Elephant Nature Park

So there we were…walking through the green grass of the nature park, followed by a small pack of playful dogs, watching a family of elephants graze and swim together only a few feet away.

After crossing the border back into Thailand, we headed straight to the northern city of Chiang Mai. We spent the first few days just relaxing around town and then rented a motorbike to drive out into the surrounding hills to check out some local waterfalls at Doi Inthanon national park. But the highlight of our time in the area was taking a visit out to an elephant sanctuary located about 60 km outside the city. We found out about Elephant Nature Park through someone else’s travel blog. If you didn’t know this already, Jason reads them constantly in his spare time ūüôā We read about an American couple who came for a short stay and then came back again to volunteer for several weeks because they had such a wonderful experience. After doing some of our own research, we realized this organization was something we were very interested in supporting ourselves. We wanted to volunteer for a one week stay but the timing didn’t work out so we signed up for a 2 night/3 day visit instead.

Elephants have always been an intricate part of the Thai culture, they have been around for centuries but unfortunately¬†their numbers are quickly dwindling here in Asia. Most elephants here have been owned by private families for generations and were raised as working animals used to pull trees or move lumber. Nowadays, many work the tourist circuit providing visitors rides through the jungle or even performing on city side streets where fascinated¬†people pay to feed them a few bananas. What many people don’t see (or just don’t know) is the way many of the elephants are treated. We did an elephant safari in Nepal a few months ago but after learning a bit more about how many of the elephants are raised, we now feel quite differently about our experience. In most Asian cultures, elephants are given their own Mahout (or master) whose job it is to break them in to be submissive and obedient. As you might guess, this is not a pleasant process and for centuries the Thais have used abuse, dominance¬†and torture to ‘train’ these animals for the purpose of their owner. Elephants are considered just another piece of livestock here, like a cow or water buffalo, therefore giving them no rights against owners who may mistreat them. The ritual of making an elephant submissive is heartbreaking to watch. They force the elephant into a small stable, not even big enough for it to move or turn, and men from the village take turns stabbing their legs and body with sticks armed with nails at the end. This process goes on for days while they try to teach it commands, and eventually when the animal is released they are very badly damaged and can hardly walk. Once the animal accepts a Mahout and begins to obey, many of them are forced to do backbreaking tasks and work for the rest of their life.

There is one woman here in Thailand who is not only trying to change the traditions and educate locals on how to properly treat these animals, but she has opened a sanctuary where many of these working elephants can go back to being just elephants. Her name is Sangduen¬†‘Lek’ Chailert¬†and she is doing amazing things for these gentle giants. Starting in 1992, Lek began taking in elephants that were no longer wanted or were useless to their owners due to injury or illness. Today, the sanctuary cares for over 30 elephants, all of which have been purchased off of various private owners throughout Thailand and Burma. Along with the elephants, the park is home to over 60 dogs (which you know we loved!), a herd of water buffalo, a herd of cows and one sun bear. None of these animals are used for any purpose, they all live at the sanctuary and are free to roam wherever they want. They can leave their past behind and become just animals again!

To support the sanctuary and keep the elephants (and the dogs) fed, the park is open to tourists that can come help feed and bath the elephants. Because these animals were raised around people, they are all still matched with a Mahout (who is trained to treat them with respect) who cares for and looks after them on a daily basis. Tourists that come to visit get to help out at feeding time, since all the elephants are hand fed, and then get to head down to the river where the elephants take their daily swim. We chose to stay at the park for 3 days which involved a bit of elephant feeding each day, a guided walk through the grasslands to watch the elephants grazing, and on the last day, we got to help the weekly volunteers prepare the elephant food. We got our hands dirty unloading a large watermelon delivery, peeling bins full of bananas and then mashing the bananas up to make elephant balls to feed to the older elephants who can’t chew the raw fruit. Overall it was a fabulous experience to not only see many of these elephants being cared for so well, but to also learn about the trials many of the animals are facing here in Asia.

Being at the park in person, we realize that it takes a lot of work to keep the sanctuary running and without money coming in from tourists, none of it would be possible. The elephants are hand fed twice a day and they need a lot of food to fill their baskets each day. If you ever make a trip to Thailand, we would highly recommend a visit to the Elephant Nature Park to help support this wonderful sanctuary. Still want to help but don’t think you will make it to Thailand? Through their website you can foster one of the many loving elephants or make a donation to fill an elle belly! For more information or to make a donation, please visit www.elephantnaturefoundation.org.

