Yorkshireman Bruce Haxton is taking on the challenge of a lifetime when he cycles more than 2,000kms in 40C heat in northern Thailand.
His aim is to raise £16,000 to feed eight elephants for three months.
“The pandemic has hit the tourism industry in Thailand very hard. I’ve been living in Thailand for a number of years and really got to know the owners of MaeVang Elephant home close by,” says Bruce.
“I have seen this fantastic, small organisation develop and in their gentle understated way, set a great example in how to care for their elephants whilst still allowing visitors to learn about, see and experience these wonderful animals.
“They are such lovely people and never ask for anything. Their thoughts are always for others but they have been badly affected by the lack of tourism. It costs a lot to look after elephants – they eat 100kg of food a day and so I decided I really wanted to do something to help them.”
Bruce, who moved with his family from Harrogate to Chiang Mai in Thailand a decade ago, took up cycling to get fit four years ago.
“I’m really not a talented cyclist but I am a typical Yorkshireman and so I never give up. I believe you can do anything if you put your mind to it.”
Bruce had lived and worked in Thailand when he was younger, but returned to the UK to work in the travel industry,
For a number of years he worked for the Leeds-based I to I travel company which was bought out by TUI.
“The corporate world wasn’t really for me and so when I was offered a job in Thailand I decided to take it – but then I had to break it to my wife and kids.”
After a couple of year Bruce got itchy.
“I’d become a bit bored with the way travel was going and so I decided to borrow a friend’s Tuk Tuk and we drove around the more remote villages in northern Thailand where it was far less built up than the south and the beaches,” recalls Bruce.
“We both came back with massive grins on our faces and couldn’t stop talking about it. We just had to share it with everyone.”
The Tuk Tuk Club was launched in 2018 and now has 12 of the iconic Thai modes of transport all painted red with their own individual names.
Visitors drive the Tuk Tuks themselves in convoy with a guide leading the way and getting close up and personal to all that northern Thailand has to offer.
“I am passionate about supporting the local economy and so we stay at locally owned places, they all have pools and although not the Four Seasons I would be quite happy for my mum to stay at any of them,” says Bruce. “A lot of planning goes into the trips, especially the safety which is one of the reasons we are now in the process of making all the Tuk Tuks automatic.”
When the pandemic hit, Thailand was very quick to close its borders and as a result tourism completely stopped.
“As a result there have been very few deaths but the economy, especially tourism, has taken a terrible hit.”
Father-of-three Bruce spent some sleepless nights worrying about his business, but then a group of ex-pats living in Bangkok went on one of his tours,
“At the time we were still able to travel around the country. The group went back to Bangkok raving about our tour and told all their friends about it and as a result we have managed to stay busy through the pandemic.
“I feel extremely fortunate. It is a market we didn’t know how to tap into but it just happened.” At the moment Thailand is seeing an increase in cases of Covid-19 and as a result travel between areas is now banned.
“My wife is stuck in Bangkok and can’t get home at the moment but overall we have not had things as bad as people have in the UK.”
Pandemic permitting, Bruce plans to set off on his solo 20 day challenge next month – the height of the Thai summer when temperatures can reach 40C.
“I have already done a 1000km ride in six days which had 15,000m of climb. It was very tough but I managed it.”
Although he will be cycling solo, his wife has insisted that he have a support vehicle and so one of his Tuk Tuks will go on ahead with supplies and to ensure he doesn’t get lost.
“It also means that I can take my laptop and plan to keep a daily blog on my experience,” he says. He will set off from his home in Chiang Mai and cycle 2,300kms through the North East of Thailand to Ubon Ratchatani near the mighty Mekong river. And then heading back to Chiang Mai, via Surin – another home of elephants in Thailand.
“I am aiming to cycle 120km a day for 20 days along rural roads,” he says. “It’s 300kms more than I wanted to ride but I had to add the extra kilometres to get to where I wanted to go. I wanted to start and finish with the elephants.”
Bruce says the heat will be the main challenge during the day as he takes routes avoiding main roads.
“I am overwhelmed by the response and support from people as I know how tough times are financially for everyone at the moment,” says Bruce.
He is already nearly half way to his £16,000 goal but hopes that if he can raise more then he can help even more Thai people.
“I love northern Thailand, It is very much like Yorkshire – other than the weather. The people speak their minds and are so kind. May be it something to do with being northern.”
Bruce normally likes to return home to Yorkshire three times a year. “For the beginning middle and end of the football season,” jokes the lifelong Leeds United supporter.
To support Bruce Haxton visit www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/maevangelephants