Elephant Nature Park

One popular thing to do while in Thailand is to visit one of their many elephant rescue parks. The organizations differ to many degrees while some allow riding and close interaction and others are more strict with the interaction between the elephants and human visitors. While I have never been a fan of using animals for entertainment, I certainly have been less tolerant of using animals for pleasure as the years go by. In the times I don’t follow my instincts in this regard I end up feeling extremely guilty and don’t enjoy the experience (example – “humane” elephant ride in India many years ago, and recent camel ride in Egypt recommended as a “humane” operator by my tour company – both experiences had me feeling extremely guilty). I vow to never use an animal in that way again. With that in mind I chose to visit a park that limited the interaction with the elephants. After some research Elephant Nature Park seemed to be a good match for me. I booked one of their full day experiences.

We did get an opportunity to feed the elephants and do a quick touch to feel their skin but that was about it for guest to elephant interaction

The day starts early morning where they pick you up from your hotel in Chiang Mai. On the way you watch videos about the park. When you arrive you are instructed on applying sunscreen and bug spray in a designated area in order to not harm the animals.

First we feed the elephants a snack. The elephants can eat 150-300 kg of food a day. We learn how much it costs to feed the herd and why it is so important to have financial support of donations and visitors like me.

We feed the elephants from the bottom floor of the observation area. The area allows us to observe but not bother the elephants. Many of the elephants are rescues that are being rehabilitated from a life of work, entertainment or some even injured from conflict. We also learn about the founder Lek Saengduean Chailert.

They soon take us around to another area where we are able to give some elephants so snacks again. We learn more about elephants and how they like hanging out with their small family of elephants and hate horses and dogs (but you will find dogs that will hang out with the Mahouts).

We also learn about the life of a Mahout (elephant guide) and how as a woman you cannot become one. Sometimes it is a matter of finding the perfect match between mahout and the elephant.

The park is also a facility that rescues and rehabilitates other animals.

We learn about the different kind volunteers and how they stay on site for intervals. It definitely seems like an enriching opportunity.

Poor little guy with an injured foot.

Next it is time for bath time where elephants are responsible for bathing themselves with the exception of a mahout helping out a blind elephant.

Statement from the Elephant Nature Park website – “From 16 April 2018 the elephants will bathe themselves with no visitor interaction. This is part of the next phase of Elephant Nature Park to offer elephants a chance to live as natural a life as possible.”

After a busy morning we are treated to a delicious vegan lunch buffet and some relaxation time.

I spend my downtime visiting the rescue kitties. Some are free to roam and others live in the Cat Kingdom.

After lunch we head back out.

We get to watch more bathing elephants; many bathe with their small herd group and many include a baby elephant they nurture. It is nice to quietly watch the elephants play in the water.

And it is time for more food. It takes lots of food to maintain that physique.

As the elephants snack we get more back stories of the elephants in the facilities. Some are very old. From what I can see they are very lucky they get to spend their remaining days in this park.

Our visit is soon to be over. I visit the gift shop to buy a souvenir t-shirt and find the employees to be pretty lazy (see below).

My van arrives shortly to drive us back to our hotels. The day is money well spent.

Chiang Mai Temples Day 1

Wat Phra Singh

On my first full day in Chiang Mai I decided to go visit some of the temples in town. Some are in walking distance to my hotel but others are a bit further.

The key is to hire a songthaew or red pickup truck for the day to take you around or to catch it like a taxi around town. I didn’t have the confidence yet to negotiate a rate so I decided to go with a grab car instead (south east asia version of uber/lyft).

songthaew or red pickup truck at end of my street

Wat Umong Suan Phutthatham

My first stop is the Wat Umong Suan Phutthatham temple, a buddhist temple known for its monks and tunnels.

The temple is fun to walk around inside with all its little alcoves. Also on the grounds you can find signs with inspirational phrases. Finally on the grounds is a meditation pond with lots of birds. You can hear so many birds in the trees (waiting to poop on you, lol).

I didn’t arrange for a ride back therefore I had no way to get back into town. The red trucks in the parking lot are already paid to wait for existing visitors and I couldn’t get a grab to come out to get me as far as I am. I decided to just try to walk back to the main tourist area. It is a hot 45 minute to 1 hour walk but what choice did I have? I wandered through some neighborhoods and got to see a bit of local life. Maps.me and google maps seemed to be a bit loopy so I am sure I am not given a direct route.

