Wednesday, July 3, 2013

RTW: Thailand- Chiang Mai

Like I have said before, its always better to arrive in a new city before dark. However, this time it was a welcomed change as Chiang Mai really comes alive at night. We arrived and literally outside the steps of our big hotel was the famous Night Bazaar. A bit overwhelmed and starving from the day of travel we went straight to an Indian restaurant in the markets for dinner then explored all the stall-lined streets.

Our first day in Chiang Mai was spent exploring the old gated city. We visited a few temples, also known as Wats, and the 3 Kings monument, which, turned out to be a bit less impressive than we thought it, was going to be. The most interesting part of the day was our “Monk Chat.” A bit like FDR fire side chats, we got as much time as we wanted to sit down with a young monk to chat. We learned in Buddhism that almost everyone is expected to become a monk at least once in their life, even if only for a short bit. We also learned that there are 272 rules that a monk must live by.

Jack Fruit
 I had done a ton of research and learned about the abuse and exploitation done to the elephants, not only by the Thai people but the neighboring countries as well. In parts of Thailand, Burma and Loas, elephants are still use for begging in cities, illegal logging and of course, tourism.  My research led us an hour north of Chiang Mai where we spend the day at The Elephant Nature Park. The most impressive day yet, over the course of 8 hours we learned how to feed the elephants and how to bath the elephants, which we actually did in the local river, and the injustice of how the elephants are treated in this part of the world. 

Amongst many things we learned that some of the elephants there were drug addicts – they’d been given amphetamines so they’d be able to work around the clock. Two had mangled feet from stepping on land mines near the border with Myanmar. One we saw had a broken hip from forced breeding. Another had a broken leg from being hit by a car while street begging. One had a visibly deformed back – her spine had been broken from the platform her owner put on her back to carry tourists around. So profound was learning about what it actually takes to get an elephant to allow you to ride on its back. It takes weeks of abuse in a contraption no bigger than the elephant, called “the crush.” As for us, we will NEVER ride on an elephants back again! 

We also read about the sad story of Boon, a young elephant sent to the park after she’d panicked in traffic and caused damage to a restaurant. When the police showed up her mahout, or trainer, took off and the park rescued her. But the mahout eventually cleared the charges and came to collect Boon. Technically she belonged to him and he could pull in serious money using him and there was nothing The Nature Park could do so he was put back on the streets.

A heart wrenching day, but also full of happy things as well. We had the privilege to visit with not only a 6 month old baby boy but a 12 day old girl as well! It was the most amazing thing and I seriously could have sat there just watching the baby girl for hours.
6 month old baby boy
12 day old baby girl


What I found so bewildering was how the locals could choose to abuse an animal that is so highly revered in this part of the world. From our pictures you will see they are iconic to the Thai people, with ancient elephant statues on temples and buildings.

Following our magical day with elephants we spent the rest of our days in Chiang Mai riding around on scooters. It was such a great way to get around as it only cost 200BT ($6.5) for a days rental. We took advantage and rode up to the temple on top of the mountain called Pratak Doi Suthep. It was really beautiful up there, everything covered in gold but again, the temple was just another tourist attraction with every corner covered with donation drops boxes. The Thai people must give all their money away every day to the temples. It’s a little unbelievable until you actually see it.
Pratak doi Suthep

Jade Buddha at Pratak doi Suthep
It would be nice to say that we ended our stay in Chiang Mai on a good note but unfortunately; we had a bit of a scare when we arrived to the airport and my passport was missing. Long story short, it was sneakily hidden in the room safety box and the hotel was nice enough to express it out to our hotel down south in Krabi. Time for more beach time! 

A few notes:
Thai Airline has great service and serves good food and drinks.
Check out Whole Earth for a delicious Thai dinner when in Krabi.
Gallery is also a good spot for genuine delicious Thai food.

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