The Chiang Mai Triathlon and the Great Banana Racket

Location: Chiang Mai district, Thailand

Chiang Mai Triathlon Course

  • Stage 1: 5K – Elephant (Course: Maetaman Elephant Camp/local village)
  • Stage 2: 10K – Mountain bike (Course: Muddy, hilly road)
  • Stage 3: 10K – Whitewater rafting (Course: III/IV Class Mae Tang River)
  • Total distance: 25K
  • Completion time: 4:20 hours
Elephant Stage
The 1st ever Chiang Mai Triathlon began with a bang and a curt whack from the driver’s crooked metal prod to the elephant’s hairy skull. The race is on!
Out of the gate,  the elephants lumbered at a blistering pace matched only by a hunched-over old woman carrying a bag of bananas and sugarcane.
The elephant course wove through a small village with a panorama of mountains on all sides. Eight stations were strategically placed, each containing an old hunched-over women waving bunches of bananas and sugarcane, tantalizingly tempting the elephant’s trunk into action. After the elephant quickly grabbed and gorged on a bunch o’ bananas, the lady chastised me to pay 20 baht (69 cents or so). I quickly learned that this great banana racket was going to suck my wallet dry and I wasn’t going to get a single banana for my own self. When new stations came into view, I dismissed each successive banana-racketeer with a wave and a head shake. They harrumphed me and my elephant probably hated me, but I remain devout in my goal of a scam-free existence.
The race took a tragically cute turn, when a baby elephant bustled across our path. Awwwwwww.
Maetaman Elephant Camp
The staging area
Banana station #1
A crooked elephant head whacker
Banana station #3
The jockey and his pony
Get your fresh bananas and sugarcane stalks here!
20 baht or die
Nap time
The 5K course ended and we quickly transitioned to our van ride to the…
Mountain Bike Stage
Our goal was to ride to the whitewater rafting put-in point, a mere 10 kilometers away. We did this thusly: Hill, mud, hill, mud, mud, hill, hill, hill, mud, hill. Repeat.
Choose your weapon
Pit stop
Pit crew
Only 15 more hills to go
Whitewater Rafting Stage
The final leg of the triathlon began after a tasty lunch of phad thai, lychees and sliced mangoes in a local village. After a safety overview and a run down of paddling commands, we hopped in the raft and entered the swift current of the Mae Tang river.
A series of class III and class IV rapids greeted us, mostly by throwing lots of water at us. After almost being swamped with churning water (fabulous invention, the self-bailing boat) and hung up on massive boulders, we made it to a stretch of calm water. Our guide suggested we jump in and float down the next set of rapids. Already full of adrenaline and overconfidence, we did just that. Unfortunately, my life jacket wasn’t tight enough because I spent most of my whirlwind float trying to keep my head above water, while avoiding looming rocks. Not that almost drowning in a muddy river is of any consequence.
We soon came to the final stretch of the triathlon, soaked through with dirty water (watch for my white shirt changing to brown) and preparing for our victory speech.
The last leg begins (notice the white shirt)
The water is getting rough
No turning back
This could end badly


Not white shirts
The End