We hired a car and travelled out to the Mai Sai village to visit the Elephant Training camp there (turned out to be cheaper to do that than buy the excursion tickets for 4 of us!). Thailand has got a glut of elephants at the moment, because they have stopped using them to work on logging projects in the forest, and instead use machines. As these elephants are trained and tamed, they can’t just be released into the wild again – in fact, logging is such a big business here, there is little ‘wild’ to let them back into. So they’ve been brought down from the hills, trained further, and now are used in the tourist trade to put on shows for the public.
Whether this is a good thing or not, we couldn’t decide. There seemed to be few decent alternatives, and at least having them in the full view of tourists all day provides some form of guarantee that they are well looked after.
But we couldn’t decide what to think when we saw the elephants playing football, and painting. They seemed to do it willingly, and even turned out to be good footballers and painters. But was it right? It didn’t feel right, but the crowds of Thai and Japanese tourists around us hooted, clapped and cheered wildly, thoroughly enjoying it.
The girls loved it, and at the end of the show they fed them sugar cane and bananas. But Emily was very hesitant about getting too close to them. Charlotte, who started off nervous initially, got used to them, and even managed to smile while she was sitting on one of the elephant’s heads for a photo. Later we went for a walk right around the elephant training camp, to see the nursery facilities with the new-born elephants, and the places where their food is prepared. We came away pretty sure that they were being well cared for there.