A Travellerspoint blog

The End of Our Asian Adventure... Last Stop, Bangkok!

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So our time in Asia has come to an end! But what an amazing three and a half months it has been... Bangkok has been our last stop in the Asia leg of our trip, and although it wasn't the most ideal finishing point (it's dirty, and smelly) it was still cool to experience this Asian megacity.

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On our FINAL Asian night train! This was 15 hours from Chiang Mai down to Bangkok.

The different districts of Bangkok seem a whole world apart. Khao San Road and the Banglamphu district are the old quarter of Bangkok and are full of street food vendors and tiny shops and cafes. Whereas Siam is the central commercial hub of Bangkok, and we travelled through some of here in the skytrain, which was a pretty cool experience as we'd never been on one before. All the surrounding buildings in this district we're so enormous and impressive. It felt so different to the old quarter, so much so it was difficult to believe we were in the same city!

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Khao San Road

During our three nights in Bangkok, we ate a ton of really good, and really cheap, street food. We also visited a couple of the sights, such as the Grand Palace (although we didn't go in as it was extortinately priced) and Wat Pho which is home to the famous reclining buddha. This was very impressive, and although after three and a half months in Asia were beginning to feel all templed-out, we're glad we made a visit to this final one!
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The huge reclining buddha.

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Inside the grounds of Wat Pho.

Our final night in Bangkok, we decided to finally try some deep-fried bugs!! Ben had wanted to for the duration, but I having a major fear of any creepy crawly, obviously had my reservations! We found a vendor on Khao San road, and were given a pick 'n' mix selection!
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Ben enjoying the culinary delights!

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Being brave and eating frogs legs!!
I also tried one of the smaller bugs - it was actually quite nice, and just tasted like crisps!

Although we found Bangkok to be a slightly anti-climatic end to an amazing Asian era, it's a city so obviously shrouded in history and culture, it's difficult not to respect the place. From humble shops and stalls, to huge megamalls and famous markets, Bangkok has something for everybody. and although we would rather have spent our final few days in Thailand on one of their gorgeous beaches, we still found lots to fill our time and we certainly weren't bored.

Posted by AmyRossiter26 04:31 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

An Amazing Week at The Elephant Nature Park

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We've just spent the past week volunteering at Thailand's Elephant Nature Park and have had the most amazing, inspiring time. The park is an NGO (Non Government Organisation) which was set up by a lady called Lek over 15 years ago. Not only is the elephant park home to 37 elephants, it's also given a home to over 500 dogs (many of which were rescued from Bangkok during their devastating floods a few years ago) 200 cats, 2 monkeys and a 1 month old piglet!

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Lek grew up in a tiny northern Thai village, where she was surrounded by elephants from an early age. Her grandad taught her about herbal medicine, her knowledge of which she has used to help treat injured or abused elephants.
The park is a sanctuary for the elephants that Lek has rescued, each of which has their own often traumatic history. Most of the elephants have suffered a great deal during their lives, and ENP is without a doubt the best place for them to be. Each of the 37 elephants are so well cared for and loved.

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5 of the 37 elephants at the park are blind; some due to cataracts, but others due to torture at the hands of their former owner or mahout. If the elephant misbehaves, a common punishment is having stones thrown in it's eyes, or worse, being jabbed in the eyes by the hook which is also often used to hit it.
The majority of elephants at ENP are domestic elephants, which used to belong to someone before Lek. These, as is the case with the hundreds of elephants you see giving rides to naive tourists, along with those at circuses and other performance shows, would have gone through an agonising, terrifying experience in order to make them a 'submissive' domestic elephant. This age-old, traditional yet barbaric Thai ritual firstly involves separating a baby from it's mother, locking the baby in a tiny boxed cage and beating and torturing it repeatedly for a number of days until it's spirit is broken. The poor baby is then carted off to a trekking camp, or to a 'be a mahout for a day' camp, or somewhere similar where it's then put to work and beaten with a hooked stick, which is what forces the elephant to obey it's mahout.
Copy and paste the below link to your web browser. It's a video that shows how many of these domesticated elephants are treated:
http://www.trueactivist.com/gab_gallery/this-is-why-you-should-not-ride-elephants-in-thailand/

Why do these amazing creatures have to go through this, just to entertain us tourists? Wouldn't it be better for them all to live wildly, protected within national parks, where we could perhaps just enjoy them for the magnificent animals that they are?

