Crouching Tiger.. not so hidden elephant

Trip Start Jun 13, 2008
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Trip End Jun 12, 2009


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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Since the last blog i have spent some amazing time with some animals i thought i would never get close too, oh and we are now in the south.

The one but last day before we left Chiang Mai we splashed out a little on a trip to an elephant sanctuary.  It was 50 quid but worth every penny.  If you would like to read a little about the sanctuary or pick up any info i have missed out you can check it here: http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/

The sanctuary was started by a lady named Lek and aims to take care of mistreated elephants.....and that they do.  It is basically an elephant rescue center and hold a current total of 36 elephants (soon to be 39 because one of the elephants at the sanctuary was pregnant and they day after we visited they were picking up two malnutritioned ele's from an elephant tour company.)  You can get all of the info you like from the web site above regarding the park and the elephants...so save me blabbing on about it i will just tell you about our experience.



After getting picked up we started the trip with a quick stop at the market where we helped to load up a truck full of bananas....back on the road we headed for the park.  On arrival we were given safety instructions such as "don't jump into the elephants field without supervision" etc etc.  And our first contact with these amazing animals was made.  We sat and watched them walking around their field, some of the more inquisitive (or hungry) elephants came right up to us and we could pat their heads and rub their trunks.  It was a special experience and i could tell Zo was super happy by the fact that she had tears of joy welling up in her eyes!

I can tell you about a couple of the elephants quickly... Maximus a super lanky looking Ele (my favorite) had a very damaged front leg.  he used to be a street begging elephant and while maneuvering the traffic of Chiang Mai or Bangkok wherever he happened to be an 18 Wheeeler crashed into him.  One elephant was completely blind where after not responding to the owner during logging work in the Forest she was shot in the eye with a slingshot....after further refusal to work the owner then stabbed her other eye out.... luckily for the elephant the sanctuary found her and took her in (she has made friends with another resident at the sanctuary and uses her as a giant guide elephant).  Plus an elephant that had stood on a land mine!

After watching these beautiful creatures for a while it was time to feed them.  You get a large basket of bananas and corn and you can hand the elephants the food directly to their trunks, ensuring that you don't tease them or hold onto the food for too long because just like us they can get grumpy and unlike us they can knock you down pretty easily with their heavy trunks.  Well we fed them for a while still in awe of how close these beautiful animals were to us, patting them on the head and taking some pics.  One elephant liked to kiss you (or had learned to kiss visitors) by putting his trunk up to your face and sucking your cheek!  Although it stank, i liked it :)

After our own grub (a scrumptious buffet) we headed to the river, here we were allowed to get in the river with the Elephants and bathe them... you could choose a brush or a bucket and either scrub or splash them.  I think this was my favorite part of the day being able to rub the side of an Elephant, with the added excitement of trying not to get crushed (we had some key tips.. if they run, you run, don't stand by their feet in the water)

After this we were shown a very very interesting documentary about the history of the park and then more importantly information on how elephants are being mistreated and how we can avoid supporting it.  The elephants used for street begging, or football shows, or the ones that have "developed" the skill of painting a portrait are the ones that should not be supported.  These elephants are trained in a cage some times for three or more days, where their spirits are broken by repeated orders while they are repeatedly stabbed and tortured until they learn to obey their owner.  Other than this their is the added risk of traffic etc when street begging.  It was a heart breaking video to watch but at least something is being done about the issue.

After bathing the elephants we all stood on a raised platform to allow a baby elephant to bathe.  Apparently the mother and auntie are super protective so no one other than their mahout are permitted to get close or they can attack (fair enough!) a mahout being the Indian term for an elephant trainer.  All of the elephants have their own mahout that look after them (what a job ay!).  We watched the baby with a super funky hair style bathe and then returned to the center, the afternoon being pretty much a repeat of the morning with more feeding and more bathing.

It was an amazing experience and one of my highlights for Thailand definitely, if you do visit Northern Thailand i would recommend skipping the elephant riding and visiting the sanctuary, to stop the cruelty of these beautiful animals!  If you have more time (and a little more money) than we had you can spend days, a week or even months volunteering, helping with the day to day chores required to run an elephant sanctuary.

Sooo we saw, touched and enjoyed the company of the giant beasts and spent one More day in Chiang Mai.  Zoe and Mike Internet-ed.  I wandered the city for hours, just walking out into the surrounding areas to take in the last of Chiang Mai.  I stumbled on a small market and bought a new bad as mu last one had a broken zip and had been chewed to buggery by a rat.  I bought a man-bag!  thats right you heard me a man bag!  You may start to see it in a few photos, not sure how keen i am but Zoe says it looks good, so i will stick with it for a while.... plus it was only three quids so i can pass it on if i don't like it :)

One of the nights in Chiang Mai, i left mike and Zo on the internet and sat reading my book with a beer.  I got chatting to a Thai guy who sang their with his band, very funny guy...you can see him in the picture to the right of Zoe.  Anyway i got chatting to him and somehow arranged for Zo to sing...as a loverly surprise for her.  She did and it was brilliant :)

We left Chiang Mai on a 10 hour night bus, waking up to Bangkok.  We decided we were not ready to go from big city to big city and needed to enjoy a smaller town first, so after a quick inspection of the lonely planet we decided to head straight to a town west of Bangkok called Kanchanaburi, very close to the Myanmar (Burma) border.  The original plan was to head even further towards Burma to a border crossing called the "Three Pagodas Pass" Here you used to be able to (it closed last Feb) cross into Burma for the day, leaving your passport on the border, not anymore.  So slightly disappointed we are only going as far as Kanchanaburi.

