Month: July 2018
In the mountains of Northern Thailand is the beautiful city of Chiang Mai. It is overflowing with artists, Buddhist Temples and quaint shops and restaurants. The Old City area still displays remains of walls and moats from its history as a cultural and religious center. Since the pace was considerably slower than Bangkok, we were able to relax, explore and take it all in.
We met an artist from Sweden, who has amazing talent in jewelry making. Watching him work and catching a glimpse of the passion he feels for creativity, was inspiring. He displayed a sign which caught my eye and has stuck with me since, “took me a long time to become young.” As I thought about it during the day I decided that perhaps this is best achieved by not taking ourselves too seriously, not being afraid to get lost and loving freely.
The first temple we visited was Wat Chedi Luang, a Buddhist Temple in the heart of the Old City.
On the grounds are several structures, each holding sacred treasures. Some of the structures date back to the 14th century, and continue to stand tall, carrying tears and prayers of faithful followers, each brick faithfully, firmly placed and reaching heavenward.
With sarongs tied around our waists and naked feet, we climbed the steps to Chedi Luang, greeted by proud intricate serpents on either side.
The interior was carpeted in red and a tall gold plated statue of Bodhisattva with right hand raised, met us in the entry. It symbolizes those seeking enlightenment and is to motivate all to be compassionate and to encourage others to do the same.
The impressive interior with tall red ceilings and large round columns, houses the standing Buddha, known as Phra Chao Attarot. This Buddha dates from the 14th century at the time of King Saen Muang Ma.
Many knelt or sat in prayer , never dishonoring Buddha by pointing their feet in his direction.
Between the exterior walls and the pillars, hung hundreds of golden prayer flags from the ceiling. These prayers of peace, compassion, strength and wisdom are believed to blow in the breeze to spread good will and compassion into all space.
We continued exploring the grounds, periodically passing by silent young monks, called Nen or Samanera, who reverently wander, seeking opportunity for meditation.
In yet another building on the premises is a 12 ft tall Jade statue of Naga Kanya, with 5 snake heads rising up behind. The cobras are sheltering the Buddha while meditating, protecting him from the elements like rain and storm. It is believed that four weeks after Buddha began meditating under the Bodhi tree, the sky darkened for seven days and it rained heavily. Mucilanda, the king of serpents, emerged from the earth and protected Buddha with his hood.
A large area closed in on three side, with pillars out front, housed a 25ft long reclining Buddha. It represented the historical Shakyamuni Buddha during his last illness, shortly before he entered the Parinivana. He is seen lying on his right side, facing west, with his head supported by his right hand.
Several other structures contained further statues of Buddha, as well as wax figures of Buddhist monks – each with incredibly detailed carving and painting.
The grounds were clean, quiet and well manicured, allowing all who entered, the opportunity to find the peace they seek in a beautiful environment. Though I am not Buddhist, I am impressed with their dedication and love to their beliefs.
We walked several miles on our first day in Chiang Mai, learning, admiring and enjoying the experience. Once evening came our feet were tired and we were anxious to lay down and think about all we had seen and learned. After some delicious street food in the form of fresh fruit and meat skewers (assuming it was pork), we lay to rest in the air conditioned hostel room, Mycah and Aidan in one queen sized bed and Emma and I in the other, and fell fast asleep after “I love you’s “ and “goodnights.”
After traveling all day from Phuket, we arrived in Bangkok around sunset, checked into our hostel and went for a walk. The humidity filled our lungs and lay on our skin like a fine mist. Vendors had closed up for the night, yet energy from the day could still be felt. A large rat hurried across the alley way, cheeks full of treasures, and a middle aged man lay sleeping in the doorway of an abandoned building. Many homes like these, lined the streets – kitchens spilling out onto the sidewalks for lack of room inside.
Morning came quickly, and with it, an eagerness to explore and feel the pulse of the city. Just outside our hostel, a lady sat resting, taking a break from her heavy load.
The streets smelled of curry, fresh noodles and frying bananas.
We passed through the Chatuchak market, where the creatures and I drank freshly squeezed fruit juice…Emma tried corn (because corn is considered a fruit here), I had watermelon, Aidan had guava and Mycah had orange. All jolly delicious and oh so fresh!
Market stalls were filled with everything one can imagine…as usual, the creatures and I were instantly drawn to the books. Though we didn’t buy any, we had a blast and a half sorting through stacks where fingers had once paged, their readers completely intoxicated with interest…or boredom, each one having it’s own personal story to tell in addition to the words in its pages.
Some stores overflowed with bright collections of brass,
and others of things that many here see as treasures and good luck charms for homes and businesses.
It’s always interesting to discover what people in different countries much on as snacks. In Bangkok, some popular items are peanuts, corn and sweet potatoes, washed down with the delicious traditional Thai tea.
Also shark fin soup and bird nest soup, both of which we will never taste.
