Thursday, April 12, 2012

Elephant Nature Park

The Plight of Elephants in Thailand

A symbol of Thailand, elephants have played an integral role throughout the history of the country as beasts of burden, tanks during wartime, and currently as tourist attractions. At one point, elephants decorated the national flag and currency.

Sadly, elephants in Thailand are now officially classified as an endangered species. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were up to 100,000 elephants tramping through Thailand's forested land alone. Today, numbers in Thailand are around 2,500. It is estimated that the population is decreasing at 3 percent each year.

Prior to our travels to Thailand, the kids drew pictures of their perception of the country. Gabriel drew the following picture:


Notice the harness on the elephant to provide a seat for a tourist. Gabriel had seen pictures of the popular activity of “elephant trekking” in Northern Thailand and was expecting that we would be riding elephants. And why not? Even an 8-year-old sees an air of romance to riding an elephant.

However, if people were aware that in order to ride an elephant, you must first break its spirit through the training ritual “Phajaan”, they likely would not hop aboard these animals for the sake of being able to say “I rode an elephant”.

This post on TripAdvisor provides some insight:

“Between the age of 2-3, baby elephants are taken from their mothers for the training ritual ‘Phajaan’. During this ritual the elephant is put into a "crush" (a frame like cage that just fits the elephants body). The elephant is then starved and beaten for approximately 7-10 days. After the shaman feels the elephants spirit has been ‘crushed’, the elephant is dragged into town. If the elephant resists or does not listen, it will be beaten more. When the elephants do not do as asked when in training, they will be beaten, stabbed, starved and more.

Swaying and rocking elephants are showing distress and severe psychological damage. Look for eyes that have a glazed over look, a sign of amphetamines, a strategy used by the mahout to work the elephant longer hours. It is not uncommon for a trekking elephants to have a second job at night.

Elephants need to graze constantly for proper nutrition and trekking does not allow for this. Elephants are often punished for stopping to eat the greenery. Many trekking elephants are malnourished from poor diets.

You may read all of this and think oh well, its just once, but since Thailand gets over a million tourists a year that kind of thought is a problem.”

For additional information, I recommend reading “Why Elephant Riding Should Be Removed from Your Bucket List”.

If you have the stomach to view the horrors of the training ritual “Phajaan”, you can watch this video.

Elephant Sanctuary

Elephant Nature Park is a unique project set in Chiang Mai province, Northern Thailand. Established in the 1990's, their aim is to provide a sanctuary and rescue center for elephants. The park has provided a sanctuary for dozens of distressed elephants from all over Thailand. The founder, Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, was named Asian Hero of the Year by Time magazine in 2005, and the park has been featured in many international publications including National Geographic magazine, as well as feature documentaries from numerous film production companies including Animal Planet, BBC, National Geographic, CNN.

Set in a natural valley, bordered by a river, and surrounded by forested mountains, the area offers a timeless glimpse of rural life.


Volunteers and visitors contribute to the healing while learning about their lives past and present.

The kids spent time feeding the elephants,

and bathing them.


After bathing the elephants, Gabriel and Naimah decided to go for a swim.

But they only realized afterwards that there were big chunks of elephant droppings floating down the river,

and it became a game of “dodge the elephant dung”.  

The elephants getting muddy after their bath.

The mahouts at the park.

The park truly provides a natural environment for elephants and other animals under their care.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Doi Suthep

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep (Thai: วัดพระธาตุดอยสุเทพ) is a Theravada Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai Province, Thailand. The temple is often referred to as "Doi Suthep" although this is actually the name of the mountain it is located on. The temple is located 15 km from the city of Chiang Mai and is a sacred site to many Thai people.


The entrance to the temple is reached by climbing 309 steps. Naimah took a moment to snap some pictures of the statues near the base of the steps.

The copper-plated chedi is the most holy area of the temple grounds.

Aspects of the Wat draw from both Buddhism and Hinduism.

At the Wat, we received bracelets from a monk for good luck.

Outside the Wat, monks were performing maintenance, children were dancing for visitors, and there were vendors from the hill tribes.

Monday, April 9, 2012


“Sawadee” is Thai for “Hello”. Together with the polite particle "khrap/krup" for men, and "kha" for women, it is the greeting phrase used in Thailand.

If you are a man, you say “sawadee krap” and if you are a woman, you say “sawadee ka”.

สวัสดี is how you write “Sawadee” in Thai.

The kids at the Vancouver airport before our flight to Hong Kong and then Bangkok, Thailand.

Papa Backpack, Mama Backpack, and Baby Backpacks.

The 5-year-old, Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok is really impressive.

“The task of creating a new gateway to Thailand in a tropical climate necessitated a different approach to architecture and engineering… The results are advanced long span, lightweight steel structures, exposed pre-cast concrete structures, clear or low e-coated glass, a three layer translucent membrane, integrated cooling, using water as a low energy carrier and the thermal mass of concrete and a displacement ventilation system with minimal air-changes… The result is a building flooded with controlled daylight in a tropical climate… In a building with such advanced technical concept and construct it is important to establish a connection to local cultural tradition and art. This is done through the shaded gardens flanking the terminal, which represent Thai landscape in cities and in the country, a jungle garden between the terminal and concourse, traditional artistic patterns and colors on glazed surfaces and floors and Thai artifacts placed at the airside centers and concourses.”


A Yaksha "Demon Warrior Statue” at the international check-in area.

These beautiful but intimidating statues were supposed to act as airport guardians, but a few years ago, a number of these giant statues were relocated from the arrivals hall to the international check-in area due to airport workers’ suspicion of them bringing bad luck. From 2009:

Local press in Thailand are reporting that the figures are being moved in response to complaints from airport staff who blame the ‘demon statues’ for bringing bad luck. The twelve statues at Bangkok airport are replicas of the yaksha demon warrior statues to be found at The Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaeo) in Bangkok. In Buddhist mythology, the yaksha were guardian figures who protected the good and kept away evil spirits.

The new Bangkok international airport at Suvarnabhumi finally opened in September 2006, but was plagued with problems before, during and after its construction and last year political protesters forced its temporary closure. Feng Shui experts in Thailand say there are a number of things that need to be rectified at the international airport and a relocation of the yaksha statues will help to improve the positive energy flow. Superstition plays a significant part in Thai life, but the official line from the Airports of Thailand (AOT) is slightly different. A spokesman said, ‘AOT has decided to move the statues to the check-in concourse to give passengers and other people the chance to appreciate the statues’ beauty.’

A religious ceremony was held at the beginning of the week in preparation for the relocation of the yaksha statues which is expected to be complete next month.


The Thai people have a tremendous amount of love for their king, His Majesty King Bhumibol. His images are everywhere in Thailand; this is apparent as soon as you arrive at the airport.

New York has their yellow cabs, Bangkok has pink.

After a 24-hour journey from Victoria, we only had a short time to relax in Bangkok before flying to Chiang Mai.

The kids waiting for our flight to Chiang Mai – Léah reading and Gabriel/Naimah working on their travel journals.