Alley way in residential area.

I walk by a few temples viewed from the outside.

Soon there is a college campus in my way. I can’t find a good way to cut through. When I finally do find a cut through I end up walking through a learning mortuary. I keep hoping I won’t be presented with dead bodies during this stretch.

Finally I make it to the tourist area. The first temple I end up visiting is Wat Chedi Luang (Elephant Temple).

Wat Chedi Luang (Elephant Temple)

Wat Chedi Luang is fun due to all the elephants on the sides of the old temple.

All the temples require conservative dress. Additionally some you not able to visit if you are on your period (women) and for some women are not allowed at all (men only temples). I want to be respectful of culture norms but I would be lying if I said this didn’t upset me just a little bit.

Wat Phra Singh (Gold Temple)

Lastly for the day is a visit to the gold temple Wat Phra Singh, another buddhist temple.

Hot and tired I walk back toward my hotel. I have a craving for the fried chicken next door to my hotel so I order myself the best frozen mango drink and plate of fried chicken and I don’t regret it one bit. It is off to bed early because tomorrow is my day at the Elephant Sanctuary.

Arrived in Chiang Mai

When researching my trip to Thailand I knew I wanted to some chill time in Chiang Mai. After some research I learn the Nimman neighborhood is highly recommended. Nimman is a hip new area at the bottom of Doi Suthep Mountain. It has all the creature comforts for western travelers and it quieter than the hustle and bustle of the main tourist areas. I booked about a week at the Nimman House guesthouse in the Nimman nieghborhood. I must have been visiting in off season because I had the entire place to myself most of the week (a local in Bangkok told me they visit Chiang Mai in winter to escape the city heat and this week in Chiang Mai is hot as Bangkok). In fact I only saw the hotel staff once and that was at check in – however they were accessible by email if I needed them. It did get lonely though. One of the reasons I chose a guesthouse is the hope to interact with other travelers. The only other girls I saw in my hotel had no interest in talking to me whatsoever.

hotel lobby

After checking into my hotel I went out wandering around the neighborhood and ended up Jarid Thai for Roti Massaman Gai (Chicken curry served with Roti).

Most nights I ended up walking by this cafe called SS1254372 Cafe. It is funky and had these male and female robots that had certain body parts light up at certain times. I ended up ordering a yummy brunch there one day.

Ordered a yummy vegetable benedict. Craving vegetables.

I call it an early night. Tomorrow I will wander around town and try to see some temples.

Bangkok temples

Today is a busy day. I am off to see all the temples of Bangkok (or as many as I can see in a day).

First I need to find the boats to get there. It was a while ago but I remember taking the BTS train and getting off at the Saphan Taksin station. It is a short walk to Sathon pier. Online instructions say that you have to take two different boats to get to Wat Arun but I only recall taking one (it was over 6 months ago though).

Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn)

I soon arrive at Wat Arun, a royal temple dedicated to the 2nd reign of the Chakkri Dynasty. The crowds are constant, as usual in South East Asia, but I try to take my time and enjoy the sight.

I head back to the pier to take the boat to the Wat Phra and Palace. I believed my boat ticket to be a full day ticket but instead I had to buy another ticket to continue my trip. It is confusing to know when your boat arrives. Every time a boat arrives I ask the guide at the dock and they do not seem to happy I ask. Eventually my boat arrives and I am able to board.

Getting off the boat at the ferry terminal there are lots of people selling you things. I walk on by and act like I know where I am going even though I do not. Looking occasionally down at my map I head in the correct direction toward the Palace.

Wat Phra

I enter the Wat Phra Kaew (the Temple of the Emerald Buddha) and it is crowded as well. Lots of interesting and ornate buildings to see in the complex. The temple itself is entered with shoes off. I believe it also no photos inside. It will start to rain soon so I don’t take my time while my shoes are waiting outside.

Grand Palace

Also near the complex is the Palace. There isn’t as much to see in this area but the buildings have ornate roof decor.

It rains almost every day here during rain season in Bangkok. Not the whole day but sometimes like 2 or more hours. I mostly use that as an opportunity for downtime to recover from the times I am so damn hot. Luckily I finish the visit of the grand palace right as the rain began. I enter a food store/restaurant to await the rain. I order a soft drink and a snack and luckily find a little bench to sit on. Unfortunately the rain is so bad that water starts leaking in all over the bay window awning. Everyone in this area has to move because the leaking gets so bad. I find another place to sit for a while. Fortunately the staff did not seem to mind us all waiting out the rain in their store.

