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On the way to Phuket, Thailand, we stopped in a number of islands on the way north and did some diving. We really enjoyed Phi Phi Don, a touristy resort island. Thai massages for $5 US, good food and some decent diving. Then, on to Phuket to get the boat settled quickly so we could fly to Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai is second largest city in Thailand and is in the north western corner of the country. We enjoyed touring the city - more temples - but the main reason for heading to Chiang Mai was to ride the elephants.
One of the popular modes of transportation in SE Asia is the Tuk Tuk. While the exact incarnation varies, most of these are some form of 3 wheel vehicle. In Chiang Mai, Tuk Tuks were LPG powered motorcycle engines with motorcycle handlebars and throttles but a stick shift and classic automobile clutch. We enjoyed traveling around the town in the Tuk Tuk and Jeff managed to convince one of the drivers to let him take it for a spin.
While visiting one of the temples, both of us were blessed by a monk. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work because Gail came down with Dengue Fever a couple days later. She spent 3 days in a Bangkok hospital. But, in keeping with SE Asian tradition, she traveled home from the hospital in a Tuk Tuk.
We've seen many different dance forms since we've left the US. The local cultural center put on a 2 hour dance presentation and served traditional food. Many of the hill tribes presented their quite unique dances.
We had heard about the elephants from other cruisers and were really looking forward to it. It rained for the first two days while we were in Chiang Mai so we put off the trip a couple of days. The weather cleared and we headed north to the elephant reserve.
The adventure started with a ride down the river on a bamboo raft. Then, a ride in an ox cart over a deeply rutted and muddy track. Then, some lunch and on to the elephants.
Elephants are a major part of Thailand's history. They were the primary work horse capable of moving large logs and transporting people and cargo. While machines have replaced much of the work done by elephants, they still are a key part of Thailand's heritage. Elephants decorate clothing, pillows, curtains - statues of elephants are everywhere.
The elephants are intelligent and highly trained. We attended a demonstration of their skills. They moved logs, balanced on their front legs standing on a log, walked on top of barrels, sat up and even walked erect. Then, it was on to the elephant rides.
In a lot of ways, the ride reminded us of Disneyland. There were a lot of people in line waiting to board the elephants. A raised platform is used to allow us to easily sit on the seat. The driver sits up on the next of the elephant and gives commands by touch. We rode across the river, through the jungle, up and down hills and back to where we started.
While the day was more touristy than we expected, we had a fantastic time. There is definitely something magical about elephants. We had the opportunity to hand feed them. To get to know you, they stick their trunk in your face and sniff. They would reach out with their trunks, wrap them around our wrists and gently take the bananas from us. We could have spent days there.