Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. And Bruce Haxton, founder of The Tuk Tuk Club, may agree after his epic 1,400 mile cycle ride across Thailand. The ride would be tough enough at any time of the year, but to do it in the middle of the hot season makes it even tougher. Add in the fact that Bruce is, in his own words, a middle-aged man with a penchant for cigarettes and beer, and you have to question whether the gregarious Yorkshireman has thought this through. But thinking is something that Bruce has done plenty of since the Covid pandemic hit. Like most travel companies across Thailand, his business has suffered and this has had a knock-on effect for the staff and elephants at MaeVang Elephant Home in Chiang Mai.
MaeVang Elephant Home is a cause that is close to Bruce’s heart. There is no riding allowed at the small, family-owned centre which is home to nine elephants. Bruce is an advocate for responsible tourism in Thailand and has struck up a close bond with Khun Noom and all the people involved with MaeVang Elephant Home. Before the pandemic, Bruce brought customers via tuk-tuk to the scenic location in the hills south-west of Chiang Mai city. Covid changed that.
Although there have been no visitors and no income for elephant centres across North Thailand, the elephants still need to be fed and cared for. Bruce was determined to do something positive to help. Recognising the challenging times for the elephants and mahouts, he wanted to set himself a challenge too. After chatting it through with Noom, the idea of a bike challenge began to take shape. A journey across Thailand to raise awareness and funds for the elephants and mahouts.
The challenge was to cycle across Thailand covering over 1,400 miles. Starting in Chiang Mai and cycling south-east up and down the hills of North Thailand towards Isaan and looping back to the finish in Chiang Mai. And all this at the hottest time of the year.
The numbers speak for themselves:
- 1,429 miles (2,230 km)
- 18 consecutive days of cycling
- 76 miles (123 km) a day
- 40C (104F) temperatures
- 11,099 metres climbed (approximately 1.5 times the height of Mount Everest)
- 42,426 calories burned (approximately 500 servings of som tam!)
Deciding on a 2,000+ km ride wasn’t a random selection. The number 2,000 is significant because 2,000 Thai Baht is the approximate amount needed to feed and look after two elephants each day.
The unsung hero: Khun Noom
As Bruce himself is keen to point out, none of this would be possible without the support of Khun Noom from MaeVang Elephant Home. It was the Thai man who drove the support tuk-tuk, helped with the logistics and used his local knowledge to help Bruce reach his goal. More importantly, Noom was an inspiration. As tough as it was for Bruce on the bike ride, the man from Harrogate is inspired by the positive attitude of Noom and the people at MaeVang despite the daily challenges they continue to face.
“MaeVang Elephant Home aren’t great at PR, however they are superb at looking after elephants and at creating wonderful opportunities to learn about elephants.”Bruce Haxton
Bruce is aiming to raise 600,000 Baht (approximately £16,000) to look after the elephants and mahouts for 3 months. It’s an ambitious target and to find out whether he succeeded or not, check out his fundraising page here.
The elephant home has been stoic since the pandemic struck. With so many people across Thailand struggling to stay afloat, they haven’t asked for, or expected, help from government or outsiders. Instead, they have quietly got on with life without complaint. And it is this positive attitude that also helped inspire Bruce’s journey.
If you would like to meet up with Bruce, Khun Noom and the elephants of MaeVang on your next trip to Thailand, check out the tours available from The Tuk Tuk Club.
There are a number of elephant centres with similar names in the Chiang Mai area. At MaeVang Elephant Home there is no riding. For more information on visiting an ethical elephant centre in Thailand, check out the information here.