Saturday, January 30, 2010

Blowfish, Elephants, and Tigers

On the 29th we had noticed Pavan had some swelling around the cheeks and eyelids. We decided to wait until the 30th to see if it would subside on it's own (as in with minor medication) or not.

On January 30th Pavan woke up with excitingly puffy facial features around her cheeks and eyes. She nicknamed herself "blowfish". We were worried enough about this we decided to take her to somewhere that did cheaper laundry than the hotel (pay per piece!) and then the Chiang Mai Ram Hospital. The hotel breakfast was surprisingly good. Vile coffee was offset by outstanding fruit! After breakfast it was time to cure Pavan and hopefully get in some sights after. We had heard hospital visits often took hours and hours before seeing anyone so we were not optimistic about the sights part of the plan.

Luckily we had hired a driver the day before so getting around was pleasantly painless. Our chariot:

First up the laundromat: some ladies house in a back alley.

The laundry rates at "some ladies house" were about the same per KG of clothing as per article at the hotel.

Having abandoned our clothes to the whims of some lady we headed for the Chiang Mai Ram Hospital. The driver assured us this was a good (and very expensive) hospital. On arrival we checked in, waited around for quite some time, then finally got to see a ophthalmologist. We were skeptical about the medical care until we got to chatting with him and it turned out he had just finished spending several years training in Vancouver at the same facility Pavan's real ophthalmologist works. On hearing a vague description of Pavan's doctor he identified him by name! We grabbed a picture. We hope to deliver a copy to some of the people at the Vancouver hospital when we get home as we all (us+the doc) figured they'd get a kick out of it.

The doc gave the same assessment we came up with on our own - allergic reaction to bite or food - and prescribed some medication to clear matters up. In Thailand the meds are provided at the hospital so when we checked out and paid - just 933 THB including medication - we got a little slip to take over to the dispenser who issued us the meds on the spot. With that taken care of it was time to go sightseeing!

First stop was the Maesa Elephant Sanctuary. For a ludicrous fee we were able to hire elephant transport to what the locals (and signage) describes as the "Long Neck" village. We were later to learn that the so-called Long Necks, more properly Padaung or Kayan, are involuntary (in that they volunteered vs. an alternative of probable extreme unpleasantness) residents who are being arguably exploited (arguable in that they profit from said exploitation and can live on the proceeds) through use as a tourist attraction in a manner that could be said to be undignified. By all accounts their legal status in Thailand is fuzzy but they are "not dead", a state often regarded as desirable. It is however rather regrettable that it sounds like they don't get an option to live without being a tourist attraction (yes, after the fact we realized we're "part of the problem"!) in Thailand. Kayan seems to be the most correct name so we'll try to use that henceforth. All signage and local discussion refers to them using the probably rude term "Long Neck". Anyway, we digress somewhat.

To reach our steeds we wandered through the Maesa facility and were tremendously excited to catch our first glimpses of elephants! Naturally the mahouts are old hands at extracting a few THB from you for pictures.

As it was about time for our ride we headed to the boarding platform.

We set off and soon learned that an elephant is a walking stomach first and a mahout-obeying transport vehicle second.

At one point our mahout disembarked to take pictures. Although it seems like nothing after playing mahout at the conservation center at the time it was rather exciting to be up on a driverless elephant.

In the extreme heat it may be necessary to add water to keep your elephant operational. Luckily newer models are capable of managing this on their own.

The Kayan village seemed quite nice, aside from the total absence of woman with long necks.

On inspection of the fine print we discovered the village included several tribal peoples and the Kayan were off in a corner. On arrival in said corner we were a bit shocked. A dirt road led up through rows of crude huts. On the "street" facing side of each hut the woman or women of the house were selling things. The entire place was a bizarre combination of zoo and bazaar. Like most visitors we really wanted some photos and like most visitors we felt obliged to buy some of their handcrafts to "pay" for it. Luckily their work is rather nice. Still, having read a little more about the plight of the Kayan in Thailand we suspect we really shouldn't have visited at all.


After visiting the Kayan it was just about time for the Maesa elephant bathing and then their show. Unfortunately the village we'd be elephant-dropped at had no signage at all about how to get back to Maesa! We roamed about, asked once or twice with varying degrees of comprehension by the other party, and eventually got onto what we thought was the way. A short distance along the way we encountered our driver Phen waiting and she drove us back. Handy!

On re-entering Maesa we hurried to see the bathing. The elephants were just entering the water as we arrived.

