Saturday, October 19, 2013

Jumbo Trekker Elephant Camp

 

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The many elephant reservations on the outskirts of Chiang Mai are recognized as 'must see' attractions for travelers passing through northern Thailand. We considered the reputation of the organizations, reviews from Lonely Planet, and recommendations from new friends when choosing a reservation. We had no interest in seeing an 'elephant show' or supporting a camp that would keep the elephants chained or saddled up all day. Through a connection in Chiang Mai (thank you to Leslie and Pi Dang!) we booked a two-day, one night stay at Jumbo Camp just an hour north of our school. The weekend-long trip also promised a cooking class on site, a four-hour trek, and white water rafting.

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At 8 am on a Saturday, a Jumbo Trek truck picked us up at the school and we met our third wheel, a young man from London who knew nothing about the itinerary for the weekend. That made three of us. After an hour of cruising north we spent twenty minutes on a muddy, narrow jungle road that was only wide enough for one vehicle. It was easy to get lost in the view. We were welcomed warmly by staff members and about a dozen stray dogs and cats. The first impression was that we were in the middle of a beautiful 'nowhere', and that our experience would be... rustic.

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Wearing the provided mahout suits and two variants of deet, we spent the first morning in a jungle clearing getting to know three or four beautiful elephants.

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Seeing how their expert trainers effortlessly mounted and dismounted... first by the leg and then by catapulting over the trunk and head, was impressive. We practiced first on the baby and the staff members were more than happy to take photos of us as we learned. We mastered conveying "forwards", "backwards" "left", "right", "stop" "open your mouth for a banana", and "dismount" commands all in Thai. Along with verbal cues, we used bamboo sticks to place on the elephant's ears and body movements to help distinguish between commanding left and right.

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After practicing and eating a delicious (gluten free!) lunch, we were ready to mount our own elephants for a two hour long ride through the jungle with the trainers guiding us. It was phenomenal. It was surreal. It was badass. There were a few 'oh shit' moments when the elephants would selectively ignore us or decide to trek off path for a snack, but in general we felt safe and confident. We also played in the river with them a gave them baths before returning to camp.

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The atmosphere at Jumbo Camp was lively, and interesting to say the least. If you were dropped in the jungle with minimal electricity, only a fire to cook over and shot glasses the men at the camp carved from bamboo, who would you want to be stuck with? Lucky for us the other trekkers passing through camp were a wonderful and eclectic group of mostly twenty-somethings from all over the world. The cooking class consisted of us whipping up a green chicken curry for the entire camp with our jungle mother May, and we spent the evening getting to know the eighteen other trekkers staying there that night.
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We played cards by candlelight, and somebody... somehow delivered a bottle of Sangsom rum to us. We danced, sang, banged drums, and had a great time with new found friends. It was definitely a younger crowd, which may not be everyone's scene, but our experience with the elephants and the new friends we met made it perfect for us.
 
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They served beer and snacks (hot chili squid Lays) for purchase at a hut with a cardboard sign that read "Welcome to 7/11", and kept a tally board which made paying the next day very simple.

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After stargazing, we slept in our jungle huts in the mosquito nets that were provided. Many of the nets had small tears or holes, so bringing your own would be advised. After talking with our companions at camp, we are now aware of inconsistencies between travel clinics in other countries and ours in the United States, especially with regards to malaria precautions. Definitely remember to bring bug spray (DEET), but don't get it in your eye (woops). Long pants and long sleeves were helpful too. As we say in Boston, be smaht!

The next day they provided breakfast (eggs, rice, toast, and "coffee") and we set out for a trek with a different group leader. After 45 minutes of hiking we reached a beautiful waterfall that flows from a river originating in Burma. It was not a difficult hike, but trekking sandals like Keens or running kicks are best, due to the slippery rocks and log bridges.

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We swam in the waterfall and hiked back before driving to the rafting location that was 10 minutes away. The trekking portion took a total of 2 hours, which was half the time we were told to expect. The white water rafting was relatively tame, and we switched to authentic bamboo rafts for the last leg of the river. This was a beautiful but underwhelming experience. We skipped the hill tribe village and souvenir shop because we had already experienced hill tribe dancing at the cultural center in Chiang Mai and would rather spend our hard earned baht at the night markets. Our trekking guide drove us back to Chiang Mai and went above and beyond by buying us some refreshments on the road.

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The whole experience was too awe inspiring to capture here on Yogi's Guide. We are so happy to have chosen that camp, and would highly recommend it to any adventurous spirits.

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1 comment:

  1. All I can say is, "wow!!" The photos are beautiful. Love, Mom

    ReplyDelete