Published: April 13th 2010April 13th 2010
After making it back across the mighty Mekong and through immigration without anything untoward happening we headed into Chiang Khong and straight to the bus station to catch the next available bus to Chiang Rai. To our utter dismay the next bus proved to be one of the local buses - which basically meant no air con, small plastic seats and very cramped - which made the 3hr journey seem to go on forever. Smelly, hot and tired we eventually arrived in Chiang Rai and headed for a hotel, the Tourist Inn, which had been recommended to us by Mel, one of our tree house companions. At 250 baht (£4.50) a night we felt we had a good deal and, as they had a small bakery which provided a nice breakfast, we were very happy. As we were only spending one night in Chiang Rai we can’t comment too much on the town as all we saw of it was the ride from the bus station to the hotel, a pizza place (we were all in desperate need of something other than rice and veg to eat) and the ride to another bus station the following day, but it seemed really
Not a statue
but a real monk, honest.
nice and laid back and somewhere we would definitely like to visit when we have more time.
An early start the following day secured us places on a VIP coach to Chiang Rai, and to our surprise it really was a VIP bus with all the mod cons - so nice. The journey flew by and we were soon at the Mini Cost hotel and to our delight a booking error meant we had very nice rooms at a reduced rate - hurrah. After depositing some rather unpleasant jungle coated washing with the laundry service Chris and I decided that a visit to Wat Phra Singh was in order, Matthew being exhausted opted for a siesta instead. The first impressions of the compound, with its main building and typical naga staircase, were good. It was constructed in 1345 and contains one of Thailand’s three Phra Singh Buddha images. Around the inside of the viharn are lovely colourful murals, albeit somewhat decaying, which depict two different stories: on the right hand wall that of an old folk tale, the Sang Thong and on the left hand wall the story of the mythical swan Suwannahong. The temple compound also boasts a
do these ingredients look
wooden scripture repository inlaid with mosaic which is surprisingly well-preserved and extremely intricate. The whole area is a haven of peacefulness even though chattering young novice monks and local schoolboys were ever present.
The following day Chris wanted to chill for the day and catch up on these blogs whilst Matthew and I headed out to partake in some authentic Thai cooking at one of the many cooking schools. We had chosen the Thai Farm Cooking School and were so pleased that we did. We were picked up from the hotel and taken to a local market where the ingredients we would be using were displayed on stalls jam packed with every conceivable type of food. We wandered around the market for a while taking in all the sights and smells, rushing past the tank crammed full of live fish, about to be de-scaled alive, in favour of the savoury smells of the spices. A short ride took us to the organic farm, where the school was located, and a brief talk on some of the home grown herbs and spices was a good introduction to the ingredients we would be using. We found the cooks very easy to
Watch out Gordon
the Pad Thai pair are learning fast
understand and with a hilarious sense of humour the day was extremely enjoyable. Matthew had chosen to make red curry paste, red curry with chicken, Tom Yam with shrimps, chicken with cashew nuts, spring rolls and mango with sticky rice. Unfortunately it didn’t start off too well with his red curry with chicken looking extremely anaemic and slightly reminiscent of something very unpleasant (no-one was brave enough to try it). Happily things went better from then on and by the time he made the spring rolls he was an expert. I had decided to make yellow curry paste, yellow curry with chicken, Tom Yam with shrimps, chicken with cashew nuts, pad thai fried noodles and mango with sticky rice. Unlike Matthew, I was proficient right from the very beginning (of course) and only lost the plot with the pad thai which did get thoroughly burned - oops. Our class of 6 had a lovely long lunch trying each other’s creations (except Matthew’s curry) and everyone agreed that it had been a great day. Armed with our copies of the cook book and some spring rolls for Chris to try we headed back home, stuffed and pleased with our new found
cooking skills - time will tell. It was a great day doing something completely different and the cooking school was professionally run without spoiling any of the fun - we would definitely recommend it to anyone wanting to have a go at creating some authentic Thai culinary delights.
