Michael's Dispatches

The Jungle Twins


We found the village!

Mae Jum Sam village is at 18° 39.818'N, 98° 8.899'E

It has a rare road sign.· Don’t get used to signs; there are very few.

We drove into the village where it was obvious, as in the other villages, they don’t see many outsiders or palefaces.

Mr. Maearhae.

There he is!· I remembered Mr. Maearhae’s face from a Thai newspaper that identified him as the owner of the elephants.

Mr. Maearhae’s Thai was not great, and then his Thai was translated to English, and so there is some wiggle room on facts derived from our conversations over the next almost three hours. I asked some questions repeatedly to pin down impressions and try to get to the truth, but there are no guarantees.


We sat down in the village center and people began to gather around.· I figured the story of the elephants and the story of the people are entwined like a rope through time.· To follow one strand is to follow the other.

I asked Mr. Maearhae and others many questions about their lives.· They are ethnic Karen people originally from Burma and don’t know how long their village has been here.· They guessed about 100-200 years. As our conversation unfolded, more and more villagers came around squatting in a semi-circle.· According to villagers, there are 76 houses with about 700 people.· They have running water (there was a blue pipe just by my feet), and their meager electricity comes from solar which runs small fluorescent lights in the houses.· Some cooking is done with fire and some people have televisions.· They also have a school with two teachers who instruct Thai and other subjects – one kid tried a few English words on me.

The villagers grow or raise much of their own food and also sell rice and corn in the market.· Chickens, pigs and dogs roamed freely in the village and one group of people was squatting with a piglet eating just in their circle.· They have cows and water buffaloes.· They like to eat monkeys and rats but the monkeys are far away.· I asked if the monkeys come steal their crops and they said sometimes, but the monkeys are mostly far away because they taste good and so do the wild pigs.

The nearest doctor is 94km (58 miles) away, which I thought must be the driving distance to the paved road, but one must be careful with distances given by the villagers.· All along the way, as we stopped to ask directions while coming here, villagers would say things like, “It’s 10 kilometers more,” when in reality it was more like a hundred.· We heard that about ten different times.· It became a joke.· Same often happens in Nepal – never trust a villager to give the right distance, or time.· They often just pick a number out of the air.

Mr. Maearhae knows who Michael Jackson is, but like some Afghan villagers did not know he is dead.

She made lunch for us.

The villagers say they have opium but not much because they stopped growing it about twenty years ago.· You could see in getting out here that eradication likely would have led to war – just as the King of Thailand believed – and alternative crops was the solution, along with these dirt roads, and later paved roads, to get crops to market.· It would have been hell for an Army to fight in these vast jungles with people who live here permanently.· The Thai government puts much effort into teaching the villagers better farming techniques, which obviously are in use in each village we had driven through.· The Thai counter-opium project was wildly successful.· (There is much to learn here that can help us in Afghanistan.)

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    john lawrence · 10 years ago
    I really like the new format, picture / letters.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dennis · 10 years ago
    What's true for elephants is true for people too. Great work Michael! Your travels/insights help us see the world (and the people in it) as our brothers & sisters on this planet. Enjoy your vacation and time at home!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Steve Carson · 10 years ago
    Love the format, great content. Thank You.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Pete G. · 10 years ago
    If this is a sample of what your new "raw" format will be like, then you have found the best way yet of posting new dispatches. Great pictures, great story. But it's nothing short of what I've come to expect of your reporting no matter where it is coming from. You are a breath of fresh air in a world of polluted stories from every other corner of the globe. I have followed your dispatches for several years and like fine wine, you just keep getting better as time goes by. I wish you the very best in this new year. May you stay safe, healthy and happy. Take care and God bless!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Marjorie Harris · 10 years ago
    Love the elephant and people pictures. You take us places most of us will never go - I know I won't. I love all your photos and the commentary with them. Be safe and keep up the true and good work.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Linda Lee Brecht · 10 years ago
    Love the "Picture letter." I couldn't stop reading! Really I need to get to work but was enthralled. GREAT CONTENT!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Virginia · 10 years ago
    I really enjoyed the foemat of pictures/letters. Thanks!
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    Susannah · 10 years ago
    I read it aloud to my children and we really enjoyed it! The baby elephants are so cute! And I loved that you slipped in a Major Payne reference. LOL! Also, "as the rocket flies" amused me.

    Thank you for sharing with world with us, Michael.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bill Cattley · 10 years ago
    Brother Michael,

    Nice format and as always, your pictures/writing put us right in the action. Hope you had a great Christmas and Happy New Year while recharging your batteries.


