour and a half ( costs 600 Baht/ person )... We took the elephant safari instead of the bamboo rafting and the ox-cart ride.....

We were informed that the elephant ride would take us through the jungles and cross the river... It sounded so exciting to us... so after a quick lunch break we headed off to the stalls where we would ride the elephants. The trainer of the elephant we rode controlled the elephant by his voice command. AMAZING!!!!

I was a bit scared in some parts of the trail ... --- the elephant would stop and hesitate whether to cross the river or not.. and on some parts of the jungle path... I thought we would fall down the steep ravine... Riding the elephant is quite fun and a unforgettable adventure to a city girl like me....The ride was another thing you have to master... you either SWAY from the left to right... and UP and DOWN .... I should caution you not to take this ride right after lunch like we did...... at some portions of the jungle ... Several times along the path..  we would stop at the small stalls to buy SUGAR CANES and RAW BANANAS ( around 30 baht / pack ) and feed it to your elephant and get snorted at!!!  I guess its their version of an elephant fast food drive-thru!!

After getting off the elephant, the trainer made our elephant do some tricks for us and when I took some money to pay the trainer for the photos I took... The elephant took it using his trunk and gave it to his trainer and did a cute curtsey.... That made my day!!!  It was absolutely AMAZING!!

Don't miss the once -in- a- lifetime experience of riding on an elephant and trekking into the jungle. You will be thrilled! Grasp the handle bar firmly, its like a roller-coaster ride.

Our next stop was the Long Neck Karen Hill Tribe Village ( Lisu Long Neck from Burma ).

They seem to be a fixture of every package tour or day trip when you visit Thailand. Among the most 'popular " of the hill tribes are the LISU , commonly referred to as the tribe of " Longnecked " women. Several villages of these people, part of the Karen refugees from Burma, are found in Northern Thailand, especially around Mae Hong Son. These tribe lives in extreme humble means mostly wooden huts with grass rooftops. They are fascinating people, friendly and always smiling. I do not know if these smiles were faux but I do know it was the highlight of my Thailand experience.

The women of the Lisu tribe wear brass coils around their neck. Their necks are no different from yours or mine even though it appears to be longer. Contrary to what was once believed, the coils do not stretch out the necks, but rather they push the shouders and rib cage downward. These coils are put on their necks at a very young age. If removed their neck muscles are so weak they are unable to lift their own heads.  Girls start wearing small coils around the age of six, and the size is increased as they grow older. The coils on the adults typically weigh about 5 kilos ( or roughly 11 pounds ).

Whether or not you decide to visit these people is up to you. On one hand, tourism is one of the few ways that these people can earn a living. As refugees, they are not allowed to seek regular work in Thailand. Most of these women seem to be proud of their heritage and feel no embarrassment about showing it off for the tourists.

Their traditional dress is the most colorful when compared to other tribes. Their clothes are handmade and hand woven. The women wear brightly colored costumes, consisting of blue or green parti - colored knee lenght tunic with a wide black belt and blue or green pants. Sleeves , shoulder and cuffs are heavily embroidered with narrow horizontal bands of blue and red . They also wear large amounts of hand-crafted silver ornaments.

The entrance fee to the hill tribe is 500 Baht. Then you have to hike up the hill to where the LISU women live. Inside the village the people have shops and sell different items like soap, crafts, postcards etc.  and their main source of income is weaving scarves.

I must admit I felt like I was strolling onto a page of National Geographic magazine. When in the presence of the people they spoke of longing to go back to their homeland and here they are 14 years later still without citizenship or a place to call their own.

1 comment:

  1. The "long neck" people are a type of Karen, not Lisu. The Lisu are a completely different hill tribe, unrelated to the Karen. The woman in the red dress is Palong hill tribe. The woman in the black dress is Akha hill tribe.