Not needing anything to eat that night we decided an early one was in order as we were being picked up the next day for another adventure - the Elephant Nature Park - www.elephantnaturepark.org . We had found this particular elephant conservation park on-line whilst trying to book into another elephant adventure - time would tell if we had made the right decision. The following morning we met Eric, who would be our guide for our entire stay at the park, and headed off in luxurious transport (a very nice mini bus) to pick up the other intrepid adventurers who would be our companions for a few days. As we neared the park we watched a video on the bus explaining about the work of the park and its founder Lek. Although her name means tiny/small in Thai, and she certainly lives up to that name in stature, there is nothing
or just a quick peck?
small or tiny about her personality and her drive to save injured and mistreated Asian Elephants, one elephant at a time if necessary. The park was established in 2003 although she had begun to rescue injured and mistreated elephants in 1992. Her drive and enthusiasm can be felt everywhere in the park, from the mahouts who diligently follow their charges as they roam around the grounds to the many volunteers who give up their time in order to spend a few valuable days with these beautiful gentle giants.
As we drove through the park entrance we were greeted with our first glimpse of elephants roaming alongside the road - and we were astounded. The itinerary for those visiting for the day or staying overnight was very well organised not only ensuring that everyone had time to spend with the elephants, but also providing them with background information on the lives of domestic elephants in Thailand, some of which turned out to be quite graphic, but certainly opened our eyes to the unbelievably cruel training practices that some of these intelligent, docile, loving creatures have to endure.
We never thought in our wildest dreams we would be kissed by
Chris knows he can't compete
elephants, but before lunch Hope, one of Lek’s most mischievous young male elephants, graciously planted a big, wet, hoover-like kiss on each of our cheeks. What a kiss: a combination of slobbery wetness and gentle sucking noises left each of us breathless and wanting more - an interesting technique we thought. Soon feeding time began which saw the elephants queuing at their usual spot and eager humans handing over bananas and water melons to gently enquiring, probing trunks which adeptly grasped the desired meal. Meal time for the humans involved similar queuing (and just as noisy) and turned out to be surprisingly delicious.
After lunch, the event that we had all been waiting for arrived - bath time - not soaking in a bath tub with bubble bath but in the river with elephants. Shorts and t-shirts donned, buckets and scrubbing brushes at the ready we all eagerly headed down to the river to enjoy a splash around with the first lucky pachyderm in need of cleaning. Taking into account the health and safety instructions we had received we started chucking buckets of water over the grateful animals and ourselves as well. There were a few times when us
sneaking a scoff
from someone elses basket
fragile humans had to get out of the way of the elephants as they enjoyed the water and standing so close to these beautiful creatures certainly made us constantly aware of our own insignificance, but they were always gracious and polite in allowing us to take part in a very social and pleasurable past-time for them. It was such a wonderful experience and bath time will quite honestly never be the same again.
After getting thoroughly soaked we had to vacate the river so the babies and their mums could come and have a bathe. These mums are so protective of their babes that it would be unsafe to allow us eager visitors to bathe them, so we watched from the viewing platform as both adults and little ones enjoyed the cool water. As with most babies they were thrilled in everything they did and watching them cavorting around in the water was hilariously funny and heart-warming and as they wriggled and writhed between the legs of their mums the gentleness and patience of these huge parents was only too apparent. It was also possible to discern the different personalities of the elephants; the little boy was the more
applying the sunscreen
after the water comes the mudbath
mischievous as he jumped on and climbed all over the baby girl, used his mum’s tail and trunk as something to attack and was obviously delighted that his little trunk could either be used as some kind of periscope or helicopter type rotor blade. The baby girl was much more docile although her delight in the cool water was all too apparent. The fun didn’t stop either after bath time as the older ones came out and administered their sun cream (dirt) and the little ones attempted to do the same, but with much less control over their wayward trunks. But all too soon the temptation of the water was too much for the little boy as he made a break from his mum and headed at full pelt into the water to bathe again with another group of gentle giants, who put up with his antics with gentle forebearance. These delightful afternoon interludes with the elephants were interspersed with informative videos of the park and the plight of the domestic Asian Elephant, which has certainly changed our attitude forever.