Jason at feeding time
Lots of pumpkins to feed the elle bellies!
After bath time
We love these gentle giants
Becky emptying her elephants food basket
Elephants having fun
Enjoying our walk around the sanctuary
It takes A LOT to feed these guys!
Their daily walk to the river
Jason helping wash the big girls down
Loved all the dogs, but this one was one of the cutest and he loved attention!
Elephants just being elephants!
Playful babies
This picture sums up life at the park, where dogs can be dogs and elephants can be elephants
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Bugs, Buckets and Boxing in Bangkok

So there we were…arriving in Bangkok, ready to take on one of the world’s most infamous and hectic cities.¬†

Kelli, Danielle and Joe opted to fly up to Bangkok while Jason and I took the overnight 12 hour bus.¬† After finding a place to stay at 6 am¬†in Bangkok’s¬†backpacker ghetto, Khao¬†San Road, we took short nap and then connected with the gang at the Grand Palace.¬† We¬†wandered around in the heat for a few hours checking out the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the¬†former¬†royal residence.¬† It was so hot and humid outside, it was difficult to stay out for too long and eventually we all needed a shower before hitting the town for one last night of fun.¬† Our three¬†guests were nice enough to stop by the Muay Thai boxing stadium and pick all of us up tickets for the matches happening later that night.¬† Danielle and Kelli also paid for our tickets so we owe them a huge THANK YOU for treating us – you guys rock!

After getting all cleaned up, we met near our hotel for some quick street food before heading to the fight.¬† Muay¬†Thai is Thailand’s national sport and it uses punches, kicks, elbows and knee strikes, similar to kick boxing.¬† When we¬†arrived at the stadium, Kelli, Danielle and Joe had hooked us up with ring side seats (thank you guys again!).¬† Sitting front and center, the first fight we saw started out a bit slow but soon picked up momentum and became very intense.¬† The stadium quickly filled up with locals shouting and yelling as the fights continued, all of them placing bets¬†on their prospective winner.¬†¬†We had a great time picking sides and rooting for the fighters we thought would be victorious.¬† After watching 6 fights, 5 rounds each, the stadium cleared out and we headed back to Khao San Road for some fun.¬†

Bangkok’s backpacker hub is lined with bars, restaurants, food stalls, clothing vendors and of course, deep-fried¬†bug sellers.¬† After enough beers at the fight, Joe, Danielle and Jason were hungry and decided to dig into some crickets, grasshoppers, mealworms¬†and frogs.¬† The undisputed winner of “best tasting” was the frogs, some of them even went back for more.¬† Needing something to wash all this down, we made our way to some outdoor seats and spent the night enjoying some buckets (a small pale filled with¬†the local liquor, coke and red bull) and beers together.¬† Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and we had to send the three of them off in a cab to their hotel so they could catch their flight the next morning.¬† Thank you guys for coming, we hope you had as much fun as we did!

After getting used to being back on our own, we spent the next day wandering the city checking out some more temples and looking for good food in Chinatown.  It was soon time to move on again and we headed for the border to make our way into Cambodia.

Highlights

  • Watching some great rounds of Muay Thai fighting with wonderful friends, it made the experience that much better!
  • Never having to walk into a restaurant because you can find all your food on the street

Lowlights

  • Having a few more¬†bad experiences with more jaded locals who don’t like tourists
Grand Palace
Buddhas at a local temple
Bangkok street food
Becky loves her Thai Iced Tea
The girls enjoying beers at the fight
Muay Thai fighter after winning his match
Round one of bug eating
Round two of frog eating
More buckets in Bangkok

Thailand Island’s and Beaches – Part II

So there we were…covered in body paint and other bright accessories while dancing the night away on the beach at the notorious Full Moon Party.
 
The first of our seven guests to arrive in Thailand was Brent and Tamra, some friends from Colorado. We immediately headed out to the island of Ko Phangan on the gulf coast. With many beaches to choose from, we landed on the Hat Yao stretch of sand and enjoyed a few days of relaxing by the clear blue ocean or by the pool at our hotel. We stayed in a cool “treehouse” high up in the jungle with great views of the sea. It was a wonderful spot to end the day swinging in a hammock while sharing some beers. Next stop was the island of Ko Tao where Brent and Tamra spent their days scuba diving while Jason and I continued to work on our tan.
 
After a few days with just two guests, the rest of our group soon arrived. Meeting them on the island of Ko Samui, our friends Kelli, Danielle and Joe came in from Arizona. Ko Samui¬†was a much larger island than everywhere else we had been and we were not impressed with the busy beach or older crowd. Luckily though, we didn’t spend much time on the beach as we had plans to visit the monthly Full Moon Party. The party was happening on the island of Ko Phangan¬†and was something everyone had been looking forward to. 30,000 people descend¬†onto Hat Rin¬†beach and party all night under the full moon. We organized a speed boat to take us from Ko Samui¬†to Ko Phangan¬†(they are only 30 minutes away from each other) but the night of the party, the lines of people heading over was extremely backed up and it took us several hours to even make it to the beach. Not deterred¬†by the hours we spent waiting, we arrived on Hat Rin¬†to find the biggest rave we have ever seen. Thousands of people covered in fluorescent body paint (including us) were dancing and drinking under the stars. The mass crowds spread from the edge of town all the way to the water. We had an awesome time partying with our friends and are so happy they could be there to experience the craziness with us!
 
