Frequently Asked Questions About Elephants & Chai Lai Orchid
CAN ELEPHANTS IN ASIA BE FREED INTO THE WILD?
In an ideal world, all elephants would be wild. But the reality is Asian elephants have been domesticated for thousands of years, and now the wild elephant population is so endangered it’s not sustainable. The vast majority of elephants in Chiang Mai cannot be “returned to the wild,” and even if they could, there is very little habitat for them to return to. Unlike Africa, there is really no place left for Asian elephants to be completely free in Thailand. They are classified as livestock and it's illegal for them to roam free in the jungle. If a company tell you they can do this, ask questions.
WHY NOT BOYCOTT ELEPHANT CAMPS?
One of the reasons elephant population has declined so drastically in the last 20 years is because elephants and mahouts could no longer earn a living. Mahouts couldn’t afford to care for and feed their charges, which resulted in street begging elephants and illegal, amphetamine-addicted logging elephants. We don't want to go backward. Through ethical elephant tourism, owners can provide a home and stable income for both the elephants and the Mahouts.
Lack of land, human-elephant conflict and poaching make it very dangerous for elephants to be in the wild. Even elephants in conservation centers and sanctuaries are not completely free. With all of these problems, it is important to create the most humane environments possible for the captive elephants to live in so that they are protected and do not become extinct.
HOW CAN ELEPHANT TOURISM IS HELP ELEPHANTS?
Work can actually be stimulating for elephants, and studies have shown that working elephants live longer than those in zoos. We create a unique experience where guests can learn about elephants while interacting, playing, feeding and bathing them. These are all stimulating but low-stress activities for the elephants.
For domestic elephants, our friends aren’t doing too badly. They are the offspring of domesticated Thai elephants — not wild ones from Burma. The youngest were all conceived and born here which both promotes elephant conservation and indicates that they are comfortable and healthy. These elephants have elephant friends, a clean river to play and bathe in every day, a lush bamboo forest to sleep in, and Mahouts who love them.
Tourism is also important in that it’s a big factor in governmental decisions to take strong measures to protect elephants because it is vital to their economies. Domesticated elephants play a valuable part in education and “public relations” on behalf of their wild cousins, too. We hope that after seeing these beautiful animals up close, meeting and learning about them, and watching them interact in a loving and protective family group, you will leave a friend of the elephants for life.
DOES RIDING AN ELEPHANT HURT IT?
That depends on how it's done. For Asian female elephant cows, the average weight is about 3 tons (6,000 pounds) so you are maybe 2.5% of her weight. So simply sitting on her back doesn't hurt her. In fact when elephants mate they have a 3+ ton bull on their back and don't even seem to mind that! However, chairs and saddles can hurt an elephant if there are any stones or debris beneath the padding or if the padding is too thin. Additionally, if the chairs are on the elephant all day they can cause sores, and for the elephant to overheat. The chairs and padding need to stay dry so the elephant can't swim in the river to cool down.
Why don't you buy elephants?
Because we care about elephant conservation. When you buy an elephant from an abusive situation you reward the owner with money (about 60,000 USD ) to buy new elephants and traffick them from the wild. We rent elephants in order to break this cycle.
Do the elephants have chains?
Occasionally an elephant may be on a long tether for example if their caretaker needs to eat or use the restroom. There are only 2 ways to keep an elephant from wandering off 1. tethering 2. steel enclosures. If someone tells you otherwise be wary. A loose elephant can cause huge damage to property, to crops, and to human beings. The advantages of chains over other means of tethering are overwhelming. Chains, unlike rope or wire, are very unlikely to cause wounds. The chain is the most humane way to tether elephants and allows for the elephants to be moved to exercise and forage much like how we have a lead for animals in the west like horses, dogs and sometimes even cats ;)
Do you use bullhooks?
Mahouts are equipped with a bullhook in order to control the elephant in emergency situations if an elephant attacks a person or elephant. They are trained to use it as a tool to keep people and elephants safe.
How should I behave around elephants?
Elephants are smart and gentle but also wild animals and extremely strong. Do not sneak up behind them, tease them, make loud noises or sudden movements around them. They have a blind spot directly in front of them, try to stand to the side so they can see you with one of the eyes on the side of their head. The mahouts have been trained to control the elephants and ensure everyone's safety, so please listen to them around the elephants. And lastly, do not approach an elephant unless a mahout is there and gives you permission.
About Chai Lai:
How many nights Should I stay?
Depends on how much you like camping. Most of our guests book between 1 or 2 nights here and some in the city of Chiang Mai so they are able to enjoy activities and still have some time to relax downtown. Our camp is rustic and full of natural beauty but it is more like glamping than staying at a resort and we know that's not for everyone. Some people may prefer just a day adventure and then sleep in a hotel in Chiang Mai.