Of course there’s always stinky Durian, the fruit that ‘tastes like heaven but smells like hell.”
Our personal favorites are fried bananas,
and fresh fruits.
Pomegranates are plentiful and the juice is so delicious.
As evening approached, vendors with more ‘dinner like’ menus began setting up, which brought on an entirely new buffet of goodies. Dried Squid anyone?
Small cooking areas line the streets and alley ways, and smell of vegetable soup, dim sum and grilled fish and meat, mix with the already thick aromas of fresh cut pineapple, lime and lemongrass.
On our second day we ventured into Chinatown, which was a fascinating congested craziness of cars, tuktuks and people – all of which have no personal bubble. The closer the better. While walking around we walked passed our truck, noticed we had a lock on the tire for parking in the wrong spot – even though we saw no signs, and ignored it all and continued exploring. We figured we had a convenient spot and what was done was done and we would deal with it later.
I suggested that we find some bolt cutters or a little saw and remove it ourselves but the creatures wouldn’t hear of it for some reason. After lunch, further exploring, a pleasant tuktuk ride to the police station and 700 baht ($25) later, we were free once again.
Streets and sidewalks overflow with people involved in all sorts of busy city like activity, like collecting ice outside restaurants,
shopping for ingredients for the days meals,
preparing fish to sell on the street,
and later, selling things on hooks with potent smells which were neither pleasant nor unpleasant – just a warm dinner kind of smell.
Bangkok is a wonderful city with a smorgasbord of things to see, smell and taste. People are happy and happy to see you. They love to try their English and wait eagerly for positive response.
What an adventure!
I LOVE elephants! As a family, we love elephants. Maybe it’s because I’m from Africa and their blood runs through my veins, maybe it’s because they stir up fond memories of childhood or maybe it’s because they are my brothers favorite animal and it’s just one more connection I have with him, but no matter the reason, I love to be in their presence.
We have avoided all touristy elephant activities here in Thailand, because they are so abused and unhappy. Constantly chained, hit with sharp hooks till they bleed, forced to give rides in the heat and on the hot roads, and often stand for hours – absolutely bored out of their minds.
Mahouts are elephant trainers, who train elephants for the sake of profit, and their technique is to beat them into submission. A bullhook is the weapon of choice, and is inserted into the delicate skin around the ears. We’ve also seen many puncture wounds on their foreheads and faces from being scraped and stabbed into submission. Thailand uses twice as many elephants for tourism than any other country, and in 2016, about 3000 elephants were observed and only 200 of them were found to be in healthy conditions and environment.
As a family, we decided that even though we love these beautiful pachyderms, we would not support this cruelty in any form. I told Danny that if ever he received a phonemail saying I was in jail, it would be because I snuck out in the night with some bolt cutters and set them all free.
We were so excited to read about an elephant retirement park, where a group has made it their mission to purchase/beg for/steal abused elephants, and provide for them a place where they can live freely, be loved, and spend their days being elephants…eating, bathing, sleeping, being social with each other and pooping. We were surprised to find that this park is only 10 minutes from our house, and just had to go visit!
Elephant Retirement Park Phuket is a magical place! (When visiting make sure you go to this exact park with this exact name because many places call themselves sanctuaries but they are not) Their policies in their treatment of the elephants is extremely strict, allowing absolutely no riding, chaining or beating of any kind. A veterinarian whose job I covet, is there every day, and tourists and volunteers can pay to come spend time with the elephants, feeding, bathing and walking along side them, and all profits go to their needs and care. Because these elephants were once trained to be puppets for their mahouts, they are all tame and friendly and would not survive if set back out into the wild. This one took a liking to Danny and kissed him on the cheek.
After arriving at the Park, we walked around and got to know each of the 9 elephants. They do have a loose rope around their necks, but it does not hurt them in any way and is gently used only when they need to lead them places in emergencies etc. One of the elephants is old and completely blind and needs to be guided wherever she goes. Only one out of the 9 elephants was in a pen, because she was sick and was being closely monitored and cared for.
Danny and I adopted another daughter while there…her name is Jarjar, and she is such a sweetheart. Her father is the park manager and she was our ‘tour guide’ for the day.
After making friends with our new elephant family, we began preparing their lunch, which consisted of finger bananas (skin on),
as well as balls of rice mixed with bananas and mangoes. The twins were elbow deep in the mixture!
The balls looked and smelled so appetizing so I tasted one (much to the creatures dismay) and found it to be quite delicious.
I think I could enjoy being an elephant.
We carried the food to the elephants and they were happy to oblige and relieve us of our loads.
It’s easy to recognize personality in these guys – some being more mischievous than others – some a little more shy. One thing they had in common though, was their love for food! One banana at a time was not an option. Three or four rolled up in their cute little big trunks was about right.
They love to be hugged, patted and stroked, and we gave them all the love we could and received plenty in return.
