Thursday, June 11, 2015

Elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand


Sorry for the blog lag! You're still seeing the last of my SE Asia pictures from a few months ago. Meanwhile IRL I've graduated, said goodbye to the East coast, went on a vacation and cruise to Scandanavia, and moved to San Francisco! I'm hoping the blog will catch up...eventually. I still want to share the rest of my SE Asia pictures before moving on to graduation and my move, so watch out for multiple posts in the following days before I start residency. 

After speeding through the dirt roads of Siem Reap on a tuk tuk to catch our flight, we arrived in the lush greenery of Chiang Mai. Located in the north of Thailand, it's famous for its forests and wildlife, but we had basically come to hang out in the natural habitat of Thailand's elephants. It's also an adventure capital, so we could have easily stayed a few more days to ride ATVs, zip line through the forest, and relax. 

Relaxing was easy in our amazing oasis at the Bodhi Serene Hotel. Remember how nice our last hotel was? This hotel was probably my favorite in terms of amenities. Just look at this room! And it looked out to a lush garden where we sat to have breakfast every day. 

After dropping our bags off, we set out to have our first authentic Thai dining experience. We went to an expat favorite, Dash, which provided the perfect tropical setting to our dinner.


Khao Soi, a northern Thai specialty. Basically noodle soup in spicy curry topped with fried noodles. 

Next morning, we set off to the Elephant Nature Park, a well known sanctuary and rescue center for elephants (and over 200 dogs and cats). On the bus ride there, we watched a documentary about the sad state of elephants in Thailand, who are basically only used for tourism after the dissolution of the logging industry back in the 80s. Remember how Emily was an animal lover? She made sure we went to an elephant park that was nice to elephants. Although I was envious of friends who got to ride elephants and pose with them, I learned that riding elephants is actually bad for their backs, especially if they place more than one person on one. The founder of the park created this sanctuary center for older, handicapped elephants and orphan babies where they could live out their days in peace instead of performing circus acts or begging in the streets for money. As a result, there are no performances or shows, and no climbing or riding elephants. However, we could still feed them and take as many pictures as we wanted!





Elephants' best friends


The whole day visit started off with feeding elephants in the morning, then walking out into the huge park (a la Jurassic Park) and getting up close to the creatures. Lunch was a delicious vegetarian spread prepared by volunteers, who were mostly travelers who paid for the experience to live and work on the elephant sanctuary.
In the afternoon, we changed into our bathing suits and got to bathe the elephants!
The elephants hung out all over the huge park, however when feeding time came, they would be hearded by their mahouts into the main treehouse complex where we could feed them.

Happy elephants 
Two baby elephants

Overall, it was a great experience learning about the elephants and meeting people who were so invested in their wellbeing. It got the sense the park was a well-oiled machine in providing people with a fun experience (feeding and bathing elephants) while also caring for the animals. I would definitely recommend it, although it is a bit pricey ($80/person, which doesn't sound like much in dollars but is a huge amount the local currency). I think the combination of the sweltering day and open land with almost no shade caused me to feel dizzy at the end of the day though (although I ate and drank plenty) and at the end of the day I was definitely ready to head back into the city. Once we got back into the city, I just couldn't be outside anymore, and retreated back into the blissfully dark room to sleep it off. Little did I know that would be the start of full blown food poisoning for the next couple of days....

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