We spent a couple of days in Kanchanaburi and other than relaxing in the very chilled out back garden of the hostel we have been to two very interesting sights.

The first being the Bridge on the river Kwai, interesting because of the history.  I'm sure as soon as you started reading the paragraph many of you are aware of the bridge i am talking about because it was made famous by
a British 1957 world war film.  You can read about the movie and the actual history of the bridge here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bridge_on_the_River_Kwai  We looked at the bridge, took a short 15 minute train journey across the bridge and took photos of the bridge :)  Referring back to the start of this blog, while crossing the bridge we also seen a very skinny and very stressed out (it was pacing) street begging elephant, with the owner offering tourists the opportunity to feed or take photos of the poor thing for money :(



We had rented motorbikes and after checking out the bridge headed to a temple.  The temple is one of the main reasons we decided to come to this town, and I'm glad we did.  The temple is called "Tiger Temple"... getting an idea of what its about now yarrr....actually you can already tell from the photos?



Well there are a load of tigers there.  We liked the sound of it because it is not a zoo.  It was set up by monks a few years back, when they adopted a tiger cub whose mum had been shot when wandering into a village.  hey have adopted more tigers who mothers have fallen to the same fate.  So i say it is not a zoo.... it was  little more like a zoo than we excpected unfortunately  The tigers basically spend most of the day having their photos taken with tourists.  We did this and it involved stroking the amazing animals, with the protection of a handler...i say protection, its a bloke who has the tiger on a chain, if any of the tigers wanted to lash out they could.  I had a chat with on of the handlers and they explained that the tigers are most active at night, and when we get to touch them etc they have just been fed so they feel lazy...hmmmm.  The main point that makes the whole project worthwhile is their claim to be building a tiger sanctuary called "tiger island", basically when they have made enough money from tourists to complete the island, the tigers will no longer need to spend the day having their photo taken and they will be released into their new habitat, a simulated environment based on where they would be in the wild.  I really hope this happens and they don't continue to use the tigers for tourism.  Another reassuring point made by one of the handlers, although i have not checked into this... is that there are only 300 wild tigers left in Thailand and this sanctuary is the best place for them.... I'm not sure it is.  Oh i did want to say... I'm not sure if anyone has seen a photo i think it was in national geographic or something similar, of a tiger surrounded by a million tourists, its completely wrong....well this kinda reminded me of that because there was one tiger surrounded by 30 people..i took a pic so i will put it up for you to see (actually cant find it so will put it up when i do).....if anyone knows what photo I'm on about, let me know :)



So hopefully they will get the island completed and the tigers can roam free, i hope it happens soon because they are also actively breeding the tigers.  If you do fancy getting up close and personal with them before they are taken to the island you can volunteer, it is completely free and includes food and accommodation... all they ask is that you can offer a minimum of one month and be willing to put all of your effort into looking after the tigers and the tiger cubs....me and Zo would love to have done this but unfortunately we don't have enough time left in Thailand...plus we were happy with the one day experience :)



They day after tiger temple, and still having the motor bike until 9:00AM i woke up early and hit the road at 6:30am, well me and Mike hit the road.  I had a load of petrol left, plus i love the riding :)  It was lovely and quiet, whizzing through the backstreet's towards the countryside.  After a gorgeous morning view from a bridge out of town, some much needed directions and more country roads we made it to the perfectly named "giant tree".  It was bloody massive, you can see from the pics how big it is compared to me, i sat there for 20 Min's just taking it in, and then gave it a quick hug and kiss before jumping back on the bike and racing to town to make the 9:00am deadline :)  Brilliant



After sometime, swimming, Reading and relaxing we decided we were ready for Bangkok and arranged a morning bus. 