One elephant walked in, rolled over, and promptly spent the entire bathing period impersonating a diesel/electric submarine, surfacing periodically to "snort" through the trunk.

After bath time it was show time.

...and they all fall down!

In addition to being well known as intelligent, social, animals elephants are also quite into sport. Football for instance.

Some elephants enjoy the arts.

Skill levels may vary somewhat.

One elephant even painted an elephant but that picture was purchased before we could get up to take a picture of it. One has to wonder if the elephant is simply repeating trained brush strokes or if it can look at the picture and recognize the plant, tree, or elephant it has produced.

If a mahout misbehaves he may be disciplined by his elephant. If only. This is elephant massage.

Returning to sport, we have an elephant beating a child at darts!

After the show a number of elephants advance to the rail to take pictures and extract tips. A blatant cash grab - the elephants are very good at taking bills and passing to their mahouts - this is still quite fun and the tips involved are pretty trivial. An elephant played a hat trick on Pavan...

...then tried to eat her!

Everywhere you go ... elephants!

After Maesa it was time for the Tiger Kingdom. We were a bit worried about running low on cash so we suggested we make a quick run (~20 minutes each way) back to the city. Our driver REALLY didn't want to do this, so much so she offered to loan us cash if we ran out (we didn't as it turned out). We figure cost of gas is a major overhead.

On arrival at the tiger kingdom we grabbed a snack at their restaurant. Lunch was thus consumed just across the fence from an area where a couple of decent size tigers roamed. One of them was hunting leaves! Curious as you'd think the guy moving the leaves around on the pole would be more to his taste...

The leaves were elusive but the cat did make a couple of pretty good tries for them.

After lunch we faced the stressful decision of what tigers to visit. You pay per visit and there are a variety of options - {smallest cat, biggest cat, semi-small + fairly large package, etc}. We opted for the biggest (320 THB) and the smallest (520 THB). You get 15 minutes with each.

On entering the first cage to visit the big tiger our camera promptly began to misbehave. Instead of taking a picture the shutter would open/close many times very fast and one or several basically black photos would result. Luckily the staff allowed us to hire a tiger kingdom "professional" photographer (eg "random dude with digital SLR") so we still got tons of photos. They give you these on a cd with both your personal pictures plus 100 or so stock pictures of the animals and facility.

The first cat was the bigger one. They advise you to approach from the rear and not pester his face or encourage "playful" activity. He is certainly big enough that when he turns and eyes you some prehistoric survival system kicks in and informs you that you might be supper in the near future. The staff taps his face with sticks (which doesn't appear to hurt him whatsoever) to keep him from spending too much time looking at the guests. Overall he really just seemed to want to be left alone to nap.

After the big guy the little girl (4 months?) seemed VERY small. However, she was still rather larger than a housecat and could probably manage to give you a decent scratch!

Luckily she was putting most of her attention to trying to learn more about what was out the window and stalking and attacking her sister.

Other distractions included a sudden onset of diarrhoea. It is pretty clear who is the boss in this relationship!

I see my sister ... this means war!!

All this was exhausting so we had to take a break.

After this we wandered around admiring the cats while waiting for a CD of our photos to be prepared. At one cage a large cat was growling and roaming aggressively so we stopped to watch along with another small group. We got to talking and learned they had just finished the Thai Elephant Conservation Center mahout course we wanted to take (still waiting for confirmation...). They said it was awesome, that the center had terrible IT and was awful at email response, and gave us a phone number for the gentlemen who handles all the emails. Armed with this we were able to borrow our drivers phone, call him, and pester for confirmation. A day or two later we confirmed our booking for Feb 4-6. We wanted 1-3 but this was unavailable. As we were flying out on Feb 6 this meant cutting the last day off short, which we thought sucked. Luckily when we arrived some days later they shuffled the schedule so we still got to do all the activities.

After the tigers we grabbed a couple of drinks at 7-11 and headed back into Chiang Mai. After settling up with the driver we went for a stroll to see the area markets and so on. We soon came upon a Fish Spa.

After a 15 minute spa we meandered over towards the night markets.

The night markets sold all the expected handicrafts, not-so-handicrafts, clothing, etc. We wandered, grabbed the odd item, and had a nice Indian dinner. The restaurant didn't serve alcohol but the one next door did so they moved us to sit next door and restaurant 1 brought us food to eat in restaurant 2, which provided the drinks.

One more day in Chiang Mai then off to Sukhothai, and then the mahout course at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center!!

No comments:

Post a Comment