Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Elephant Nature Park Chiang Mai

The Elephant Nature Park does not offer elephant entertainment in the way that most people would expect. There are no elephant rides or elephant tricks. Instead the Elephant Nature Park educates its guests about elephants in Thailand and seeks to change the way elephants are treated and regarded throughout the country. This change is no easy feat! History, culture, tradition, laws and tourism have had a huge impact on the lives of elephants in Thailand.

The population of elephants in Thailand is dwindling. Currently, there is an estimated three to four thousand elephants in this country and half of these have been domesticated. Many domesticated elephants experience trauma throughout their lives and abuse often begins at the very onset of their interactions with humans. For centuries elephants in Thailand have been domesticated through a brutal tradition called "crushing" where elephants are caged and tortured until their wild spirit is "crushed".  Depending on the elephant's mahout (caretaker) the elephant may go on to experience other abuses that may eventually lead to injury so severe the creature is rendered useless to its owner. This is where the Elephant Nature Park comes in.

We spent an entire day at the Elephant Nature Park. Our guide picked our group up at our hotel and drove us to the park. Upon arrival we had the chance to feed a few elephants. Teddy was keen on feeding them watermelon but it took my other two children some time to warm up to the idea. After feeding time we walked around the park to meet some of the elephants that had been rescued and rehabilitated. The elephants told their stories silently. Our guide acted as a translator of sorts putting words to the scars many of the elephant bore. Forced breeding, illegal logging, riding camps, exploding mine... there are now just over forty elephants at the sanctuary. After a Thai lunch buffet there was a documentary about elephants in Thailand. It was rather graphic in parts especially when they showed a "crushing", so most of children sat out. Then it was bathing time! The mahouts guided the older elephants into the water and tours groups splashed them with water. While our elephant wasn't keen on this part of the day we learned that it was necessary for keeping her skin healthy. After the elephant left there was a full out water fight! In the last part of the day we had the chance to see the baby elephants and get chased by one particularly mischievous one which was thrilling and frightening.

As we prepared to leave we took a peek at the small gift shop. There were a variety of things but the highlight for us was a shelf of hand carved wood elephants. These were made by the mahouts at the park. Each elephant at the sanctuary has a mahout, many of which are from the isolated and impoverished Burma. While the mahout make a very small income they sell these carved elephants as a way of making a little extra money to send home to their families. We bought a lovely one and it will be a constant reminder of the suffering and the beauty we encountered during our visit.

It should be noted that the cost of visiting the Elephant Nature Park for a Single Day Visit is 2500 baht ($80 cad) for adults and 1250 baht ($40 cad) for children. There are no elephant rides and direct contact with the elephants is carefully limited and supervised. There is significant emphasis placed on respecting the elephants and personal safety. However, it is an educational experience that will change the way you see and interact with elephants possibly for life. The park is a not-for-profit organization so all the money they receive goes towards caring of the elephants, paying the large staff and maintaining the park. Also I want to share that there are volunteer opportunities at the park, which is something worth considering if you are travelling to Thailand.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Day of Rest in Chiang Mai

It was a day of rest for the travelling gang. When we stepped out for breakfast this morning we heard a symphony of moans and whines coming from our children. They weren't keen on walking anywhere but after some cajoling we made our way to the U.N. Irish Pub for breakfast. According to our friends this is the best place in Chiang Mai for an authentic american style breakfast. The bread is made on premises and the sausage is real (not just a hot dog). After eating there I have to agree that it was the most delicious breakfast we've eaten yet.

After breakfast we meandered through the alley ways of old Chiang Mai. We admired the artistic graffiti, perused the shops and market and even stopped to dip our feet in a fish spa. The rest of the day was spent resting at the hotel. My husband and children have a bit of a cold so they were happy to lounge around and recuperate. I too was happy to relax and read my book to store up some energy for visiting the night market. Tomorrow we have a big day ahead of us so hopefully we all feel well rested and re-energized in the morning.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Bua Tong Sticky Waterfalls

Sticky Waterfalls, also known as Bua Tong, is one of the most unique waterfalls that I have ever seen. The spring fed waterfall cascades down an unusual lumpy streambed that stretches over several tiers to the bottom of the hill. These interesting formations are the result of the calcium rich water flowing from the spring and coating the boulders creating a unique grippy or "sticky" coating. The best part of visiting Sticky Waterfalls is that you can go down several sets of uneven stairs to the bottom of the waterfall and then walk straight up the waterfalls with ease, thanks to the "sticky" surface of the boulders.

Our friends have been to Sticky Waterfalls several times. It was high on their list of things to show us and I am so glad they did! My children were intrigued by the sticky surface of the falls and scaled the waterfall several times. The cool clean water was a nice reprieve from that heat and it was a nice to be surrounded by nature. When the children tired from climbing the waterfall we enjoyed lounging in the shade of the trees, eating fruit and playing games. It was a nice break from the business of the city. This place is a must see if you are visiting Chiang Mai with children (or without!). It takes about an hour (60km) to reach the falls from Chiang Mai, go north on Route 1001, and if travelling as a group I recommend renting a van or a songthaew for the day.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Saturday Night Market in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai's Saturday night market starts at Chiang Mai Gate and stretches along Wu Lai road. The market goes on for about one kilometer and overflows onto many of the side streets along the way. Our friends suggested we go to market at four in the afternoon which is when the vendors start setting up their booths. At this point the market is relatively quiet which makes it easier to get around and see what the vendors have to offer. By six o'clock at night the market is packed with people and walking turns to shuffling as you're carried along by a sea of bodies. 

The market itself tends to cater to tourists with vendors selling clothing, silverware, handmade crafts, art and food. We did not purchase much. I bought a shirt and Felix tried his first coconut drink. The children also found some fake lego, or flego as my friend's son calls it. Even though we did not purchase many things walking through the market was an adventure. The smell of food cooking, the sound of music playing and the colourful wares on display are a feast for the senses. At one point the national anthem started playing and for a couple minutes everyone stood still as a sign of respect. It was as if someone had pushed a pause button at the market and it felt surreal. We perused the market for about two and half hours and then my two younger children were ready to return to the hotel. The market goes on late into the night for those that don't have three little ones to tuck in.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Art in Paradise

This afternoon we had the chance to explore Art in Paradise a 3D art museum in Chiang Mai. There are several floors of fun artwork to discover and we all at much fun taking pictures with our friends. My husband stayed back at the hotel with the our two younger children to give them a rest. Teddy hasn't been feeling well the last few days, but more about that later. The above pictures are some of my favourite ones and those with myself in them were taken by Felix.