Things I’ve learned about Thailand

In true Laura style, I didn’t do a whole lot of research before I set out to Thailand. In fact, the only reason I had a hotel in Bangkok long before I arrived is because a friend had told me about the Elephant Nature Park and how it gets booked up quickly, so I had to book that and the nights before that adventure to ensure I could get there on time.

My flight was to Bangkok. When I pictured  Bangkok, I pictured a warm climate, tuk tuks and lots of people. Everything else was unimaginable to me. I’ve been to big cities before: New York, London, Rome, Cairo. None of them are comparable to Bangkok. Cairo would be closest, but mainly for the weather.

1. Bangkok is dirty. It is hot. It stinks. And it is not all that exciting. If anyone is thinking of a holiday in Thailand, don’t plan on spending a lot of time in Bangkok. It’s a sprawling city. I stayed in an area that was recommended on a blog, and it’s just plain disappointing. I stayed along the river, which was supposed to be beautiful, but it smelled and was full of plastic trash. It was a 3 mile walk to any of the big sites, I should have stayed near the palace.

It is a tourist trap and things are over priced for what you get compared to other Thai cities. The biggest scam is the long boat tour. It falls on so many lists of ” things to do” but for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. You voyage down a tiny water way covered in trash in a loud boat. And then their friends in canoes try to get you to buy your driver a beer. My advice, don’t waste your time or money, if you want to see the water take a water taxi for less than $0.50. I spent over $100 a day there in the two days I was there. I got to town around 11am and left the next day at 5pm….rip off.

2. Chiang Mai is the place to hang out. There are many day trips from Chiang Mai, prices are more reasonable, hotels are nicer, food is better, and it feels more like a happy town. They have street food vendors at the night market, hiking trails, some beautiful temples, and happier people.

3. You really can afford a massage on the daily. Even in Bangkok they are cheap. But outside of Bangkok I’ve only spent about $30 a day including 1 meal, a mid afternoon snack and a massage. I paid 300 baht for a Thai massage at the fanciest place I’ve seen since I’ve been here. That’s $10. For an hour. Dinner is usually the same price.

4. Thai people are so friendly. If you don’t know what to do – smile. That was something I read. And no joke it works. They smile back, they thank you. If you want or need something they will do what is best for you. I need a ride to the airport early for my flight, they offer a van, but since it’s so early and it’s just me, they said a taxi would be cheaper. And since I’m leaving early they will give me a water, fruit and muffin for my trip. And no cost. This is not abnormal.

5. They take feet very seriously. In Buddhism feet are seen as the dirtiest part of the body. You should never point your feet towards Bush’s, you should always take off your shoes when entering a temple (or room, or massage house, or some restaurants). When you get a massage, wait until they wash your feet before you put them on the clean towel. Don’t cross your legs and point your toes at anyone. Don’t put your feet on things that aren’t made for feet (tables, chairs, etc).

6. They LOVE plastic. In a very, very earth-is-in-trouble kind of way. No matter what drink you buy (water, pop, beer, juice) they give you a straw. And most of the time try to put your beverage container in a plastic bag. Even if you got it in a cup. They even have these plastic things that fit over the cups with handles on them so you can carry it by plastic bag handles. If you are an eco friendly traveler, don’t take the straw or bring your own. I always have a backpack with me so I never take the bag and I don’t care for straws so I deny those as well.

7. Thai food is good. It’s served in much smaller portions than in the states, And it’s the perfect size. Without someone to eat my leftovers I feel bad leaving food on the table, but here the portions are smaller and more reasonable so if I don’t finish It, it isn’t much at all.

8. Maybe the most random. They LOVE 7-11. Like LOVE. They are everywhere. And they are 24/7. They have these crispy things. People said to try them. My understand is that they are basically a panini. And since I don’t like them in the states, I’m not sure a 7-11 panini will change my mind. So I stuck to yellow Gatorade, water and my daily ice cream fill.

Elephant Nature Park day 2

I got the best night sleep of the trip yet!! I honestly don’t know if it was because of the amazing fresh air flowing through the room or Boots snuggling with my legs like Cali does. I’m only getting about 6-7 hours of sleep, but at least last night it was good sleep.