After recovering from our all-night party, we all headed inland to Khao Sok National Park. The seven of us spent the first few hours hiking through the jungle together until Kelli, Danielle and Joe headed off for their elephant ride. The rest of us, dripping in sweat, continued hiking for the rest of the day to a beautiful waterfall at the end of the trail. It was a welcome place to take a dip before heading back to the hotel. The second day, we made our way out to Chiaw Lan lake where we rented a boat, sat back and all stared in amazement at the huge cliffs jetting out of the water. For us it was a magical boat ride that is a highlight of our entire trip.
 
It was soon time for Brent and Tamra to head up to Bangkok and then back to CO so we split ways in Khao¬†Sok¬†and the five us continued to another beach. We headed back to Krabi¬†and then onto the beaches of Railay. Railay¬†is on the mainland but it can’t be reached by car as it is surrounded by huge limestone cliffs. These cliffs have created three dramatic beaches all which are accessible by foot once you arrive by boat. We spent our time loungin’ at the beach and watching the rock climbers scramble on the cliffs above the ocean. On our final day, we hired a boat to take us out to the surrounding smaller islands for some snorkeling and more beach time. It was a wonderful place to end our beach holiday before heading inland again.
 
Eventually it was time for Kelli, Danielle and Joe to head home as well so we all rendezvoused up in Bangkok for one last night of bugs, buckets and boxing. Check out our next blog for details on our crazy time in the capital city!
 
 
Highlights
  • Having some great friends come visit, thank you Brent, Tamra, Kelli, Danielle and Joe for spending your vacation with us!
  • Partying until the sun came up at the Full Moon Party
  • Seeing the huge limestone cliffs up against jade colored water on Chiaw Lan lake
Lowlights
  • How over-priced and over-touristy many of the places we visited were, it can be hard to escape the crowds
  • Having someone go through Jason’s luggage and steal a pair of shorts and a t-shirt on our way to Ko Phangan¬†
Brent and Tamra enjoying the beach in Ko Phangan
Full Moon Party - Ko Phangan
Our unwanted guest blocking the hiking trail
Waterfall at the end of our hike in Khao Sok
Chiaw Lan Lake
Having fun on the boat in Khao Sok National Park
One of the many stunning beaches in Railay
Visiting Hong Island on our boat tour

Thailand Island’s and Beaches – Part I

So there we were…floating on our backs in the clear blue water while staring at the limestone cliffs off in the distance; now this is the rough life.

When most people think of Thailand, they think of stunning beaches, rugged jungle and spicy food…..and maybe Leonardo DiCaprio. You’ll be happy to know Thailand has all these things (except Leo, Becky was pretty bummed) and more, living up to its reputation.

A short boat and bus ride from Malaysia brought us up into the southern part of Thailand where we regrouped in the town of Trang for a day before heading out to our first beach. We decided to start on Ko Muk, an island that is part of the Trang islands on the Andaman Coast. It was a very small island with only a handful of guesthouses and a very mellow vibe. With mostly families and older travelers, it wasn’t the backpacker hangout we usually gravitate towards, but we really enjoyed the beautiful beach and quiet setting nevertheless. One of our favorite parts was hiring a boat to take us snorkeling at nearby Ko Kradan island. We saw a variety of fish and enjoyed swimming over the coral, but the highlight of our trip was visiting the picture perfect, teal blue water beach.

It wasn’t too hard to pack up and leave this time around since we knew we were heading to another great beach. Next stop was Ko Lanta, known for its uber long stretch of white sand beaches. We opted to base ourselves in the main port town and rented a scooter so we could explore the numerous beaches on our own. We spent the next day relaxing in a few hammocks, swimming in the calm turquoise water and cruising up and down the coastline. Beach hopping was not a hard life to get used to.

With visitors arriving soon, we had to head inland and make our way to the gulf coast. We spent one night in the coastal town of Krabi and one night in forgettable Surat Thani recharging our batteries (literally and figuratively speaking), getting ready for two weeks of good fun with great friends. Stay tuned for our next blog about a crazy full moon party, jungle treks and more beautiful beaches!

Highlights
‚ÄĘ Our snorkel and swimming trip to Ko Kradan and the Emerald Cave
‚ÄĘ The boat ride over to Ko Muk and up to Ko Lanta where we got our first view of the huge limestone cliffs jetting out of the water
‚ÄĘ Being able to eat wonderful Thai food at street stalls at rock bottom price – curries, noodle bowls, soups, bbq meats, seafood and fruit shakes are some of our favorites
‚ÄĘ Climbing 1237 steps to the top of the Tiger Temple in Krabi. We were so sweaty from the humidity but the views and the big gold Buddha at the top made it all worth it.

Lowlights
‚ÄĘ The transportation cartels in Thailand – it is very hard to book ferry and bus rides without going through an agency and paying inflated prices
‚ÄĘ Dealing with jaded locals who obviously don’t like farangs (tourists) and let you know it
‚ÄĘ Getting used to the constant heat and humidity – and this is the cool season!

Ko Muk Beach
Jason swimming with the fishies
One of the many bright colored fish we saw while snorkeling
Enjoying our Beach Holiday
Ko Kradan Beach
Ko Lanta Beach
Sunset over Ko Lanta
Big Buddha at the top of the Tiger Temple