Here are a couple more days. Catching up, soon we will be in the present.
Day six – Weds – 10th June:
Today was a free day in Chiang Mai. Some our group opted for ‘The flight of the Gibbon’ which is a zipline through the jungle. The night before I had a look in some of the tour offices and there were several others like it with different names that were cheaper but I had already decided not to do this as I did a zipline in America. I expected everyone to have left but in the morning I ended up meeting three others for breakfast at a local cafe.
Me and a girl from our group (Katie) wanted to see some more elephants but it was difficult and I can’t decide if this was an ethical choice or not. Afterwards I felt a bit guilty as there is no way to prove that they don’t beat the elephants when you are not there.
We booked at a tour office, again no one spoke English, they put us on the phone to the Rantong Elephant Rescue Centre. We then spent the morning wandering round Chiang Mai and had an early lunch at a random restaurant down a side road. I had banana samosas with honey which were delicious.
The bus picked us up at 1.30pm and drove us to a hotel where we paid the balance of the trip and then sat us in the lobby to wait for a bus to take us to the elephant place. Interestingly a guy, (another backpacker on the bus) was deaf and used his iPhone to type a message to us and ask why we were waiting etc and I explained. I spoke directly to his face as I assumed (correctly) that he could lip read. I am now really pleased that I watched a series called ‘Switched at birth’ which is actually about two girls who were switched but features a large deaf community, most of the characters are deaf and it is in ASL. Although it was a soap I think it was done as an awareness program for America, and the message was not to treat them differently and a lot of the characters used their phones to communicate in this way.
Anyway back to elephants. We had requested not to ride them so we were separated from the rest of the group and taken to feed and play with three young elephants ages 2-5 and a pregnant mother. They offered us a change of clothes and we took the trousers but we already brought messy t-shirts with us.
They filled little shoulder bags with sugar cane that we fed the elephants with and walked around with them.
Now I was going to put pictures here (the guy took lots of us and sent them on a DVD to our hotel but I can’t get it to work so I’m going to call them tomorrow and ask for a new copy). Here is one I stole from Katie, she took a couple on her phone.
Katie at the Rantong Elephant Rescue Centre
We also went in a large pool with them and washed them. I am still very unsure as to their treatment. They responded very well to commands, in Thai I assume: come, sit, no, etc and I think the training for that must involve punishment? Other than that, they were not chained and allowed to roam around a largish grassy field which was better than the elephant hospital.
I spoke to an international volunteer from the USA, (there was a group on site) and she said the elephants are trained by private owners and loggers and then ‘rescued’ and bought by this place. So I can only hope they are treated better where they are now than with loggers, but they are all bred in captivity.
The trip included food so after the elephants we showered and then ate on a wooden deck before the bus came to take us back to Chiang Mai.
We didn’t join the group for the evening meal as we had just eaten, but later Katie joined the group to see a ladyboy show and I went to meet Maren my German friend. We had dinner but it was about 11pm so it had been a few hours since I ate last. She told me about her trip and a jungle trek she did which sounded good.
Picked up my DVD of elephant pictures from the hotel lobby and then packed to move on the next day.
Day seven – Thurs – 11th June:
Checked out and left Chiang Mai at 7am. I ate breakfast, just some things I bought from 7-11. We drove to the bus station and then at 8am got onto a public bus, which is more like a coach and had air con. James our guide kept ‘warning’ us that the seats were really small as they were meant for Thai people but they were no different to at home. I don’t know how big he thinks our seats are??
We were given free water and snacks like before. Four hours drive later we changed to Songthaew for another hour. Stopped for lunch in Chiang Rai at a local cafe, (the floor near the toilet was tiled with broken pottery which is great upcycling). Drove onto a Chinese town/community in the area of Doi Mae Salong, reminiscent of a small southern Chinese village. Ladies (adult) and girls aged about seven tried to sell us bracelets. The price started at 20 baht but kept going up and up. Most of the girls from our group bought one and then they wouldn’t stop pestering us. There were lots of other stalls selling trinkets and food but their owners just sat there passively.
Once we got back into the Songthaew one of the Chinese ladies followed us and kept slapping bracelets (mainly pink) down on the one Australian guy’s (Ryan) knee. It was so funny we were in stitches.
Then we drove off to our accommodation further up in the hills/mountains. We were staying in a Chinese run guest house that was made up of lots of mini bungalows. After a shower a group of us went off to see a Buddhist temple on a hill. This involved climbing 719 steps but was really worth it for the view.
Buddhist temple above Doi Mae Salong and our group in a Chinese karaoke bar
On our way back through the town our guide bought us some lychees and other fruit to try. He bought a massive bag that would have cost a lot back home for about 50 baht (£1 GBP). As we walked back to our rooms before dinner we could hear music coming from the hills. We were not sure if it was live or not (probably coming from a bar) but it was very atmospheric.
We ate in a local restaurant, where the menu was in Thai, Chinese and English. Several people had a ‘black chicken’ dish, and the chicken is literally black! Our guide also told us about preserved eggs that come in different colours like pink, green and black.
After our meal we went off to a random karaoke bar. The sing-a-long lyrics were in Thai and sometimes in Thai but in the English alphabet. The bar was decorated in a Chinese style with lanterns (see pictures above) but still had a Buddha shrine and pictures of the royal family over the hearth which would have been out of place back home. You wouldn’t have Jesus’s cross on the mantelpiece in a pub.
Most people went to bed, but me and the Scottish couple stayed in the hotel bar (closed) and played cards. It was strangely quiet after Bangkok, with the exception of animal noises and the returning calls of what we think were frogs but are not sure.
Next up: pictures from the elephant centre and days eight and nine.
Previously: days four and five.