    Bill Cattley
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mary Houser · 10 years ago
    Michael, Just saying "thanks" doesn't seem enough.....can't even tell you what your stories do for me and my kids. Today, on the first day of the year 2011, I went to see the baby elephants with their mama in the Thai forest....thanks for taking me there! Keep the dispatches and pics coming. They are healing for our souls.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Carol E. · 10 years ago
    Fascinating glimpse of life in the Thai jungle -- like spending time between the covers of National Geographic! Interesting to note the clothing some of the children were wearing (Superman log and speculate on how the clothing got there. No way could I squat like the adults were doing in that circle formation with their feet flat on the ground. (I tried!) Really enjoyed this photo-letter. Thanks so much!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sharon Hern · 10 years ago
    This was such a treat. I have been in remote Thai villages and enjoy the people and the scenery. I stayed four days and nights in one village and got to see how the people live and interact with them. It was an Arka village and I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to meet these wonderful people. I didn't get to see any elephants in the wild like the experience you had, thanks for sharing. I really like the new format. Thanks again.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Traci Wilberger, Las · 10 years ago
    Thanks Michael! What a fascinating life you lead! Love the story! Your photos and info give me much to ponder and appreciate. I love to see different peoples of the world, so many smiles! Also love the format. Happy New Year!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    R. Bradley Bonds · 10 years ago
    For many years, that is how I feel you treat us and care about us...extra nice. Actually, a lot more than ever. Your voice gets stronger and better. No wonder everyone is so loyal to you. What Mary said is for me too: "Thanks for taking me there [to see the twin baby girl elephants]! They are healing for our souls." Another thing is, I predict one of these pics could be another one of Michael Yon's world class iconic photographs. It's the first one on page 7, about her gnawing on Mr Kapor’s shoulder! Pretty and fun! I hope we can save the elephants!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kelley Smith · 10 years ago
    Michael- what a great format! It's really great to go trekking with you. I had seen most of these pics already, but this was next best to going with you. You continue to amaze us!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sanford · 10 years ago
    Fascinating dispatch on the twin Tailand elephants! I forwarded this to my daughter, Heidi, who works at the San Diego Zoo.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sanford · 10 years ago
    If this is sent twice, its because I made a mistake. I forwarded your elephant twins dispatch to my daughter, Heidi, who works at the San Diego Zoo. I know she will appreciate not only your pictures but also your commentary. I can tell you love the animals and people. I appreciate your perspective much more than any other news source.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    sandy · 10 years ago
    I love the new format.................. amazing..........it almost makes me feel I am there with you. love it.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John Roberts · 10 years ago
    Hi Michael

    Try to answer a few of your queries in the piece, though I'm just getting a handle on the Garieng methods of looking after elephants (http://bit.ly/e xdCm - for a brief overview) as we work mainly with the Isaan Chao Gwi however.

    Chain: no way of telling whether she was chained or not but sometimes they leave the adults out there with a 0 yard 'drag' chain - so not attached to anything but so that it makes a noise and a trail when the elephant roams - easier to find.

    The Vet/House call thing: The Thai Elephant Conservation Centre offer a free mobile clinic to all the elephants in Thailand (but at the moment, practically the North as they're based in Lampang) our vet, Dr Cherry, goes with them sometimes - can give you more details when you're ready to write that 'other story'.

    Great piece and feeds into my fascination with the old ways of elephant management, incest breeding would be a bit of a worry.


  • This commment is unpublished.
    sjd · 10 years ago
    ...For the baby elephants and for 2011. God Bless you and your work. Be safe.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    TerriLPN · 10 years ago
    I Love seeing the World through your eyes, Michael! The babies w/ the momma elephant opens us to see things we may never get to see but dream of. It is a Fabulous World! Thank You So Much! May God Bless you and keep you safe. Looking forward to more dispatches!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    scott Dudley · 10 years ago
    Worthyof a National Geographic spread with the elephant eye as a cover!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Doya Meade · 10 years ago
    I follow you now all the time. I love your e-mails and posts. This one was especially good. I like the way you tell the stories - truthfully! Keep up the good work Michael and keep them coming. Hope 2011 brings great things your way. Good Luck and be safe.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Joe Norman · 10 years ago
    What a wonderful "New Year" gift from you to us! LOVED it!
    Be safe. We depend on you for the TRUTH!!
    Good luck and GOD bless.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John Lukens · 10 years ago
    My wife Thitiya loved the elephant pictures. Cute little rascals. An elephant baby about that old butted a friend who was taking a picture of the baby. My friend never saw it coming! You have a nice feel for the countryside.

    One or two inaccuracies, not surprising when you come in on a flying visit. On page , I think, you said the Karen are hilltribe people and have opium. Although they look it, they aren't a hill tribe people, and never grow opium. On the sign with the village name, below it there is a board painted red that says there is a penalty for bringing drugs of any sort into the village.

    The Karen traditionally have made their living from logging, using elephants. The houses are made of bamboo so that the buildings in the entire village can be dismantled within a day and moved to a new location. However, this village might be relatively permanent, because it has a school. The sign on the school says that the school is a project of the Mae Faa Luang foundation. (The sign also mistakenly says that they are "Thai Hilltribe people".)

    The Foundation’s purpose is to help hill tribe people who grown opium to turn to cultivation of other cash crops. It’s not completely effective because nothing is as lucrative as growing opium, especially when you are a day or two from the nearest road. Don’t know how or why the Foundation is working with the Karen, unless the Foundation has broadened the scope of their activities. But that might account for your thinking that the Karen grow opium.

    Nice job.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael Yon Author · 10 years ago
    I greatly appreciated the kind words and also some with clues that can help in further research.

    Small note: These Karen told me they had grown opium but had switched to other crops.

    It's really worth your time to go out there if you get the chance. Very nice if bumpy ride.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    J Kaur · 10 years ago
    the first page you made reference to a cannibal in India --- what are you talking about ???? this person eats other humans???
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Randy Klug · 10 years ago
    Very interesting and great photos!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    J. Worthington · 10 years ago
    Excellent as always - you are a superb story teller that makes a person wanting to hear and see more.


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