At ENP, Lek's pioneering concept is that elephants are trained through positive reinforcement, whereby they're rewarded for their behaviour. Every mahout is trained in this innovative way, and none are allowed to use hooks or sticks.

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My beautiful elephant carving, hand carved by this elephant's mahout. This elephant, called Tuun Maedo, is severely disabled with dislocated hips, caused by her time logging. Most elephants in this shape would simply be left to die as they're no longer seen as money-making machines by their owners. This lucky girl got rescued by ENP, along with several other eles who've suffered land mine wounds and horrible injuries from their days working at trekking camps. These lucky few are treated excellently at ENP, having their wounds treated daily and given medication for any pain they're in.

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During our stay at ENP we've learnt so much about these amazing creatures; one thing being their loyalty to eachother. They're such complex creatures, and it was so interesting getting to know the workings of the elephants. Some really disliked eachother, others had their bestfriends, and others liked to live more solitary. I guess in this respect they're much like us!
We also learnt that they will eat up to 10% of their body weight in food each day, and they'll only sleep for around 4 hours everyday, spending up to 18 hours eating! I guess the other 2 hours are spent on miscellaneous activities!

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Helping out with the morning feed.

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Ben helping with the elephant bathing. It's too cold for the eles this time of year to lay down in the water and engage in water fights!

During our time at ENP we've also sadly learnt some really awful, eye-opening things, like how a century ago 100,000 of these Asian elephants were in existence, compared with just 40,000 today. A shocking figure of less than 2000 wild Asian elephants remain in Thailand, with a further 4000 in captivity. Although the wild Asian elephant is prey to poachers, at least they are protected under the endangered species act. Domestic elephants in Thailand are shockingly treated as livestock! Meaning owners have permission to treat their elephant as they see fit, and can trade as and when they like to whomever they like; this is how these poor creatures often end up in the wrong hands, working at trekking camps not receiving the quality of life they deserve. Knowing this, how much do you wish the situation were different?!
Lek has been fighting the government against this law tooth and nail, but to no avail. You only have to think about the economical implications to know why she is having so much trouble. It's such a sad situation, and one us tourists really need to know more about.

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A typical leaflet stand, found throughout Chiang Mai town - notice how many elephant related trekking/mahout trips there are?! (Before Ben and I went and covered them up).

ENP is the first, and one of just few, sanctuaries for elephants in Thailand, and Ben and I feel so priviledged to have been able to contribute to their amazing cause. The days were long, the work was hard, but it was so worth it for the time we then got to spend with the beautiful animals. Most days, our jobs involved working in the elephant kitchen preparing their food - and it takes A LOT of food to feed 37 elephants! We'd also shovel poo - again, 37 elephants produce A LOT of poo! We also went and cut corn in the fields - this was actually lots of fun, but really hard work.

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Bananas and melons in the elephant kitchen.

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Shovelling poo!

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Cutting corn in the fields, machette in hand!

One of our favourite jobs was constructing the elephant path. Although you can't make it out in the below photo, we made an elephant out of the stones! I was creative director :)
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Our group of volunteers!

Although the park currently has no spare space to take on more elephants (it currently spans about 300 acres), whilst we were there Lek had just completed the negotiations of a further elephant rescue. So we felt extra lucky, as we got to be a part of this! The first volunteers at ENP to do so. We all crammed in minibuses and drove the 2 hours each way to witness the rescue. There was such an air of jubilation, and I myself felt so excited for the elephant knowing she'd be spending the rest of her days at such a great place, and knowing she wouldn't be suffering any longer. She really seemed to settle in quickly, and other than being very thin, having an eye infection and scars from hooks, was in relatively good shape. Her scars, physical and mental, will never fade, but ENP will certainly feed her up and look after her.

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The new ele settling in and being fed up.

In all, we both had such an amazing time. And we urge anybody going to Thailand to not encourage the ongoing torture of these majestic animals by indulging in elephant rides, or taking part in Mahout training camps, but to instead visit The Elephant Nature Park. If you don't have the time to volunteer like us, then they do day trips too. Please check out their websites for more information:
http://www.elephantnaturepark.org
http://www.saveelephant.org/elephant_nature_park.html

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Maybe together we can change the Asian elephants fate.

Posted by AmyRossiter26 03:59 Archived in Thailand Tagged elephant thailand elephants chiang_mai elephant_nature_park elephant_trekking northern_thailand things_to_do_in_thailand save_elephant Comments (4)

On To Chiang Mai... and The Tiger Kingdom!

