Elephant Mahout Training
As a guest in the land of smiles you'll have the opportunity to undertake a three-day mahout course, the only such course in the world so claims the organizer.
"Mahout" is a Thai word used to describe a person who works with elephants, whether it be hauling logs through the forest or making them play football for tourists.
A 3-day course involves learning to ride, feed, bathe and generally care for an elephant, and it's a rewarding experience. It all takes place at the Anantara Resort in Chiang Rai - a five-star joint with plush health spa and fancy restaurant and .. wait for it .. is surrounded by 160 acres of private bamboo forest.
The resort's five-star rating might put some people off but it is largely deserved due to the fantastic Lanna architecture and the sheer beauty of the area. It is completely surrounded by mountains with Laos and Burma in the distance and the mighty Mekong nearby.
Do bear in mind it's nowhere near as expensive as a five-star resort would cost you at home.
For anyone who doesn't like the idea of working with an elephant then you can just take a ride on one. The resort has 4 elephants and the 160 acres of lush forest make for some great one-day elephant treks.
A word about elephants. By taking elephant rides and visiting the elephant camps dotted around Chiang Mai you are actually helping them.
Due to the fact there is very little natural elephant habitat left, and lots of diesel-spewing bulldozers to cart logs around, elephants have become surplus to requirements over the last 20-30 years. The only way an elephant can survive in modern-day Thailand is by playing football and carrying tourists around.
You won't see that on any of the official Thai tourism websites, that have a tendency to butter everything up to get you to come here, but it's the grim truth.
Many elephants that don't have tourist related "functions" are malnourished, and when they aren't out selling bananas with their owner spend most of the time chained so they don't damage anything and, believe it or not, so they don't run away into the forest!
So if you do find yourself feeling guilty while watching an elephant paint pictures with its trunk, just remember it could be a lot worse off. Elephants in camps are well treated because they generate an income. It is simple economics.