Spending Time with Elephants

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By Amy

For years now, I’ve loved elephants. I don’t know what it is about them that gets to me. Their size, their intelligence, their stories? These giant beasts have been used by people for hundreds of years for logging, building temples, and, now, tourism. It’s harder and harder to find them in the wild due to the destruction of their environment and poaching. It seems that they are the underdog of the animal kingdom even though they are so big!

So when we were looking at spending our tourist dollars in Thailand to see elephants I felt very strongly that we needed to do it the right way. You may have heard about Elephant Nature Park without realizing it. Maybe you’ve seen the documentary on Animal Planet where the park and it’s founder Lek Chailert were featured. Maybe you’ve seen one of the many viral videos from the park such as this one of Lek singing a baby elephant to sleep. Elephant Nature Park rescues elephants who have had hard times. Maybe they worked as logging elephants or gave people rides for decades. Maybe they are orphaned babies. Maybe they had injuries from land mines or abuse. No matter the story they get to be elephants again at the park.

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As visitors to the park, we got to meet the elephants, touch some of them, feed them and give them a bath. We also ate lunch and watched a documentary about elephants. What we didn’t do is ride them. During my research about where to go I learned that for an elephant to accept a rider, they must go through “phajaan” which is a process of breaking the elephant’s spirit for work or tourism. They take elephants at about three years old, and beat and poke them for days or weeks until they submit. It’s horrible. The little elephant, separated from it’s mother for the first time, is confused, terrified and injured in the process.

Now, onto the happy stuff.

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Lek has rescued orphaned baby elephants and pioneered a process of showing them love and positive reinforcement to “tame” them and make them safe to be around at the park. Seeing the work she does is truly inspirational and heart-warming. Not only does she have around 30 elephants at the sanctuary but there are also 400 dogs and 150 cats–all sterilized. And oh yeah, she has adopted 14 children too. We couldn’t believe our luck that we actually got to meet her the day we were there! She had just brought in a litter of kittens who were orphaned when their mother was killed by a car.

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Spending the day with elephants and seeing them look so happy, doing what elephants do, was a dream come true for me. I had a permanent smile on my face. If you ever find yourself in Chiang Mai you have to visit Elephant Nature Park. In the mean time go to their website and check out all the fun videos about the work they are doing.

Thailand: Beaches, Temples, Food

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By Amy

Well our six-week trip of a lifetime around Southeast Asia has commenced and we are here to report that it’s been amazing so far.

Our first stop after Surabaya was Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where my friend Jessica lives. We dropped our big bags off at her place, did a few loads of laundry, ate some fantastic meals and packed our little travel backpacks before heading off to Thailand.

Our first stop in Thailand was Ao Nang Beach in the Krabi province of southern Thailand. Ao Nang isn’t the most scenic place, but from there you can catch boats to some lovely places. We spent our two full days there boating over to Railay beach, which is one of the most beautiful beaches in Thailand (and, therefore, the world).

After three nights in Ao Nang, we flew to Chiang Mai. I loved Chiang Mai. It’s a small city and you can walk to almost everything. There’s also a lot to do. Weeks before, we had pre-booked a trip to the Elephant Nature Park (separate post on that coming), and the Siam Rice cooking school. Both were fantastic experiences.

Our trip to Siam Rice started with a trip to the market to see the kinds of ingredients we’d be working with. Real Thais shop at the market, but it still seemed pretty nice and touristy compared to our local market in Indonesia! At the cooking school, Will and I were able to cook completely different dishes. When you first get there you look through all the options and decide what you want to make. Then the staff gets going to prepare all your ingredients. We made soup, noodles, salads, curry paste, curry, appetizers and desserts! And we ate it all too. Barely. We were absolutely stuffed! So much fun.

We also had fun walking around Chiang Mai and eating at food stalls. Our guest house owner gave us his personal map of recommended places. One of them was a food stall where a lady wearing a cowboy hat serves up slow roasted leg of pork and rice. Our first night in town, we went looking for her, found her, got in line, ordered two and sat down. Soon we had two plates of delicious food in front of us as well as tin cups full of ice to pour water over.

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Cowboy hat? Check. Large vats of delicious pork cooking? Check!

In addition, our friends Zach and Clay of The Bitten Word food blog had recommended we look for Mrs. Pa’s fruit shake stand. We went in search of Mrs. Pa and again were successful. You wouldn’t think that one fruit shake could be that much better than another (or, life changing), but man, that woman knows what she’s doing! She recommended pineapple, mango and passion fruit. YES.

Mrs. Pa, a mad genious of fruit smoothies

Mrs. Pa, a mad genius of fruit smoothies

After Chiang Mai, we flew to Bangkok. We stayed in the area near the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, which is where most of the cultural sites are. Our first night in town, we found ourselves eating dinner at a nice restaurant on the river with a view of Wat Arun (wat means temple) lit up across from us. After dinner we went walking around to explore the area. We found ourselves walking past the entrance to Wat Pho, and the security guard motioned for us to go in and walk around, even though it was closed. I felt like I had wandered into a jewelry box as the temples glittered around us. Other than some temple cats on their nocturnal prowl we were the only people there.

The next day, we needed to visit the Embassy of Myanmar to apply for tourist visas for our visit there in mid-July. That took most of the morning and we were ready for lunch. We found a food barn of sorts with food stalls where Thai professionals eat lunch. Then, since it was the middle of the day and we didn’t feeling like walking around, we decided to go to Siam Square and see a movie at one of the big malls. We bought tickets to see Maleficent, and stood along with everyone else when, before the movie, they played a song and slideshow in honor of the Thai King!

The rest of our time in Bangkok involved sightseeing and eating. We enjoyed Bangkok, but four nights was enough for us and we were excited to move on to the next stop: Siem Reap, Cambodia and the temples of Angkor!