Thailand How We Imagined!
10.11.2010 - 14.11.2010 32 °C
After a connecting flight via Bangkok, we arrived in Chiang Mai late on Wednesday night. The first thing that we noticed was that it was't raining... hurray!!
The next morning we set out to explore the city on foot and walked past several of the many temples in the city. The traffic outside of the old town city walls which are surrounded by a moat (built 700 years ago to defend against Burmese invaders) was really busy with cars, tuk tuks and mopeds yet inside the narrow soi (alleyway roads) were quiet and contained many guesthouses, shops, bars, restaurants and homes. We really enjoyed wandering around the old town, taking a look in to craft shops, book shops and relaxing in the cafes with a fruit smoothie. We walked around the city visiting some of the many Temples and passing numerous buddhist monks going about their daily life.
We decided to book an activity day 'Elephant Training' and our guest house owners recommended a local family run company. The next morning we were picked up at our guest house by 'Woody' our Thai guide for the day. We stopped once more to pick up a French couple called Nicola(s) and Nataly and then drove for around an hour to a small village, during which time we learnt more about Woody and his life as an Elephant Trainer, Thai Boxer (he was fighting the next night) and how previously he had served in the Thai army. Woody explained that it was his Uncle who had set up the elephant rescue centre, as he had brought the animals from areas of the jungle where they had previously been used for work, such as logging - to the 'elephant centre' (their house). On our arrival we were provided with elephant training clothes to change into, which were 'very fetching' blue sweatshirts and pants! We then sat down at a table in Woody's family house set in the jungle and Woody informed us of the Thai words and combined actions that we would be needing to control the elephants. After practicing how to say the words in Thai, we were tested and all passed our exam! Then we were allowed to go and introduce ourselves to the elephants and we made ourselves very popular with them as our first task was to feed them sugar cane striaght into their mouths, which they loved so much that they kept giving us a kiss on our cheeks with their trunks - a very strange sensation! After their lunch, the trainers provided three elephants with a variety of musical instruments and they played a harmonica, a tamberine and a bell whilst dancing. This wasn't the sort of performance that we had signed up to the day for, as it was a bit too circus like - however the trainers insisted that the elephants enjoyed playing like this and it was certainly impressive how they performed together. Next we learnt how to climb up on to the elephants, with the elephants giving us a helping leg-up on to them when we gave them the instruction "Yoka" (foot up). The elephants were so big that it's quite hard to get up on to them at first, however once we'd clambered on a couple of times and sat on their necks with our legs behind their ears we were able to get up and down on our own. We practiced giving the elephants commands, "Bye" (forward), "Bow" (slow down), "Ute" (stop), "Saiy"(left), "Huwa" (right) and "Toy" (backwards) and our confidence started to grow that we might actually be able to ride them through the jungle later in the day. Just before lunch we were asked to join the elephants and sit on a 'chair' that they made for us with their trunks for photographs. Again, we weren't convinced that the trainers should be asking this of the elephants, however the elephants didn't appear to mind.
In baking hot sunshine, we then made our way to the family house across the street and enjoyed a delicious Thai lunch on the verander that had been cooked by Woody's mum. In the afternoon we mounted the elephants once again, this time in pairs on each elephant, with Nic and I on 'Christina' and we set off through the jungle. With a little support from the guides, we managed to steer our elephants along the path (albeit the elephants knew the path pretty well) and stopped a few times to let the elephants eat bushes and trees from the nearby undergrowth. After giving the elephants a break and more sugar cane, we rode them down to the river, where they entered the water and lay down in the cool water. Here we were provided with buckets and brushes and requested to wash the elephants, something we could tell that they really enjoyed. They played around in the water, which included a water fight whereby we soaked the elephants with buckets of water and they sprayed us with water their trunks. After this we rode the elephants to the nearby lake and Nic stayed on her elephant as it swam around the lake.
After a great day with the elephants we went our for drinks and food with Nicola(s) and Nataly in Chiang Mai. Nicola(s) is a policeman in Paris and Nataly works in a maternity unit in Paris, although both are from the Toulouse area and have moved to Paris for their work. We had a lovely evening together in an outdoor Thai restaurant down by the river.
We started taking our malaria prevention tablets in anticipation of our next destination, Laos - so if our blog gets more weird than normal - it's possibly due to one of the many potential side effects! The next morning we enquired about flights to Luang Prabang in Laos and were informed that flights were full for the next three days, however we decided to go to the airport anyway and after a couple of hours waiting around in hope of getting a late standby ticket, we managed to get on the flight due to some 'no shows'. Lao air have modern aircraft - however they are propeller planes and the turbulence we encountered was a little unnerving to say the least.