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Chiang Mai has definitely lived up to our high expectations so far! The town itself is really nice, with lots of excellent coffee shops (we've had the best coffee in Thailand here), little boutique shops, as well as plenty of street vendors and market stalls that seem a perma fixture in all of the Asian towns and cities we've visited.
The Saturday and Sunday walking streets are without doubt the best markets we have been to on our trip, selling so much different stuff, and most of fairly good quality too. We spent over five hours at each and it felt like half an hour! Ben is less keen than I (I'm a self-professed shopaholic) but we both really enjoyed wandering from stall to stall browsing what was on offer. Our backpacks are certainly bursting at the seams with souvenirs and pressies now! The food stalls at the market are excellent too - similar to our excellent experience at the Patong one, just the food here is even cheaper than at that one!
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At The Sunday Walking Street earlier today.

The real highlight of our stay in Chiang Mai has to be our trip to The Tiger Kingdom yesterday. It was an absolutely amazing experience and definitely something we'll remember forever. The tigers are all really well kept with no chains, and it's obvious they aren't sedated either. We were in two minds as to whether or not we should go, as the last thing we wanted to do was encourage any attraction that mistreats animals, but after doing lots of online research where we found the park had only good reviews, we decided to go and see for ourselves The handlers seemed really well trained, and
although I would obviously much rather not see these beautiful creatures behind the walls of their cages, I feel they are better there than released into the wild where they are surely prey to poachers cruelly wanting their fur, teeth and whiskers. There were some new born cubs too, which I feel is excellent - a breeding programme can only be a good thing within a breed on the threat of extinction.
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With the biggest of the tigers.

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Ben indulging in a tiger selfie! This was with one of the biggest tigers.

We chose to spend fifteen minutes a time with each of the tigers; the big tigers (full grown at 18 months to 2 years old), the medium tigers (12-18 months old), the small tigers (up to 12 months old) and the smallest tigers (up to 3 months old).
Although each tiger experience was amazing, the biggest tigers were definitely the most scary and exciting. The handlers were really great, playing and engaging with the tigers whilst we were in their enclosure, It felt really surreal being inside the tigers enclosure when usually at the zoo, you aren't even allowed near to the tigers cage!
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Another one of us with one of the biggest tigers.
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With one of the medium sized, 12-18 month old tiger. Check out his teeth!!

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Just chillin'!

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Cuddling up!!

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With one of the small, up to 12 month old tigers.

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The smallest tigers were without a doubt the cutest, and the most playful! One tiger ran onto my lap giving me a sharp scratch to the leg in the process - something Ben was really jealous of, saying "I wish I could say I'd been attacked by a tiger"... Typical man.

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Getting my tiger wound seen to. I'm secretly hoping it leaves a badass scar. Mainly just to make Ben jealous!

Our experience with the tigers has definitely been a massive highlight of our trip so far. And we're hoping this next week will be too - we're off to spend the week volunteering at an elephant rescue centre about an hour from Chiang Mai city. We're so excited!

Posted by AmyRossiter26 10:11 Archived in Thailand Tagged animals chiang_mai tigers tiger_kingdom Comments (0)

From Paradise to... Patong!

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Okay, so on Saturday we left gorgeous Koh Naka for Patong on main-land Phuket. In my previous post I said I would see if there was a suitable reason for doing so.... Hmm.
There's no denying there's a crazy, hectic energy to the place that we haven't seen anywhere else, and it is quite exciting. But it's just so tacky. I also can't get over the amount of sleazy old guys living up to their collective reputation. We walked past one guy, a beautiful Thai... um, girl (?) on each arm, and heard him say, and I quote "neither of you have a camera do you, wouldn't want the wife getting hold of any pics of this". Oh. Dear.
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Patong beach. AKA Thailand's Benidorm.

Besides the obvious tack and overcrowdedness of the place, it's also extortionately overpriced. A taxi from one part of Phuket to another, taking no longer than 20 minutes, cost us £16! Sacrilege when travel around the rest of Thailand has been so reasonably priced.

We stayed in Patong three nights, and it was definitely two nights too many. That being said, the walk down Bangla Street with ladyboys dressed like showgirls, thousands of drunk people straight out of The Jeremy Kyle Show, some very ''interesting' offers of watching a 'show' involving ping pong balls, as well Ben's close encounter with a cockroach the size of a small country making home on his shoulder, was actually really amusing.
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On crazy Bangla Street.

