Saturday, September 8, 2012

Chang and Seux

Having travelled around south east Asia for a while, Chang gets associated with beer fairly quickly. Luckily there are drawings on the bottle so that was the first clue to how to say elephant in Thai!

Tiger was a bit more complicated and we just had to look it up, pronunciation is closer to Seua than to the Latin official spelling of Seux.

One of the objectives of our stay in Chiang Mai was to become a mahout; an elephant trainer, in 1 day! We got a good address from N and D and on our second morning in Chiang Mai, we were heading for the camp.

We spent the morning learning Thai command to get the elephant to do a few things, like :"lift leg", "higher", "head down" so we could learn how to climb on their head.

On each successful climb, the happy elephant was getting sugar cane. There was a command to say trump up to pick up the sugar cane but we never had to learn it, they knew what to do! We did have to learn "yaya", which means no more fruit as we had a very hungry one! (after all, they do eat 250kg a day!)

At lunch, we met with all sorts of farm animals but the most popular was definitely the 4 months old baby elephant, the cutest thing ever!

Early afternoon, R and I got an elephant just for us and we went for a ride around the fields first, then in the river, just sitting on her head, legs behind the ears, trying to remember the instructions from the morning. Luckily, the real mahout was also around. (there is one per elephant and apparently, the elephant gets to pick him himself!) Once in the deeper part of the river, it was time for elephant bath (and ours as well apparently). Our elephant went on strike and decided it didn't need a bath, we joined in on the clean up of the other ones, they are big enough for several people after all!

With some bit of a special wood which has been crushed and produces great foam, we brushed the elephant trying to avoid them eating the special soap!

The interaction was brilliant, they were half submerged and the trump was coming out from time to time for breathing, making great noise and always trying to sneak around to steal the woody soap.

After a good rinse, we got back on our elephant (a different one actually as ours had given up on being social that day), we continued our walk in the river and from time to time, they were finding a bit of mud on the side, they would use their trump as a straw and then spray back the mud on us, giving us a taste of what was coming next...

The mud bath!

We got into a pool of mud and the fun started for both the elephants and the mahouts, we just got caught in the cross fire and ended up being the victims...

Climbing back up on the elephant after the mud bath proved to be very challenging, especially that ours forgot there were 2 people on his back and got back up half way through my already sleepery climb... I would have liked to take them back to the river for a wash but apparently muddy is their preferred state! (baby even went to rub himself against the muddy ones so he would get some as well!)

Once back to our original skin color (a bath in the river AND a shower were required!), we fed the elephants some lollipops we had made at lunch made of a stick of sugar cane and a big sticky ball of tamarind, rice and salt. The tamarind is good for their intestine but they don't really like it so it's hidden with the sugar cane; that's the elephant version of the kid's pill in a spoon of jam!

By the end of the day, we were playing with the elephants so much more naturally than on the morning, getting close to them, pushing them around, not afraid of their trumps anymore. It was a fantastic experience and I do not regret not seeing them playing football or painting as they do in some shows around town.

The second animal encounter of the Chiang Mai visit was with tigers, at Tiger Kingdom. I'm sure the debate will remain regarding "is it normal to get so close to tigers?", people will still say that they are drugged and badly treated etc

From what we saw, they did not look drugged, they were very reactive when waken up, but it's just the middle of the day, it's very hot and it's their usual nap time! (as in all zoo around the world, these big cats are always asleep during the day and that's the reason why Singapore got a night safari so finally people could see them during their time of activities) They are also trained and used to be in contact with people from the youngest age.

Anyway, we went and got to spend some time with the smallest, the small and the big tigers.

Baby tigers are well protected from the outside environment, no shoes allowed, hands have to be washed before getting in and they are not on the ground but live in a concrete environment.

We started with 6 months old and they are already big! May be a little bit smaller than a Labrador. Their paws seem to be over designed comparing to the rest of the body.

Weirdly, we have to sit behind them and not to interact with them from the front. Facing them would mean that we want to play and we are on an uneven ground.... (even at 6 months!)

So we sat behind them, touched them firmly (otherwise they think we are a mosquito), and got to take a lot of photos!

They are not very soft, they like their tummy being rubbed (like any animal), they are very photogenic and I'm still completely panicked each time they move a bit suddenly or when their tail got under my teeshirt which made R laughed a lot!

Second ones were the babies, I'm not sure how old they were, probably a couple of months. They drink milk like there is no tomorrow, pulling so hard on the bottle that it runs everywhere, they are incredibly cute and are probably the most active ones we saw on the day.

Third group are the small ones which are as big as the biggest dog you have ever seen, they stick together, very often sleeping in each other arms, if I may say.

In between visits in the tiger areas, we got to see other tigers who were not "on show" on that day and just slept in their own rooms.

There was also a very lonely lion who I have tried to enquire about but I didn't get a clear English answer. Looking how pissed off he was, it's not tomorrow that they are starting a "Lion Kingdom".

The very colorful birds gave us a demonstration of how skilled they are at eating pumpkin seeds, taking the outside off and spitting it out before eating the inside.

Finally we went to see the big cats. They seem to have the same paws as the small ones just with an enormous body.

The trainer, who is always accompanying the group of visitors, got one of them to play with a coconut and he was quick! Taking a cat-ish ready to jump position and then jumping around, very impressive!!!

The interaction was obviously much lower than with the elephants as the tigers were way less active (thankfully) but it was a once in a lifetime chance to get really close to them.

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