A Life Engaged

Bathing Elephants and Easy as Pai

Chiang Mai

The morning after we returned from our jungle trek we slept in until noon! This is something neither of us had done in a very long time. We finally headed out and went to our favorite café, Thaan Aon, for lunch. We ended up staying at the café for about 6 hours while we worked on our journal and the website. We were reminded that IT support can be a frustrating endeavor, especially overseas.

When we finally finished our work for the day, we stepped out of the café and were immediately in the middle of the City Pillar Festival. The City Pillar Festival is held each year just before the Thai kids go back to school. For the citizens of Chiang Mai, the festival is an opportunity to honor the guardian spirits of the city. For tourists, it is an opportunity for delicious food, most notably was the banana chocolate waffle. They had carnival rides and were selling so much food, ice cream, and other treats as well as flowers and candles to be presented to Buddha at the main temple.


One of the many food vendors at the City Pillar Festival

We returned home from the City Pillar Festival around 10:00pm to prepare for our much anticipated elephant encounter the next morning. Elephant Day!!!!

When we first arrived in Thailand and talked to other travelers, we were warned about the sub par conditions of some of the elephant parks. We did not want to contribute to the exploitation of the animals and did our research to seek out parks that contributed to the rehabilitation and conservation of the animals. After doing our research, we landed on the Elephant Retirement Park.

When we arrived at the Elephant Retirement Park, we were delighted to see the elephants and the condition of the park. We were given a history of elephants and their place in Thai culture as well as general knowledge about these gentle giants.

We spent the morning learning different commands and becoming acquainted with the elephants. We fed them bananas and sugar cane while saying ‘ban’ meaning ‘open’ and ‘dee dee’ meaning ‘good job’. We also got many ‘jobs’ (kisses) and ‘kords’ (hugs).


Jessie feeding Phet the elephant

There were 5 elephants here, including baby Lanna who was only 39 days old! So stinking cute. Phet was a personal favorite, a 10-year old male with tusks and a great personality. Ngan was much smaller at just under 3 years old and hadn’t grown into his tusks yet- the mahouts joked that he might be a ladyboy.

Next, we met Benny, a recent rescue who was still learning commands. She was injured from being used in a tourist camp to carry tourists in a large bamboo or wooden saddle on her back, which we learned was a large cause of abuse in the country. It was evident that her spine was injured and her left front leg was sprained and she could not walk well, which was very sad to see.

Lastly, we met baby Lanna and very her protective mama Buathong. Buathong was by far the largest and oldest of the group at 26 years old.

After the feeding session, Buathong started cleaning the baby by flinging mud high into the air. Of course Jessie just needed to get a picture from another angle and ran behind the elephants and… the next 20 minutes Dan spent cleaning mud off the camera and our gear.


Jessie with Buathong and Baby Lanna

We paid special attention to the way the mahouts interacted with the elephants, noting that no hooks or tools were used to control them. The simply used their hands and treated the elephants with care.


One of the mahouts working with the elephants

After our chicken wing buffet lunch (Dan in heaven, again), we changed into what looked like basketball clothes and washed and scrubbed the elephants in the water. It was so much fun! We ended with a splashing session before heading over to the mud pit for the ‘spa session’. We rolled around in the mud with the elephants to cool off. Last it was back into the water pit for cleaning off. Before we knew it, the day was over and we were washing up and heading back to Chiang Mai.


Mud spa session!

It was truly an incredible experience to be so close and work with these amazing creatures. A bucket-list item for Jessie has now been crossed off the list!

Phet and Ben

Phet and Ben


Phet and Ben

We ended the day listening to an Asian rock band and exchanging conversation with a 40-year old American backpacker.



The next day we boarded a bus for a little mountain town 4 hours north of Chiang Mai called Pai (pronounced ‘pie’). Our bus driver was literally INSANE, driving 140 kilometers per hour in the city. He was yelled at by a middle aged ex-pat on a motorbike and continued to twitch for the whole ride. The ride from Chiang Mai to Pai is known for its 762 curves and we were so glad that we each popped a motion sickness tablet before the ride. The turns, curves, and roller coaster feel of the ride was less than comfortable.

We walked around the town center in a matter of 30-45 minutes. Pai has a sort of hippie-vibe to it, but there were also a lot of fratpackers dancing as electronic music blared from some of the bars. We grabbed some street food (a delicious potato wheel…ok 2, Dan had to go back for his own) and made our way into a sleepy little acoustic bar called Edible Jazz. Hammocks were everywhere and shoes were prohibited. We enjoyed a beer and listened to some locals sing soft tunes.

The next day we quickly realized how sleepy of a town Pai actually is. Pai reminded us a little of Soulard with bars lining slow lazy streets. The many hippie street vendors also conjured up memories of Bonnaroo for Dan.


Views from the main road in Pai

While making plans and renting a motorbike, Dan had stomach issues so we made our way into an expensive breakfast buffet. Jess was pressured to order while Dan did his business, so Jess enjoyed a delicious breakfast while Dan just had to sit there and watch (due to budget restrictions). After breakfast, we hopped on our motorbike and took off into the mountain area!


Motorbiking our way through the valley

Some stops along the way included Pai Canyon, Strawberry Love, Coffee in Love, and a few waterfalls where we hiked up a bit to get a better view. We really loved driving around the area on a motorbike, Dan driving with Jessie riding in the back. We ended the evening with a few Chang beers and a game of Rummy on the porch. The rain came and we enjoyed our evening together.


Pai Canyon

The next day we headed back to Chiang Mai. On the bus ride back, we met a guy from Kansas City, MO from all places! We chatted about the Midwest and our travels.

Once back in Chiang Mai, we got some money from the ATM to book our overnight journey to Bangkok. A few minutes after doing so, Jess realized that she left her debit card in the ATM machine, which was our lifeline to our bank accounts. Since Thailand operates on a cash-only basis it seems, this led us into a frenzy. We quickly began the search for the nearest bank. Dan headed out to the bank and, while maneuvering through the language barrier, got through to the bank teller. It was a miracle and such a relief that our first screw up was a mere hiccup.

Back to the train station and we were on our way to Bangkok!