After feeding time we watched as cute little baby ‘Pinky’ came to play in the water from a hose with her Momma. She is quite a handful and full of energy and mischief – constantly trying to pull out tent pegs and and hoses.
If I could somehow have an elephant as a support animal I’d take it everywhere with me on adventures around the world! I can just imagine one on scuba gear and on airplane and boat rides.
The fun really began when we gave the elephants mud baths. They LOVE mud baths, and we did too. Note that they are not being restrained or tied up – just standing willingly, and enjoying every second of it.
I had fun writing ‘Wash me” on an elephants butt! Check that off my bucket list!
After a mud fight with the locals, we were thoroughly muddy and were finally ready to head to the water hole…luckily this one didn’t have hippo’s and crocs in it!!
There’s not much more exhilarating than bathing with an elephant. They are playful, love to lift their trunks and splash in the water, and love to be scrubbed with brushes.
These Asian elephants are much smaller than African elephants, and also have considerably smaller ears. Asian elephants weigh on average about 6 tons, where as the African elephants average 9 tons.
Elephant skin is about one inch thick, so we didn’t have to worry about scrubbing too hard and hurting them.
We spent quite some time cleaning these Sweethearts,
they rolled in the sand!
What a beautiful, peaceful setting!
Though I loved every part of our time there, and will be returning to volunteer and learn all I can, the most wonderful part, was knowing that my brother, the elephant lover that he is, was right by my side the entire time.
Thailand is well known for it’s many gorgeous islands, or ‘Koh’, as the Thai pronounce it. We figured we’d hop on a high speed power boat and check out 5 more of them.
Our first stop was Hong Island.
Koh Hong is part of the National Marine Park and we reached it within about 20 minutes after leaving Ao Nang here in Phuket. We snorkeled around, surrounded by rocky outcroppings and dense jungle, and were the proud owners of jelly fish stings all over our bodies.
Since we are seasoned sailors, we’ll take a little sting with our snorkel any day and still have smiles on our faces!
Since the rainy season is upon us, the visibility wasn’t great, but it felt so good to be in the beautiful water surrounded by breathtaking scenery – it is, after all, our natural habitat.
Our next stop was a fascinating island called Koh Panyee.
The interesting thing about this place is that it’s a floating island, with a little under 1500 villagers who live there permanently. The island consists of hundreds of huts, restaurants, houses and shacks, all built on stilts, with vertical limestone cliffs as a dramatic backdrop.
The village has its own mosque, school and health center, and the sole industry once was fishing and now half the locals service the overflowing tourism industry.
Pearl farming has become another huge source of income for this Muslim village, and as we strolled through the maze of shops and wooden corridors and docks, we were met by hundreds of store owners offering beautiful strands in all shades of white, cream, pink, blue, grey and green. Mycah especially took a liking to the pink.
We came across a sign, listing Panyee Island Rules, and number 3 especially caught our eye. “Do not bring alcohol to Koypanyee. If (so) the violation is (fine) 1 goat and 5,000 baht’ ($150). I can only assume that a goat would be instantly sacrificed and prepared for consumption, because I didn’t see a single blade of grass on the entire island.
Many homes were extremely run down, but the overall feel was one of happiness and love.
I’d love to return to Panyee and spend an entire day photographing its quaint personality and people.
Our third stop was Khao Phing Kan, otherwise known as James Bond Island.
It is known as James Bond Island because it was one of the locations for the filming of the 1974 James Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun.
We enjoyed climbing around small caves, meandering through limestone pillars and stalactites and stalagmites.
The gorgeous rock formations are sprinkled with prickly pear cactus, shrubs, grasses and evergreens.
We once again boarded our trusty vessel, and made our way to our next location…
Phang Nga Bay is also known as Phang Nga National Park, and is sprawling with interesting rock formations and mangrove forests, and is a kayakers playground. I lay resting my back up against Danny, and enjoyed the relaxing ride…
We gently glided through caves that shaded us from the heat of the day, and under low lying entryways that open up into big beautiful limestone chimneys. Just as we exited a huge cave, a fruit boat was bobbing about, selling fresh local fruit to all who were interested.
The mangrove forest was magical with its raised roots, beautiful reflections and abundant life.
Birds flew in and out of muds nests and rock hideaways, reef fish scattered below us and ambulatory fish (mudskippers) perched on tree limbs as we passed by, then excitedly scuttled to the water and disappeared into the darkness below.
Our final stop in the late afternoon was by an Island called Panak.
Have you ever taken drenched sand at the beach and let it drip through your hand to create a funky Dr Seuss looking castle? Koh Panak reminded me of those castles…like sand had dripped, dried, fossilized, freezing in time.
I could imagine that at any moment the sun would melt the dripping masses and we’d see them calve like glaciers into the ocean.
What a fascinating place! I know that if we had access to a boat that we could navigate on our own here, we would be island hopping 24/7. There are an endless buffet of places to explore, and they are all so incredibly beautiful!