Volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park

DSCN0668There are dozens of elephant-themed adventures to choose from in Chiang Mai. Some advertise that you can become a mahout—an elephant caretaker—for a day, some that allow you to ride the elephants, some that are retirement homes for older elephants. It is overwhelming how many different options there were. I did my research before I arrived in Thailand and I learned quickly that not all ele’ adventures should be treated equally.

I chose to volunteer at the Elephant Nature Park because they are against the riding and “breaking” of the elephant. The treatment of elephants in most of the other places is dismal. In order for a tourist to be able to ride an elephant, the elephant’s spirit must be broken, which means that they are beaten with sharp hooks until they submit to humans. The elephants used for work such as illegal logging also have to go through this process. Some of the work is so hard that their backs or hips break. Some of them have their eyes blinding by an angry mahout with a hook.

The Elephant Nature Park tries to rescue as many of these elephants as possible. Currently, they have 44 elephants, including four babies, some of whom are injured or just elderly.

Elephant Work

My week there was not an easy one. There are chores every morning and afternoon that include unloading watermelon, pumpkin, and banana trucks, washing and cutting fruit, making banana and rice balls for the elephants that can no longer eat whole food, cutting down corn fields, and (of course) scooping a lot of ele’ poo! There was even one day where we had to put out a slash-and-burn fire that was approaching the park.

While work was not easy, especially in 100-degree weather, it was satisfying. After four years of working in a cubicle, it felt good to be working with my hands and actually seeing the results of my work. I was happy to know that we were supporting an organization that was educating people about what elephants are having to go through all over the world.

In our free time, we were allowed to walk the over 400(!) dogs they have rescued, play with kittens in the Cat Kingdom, or just to sit on their beautiful skywalk and enjoy a hard-earned beer while watching the elephants and water buffalo roam below.sunset

If you are looking for a worthy volunteer project, I would recommend checking out spending a week or more at the Elephant Nature Park. I definitely hope to make it back there before my SE Asia trip comes to an end.

Check out their website here to plan your trip or donate to their cause.

My Day at Thai Farm Cooking School

Cooking SchoolIt seems like everyone takes a cooking class in Chiang Mai. It was one of those things I was told that I must do while staying in the city. When I began to explore my options, I was overwhelmed. There are so many different cooking schools in Chiang Mai. Most of them offering similar programs.

I chose Thai Farm Cooking School because two different people told me how amazing it was.

And it was amazing. (Thank you, friends!)

I was picked up from my hostel at 8:30am for my full day class. It was in the back of the truck that I met my nine classmates. The school tries to keep the classes small (maximum 11 people).

From there, we were driven to a market outside of the city where our teacher, Rika (who called us all “my children” for the entire day) showed us what types of foods are common in Thai cooking and told us about their health benefits. (So much fish sauce!)

Then, it was time to make our way up to the farm. I cannot tell you how relieving it felt to get out of the city for the day. After being surrounded for two weeks by concrete and traffic, the garden around our classroom was a welcome sight.

Rika “Mama” showed us around the garden and gave us samples of the fruits and vegetables they grow there including bitter eggplant, sweet basil, and tamarind.

Finally, it was time to start cooking! Even for a terrible novice cook like myself, the dishes were fairly easy.

Things I made (and did not burn):

Food - Cooking Class

  • Tom Yam Soup
  • Green Curry
  • Basil Chicken Stir Fry
  • Mango Sticky Rice

Things I made (and did kinda burn):

Sorry, pad thai. You were still delicious!

Sorry, pad thai. You were still delicious!

  • Pad Thai

Since I took the class, I have recommended it to many other people. Not only do you get to make (and eat) some delicious Thai meals, you also gain a lot of knowledge about the ingredients in the food and their health benefits!

A one day class costs 1,300 Baht.

Find the Thai Farm Cooking School website here.

 

 

Running Chiang Mai

ParkI didn’t run once in Bangkok. Partly because I was majorly jet lagged, but also because the streets were crazy. I’ll admit, I did not go out of the way to look for a good park to jog in. If I go back for an extended period of time, I will have to seek out running options in the city.

However, I seem to have found my happy running routine in Chiang Mai.park bench

Suan Buak Hat is the old city’s only public park, and it also happened to be about a five minute walk from my hostel. It can be crowded in the afternoon with people picnicking, feeding the fish and birds, and strolling. But most mornings it is pretty quiet and peaceful. I often only share the park with a handful of other runners.

My running buddies...

My running buddies…

So, I am back into my running routine, which makes me infinitely happier.