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Ben and I on our Patong night out.

We also found an amazing street food market a two minute walk from our hotel which was without a doubt Patong's saving grace. It was the only place we found reasonably priced anything whilst in Patong, and the food was absolutely delicious. BBQ pork and chicken skewers. Juicy corn on the cob. Southern fried style chicken that put KFC to shame. Mmmm *mouth currently watering*...
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Ben enjoying the street food market's culinary delights.

There was even a cute VW van selling cocktails from it's interior at half the price of any of the bars on Bangla Street... definitely had a few gin fizz's too many one night.
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After Patong we made our escape to the more quieter part of Phuket in the North. We chose Nai Yang Beach area purely for convenience as it's really close to the airport, and am so glad we did. There's no denying it's still very busy, but it had a much more laid back vibe which suits us so much more. There wasn't a ping pong show in sight! And the bars definitely attracted a less-sleazy clientele, playing chilled Reggae music rather than electro versions of last years pop songs! The stretch of beach is gorgeous too, although as soon as you sit on a sun bed someone's there trying to rob you of £3! Needless to say, on principle I wasn't parting with my money so we parked up with our beach mat and enjoyed the public beach FOR FREE! (This is something that really grinds my gears and a rant Ben's had to hear continuously the last few days!)
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A cute little friend I made on Nai Yang beach. After this photo was taken, she ran off with one of Ben's shoes.

Nai Yang has just one road running parallel to the beach, which is filled on either side with loads of seafood restaurants. Most of them sell traditional Thai food too. There was even a great Indian house, where Ben and I had our first Indian in over three months - it was delicious. The restaurants on the beach-side of the road are the best though, with their tables set up on the sand and candles twinkling at each table. Quite romantic.

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Yesterday it was my mum's birthday - Happy Birthday Mum! We took this photo only half an hour before leaving for the airport, where we've left the beautiful beaches of Thailand's south behind for the North of Thailand. We only arrived in Chiang Mai last night but can tell already we're going to love it - for a start the taxi from the airport only cost £3!

Posted by AmyRossiter26 19:58 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

New Years Camping on Koh Naka!

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This New Years Eve has definitely been one to remember, and for all the right reasons. It's been nothing like the anti-climatic events we're used to at home. We arrived at The Naka Camp on Koh Naka the day before NYE and immediately knew we'd come to the right place to see in our New Year.
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Ben walking from the pier to the campsite all pack-horsed up.
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The campsite promotes eco-tourism, using solar panels for electricity, free range chickens that run around the site for eggs (producing the best scrambled I've had since being away!) and a veggie garden for fresh, organic dinners. The gorgeous beach, just footsteps from our tent, and beautiful scenery were the real winner though. Waking up to the view of the sea from our tent and falling asleep to the sound of the ocean were such a highlight. We spent five blissful nights at Koh Naka and it was perfect.
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Our daily routine would go something like: wake up to gorgeous sea view, consume delicious breakfast, partake in early morning swim in beautifully warm sea, read and sunbathe until time for an indulgent lunch, nap, play scrabble/cards, swim some more, nap some more, shower, eat homegrown traditional Thai dinner, nap and/or play further game of scrabble, fall asleep on beach to sound of waves. Needless to say, we didn't want to leave.
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The lovely chill-out restaurant with views of the sea and camp fire.

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Chilling out on the comfy restaurants beds.

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Our cosy tent! You can't really see in the photograph, but the beds were "proper" beds, raised off the ground - something that after below spider incident I was especially grateful for!

The above spider reference relates to our only Koh Naka misdemeanour, which was my tripping and falling over of the tent's guide-ropes as a consequence of running back to the tent in a panic after spotting the worlds largest TARANTULA keeping me company in the toilet! I now have a huge bruise the size of said tarantula on my shin.
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Thank you Mr Tarantula.

New Years Eve was really lovely; we stuffed our faces with left-over Christmas chocolate, drank sparkling rosè (or brandy and coke for Ben), played games, let off lanterns into the sky over the sea and watched fireworks on the beach at midnight. Owing to its simplicity, it has been possibly one of my favourite nights of our trip so far.

We've now sadly left the natural beauty and peace and serenity of Koh Naka behind for the tacky, tourist trap that is Patong. Lets see if we can find a reason for doing so!

Posted by AmyRossiter26 11:04 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

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