Elephants!!

Trip Start Apr 12, 2011
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Trip End Apr 01, 2012


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Where I stayed
Finlays Cottage

Flag of Thailand  ,
Friday, March 23, 2012

We stay at Finlay's Cottage in Chiang Mai which is a small guesthouse run by a very helpful English guy and a Thai woman who keeps everything spotless including a garden to relax in. It’s a nice spot away from the busy streets as we’re back to Thai city life which isn’t that pleasant.  We walk around to try and get a feel for the place but the traffic is busy and it’s about 35 degrees so we head inside to an air conditioned cafe and then onto some bars for a couple of sunset beers.  We even find a rooftop bar that was here when Jonny was last here, there wasn’t anyone else there and it didn’t look like it had changed in the last five years.... Apart from temples (which we think we have seen enough of) Chiang Mai is known for its night markets.  So in the evening we head to the night bazaar, first walking past the go-go bars which are full of girls trying to catch the eye of a tourist or expat.  The night bazaar is filled with stalls but we get the feeling we’ve seen it all before and so don’t spend too long there hoping the other markets will be better.

Our breakfast is included at our guesthouse and we’re cooked the best fry up we’ve had for a while – the next few days might not be our healthiest then.  We then go off to explore a different part of the city, it’s the student/middle class area and I’m in search of shops.  We manage to try out a coffee shop and buy me a dress so it’s a pretty productive couple of hours.  We then head back into the old city and have a walk around before heading to the same restaurant as we had dinner called Rattana’s Kitchen because a) the food was tasty and cheap and b) it has air conditioning. 

Once the sun calms down a bit, we go for a drink on a different rooftop (this time it had people in it) and then on to explore the Saturday night market.  This is one long street of market stalls which several more stall areas off to the side of it.  This market is a bit more interesting as it’s more focused on locals than tourists so we’re left guessing at what is for sale on the food stalls.  Plus in between the mass produced junk there are a lot of handicrafts made by local people including leather bags, jewellery and clothes.  We spend a couple hours getting lost in the stalls before fighting our way out back to the centre for dinner.  We go to Dash Restaurant which is set in a large traditional wooden house but we sit in the garden under candle light.  The owner and her son are very friendly and sit down and chat with us in between taking orders and running the restaurant.  The food is very tasty as well and we even treat ourselves to dessert of chocolate brownie and ice cream – which was extremely good – just as I thought I had forgotten about chocolate, looks like I’m as addicted as ever.

Next day we take a walk around Chinatown before spending the afternoon by a rooftop pool of a local hotel.  It was very nice to feel cool in the heat of the day and spend some time relaxing.  In the evening we head to the Sunday night market which is meant to be the best one.  It had a good buzz to it and again seemed to have more emphasis on quality items including young local designers and tribal handicrafts.  This one seemed massive as well, especially when we stumbled on a student art exhibition in the midst of everything else.  Eventually exhausted, we were tempted in for dinner by a sign that said pad thai and a beer for just over $3.  We had our pad thai and beer while watching the crowded streets – best seats of the house!

We then wander up to the backpacker area where we find another bar that Jonny remembers from his last trip (not sure what else he actually did) and as they have a band playing we head in.  It’s a Thai reggae band of at least six people playing electric guitars, a trumpet, trombone and a saxophone and they’re pretty good.  We then head out onto the street for some more drinks and so watch the world go by as in Thailand it’s always a pretty interesting nightlife to watch.   

Next day we’re up early to go to Elephant Nature Park which is a 200 hectare park which rescues elephants who have been injured or abused.  They also run education and medical programs for elephants in the small villages.  We’re taken to the park which is about 60km outside Chiang Mai and has 35 elephants.  We hear all the stories behind the elephants, the ones mistreated while logging – a few are blind because their owners use slingshots to the eye to force them to work, one had been hit by a car while put to work begging in the city and another had stepped on a landmine.  There are around 2000 working elephants in Thailand - the park’s aim is to make sure that they are trained and treated properly, in which case they can be put to work in the tourist industry.  Since logging was made illegal, the elephants became unemployed and so people couldn’t afford to keep them.  It’s painful to hear all the stories and see some of the elephants hobble about due to broken hips, back and ankles from work injuries.  But we do get the chance to get up close with the elephants to feed, bath and pat them.  At this point we realise the bond between the trainer (mahout) and elephant as the elephant lets them sit on it’s head, and obeys their commands when there are no sticks, no chains and the elephants are free to roam about.  They are of course bribed with bananas to stand still to get bathed which they seem happy with.  It’s incredible how much food they can go through, they seem to constantly eat and look for food apparently eating 10% of their body weight every day.  We also learnt that the elephants have naturally formed adopted family groups of between 2-8 elephants and they do everything together, including one elephant who has a best friend that it follows everywhere.  It was a very interesting and informative day and I got to play with elephants!!  We’re definitely glad we chose to go there instead of doing a trek with the elephants (which is offered in this area) as it would be difficult to choose a company that you trusted to have treated the elephants with the respect they deserve.  Especially after watching a video on the traditional breaking process of young elephants which involves days of cruel torture.  The park seems to be doing well as it was fully booked up and so hopefully our money goes towards buying some more elephants from poor conditions. 

For our final day in Chiang Mai we go to Basil Cooking class for a day of Thai cooking and eating of course.  We’re picked up and taken to the local market for a quick explanation of all the different types of vegetables, rice and noodles available in Thailand.  It was interesting to see that even the Thai buy readymade curry paste from the market, although today we’re making it from scratch.  We’re then taken to Boom’s house, she is a young Thai that teaches us each 7 different dishes.  We’re in a group of 7 and there is so overlap so it doesn’t get too hectic.  Between me and Jonny, we make two noodle dishes, two soups, a salad, fried spring rolls, two curries, two stir fries and two desserts plus we get to make it as spicy as we like.  We were both stuffed after the day as after each dish we sat down with the rest of the group and ate it while trying different things.  We were then sent home with a recipe book so the next challenge will be finding the ingredients back home.

In the evening we’re on a night train to Bangkok for the final part of our trip! It’s all coming to an end!    
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