Saturday, December 07, 2013

Water for Elephants

After the craziness of Bangkok what we needed was a dash of Chiang Mai.  Chiang Mai is Thailand's "second city".  Traffic wise it's just as insane as Bangkok so if you're going here planning on filling your lungs with fresh, clean mountain air - best of luck to you.

We're staying at a wonderful hotel about half an hour walk from the main city, which is fine with me - I can walk off all those spring rolls. Speaking of food, first plan on the agenda was find dinner, we'd read about a fantastic night market just north of the Old City.  Blisters firmly plastered we headed off on foot down Th Huay Kaew to Th Mani Nopharat/Th Chang Pheuak.  Oh my days!  What a sight for sore, hungry eyes - every conceivable Thai food known to mankind was laid out, glistening, before our eyes.  We shared several plates from different vendors, trying crispy duck with rice and pickled kale, pad Thai and pork with rice.  Appetites sated and bellies full we started the long walk home, stopping at a random shopping mall meets night market en route to meet Superman in a phone box and buy me a bubble tea.

Next up on the itinerary was the Elephant Nature Park which I was very excited about.  Part of the reason for choosing this particular park was because we'd found out it was very ethical and that they treated their elephants well.  Thailand has a long history of animal cruelty and abuse, this is now changing, but there's still some way to go.
En route we watched an information video to get a feel for the issue of elephant brutality in Thailand, why it's such a problem, and what you can do personally to combat this.  Through the video we met a lady called Lek, who set up the sanctuary in the 1990's.  They also take in stray cats and dogs which wander the park.  The sanctuary depends on a team of volunteers to keep running - something that Mark and would like to consider in the future if we're in this part of the world again.
 We arrived at the park and after a briefing we then fed the elephants!  There are 36 elephants in all, a mixture of ages, the majority are rescued although some were born at the park.  Yes!  Elephant babies!  Very, very cute although the mahouts tell you to keep away as firstly, baby elephants don't know their own strength, and secondly, the older elephants are often quite protective.
We were taken on a tour of the park - we saw where they treat sick or injured elephants, we were shown the best way to approach an elephant (their eyesight isn't great, so always stay to the left or right of the trunk, never approach from the rear) and met lots of different herds, getting up close and personal with some of them.  Afterwards was a lovely vegetarian lunch, then it was time to bathe the elephants.  We were led to a river nearby where we were all given buckets and encouraged to throw water over their backs, avoiding the eyes.
It was truly an illuminating experience and some of the stories we heard were very sad.  There was one particular elephant whose baby died when hit by a truck.  Ever since then, every time she hears a truck, she charges at it.  Just how much this park has transformed the lives of these elephants is tremendous.  One moment that sticks in my head, we met Lek, the lady who set up the park.  She was standing in the enclosure and one of the younger elephants ran up to her just to give her a cuddle.  I've never seen anything like that.  Incredible.
We headed back to Chiang Mai, clutching a souvenir wooden elephant hand carved by a mahmout, babbling about what an incredible day we'd had.  We then headed to Th Nimmanhaemin in search of dinner, got sidetracked by an amazing craft market, then headed onwards to Hong Tauw Inn in search of authentic North Thai cuisine.  Naem Thod (deep fried fermented pork), Kaeng Thiao Waan Kai (green curry with chicken), Narm Phrigh Kapi Pla Too Thod (northern style curry with fried thai mackeral - very spicy!) and Kaeng Long Lay (actually I might have written that one down wrong - no snickering at the back.  This was a pork curry with herbs).  Say all those twice very fast.  It was lovely and if you're ever in the area - do go.  Their iced coffee is fab too.

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