The Maller Family Travel Gazette:
Thailand, The Land of Smiles

July 12: Hilltribe people and an Elephant Ride


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Having traveled very far north, we are staying near the nexus of Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and Laos on the shores of the Mekong River. This area is called the "Golden Triangle", a name derived less from the geographical appearance than for its history as the crossroads of the opium trade. It has become more of a tourist curiousity now that the opium export business has become so complex, but it still has a bit of a "wild west" feel to it. We came here to see some of the local hilltribe peoples, as well as to take an elephant-back ride into the jungle. Neither experience disappointed, and it's very possible that today will be remembered as one of the most eventful travel days of our history as a traveling family. The hilltribe peoples are fast being assimilated into modern Thai society and losing some of their distinctive anthropology. We feel fortunate that we were able to see authentic Karen and Akha villages. It's likely that within a few short years these will be little more than suburbs. We bought some beautiful local handcrafted fabrics and embroidery from some of the artisans there. It's difficult to describe how very cool it was to ride on an elephant, and not just a carnival-type ride around a park. These maginificent animals, cousins to the larger and more feral African elephant, have been domesticated for many generations in Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, they still have much of the mystique for us as any wild animal, and they clearly have a personality and an understanding of us. One of the photographs in the gallery shows one of them trying to pull me away from another elephant that I was petting, probably wanting affection himself. But he was careful, almost tender with me, despite his enormous girth. It was an indescribable feeling.
Click any of these photos to see a larger version. Enjoy!
Displaying photos 1 to 21 of 21

Steve onboard the longboat that took us up the Kok River into the jungle to the Karen village
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Max and Sam bargaining with the local Karen women for small bracelets
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A Karen woman. Hilltribe women tradionally wears a distinctive color scheme and jewelry.
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Sam and Max with a couple of young boys at a government school in the Karen village. Here the Thais are trying to teach the children of the local villagers agricultural skills.
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These two young boys tugged at my heartstrings
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A very happy little guy
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The school principal leading an assembly in the morning before classes started. Representatives from each class got up and made what appeared to be short speeches.
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This is one of the school's classrooms, open air style
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A butterfly making its rounds of the flowers in the school's nursery
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A young Karen boy looks out of the window of his family's house
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Doreen and a couple of the Karen women. They consented to a photograph because Doreen purchased quite a bit of their handiwork. They would not smile for the photo, though, because their teeth are very decayed.
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While Steve and Max were petting the elephant on the left, the elephant on the right intervened ever so gently to try to get some affection for himself, too
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All Aboard! Max and Doreen board their transport for our trek into the jungle...
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...and off we go through town on our way into the bush
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We began to climb into the surrounding hills, with traces of civilization growing more sparse
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Roads became paths, paths became trails, and finally only the elephant trails
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The going got quite steep in some places, yet the elephants pressed on, sometimes even using their trunk or their knees to scale the sharpest rises
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Here Doreen and Max's driver dismounted and took this photo with my camera.
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An hour and a half later we arrived at our destination, an Akha hilltribe village high in the hills. Here Doreen shops for their hand-embroidered textiles.
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Three Akha women. Note the difference in their clothing versus the Karen women above.
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Another Akha woman with her trademark pipe and headdress
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Click any of these photos to see a larger version. Enjoy!
Displaying photos 1 to 21 of 21

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Wed, Dec 31st, 1969 at 5:00:00 PM