Chiang Mai Mega Fam Trip: Day 1

As Richard wrote in his previous blog, he and I were invited by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to witness for ourselves last Wednesday the delights of the Visit Amazing Thailand 2009 Press Conference at the Queen Sirikit Convention Center. And on top of that, to join the Mega Fam Trip consisting of more than a thousand international travel operators and media.

At first, the TAT organizer planned to send us both to Chiang Mai but since there was little point on both of us writing at on the same destination, Richard eventually got the go ahead to venture to the Isarn region instead.

Well, after kipping at the Paknam Web gaff in Samut Prakan the night previous, I was up fresh, but not so early (perhaps due to the free bevvie available at the Press Conference) to get the plane to Chiang Mai City. Arriving at Suvarnaphumi Airport chuffed at a having a freebie ticket on Thai Airways, I was met by the TAT organizer and another news writer from TR Weekly, the lovely Miss Noina.

Maesa Elephant Camp

After landing in Chiang Mai, the first thing planned was to jump on a Chiang Mai TAT passenger van and quickly follow-up with the 200 or so travel operators who had already left for the Maesa Elephant Camp in the gorgeous Maesa Valley just outside of the city. Established in 1976, the Maesa Elephant Camp is the home to an incredible 78 elephants, incredible in the comparative sense that there are only about 3,000 of the pachyderms actually left in Thailand. We were shown around by the friendly son of the camp co-founder, K. Peter (Preechaya) who explained that the aim of the camp was to protect, conserve, breed and offer visitors the opportunity to learn about Thai elephant culture, history and their keepers (mahouts). Unlike the pitiful elephants waddling the streets of Bangkok, the elephants at the camp are provided with the best nutrition, health-care and environs possible.

The camp has ISO 9001 accreditation and all their mahouts have been qualified by the national Livestock Department. Chatting with K. Peter, I was struck by not only his knowledge of the beautiful beasts, but also his care and commitment towards them. Enthusiastically, he told me in detail about the camp’s care projects which include Estrous Cycle and heat detection and the study on the “Developing Semen Freezing Technique for Artificial Insemination Project”. In fact, the camp was selected for the project by the Institute of Zoo and Wildlife Research, Berlin, the Smithsonian Institute and a host of other veterinary centers at some of Thailand’s top universities.

According to the camp’s website on elephant training, it has this to say about Thai elephant culture “Thai people have long had a place in their hearts for elephants. Whether they worked together to log timber, travel across harsh terrain or lead troops into battle, Thai people have had a close relationship with elephants for centuries. Kachasart is a branch of study dedicated solely to elephants, and this local wisdom has been passed down from generation to generation covering such facts as to how to teach mahouts to train elephants, how to build life-long relationships and communicate with elephants and how to care for them. The art of elephant training requires much endurance and time as well as an intimate and considerate relationship between each elephant and its mahout”.

“At Maesa Elephant Camp, all elephants are trained to get acquainted with human beings and especially their mahouts as a basic platform for other advanced training. During this period of three months, the mahouts will teach their elephants how to communicate with them, at the same time building an intimate relationship with them by such activities as bathing, jungle walks and other activities”.

And on the subject of activities, besides visitors just having the opportunity to take a few snaps of the beasts, the camp offers folk the chance to join one of their Mahout Courses (1-3 days). The courses include: learning how to bathe, ride, handle and give basic commands to the elephants. Wanna-be mahouts are also afforded, free-of-charge, a funky traditional mahout outfit.

Walking around the camp, impressed by the sight of so many happy pachyderms, K. Peter soon asked me if a wanted to try riding one of the elephants myself. An offer I turned down, as I once spent an entire day a few years back riding 10 foot high for a Singha Beer TV Commercial. An experience I had to endure after having downed a complete pitcher of free Singha an hour or so before with the production team. My performance must have been pretty impressive however, as that darned commercial was on TV every night for the next year; luckily but, you only got to see my back!

Anyway, believe it or not, the camp is actually in the Guiness Book Records as the only place in the world with realistic paintings drawn by elephants – and I’m not joking, these beats can definitely paint a better bouquet of flowers than myself! Not only that, they play football, give Thai massage and dance. For more information on Maesa Elephant Camp see

Well, after an afternoon out, it was time for a Khao Soi noodle snack and to find out where I would be staying for the next three nights. Presuming it would be some average place, I was soon to be dazzled at an executive business room at one of the city’s top hotels, the Centara Duang Tawan. Not bad, but this treat was simply nothing on what was to come next in the evening.

Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi

I have to admit, since I had been to the Oriental Hotel twice before in Bangkok (once for a dinner review) I wasn’t exactly on the edge of my seat waiting for the buffet and show at the sister hotel in Chiang Mai. Dhara Dhevi however, as I was to witness in total awe, is one of Asia’s most breath-taking hotels. Unfortunately, the TAT operator explained that there was just no way they had enough budget to have the travel operators and us media stay there. I mean, charges range (after service charge and govt tax) from around 19,000 baht for the least expensive villa/suite to ten thousand US dollars for the 6-bedroom Royal Residence. From the pic posted here though, you can simply see why!

We all had an extremely pleasant evening, and besides the endless supply of beer, we were treated to a terrific international buffet and a traditional Lanna performance made up of dancers, boxers and fire-breathers. It was also a great time to meet some of the local media, and these included Margaret Bhadungzong who has been publishing the Chiang Mai Magazine for more than twenty years and Mike Atkins from Bangkok 101 and the newly released Chiang Mai 101. Well… after a couple of hours at the Dhara Dhevi, it still wasn’t over…… there was the Chiang Mai Night Safari to attend! I’ll do a bit of a write-up on that a bit later – I mean this blog is long enough as it is!

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