After an absolutely delicious dinner, a Thai massage for Chris and Matthew, and a great night’s sleep in very
pleassssseee can we take him home?
good accommodation we awoke anticipating our walk amongst the elephants but our first task of the day was helping to wash the elephant’s food. Task accomplished and our guide for the morning walk, Jodi, was knowledgeable about each of the elephants, energetic, enthusiastic and obviously loved it at the park. As we walked around we were able to get up close to a number of the elephants, some of which had the most horrific stories and had both mental and physical scars to prove it. What was obvious to us during this time however was that, not only had they learned to adapt to any physical disabilities they may have had, but they had also learned to trust people again and this was solely down to the loving care that Lek ensured they were given at the park. Whilst wandering around and enjoying meeting some of the older ladies, we bumped into the naughty Hope again (him of the hoover-like kisses) and his two mahouts (he is too boisterous to just have one). Apparently he was starting to come into musk which made him even naughtier than usual and to the delight of the spectators, but not his mahouts, he
was determined to escape them. On more than one occasion we saw Hope charging at full pelt, trumpeting triumphantly, across the open terrain with one or both of his ever-present companions in hot pursuit, it was so unbelievably funny how he would dodge away from them only to be seen a few minutes later running in another direction with them in hot pursuit.
Once the walk was over we again took part in feeding time and bathing time where a water fight erupted between helpers and mahouts and we all ended up wetter than the elephants who kept looking at us with distinguished disdain. Afterwards we were very lucky as we were able to get close and stroke the babies. They are so lovely with their hard, wrinkled, hairy skin and trunks which seem to take on a life of their own, amusing not only to us but them as well. It was difficult to come away from them as we could have stayed and watched them for hours, they are so entertaining. For a second time we were kissed by elephants and the experience was just as memorable.
A final activity had been arranged for us: a
float down the river in tubes. The water was quite low so in places we ran aground and had to haul ourselves along but it didn’t stop us from having fun. Matthew seemed to be incapable of balancing in his tube and spent as much time out of it as in it! It was a real laugh, but unlike most tubing, our destination loomed up in the shape of elephants. All too soon our two days were up and it was time for us to leave, we were really worn out, but had had a brilliant time. We never imagined we would be able to get so close and personal with elephants and we can only hope that Lek and her dedicated team succeed in saving injured and mistreated Asian elephants one elephant at a time if necessary. Her next dream is to obtain permanent land where her beloved elephants can roam more freely. We hope that her dream comes true and these majestic, gentle, gracious creatures are given a safe haven to live out their lives in peace. She is also trying to get as many signatures on a petition as possible in order to try and get the
Thai Government to recognise domestic elephants and protect them from some of the truly horrific training methods they have to endure in the name of money. Again we hope she succeeds. The whole experience had an incredible impact on us and the privilege of sharing a few moments in the lives of these beautiful creatures has not only left an everlasting imprint on us but also given us some priceless memories.
Sorry to leave we headed back to Chiang Mai and a bit of retail therapy at the night bazaar. As Chris would rather pull his teeth out without an anaesthetic than go shopping, Matthew and I headed off to lighten our wallets a bit. What an absolutely great market with a huge amount of stalls offering a range of the usual holiday stuff to the more unusual hill tribe goods. A great evening and we eventually made it back to the hotel with certainly poorer but happy.
Finally we were heading back to Bangkok and the Red Shirt demonstrations. We had based ourselves in the Silom area for this part of the trip and glad we did as this was some way away from the demonstrations. We
even getting too hot for the locals
had decided to spend Matthew’s last few days chilling around the hotel pool and visiting the Chatuchak weekend market to buy some of those all important gifts for Matthew to take home with him, and an extra bag to put them in. Apparently the market has 8,000 open air stalls, and whilst I can’t attest to the exact number it was the biggest market I have ever seen. The demonstrations had meant that the sky train was closed and so we had to take a taxi to the market and after a few hours in the sweltering heat and shopping finished we tried to make our way back to the hotel - easy we thought, wrong. The sky train was still closed and we found out that none of the taxi drivers would take us - slight problem. Luckily the metro was still open and so we managed to get the train to a stop near our hotel and then a taxi from there. That evening, just to finish off the shopping experience we took Matthew for a sightseeing trip down the infamous Thanon Phat Pong to see a few lady boys and for me to buy my lovely knock-off
Jimmy Choo bag which had kept me awake for a few days after first seeing it. After some very hard bargaining I managed to knock the price down by 2,000 bahts and the lovely bag was mine - hurrah.
The riots/protests have been a bit surreal, you know it’s happening only a few Km away but unless you are in that location it seems like a world away. Even when we see on the news that 21 died and 800 were injured it’s like reading about somewhere else. We don’t really understand what it is all about but the Thais are certainly passionate about democracy.
Time for Matthew to leave and Chris and I to start thinking about Vietnam.
There are more photos below