Turning Around is Not Going Backward

DSCN0392I had a gut feeling as I bought my minibus ticket to go to Pai from Chiang Mai. The feeling was…in a nutshell, “Don’t Go.”

But everyone told me I had to go to Pai. So…I did.

I was reluctant even as I was boarding the bus, mainly because I loved Chiang Mai so much and I didn’t want to leave. But, got on the bus I did.

I had heard horror stories of car sickness from the 762 turns on the road that leads to the little town. Luckily, no one was sick in my bus, so the drive to Pai was tolerable.  I quickly learned, though, that a tolerable ride to a place that you don’t really want to go becomes a miserable ride.

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Yes, I’m an Old Lady at Heart (Stop Judging Me)

Learning new drinking games in Bangkok.

Learning new drinking games in Bangkok.

I love hostel life. I really do. I don’t mind sleeping in a dorm with nine other people. Even people who snore or smell or come stumbling in drunk at 4 o’clock in the morning. Those are things I can look past.

Being around such an amazing variety of people is worth it.

There are so many characteristics of hostel life that I enjoy: I like entering the common room in the morning and someone asking me what I’m doing for the day and inviting me join them in their plans, or just giving me advice on where to go. I like that I can always get someone to tag along with me if I am nervous about going somewhere or doing something alone. I love the sense of community and listening to other travelers’ stories.

That being said, I have run into some prejudices have never run into before at a hostel.

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The “Sticky Falls” and Crashing My Motorbike

Sticky FallsI thought driving a motorbike would be easy.

After all, thousands of Thai people drive them everyday, weaving recklessly in and out of traffic, without a problem. So, I got on my bike and within…oh, maybe 65 seconds, I had fallen on my ass. I was so nervous taking a turn that I wouldn’t lean into it, so I just toppled over and proceeded to scratch up my leg and humiliate myself in front of dozens of onlookers. Four Thai men ran out of a convenience store to help me up even after I insisted I was fine.

It was…highly embarrassing.

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Klong Lat Mayom Floating Market

DSCN0257Floating markets in Bangkok are popular destinations for both travelers and locals. They are known for vibrant Thai atmospheres and…well, lots of amazing food. Of course, it was one of the places I knew I had to go.

When I was told there was a shuttle bus that could pick me up directly from my hostel and take me to a market over an hour away, I knew that it would be packed with tourists. Not that I’m against tourists. After all, I am one of them. But I get frustrated in crowds, so I wanted to go someplace perhaps a little quieter.

I read about Klong Lat Mayom, a smaller and less touristy market, and enlisted a couple of my hostel mates to travel along with me first thing in the morning. (I am not quite brave enough to venture so far on my own yet. I thought getting older would make me more brave. It turns out it just has made me a big chicken.)

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I (Barely) Made it to Bangkok

backpackpicSee that picture? See that girl? She has a look in her eyes. It is a look of excitement.

No….wait.

It is a look of sheer terror.

Now that I have safely reached Bangkok, I can laugh at that picture.

My trip was not easy. First, I got to the airport and the ticket agent asked me for an onward ticket which I absolutely did not have. But as I stuttered something about a bus ticket that I didn’t have proof of, the man took pity on me. Or, he just didn’t have the energy to deal with my nonsense. He gave me my boarding pass and urged me away from his counter.

Then, just as I settled into the waiting area at my gate, my body started to turn on me. My stomach started churning and I started to shake. I tried to curl myself into a ball. I tried to take a nap. I tried to drink some water to see if the feeling would pass.

It didn’t.

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I Quit My Job! And Became a Wizard!

cruise collageFirst of all, thank you to everyone who has messaged me regarding my whereabouts, it meant a lot to me to know that you were curious/concerned.

I know it has been a while. No, I have not cancelled my trip. I leave in less than a week for Bangkok and from there…I can’t say I have much planned. I really need to get on this planning thing.

The past couple of months have been a whirlwind of chaos. Before I quit my job (yes, I finally quit!) I was working 80 hour weeks. On top of my office job, I was also picking up extra night and weekend shifts at the theater.

I’ve been saving a lot of money, but not as much as I’d hoped. I barely met my minimum goal, meaning that I will have to be extra frugal if I’m going to travel for a full year. I’m usually really good at saving money, but I was pretty miserable at my office job, which zapped almost all of my motivation from me. Plus, I absolutely hate the winter. I hate the darkness. I hate the cold. I hate snow. And, most of all, I hate the holidays. I know…bah humbug. Continue reading