By Sarah Gustafson – 1 week volunteer
Since arriving at the Karen hilltribe village, which is around 4 hours drive south west from Chiang Mai, visiting KSES has been such a special and extraordinary experience. People here live in beautifully kept, rustic and sparse homes that they or their families had built themselves. The village here was built about 30 years ago, and the people who live here were originally refugees fleeing from Burma (Myanmar) many generations ago. The people in the village have a very happy and simple way of life. In this part of the village that KSES is based in, there might be about 20 homes, set in idyllic surrounds, being in the valley of the mountains, with a beautiful clear river running throughout, which supplies the village with their water.
These wooden homes are typically 2 stories high, and the top floor is quite open, there is a gap between the roof and the wall – so the air flows freely throughout the room, making it quite chilly in the evening, but when rugged up under blankets, it is a beautiful way to experience the fresh mountain air of Northern Thailand from the comfort of your mosquito-net-draped bed.
The people in the village have welcomed the group of us that arrived on Sunday so warmly, and my homestay host Nee and her family have been so kind since my arrival. Nee has cooked, packed, and sent me off with food each morning to tuck into after the daily elephant hike.
The first morning of my stay here, we packed up at 7.30am, and set out to see 3 elephants, Too Meh, Meh Doom and Boon Rott. The hike was refreshing but hard work at times, it is worth it though when you eventually see through the brush, there are these magnificent animals just calmly chomping down on some bamboo, with their giant heads stuck out.
It was pretty magical firstly seeing these beautiful animals out in a semi-wild scene. There wasn’t anyone there pushing them around etc, they were just doing their own thing, our small group just sat back and observed them hanging out and doing whatever they wanted. After we arrived, Too Meh and Meh Doom, mother and daughter, returned to eating bamboo, dust bathing, and eventually took a short wander down the river, coming closer to another elephant, Boon Rott, a young male elephant, who tends to hang out near Too Meh and Meh Doom, and had been happily eating away farther upstream on the bank of the river. Our group observed these 3 elephants for the rest of the morning, with staff and interns taking down data notes of their behaviours and others in the group taking notes for an elephant diary.
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I have only been here for just over 2 days, but already can see that this type of tourism, where there is minimal to no contact with the elephants, and where the support is there to have them returned to a semi wild state, is in the best interest of elephants and has been overall a far greater experience than what I would imagine any visit to a traditional elephant camp would be. Homestays and the opportunities to purchase hand made items from the people in the village also help the local economy of the Karen hilltribe. The elephants here are very happy and the people who work here at KSES clearly care about their welfare and their future.