ARE DONATIONS ACCEPTED?
We accept donated clothes (especially cold weather clothing), blankets, mosquito nets and medical supplies such as wound care, children’s medicine and vitamins, and at home HIV test kits for refugee and hill tribe communities.
Helpful tip: these items are much less expensive to purchase locally than in Western countries.
How do I get there?
The Chai Lai Orchid is located 1.5 hours from Chiang Mai. The cost is 1400 THB for a songtaew (Thai-style covered truck with bench seating) that seats up to 8 passengers. The return trip you can book with reception upon arrival. We're happy to arrange for a driver to pick you up from the airport or your hotel. The driver will wait with a Chai Lai Orchid sign. For airport pick-ups please send us your
1. flight number 2. arrival time 3. and if it’s at the international or domestic terminal. Running Late? Call the driver Mr. Neng at 081 1129905
I want to drive a car/motorbike to Chai Lai- is there parking?
Yes, you can park here but the drive is quite difficult on jungle roads. We use a truck with 4 WHD.
General Packing/Traveling in Thailand Questions
What is the weather like; what should I wear?
While trekking, it is best to wear shoes with a good profile, pants and whatever you feel comfortable in for sun protection.
Please check the weather forecast prior to your stay and bring weather-appropriate clothing and/ or gear. You can trek at any time of year, even in the rain season.
March-May is the dry season. Daytime temperatures are especially hot this time of year, and the river is lower.
June-October is the rainy season. Afternoon showers are typical, and the jungle is at its greenest. Bring a poncho (they can easily be purchased locally).
November-February is cold season. Low nighttime temperatures are common. You will be staying in traditional Karen-style bamboo housing which is uninsulated, unheated and located at a high elevation. We stay warm at night by sitting around a fire and sleeping in warm clothing – bring warm clothes if you plan to visit during this time.
Should I tip for a service (server/tour guide/mahout)
Tipping is not expected but they are appreciated. High-end hotels and salons may add 10% to your bill. We don't include tips.
I heard there's a lot of malaria and Dengue in Thailand do I need to get medicines or vaccines?
There is Dengue Fever in Thailand which is spread by mosquitos. Wearing mosquito spray and loose-fitting clothing will help to protect you against Dengue. If you will be traveling to very rural areas that are far away from hospitals or volunteering with animals you might want to consider a rabies vaccine. While we are not located in a malaria-zone we don't know where else you are traveling on your trip in Southeast Asia. This decision is really up to you and your doctor who knows your medical history. Some of the medicines have side effects.
What should I bring?
Please provide a copy of your passport identification page, for the insurance provider.
Appropriate shoes. Sports sandals, hiking boots, runners – whatever you prefer to walk on dirt jungle paths and potentially get muddy or wet.
If you want to bring a small gift for your homestay hosts to thank them for their hospitality, like a game, or snack from your country, please feel free (optional).
How long is the trek?
Private treks give you the freedom to decide what you want to do and when. Our treks can be customized based on your group/ family. The amount of walking and difficulty level is up to you. We can recommend an itinerary, but it’s your experience and we will try our best to accommodate your wishes.
We are a family. What’s your child policy?
Children under 3 years old are free of charge.
For children 4-7 years old, we charge 50% of the adult price for your tour.
We are a family with small children, and we’re not sure how much they can walk.
We will work with you to build a tour that is suitable for the ages and needs of your children. For instance, we can arrange a tour that will take you uphill by car, then you can enjoy a shorter, downhill hike.
Are there any long-neck villages there?
No, the Kayan people (long-neck) are originally from Myanmar. They come to Thailand as refugees but are allowed to stay only if they generate money from tourism. The village that was close to us was shut down as its people didn’t produce enough money from tourists and these people were sent back to Myanmar. You can still visit a Kayan village if you would like but you need to travel to Mae Hong Son 6 hours away
Can I swim in the waterfall and river?
Yes, guests are welcome to enjoy the cool clean mountain water.
I don’t know how to swim well- is it safe to bamboo raft?
That's up to you. The water is very shallow in 90% of the river (about 1-2 ft deep). We have lifejackets if you need one.
Are the activities like the elephant experience included with the price of the room?
No, activities are an extra charge. The price of the room includes the room, free breakfast, and feeding the elephants.
Do you have vegetarian/ vegan options?
Yes, we have many vegetarian and vegan dishes but please tell us in advance so the chef can plan.
I have a food allergy can you make alternative dishes?
Yes, dishes made fresh and to order, so we can make adaptations to dishes to accommodate allergies tell us in advance so the chef can plan.
Is drinking water safe in Thailand?
Not even the local population drinks non-bottled water. We supply bottled water.