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.

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