I woke up around 3am to Boots talking, and realized she was talking to another cat!! I now had 2 cats in my room. The other cat was an orange tabby looking cat. When I turned my flashlight on it saw it’s shadow in the mirror and hissed and attacked. Shortly after I curled back up and heard one of the cats getting sick. I knew I had to turn on the light in the morning before I stepped out of the netting. Cats I tell ya, interesting creatures. Glad I heard the cat getting sick. (hairball) I realized it was the tabby that had gotten sick, right at the foot of the bed on the floor. Glad I checked for sure!!

I attempted to take a shower. It was warm for about 3 minutes. And while I shower fast, apparently I wasn’t fast enough. All of a sudden the water was cold and never got warm again. However, just like yesterday it was ok because I wasn’t dying when I get out of the shower.

We had breakfast at 7 then took another walk through the park. Each walk they take us to each elephant and tell us a little bit about their story. All the stories so sad, the elephants really are gentle Giants and it’s crushing to hear how their soul was decimated by their previous owners.

After the walk we packed up our rooms and had a bit of free time. I just hung out in the table area, you sit 3 feet from the elephants when they are in the area and it’s just a beautiful place to watch the world go by. It’s also full of dogs and cats which provide for entertainment as well.

They took us up the hill to another buffet like so we had an overview look of the park. It was actually very peaceful and felt like a whole other planet up there.

After lunch we got to go feed an elephant. Her name is Tilly and she was awesome. We went to the river and she was there waiting for us to feed her bananas. We had about 50 pounds of bananas for her and we all took time feeding her and touching her trunk. She loved the bananas and was just spectacular to admire up close. She attempted to eat my go pro, so I can’t wait to see what that looks like!! She went into the river and had a bath after she finished the bananas.

After we finished hanging out with Tilly we went to the elephant kitchen and helped prepare rice balls. Rice, oats, bananas (peeled byus), rice wheat (outside of the rice), and some corn we’re all smooshed (by us)  into tennis ball size servings for the elderly elephant. Elephants loose their teeth around age 60 and usually die within 10 years after loosing them, but in captivity since they can be fed soft food they can live to be over 90!!

That was our last activity at the Nature Park. They loaded us in our vans and took us back into Chiang Mai to drop us off at our hotels. I had booked at a different hotel and boy did I pick right. It’s like a resort. It apparently has 3 pools, spa, 3 restaurants, and a coffee shop. The room is nice, very American though. It even has a mini bar. But for $37/night I couldn’t pass up the nice amenities.

I gentured out into Chiang Mai to find some dinner. There are massage places everywhere so I ended up getting a massage first.

Thai massages are painful. But after you can literally feel your muscles. Not painful, but warm. My back didn’t hurt at all, if anything it helped because of the stretching. They do stand on you. And I don’t know how they keep their balance. But it was good. Glad I did it. A whole $10 with tip for the hour long massage!!

Found a quick little place for dinner on my way back to the hotel and had some pad Thai and spring rolls. Food here is more expensive than Bangkok but it’s still so cheap. I paid less than $10 for dinner as well!!

Tomorrow I’m going to explore the town. I heard there is a peak you can climb so I’ll check that out first.

Time to hang out with some elephants!!

I feel the need to address my rock hard bed, or more realistically, my sleeping-on-a-pile-of-2x4s bed. It was super hard. And that is coming from someone who sleeps on the floor is the bed is too soft. So I woke up with a sore hip.

I never got hot water in my shower today, and the only time it was really a problem was when I wanted to wash my back, it was very cold. But when I got out I was thankful I wasn’t hot.

They served me a individual breakfast. I had a warm (yuck) sandwich with egg, cheese, ham, and lettuce. I of course took the ham off. They also had a plate of fruit. It had watermelon, papaya?? Mango?? I’m not sure. I just know I had to eat it not to look rude and it was yucky. All tasted like melon. I couldn’t bring myself to try the weird slimy gelatinous fruit. I’m now wishing I had.