Thats where i am writing this from now, in a small cramped Internet cafe, and i cant wait to leave it... the Internet cafe that is,  just getting my photos uploaded will write this then will be treating myself to some scrummy street grub.  So bangkok, as i said tasty street food, especially the treats on sticks and the Pad Thai...not only scrummy but super cheap, with pad Thai coming in at a whopping 45pence.  The markets dotted around town also offer some cheap clothes, with decent t-shirt designs coming in at 2 - 3 quid a t-shirt.. i have bought a few and sent them home, telling myself I'm saving for the future ;)  At night while wandering the markets and eating way too much food you can also spot a few street elephants used for begging.  A very distressing sight, especially the elephant i saw last night who seemed to be crying.  You see them surrounded by pissed up Westerners taking photos and paying the owner to feed it, a very distressing sight was to see one guy taunting the poor bugger, by hiding the food every time he went for it :(  I think the main problem is education...people see it as being fun, but without knowing how distressed the poor animal is....DON'T SUPPORT STREET ELEPHANTS!



What else have we been up to in Bangkok... hmmm, doesn't seem like much actually.  We have wandered a lot, just taking in the city, without actually going to many sights.  We did visit the Grand Palace... i say visit, we looked at it from out side seeing as they were charging a stupidly high price for the experience.  We saw a massive, and i mean massive reclining Buddha at Wat Po, which i personally found to be very impressive... i even prostrated towards the Buddha as a mark of respect.  I wandered on my own around china town, quiet a walk and very enjoyable.... no one else fancied it, but i think being on my own added to the experience for me.  Me and Zoe headed to an art gallery quite far out of town, making use of their monorail aka "sky-train" to get there.  Unfortunately the graffiti and urban art show we had gone looking for had finished but we had fun nonetheless and ended up in the cinema watching underworld.. anyone seen it? i thought the action was really good, but the story was pretty boring. We have watched a bunch of film s as our hostel shows three films a day also :)



So thats been pretty much it.. oh there was one other thing that I'm trying to forget.. a "ping pong" show. ***PARENTAL ADVISORY -PING PONG SHOW DESCRIPTION***  I'm sure everyone knows what that entails...and being in Bangkok we felt we had to experience it! From the tourist areas there are  lot of touts trying to get you to a ping pong show, we decided to find one ourselves in the hope that we would not get ripped off, or should i say ripped off too much as it is kind of excpected!  Well anyways we headed to the go-go girls / strippers / ping pong show area of Bangkok, stopping off for a bite to eat on the way (not sure that was a good idea).  We managed to find the correct area, and were immediately approached by a tout, so without having much option we negotiated a price.  He offered to let us in to see if we liked the venue or not, and then we could decide if we wanted to stay.... this seemed a bit sketchy but we decided to follow him and take him up on his offer of free entry and 100 Baht (just under 2 quid) for a drink... expensive in Thailand but we decided it was fine seeing as we didn't have to pay entry.  We were let into a seedy little club with a long stage in the middle of the room and tables surrounding, checking with the lady serving the drinks that they were in fact 100 Baht we settled in for a pretty gruesome show.  The stage had five strippers, all topless, the one in middle completely naked and it went like this: lady-boy, girl, Large girl, girl, lady-boy (from left to right, or i guess right to left).  The first stunt involved the large girl in the middle removing razor blades... lovely, this was followed by more of the same, ribbons, blowing out candles, smoking, oh and we had a banana fired at us.yey.  This was pretty disturbing but we decided to enjoy our drinks nonetheless until we were surrounded by the management (two very aggressive Thai ladies), they then produced a card that looked like the following:

----------------------------------

FIRST DRINK = 300 Baht
SHOW = 1000 Baht
Total = 1300 Baht
--------------------------

So they were trying to get us to pay 26 quid as opposed to the advertised 2 quid.  There argument being that they have nothing to do with the tout that led us in...even though the lady who served us our drinks did confirm the price of 2 quid.  We expected it, so we downed our drinks, while the ladies continued to shout at us, at one point one of them lent forward and aggressively poked Zoe...that was the final straw so we chucked 100 Baht each on the table and walked out refusing to pay...nothing much came of it apparent from getting shouted at and i was pretty glad to be out of there.



So I'm working on erasing that show from my memory and will be having a relatively quiet night.. a nice meal to say good bye to Mike.  We have been traveling with him for 2 months now!!!  The longest we have traveled with anyone this entire trip.  Tomorrow we are going to head south towards the islands and mike has decided to fly into Burma (Myanmar).



So the next time you will be hearing from me will be the islands and hopefully i will have started my scuba diving course :)

Read a few of really good books.

Dan Brown - Deception point, really really really bloody good, it does mean I'm now going to have to read Da Vinchi Code / Angels and Demons because i love his style of writing!  This book was super suspenseful and i whizzed through it, reading at every opportunity.



Ben Elton - Blast from the past.... yes another Ben, and yes a bloody good book, not my favorite but enjoyable nonetheless.

Amit Gilboa - Off the rails in Phnom Penh.... very interesting look into the dark side of cambodia, the subtitle reads "guns, girls and ganja" so you ger the idea...very interestign read.



Hope you have enjoyed the read.. i have a feeling this entry is not too good as i have been tired and not really up for writing it every time i have sat at the computer! 

Love to all

Tom

Once again - All the the pictures here: http://flickr.com/photos/discozo/sets/
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