As soon as I had the idea about going to SE Asia, one of the things that I was most excited about was interacting with elephants. They are the most beautiful gentle creatures and for me, to even just stroke one briefly would be amazing! I am completely against any sort of tourism involving elephants though, and it is quite difficult to find somewhere to visit them where they are genuinely happy and free ( as free as possible that is, most are too traumatised or domesticated to be released into the wild again). I had a hunt around on the net and found Elephant Nature Park, which is a sanctuary for elephants that have been rescued from trekking, circuses etc. They have a large area of land to roam free and the activities for the tour (feeding, bathing etc) are completely dictated by the elephants behaviour ie if the elephants want to leave the river they can and they are not held by their caregivers. I hoped that it was as good and ethical as it sounded on the website!
I was picked up at 8am and on the bus we were shown the most horrific video about the lives of the elephants before they were rescued. The worst by far was learning that some elephants are forced to create ‘paintings’ using a sharp nail that is prodded repeatedly behind their ear in a certain pattern so they know where to paint. The video described how the mahouts (elephant trainers) break the elephants soul with torture so that they obey all of their commands. It was really horrific to see and I was quite upset by the time we arrived, but still looking forward to seeing some recovering elephants. It really was as good as the website claimed it to be – the elephants were never restrained, they showed genuine affection towards their caregivers and the herd and they genuinely were allowed to walk away from feeding and bathing time once they were fed up! It was incredible to touch their skin and look into their eyes, I felt like if I could visit for a few days I would be able to build a special bond with them. It is amazing that these creatures have suffered at the hands of humans but they are able to forgive once they have been shown some kindness and love, which it is very clear they are given at Elephant Nature Park. The caregivers and volunteers work extremely hard to repair the elephants’ souls and make sure the rest of their lives are happy. Please please go! Here are some pictures of me getting up close and personal with these beauties.
As a small side note, whilst I was at the park there was a minor celebrity also visiting – Lee Ryan from Blue! The world really is very tiny!!!! I am glad it wasn’t someone I really admire or I may have embarrassed myself in front of the elephants, ha!
For my last day in Thailand, we decided to go to the canyon for swimming and sunbathing. This meant another go at some scootering (that’s a word right?!) but this time in a fairly busy city! I was terrified but I didn’t want to miss out on a fun day so I decided to man up and go. Luckily, there are a lot of signs in Chiang Mai that say ‘share the road’ and incredibly people actually do! Everyone drives quite slowly and watch out for scooter traffic, so as long as you don’t do anything to stupid, use your indicator and don’t slam on your front brake, it’s a breeze! The journey did involve going on the highway but luckily the roads are very wide so I felt safe – mostly! Much better than sitting on the back and having zero control over the driving or decisions. The canyon was great fun and a good opportunity to test my GoPro underwater!!
My trip through Thailand was amazing and so varied – big cities, tiny rural towns, national parks, islands and jungle. I will definitely be coming back soon as there is still so much more to see and do. I really want to go to Koh Tao to dive and also spend a bit more time exploring Northern Thailand. Chiang Mai is definitely a city I could imagine living, it has a really nice atmosphere and it would be easy to escape to Pai at the weekend!
So that’s Thailand done and now on to Laos – although I am actually sat writing this in Cambodia because I am TERRIBLE at keeping a blog! Luckily I am also writing a diary so I can remember all the good bits, but I really could do with a personal assistant to help me with blog maintenance – and also perhaps my laundry! I’ll see if I can find a fellow traveller out here who has drank all their money and needs a job, shouldn’t be too hard!