Reclining Buddha

One thing you will find in south east asia is that are various types of Buddha statues: laughing Buddha, meditation Buddha, reclining Buddha, protection Buddha, etc.

Near the Grand Palace is a very large reclining Buddha and that is where I go after the rain stops.

I don’t take much time to visit the Buddha but I do make time to visit the massage school to receive the best massage ever. You can get cheaper in Bangkok but it is still super cheap by USA prices. It is a long wait but worth the wait. I choose the hour Thai massage. You change into pants and a kimono and lay down on big beds that you share with other customers. It isn’t exactly intimate but if you can let it go for an hour it is worth it. It is relaxing as well as awkward with someone crawling all over you while a stranger lies next to you and has a masseuse crawling all over them. Additionally they cracked my back (Some people are weird about that. I guess tell them ahead of time if you don’t want a back crack. It was my fist time and I guess I’m not broken still but if I would have been asked I would have said no.). I am glad I booked the massage (As my friend says “I did it for the story”).

After massage is over the temples are closing so I make my way back to the boats to head back to my hostel. I catch a glimpse of a luxury mall off the river. Certainly a place I probably won’t visit during my travels.

Arrived in Bangkok

My start to Bangkok couldn’t have been more perfect. I started with some delicious street food. Then spent a hour or so drinking beers in the courtyard and chatting with other travelers while someone played songs on a guitar. And finally got about 10 hours or so of sleep on a comfy loft bed.
Just what I needed after 2 weeks of non-stop travel.

Ari neighbourhood

One of the challenges as an older solo traveler is finding appropriate accomodation. I would like to be price conscious and also stay in a place where it is easy to meet other travelers. Naturally hostels would fit that requirement except I can’t really do the shared room thing anymore. I don’t mind hanging out and chatting in shared living space but I really need to have my own space to unwind every night. (“I’m too old for this”). Some hostels provide private rooms but those are limited and often at a premium, even more than a hotel room sometimes. Fortunately I booked my Bangkok stay pretty far in advance so I was able to reserve a private room at the Yard Hostel in the upscale and hipster Ari neighborhood. It is a little of a splurge for a hostel but I am so glad I did. It was probably the best hostel I stayed at during my travels. The hostel is a short walk to the BTS Sukhumvit line and the area contains many hip restaurants.

I stayed five nights to give myself time to both enjoy Bangkok slowly and to give myself recovery time from my fast pace tour I just finished (Egypt and Jordan).

Loft Bed
The look down

The only bad thing about this hostel is the steep stairs to get up to the bed. If you are afraid of heights you might want to skip this option.

In the common areas people are friendly. Those who worked there also hang out there and get you involved in group conversation if you are a shy loner-type like myself.

In addition the breakfast is included and is very good. I admit I got sick of eating the same thing every day but I think most don’t stay there as long as I did (5 nights).

People were pretty friendly but this cutie wanted nothing to do with me.
Hipster food place outside of hostel.

Delicious Mackerel rice bowl ordered right outside the hostel
Beers were cheap in the hostel

To save money I choose beers at the hostel. It seemed loose and casual in Bangkok, little did I know about all the weird alcohol rules in Thailand. First off there are many dry days in Thailand. Dry days are either religious days or days of political significance. During those days bars are closed and alcohol cannot be purchased. I hit a few of those during my time in Thailand. In addition, you can only buy or be served alcohol between the hours of 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. – midnight on normal days. For some reason I was always craving a drink between 2-5 pm while visiting the country.

Sweating on the subways

Before my visit the pollution levels were dangerously high. The smog didn’t really bug me at all during my visit but the humidity did, even as a Floridian I sweated constantly.
The sky train and metro were both pretty easy to use. Traffic sucks so it is the best way to get around if you can. They have grab (their version of Uber). Used that once when I was too tired to hoof it to public transport. Didn’t use buses. Many people ride on the back of bikes using grab. I was too scared to do so. In fact, I didn’t do my first motorbike trip until much later in Indonesia.

Luckily the trains take me to everywhere I want to go in Bangkok.