CHINA>BANGKOK 3.5hr layover, 3hrs
BANGKOK>CHIANG MAI, 1hr
Nearly a full day later, we had arrived at our destination.
I was fortunate enough to learn a little about the country beforehand through the travels of a close friend. He spent nearly 3 months backpacking around Southeast Asia – Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, etc. and seemed to have a good feel for the many idiosyncrasies of the area. I explained to him that we were traveling within a rather small timeframe and that we wanted to fit in as much as humanly possible without feeling like we were superficially experiencing any part of the country. Without hesitation, he recommended the following:
- Patara Elephant Farm -
Thailand is well-known for its many elephant reservations. Elephant tourism, for many years, has been a cornerstone of the local economy. What many people don't know (myself included) is that a majority of the organizations offering this experience abuse their animals. There are only a handful of organizations that follow humane practices, treating the elephants with respect and caring for them in a way that promotes healthy living and reproduction - Patara is one of them.
The word "Farm" is misleading. Patara is a 100% Thai owned and managed organization with one main goal: breeding more elephants.
We chose to do the "Elephant Owner for a Day" program. A mix between education, and hands-on care taking. A good deal of the morning was spent learning about the animals, mainly their habits and tendencies, and the proper methods for determining health: examining their skin, dusting their backs, squeezing their poop (oddly enough, not as gross as you'd expect). I was surprised to find out that each elephant on the farm, and there are over 30 of them, has their own personal keeper.
A quick bath and short ride later we stopped for lunch. Sparing no expenses, they roll out a ridiculous amount of traditional Thai food. If you dig rice, this was your jam.
Closing out the day we hopped onto our elephants one last time. About half a mile ride down the road, a clearing opened up; stretching far out to the horizon, all that seemed visible was field, after filed, of rice paddies. A beautiful end to a wonderful day.
- Cave Lodge -
About a half days bus outside outside of Chiang Mai, nestled within the heart of what many refer to as the "Golden Triangle" - an area known for large-scale opium production, rests a small backpackers hideaway known simply as: Cave Lodge.
My friend had recommended we reach out to a guy by the name of "John." Prior to traveling, we'd done some research on the area. Most of what we found seemed legit, however, a few things concerned us... mainly the prevalence of Malaria, Dengue Fever and the occasional run-in with narco-traffickers. In an attempt to find out more about this place, we decided to reach out to John (no last name) from Cave Lodge. Below is his response:
"Hi Andy, we have no area specific things here that need vaccination (factually untrue) and malaria is rare, more likely to catch dengue in Chiang Mai if you haven't already..motorbikes and cars are the biggest threat to your health while traveling, very sketchy....we have dorm beds for 120 and bungalows with bathroom for 4/5/6/700 baht..you can decide here. Cheers John"
The email seemed genuine enough. Having planned ahead, I had traveled with enough malaria medication for this leg of the trip. My friend, however, seemed to have missed this step. In an effort to persuade him into visiting Cave Lodge, I decided to opt out of taking the pills in assurance that if we both got sick, at least we'd go down as a team. In hindsight, there were quite a few holes in that logic... Fortunately, neither of us got sick. Quite the opposite in fact. We ended up having one of the most adventurous, eye-opening experiences of our lives.