Trek With Elephants in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, Thailand
No Dumbo: Slumbering pachyderms make wonderful trekking companions. (PhotoDisc)
Get on the Trail
For information on hill-tribe trekking in northern Thailand's Chiang Mai region, read Walk, Eat, Swim, Eat, Trek, Eat, and Climb, Climb, Climb (Haven't They Ever Heard of Switchbacks?!.

There's no nobler animal than the Asian elephant. Strong enough to take on any critter on the planet, these jumbo creatures are docile giants that love nothing more than human contact and a hard day's work. In Northern Thailand, where elephants have been used for centuries for everything from war to logging, you can arrange single- or multi-day treks along Thailand's borders with Burma and Laos. The laidback pachyderms shoulder the load (you included) and give you a perspective on the flora and fauna that you'd never get on foot.

Of course, you will hear from animal rights groups who complain that elephant tours are cruel; you'll have to decide for yourself whether or not to climb on board. But keep this in mind: elephants eat up to 150 pounds of food a day, so they are not cheap to keep, and working with tourists is one way to pay their way in the world. Indeed, many will tell you that the elephant's place as a de facto Thai cultural ambassador beats the unseen hardships of illegal logging, or sloping about city limits panhandling for their enterprising mahouts (which has become an increasing urban problem, endangering both humans and the animals).

Animal ethics issues aside, let's just say it's pretty cool to have ridden an elephant, a far cry from the pony rides you took as a kid at the county fair. Tour operators can be found through most hotels in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.


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