Thailand and surrounding countries such as Burma, Laos and Cambodia have been traditional elephant country.· Neighboring Laos is still called “The Land of a Million Elephants,” though that number is far fewer today.· Some years ago I was in an upstairs museum in Venice, Italy examining very old maps of Asia, and the area that today is known as Laos was marked by drawings of elephants.· In Thailand, elephant symbols, sculptures, paintings and T-shirts are prevalent.· There is even “Chang Beer,” or elephant beer sold in Thailand.· When Thai children see a baby elephant they can be heard saying, “Luk chang, luk chang!”· (Baby elephant, baby elephant!)
The journey began after sunrise in the town of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.
The relationship between man and elephant is long, wide, and complicated.· Most elephants in Thailand now are domesticated, and though it’s popular to characterize the elephant as hapless victim, the fact is when elephants get the upper hand they can just as well be the bad guys.· In Thailand, elephants have been known to stand in the road to stop a truck and steal all the pineapples out the back.· In India, a cannibal warned me about angry drunken elephants, which sounded incredible, but I checked into the cannibal’s warnings and they were true.· Elephants in some places like to get drunk on raksi (moonshine) that they steal from the villages, and then will destroy entire villages during drunken rampages.· A drunken group once attacked a power line and several elephants were electrocuted.· Hundreds of humans and homes have been flattened.· Indian villagers have tied hot peppers to ropes and hung them from trees to burn the elephants’ eyes, or used fireworks to frighten them, or killed the elephants, but the struggle between man and drunken elephant continues.
Elephants and man have competed for the same territory and probably at one time the elephants always got what they wanted.· They are no different than dogs, monkeys, or man: elephants will take what they can get.
As we approached the area where the twins were said to live, we saw an elephant chained to the side of the road, apparently just the prop of a beggar.· We stopped to ask about the twins and this “kwan chang” (mahout) said they had gone far into the jungle but he didn’t know exactly where they were.· He pointed the direction and we kept going.
Little did we know that today’s journey would take us 246 miles (by GPS), and deep, deep into the jungle.
As we headed off the two-lane pavement, at first the road did not require jeep-strength, but soon a 4-wheel drive was needed.· Much of the jungle had been chopped down, and other parts were dotted by primitive agricultural villages.· Looking at their fields one couldn’t help but notice that expert farmers had introduced science to these villages.
Mile after mile, millions of flowers lined the way.· The journey was a feast for the eyes.