I had to run back upstairs to finish packing before my shuttle cane to take me to the elephant sanctuary. I’m doing an overnight stay in the park, and I am very much looking forward to it. The guide(Ann) picked me up and we drove around Chiang Mai filling up the van of other guests. One couple from Vancouver, one from Aussie, another from DC, and one from Oakland. I’m the solo Rider on this adventure. But I don’t mind!! In fact I realized once I got to the sanctuary I was the only single person. Because of that though I get my own room!!

This place was started as an elephant sanctuary but also rescues water buffalo, cats and dogs.

We got here and immediately got to go out and walk with the elephants.

Rules:

  1. No touching

2. No standing behind (basically horse rules)

3. You have to wash your hands with provided soap before you can feed them.

5. Run when the guide says run.

They gave us a water bottle with a carrying sling, but the water gets hot quick so I’m just using my own. But all the unlimited cold water we can have!!

They made us a hot lunch with a salad bar, and we got there a little late so didn’t get to try everything. But what I had was awesome!! Just the basic noodle and rice dishes but I love Thai food so it’s a win!!

On the food note, so far the only difference I can tell between the Thailand Thai food and American Thai food is ours is not spicy and has usually only a solo protein.  Here they do like pork and chicken or a seafood mix in all their dishes. Also they love seafood so they are mostly seafood dishes.

Anyway back to the elephants!! We got to watch them play, bathe in the river, eat (they love food), and walk around in peace. These elephants are from a tortured past. Either circuses, logging industry, tourist riders, or beggers. These elephants come here to live out their life in controlled freedom. Each elephant has a trainer that stays with them all day everyday. At night the elephants go to bed in their cages where they are safe from each other and warm or cool depending on the season.

We got to feed one of the disabled elephants watermelon. Her foot was injured by a land mine while logging in Myanmar. So she came here to be cared for and free. She took the watermelon out of my hand and she touched my fingers. Her skin was like rubber. Wet rubber. But she was big and beautiful and in her eyes you could see the joy. She was happy to take the watermelon from us and stayed as long as we had some. Once we ran out she just turned back to the sugar cane she was eating and we let her be.

We continued walking around the park and saw a few heards. Some have babies from Jungle Boy. Apparently before they built the housing unit for Jungle Boy he managed to impregnate 4 elephants. The goal here is not to breed, but to rescue. So they realized they had to build him his own pen to stop the reporduction.

There are only 3 adult makes here on site. There are 2 juvenile males as well that are currently being cared for by their heard. Once they become of reproducing age they too will get a pen.

There is a whole nother side of the park that we don’t get to see. That is where the agressive elephants go. They are kept separate to protect themselves and others and humans. Only their trainer is allowed contact with them. And in some cases the trainer can’t get too close.

Once we we’re on our way back to the tables (meeting area) it started to pour. The rain felt good. All of us with our cameras out ran quickly to get them out of the rain. Ann left us here and we got our night and private guide for tomorrow. Her name is Apple.

She assigned us our rooms and took us to them. Because I’m alone I got my own room, which is actually an elevated cabin!! No a.c. to be had here, but we get a mosquito net and a fan. The bathroom has a rain head shower head!! When I opened the door a cat started talking to me on the porch. I left the door open for her (I’m gonna call her Boots) and she came right in. She made herself at home on my bed on the outside of the mosquito net and wanted me to scratch her. Of course I obliged.

At 330 we could go walk some of the rescue dogs on site so I attempted to boot her out of the room but she wasn’t having it. So I opened a window for her if she wanted to escape.

I got to walk dog named LaLa. She wasn’t so keen on walking though. So there was a lot of pulling. She did like walking around by the elephants so we hung out there for a while.

When I dropped her off at the shelter she was happy to be back with her friends. I headed back to my cabin and Boots was still laying on the bed!! And now I have a black lab on the porch!! We have another porch facing the elephant sleeping cages. We heard they wake up around 4 am.

Before dinner I got myself a foot massage. Much needed after my 22k step day yesterday and my 12k day today!! For an hour it was $6!!

We just have dinner left for tonight. Then an early wake up call for some more elephant time!!

When I got back from dinner we had lost power to some of the cabins….mine was one of them. Bummer no lights or charging, glad I got my battery pack

**Boots update: she was here in my room after I got back from dinner. This time inside the mosquito net!! Smart cat. So she’s in bed with me right now.