Elephant Nature Park

As soon as I arrived back in Chiang Mai, from Bangkok, I got a phone call saying that I was going to be picked up at 07:00 in the morning. We were providing production services for Leopard Films in America to film their House Hunters International series. It’s an ongoing project that the company has worked on various times in the past.

This episode was following a guy from America who was looking for property in  Thailand. Chiang Mai to be exact. If you’re not familiar with the show, they follow a person or family as they look to move abroad. They normally view 3-4 properties and then at the end of the show they pick one. During the course of the show they talk about their new lifestyle in the country and participate in various activities, normally ones that highlight the area they are in. It’s a widely used format, I know that in the UK we have at least three shows that are almost identical.

It was nice to be on a small crew again. We had a crew of six. Pretty standard for a documentary style TV shoot. Once again I had the chance to meet some new crew. And again, they were great.

I joined the crew after they had completed the filming of the properties. As I joined, we had two days of ‘activity’ filming. On the first day we visited some temples, which was nice, because Mos and I had only managed to visit a handful so far. We also went to a few spots around town for eating and drinking.

Day two was the real highlight. We went filming at the Elephant Nature Park. There are many places up here in the mountains of Northern Thailand to see elephants. If you want to ride one or see them working (Thai’s use elephants much like we use work horses in the west), you can go to a handful of places. Some of these places are great and care for the elephants like members of their family. Some, beat the elephants unconscious as part of their training, chain the elephants to trees for days on end and generally abuse them. Sadly, for tourists, you won’t be able to know for sure until you get there. If you ask to see where the elephants sleep or how they are trained etc and the staff get defensive, you have almost certainly stumbled across a place that tortures elephants in the name of tourism. If they are open and happy for you to look around and the elephants seem happy, hopefully you’ve found a good one.

The Elephant Nature Park, is different. They rescue elephants from work camps, tourism facilities and zoos. Any elephant that is being used for financial gain is rescued. They bring the elephants to their park, give them medical assistance, get them healthy, then let them roam free around the expansive park. Visitors to the park are educated about the use (and abuse) of elephants and taught the story of each elephant at the park.

Each elephant at the park has a member of staff that looks after them. They feed them, walk them down to the river and bath them and generally build a friendship between them and the elephant.

We arrived to film the visitors feeding the elephants, or course we all had a go. My favourite was a blind elephant (I can’t remember the cause). She could hear you and would feel around with her trunk until she found you and then find your hand and then take the fruit.

After a few hours of feeding and filming interviews we walked around the park with the elephants occasionally coming over to see what we were up to then wandering off again. Some of the elephants were clearly still a bit nervous around people showing their previous lives of fear. Others just wanted to play or take the camera.

In the afternoon we walked with a few of the elephants down to the river, where volunteers can help bath the elephants. For most elephants this is a fun exercise. For some, this assistance from the volunteers is the only way that they can bathe. One elephant, called Medo, carried an extremely visible limp and disfigured hip from a life of abuse. Please read more about Medo by clicking her name (it’s a link). Here is a picture of Medo that I’ve pinched from the Elephant Nature Park website –

As you can see. She is severely disabled. But thanks to the park she is living freely, without abuse and in the company of other elephants. Medo is just one of the many stories at the park. If you want to help you can look at the Elephant Nature Park website here.  You can volunteer there, they will provide accommodation, food etc. Or you can just visit for the day. I would highly recommend a visit. Although you can’t ride an elephant as so many people seem to want to do. You are able to see happy and ‘free’ elephants playing, socialising and generally being elephants.

Baltica7

I’d been back from Kuala Lumpur for a couple of days when I got the call to head back to Bangkok to oversee a TVC shoot (Television Commercial). It was for Baltica7 a Ukrainian beer brand. Mos gave me a lift to the airport on the scooter and I checked in and boarded within and hour. Chiang Mai airport is brilliant. Flew with Thai airways. Very good service, as you’d expect from the national airline.

The crew had all been booked into the Mayfair hotel, we’d also booked half a floor as a production office space including wardrobe department. As I was a late addition to the crew I decided to book myself into a hostel that I’d been wanting to visit for a long time (Lub d, Siam Square), and it was only a short commute via the BTS sky train to the Mayfair. Again, I opted for a private double room to accommodate my laptop and paperwork. It was a great hostel and a great room, I’d highly recommend it!

I had arrived in the middle of the prep work for the shoot. We had two days left until the recce then we were to shoot on the following day. I spent most of my time getting to know the crews and trying to pick out the differences in the techniques and structure of this production team in comparison to the UK crews that I was much more familiar with. The first thing I noticed was the quantity of crew. There was easily three to four times the amount of people there for the size of the shoot than would have been in the UK. We’ve shot big-budget beer commercials in the UK with crews of 15-25 people. This one was bordering on 80-85. I am of course referring to the entire crew list on both projects not just the staff in the Mayfair production office.

Each day I would jump on the BTS and go the two stops to the Mayfair hotel which cost ฿20 each way (less than 50p). And then head home the same way. Normally stopping in the huge food market in MBK on the way to get my dinner. But, on the recce day I had to meet the production vans at 05:30, well before the BTS opens. So I treated myself to a tuk tuk ride. After a bit of haggling, I got him down to ฿80.

The first stop on the recce was the street location, we had an awesome sunrise and managed to get some great photos and got all of the camera positions mapped out. Second location was Bangkoks Suvarnabhumi airport. We had booked a corner of the departures floor with floor to ceiling glass. as a backdrop. Really nice location. And the airport staff and security were very helpful. Final stop was the Bangkok Column apartment building. Here we had three locations, first, the 25th floor Long Table Restaurant, and second the 37th floor apartment and third, the huge 37th floor balcony.

We were up nice and early again the following day to start filming, shooting in the same order we had previously recce’d. I met a lot more of the crew, and was very impressed by the quality of the work. I have to be honest and say that when I moved to Thailand, I did not expect the production services to be up to UK standard. These guys were brilliant, all of them.

After the final shot, on the 37th floor balcony, we dished out some iced beers, sushi and cake. My first shoot in Bangkok was over.