Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Woodys Elephant Camp, Chiang Mai

The day after Doi Suthep, Joe and I decided to splash out on a day of Mahout training!! *

We went to Woodys Elephant Camp, and the day included some basic mahout training, elephant riding, feeding, washing, and ended with a swim (with the elephant's).

I know a trip like this can be a contentious issue; it was actually an inability to adequately talk about this very experience that contributed to the fact that I stopped blogging.**

Thankfully I am pleased to be able to say that for the most part we had a very positive experience at Woodys, and felt that the elephant's were treated with care and respect by their trainers. We were very anxious that we would see unhappy, exploited animals, but thankfully we did not find this to be the case at Woodys.

The day started with a lesson on the history of elephant-human relations in the area; the elephants were originally engaged in the logging industry, but when that became more mechanised the elephants found themselves forced to fend for themselves. There were also, the Mahout said, conflicts between the elephants and locals, as the elephants roamed free across the lands, destroying everything in their path; homes, crops, livelihoods.

The Mahout explained the tools used to control the elephants. To this day I sill haven't worked out how I feel about them. On the one hand, quite obviously, they look cruel, and unnecessary. On the other hand, an elephant is a huge, thick skinned animal, with a mind of its own, and having been on the other side of a cow that didn't want to go in the direction we wanted it too, I can appreciate that you might want to be armed with something a little more than a stick.

And of course, who am I to come over and force my western ideals on them, life is different out there, and they live by a different set of rules than we do..

I think my upbringing on the farm has given me a different perspective on the world to many of my contemporaries.. (I'm not saying this is necessarily a good thing, I'm jus sayin. That's pretty much all this post is. A recap of our day, sandwiched in among some conclusionless moral wanderings...)

We were then taught the basic vocabulary needed to train(?) an elephant -HOW = stop, BYEE = forward, BOW = slow-  and were introduced to our newest friends.


We began slow, feeling the elephants bananas/generally trying to avoid being slobbered on (for those of you who have experience of cows, I can safely say that elephants are much much much more slobbery! Hence the suuuper sexy elephant clothes!). We then practiced getting on and off the elephant - no mean feat when you're as vertically challenged as I am! Finally we headed off into the mountains, the elephants stopping to graze at every opportunity!

 elephant watching 

The day ended with a quick wash - of  the elephants, not us! At which point our elephant decided he much preferred Joe to me, and abandoned me standing alone, waist deep in a pool of mucky water, whilst everyone else was carried out of the pond by their elephants!

We just had time for a swim with the elephants, before a very basic shower, and the mini bus back to the city.

It was a strange, conflicting, surreal day, but whatever I might read or think about the elephant tourism in Asia, nothing will ever take away the feel of meeting and getting to know -however briefly- a real life, huge, grey elephant. If I would have told my seven year old self that one day I would do that, I would think I was totally mad.

Much Love,

*elephant trainer training 

** That and that fact that blogging on a tablet is a total faff!

Friday, 21 November 2014

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

Having left the ruins at Sukhothai, we headed north, to the ever popular town of Chiang Mai.

Admittedly our first few days in the city were spent relaxing, and getting over the hangover I sustained on our first night (boy was I hit hard!), but after a while we got off our arses and went out in search of some culture!

High in the hills above Chiang Mai, Wat Phra That is probably one of my favourite temples so far, which is fortunate because it is a little challenging to get to!

We had read that we could take a public songthaew  (a bit like a bus) to the temple for 50bhat, but the internet seemed a little unsure as to where we should get the songthaew from..

For anyone reading this because they actually want to go there, leave the old city by the Chuang Puak gate, cross the road at the Zebra crossing to your left, and there should be a row of Songthaews infront of you - outside the 7eleven. 

You will have to wait untill there are 10 people so its not the fastest way to travel, (and our driver got bored, so said he would take the seven of us that were waiting for 100bhat each, meaning we probably didn't even save that much money, but it was worth a try..)

Once we had managed to find our Songthaew, we then actually had to make the journey!! A half and hour ride on some of the windiest roads I have ever had the misfortune to experience!! And then, once you finally reach the drop off point, you have 304 stairs to contend with before you can enter the temple complex.

Thankfully this place was very much worth it!

Constructed in 1383, on the whims of a wandering elephant*, this temple could not be further from the red bricked ruins of central Thailand.

Everywhere you look there is colour and vibrant stencil work, and gold. I've never seen so much gold. And all of it framed against the bluest sky we'd seen since we got to Thailand.

I know I use the word awesome way way too much, but this place really really was. It took my breath away.

The complex was smaller than some that we saw in Bangkok, but it was filled nonetheless with a huge numbers of shrines, chedis, viharns (prayer halls), bells, and Buddha statues. And flowers; eveywhere you turned there were flowers blossoming in an array of colours.

This temple does also provide excellent views over the city. But sadly on the day of our visit, the city was shrouded in smog, so we were a little underwhelmed . I have heard though that its a pretty spectacular place to watch the sun set. :)

The view 😞

Somg asside, Wat Phra That was spectacular, and I would highly reccomend it to anyone who is spending any time in Chiang Mai.

Much Love,

*In 1368, a piece of the Buddha's shoulderbone, which had been discovered by a monk from Sukhothai, and promised to King Nu Naone, of the Lanna Kingdom (northern thailamd) arived in Chiang Mai.

In Sukhothai the bone had displayed no magical properties, so the people didn't really want it, but on its arrival in the North, it supposedly split into two parts, perfectly replicating itself. The King then commanded one bone to be preserved at Suandok, and the other was placed onto the back of an white elephant, who was freed to rome the mountains as he pleased.

Local legend states that he climbed to the top of Doi Sutep, trumpteded three times, and died. Which the local people took to be a sign of relegious importance, and so Wat Phra That was began, with a huge golden chedi at its center to hold the bone of the Buddha.

Since then, the complex has been expanded and rebuilt many times to create the temple we recognise today, and eventually in the 1930's the various local villages came together to construct a road. Each village was expected to lay their own 1,300 foot section of road, which perhaps explains the poorly planned, wiggly journey..

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Our Time in Sukhothai

Whilst in Sukhothai, we stayed in the New Town, as we found that the selection of hotels and restaurants better than at the Historical Park.

Plotting the days adventures

We stayed at the TR Guesthouse, which was clean, and cheap, but not really anything to write home about (we never did find those bungalows they are named after..).

We weren't especially adventurous whilst in the town, as sadly Joe had come down with a cold, but we enjoyed several breakfasts and some dinner at Pai restaurant, and we loved loved loved the atmosphere at Chopper Bar for drinks.


Well deserved post adventure cocktails 

In terms of getting around the city, the bus station is a little out of town, but it is easy to take a tuk tuk into the center, and there is a Songthaew stop (their equivalent of a public bus) just beyond the 7eleven (if you're walking from the direction of the guesthouse), which charges 30 bhat per person to get to the historical park.

Scenes from the Songthaew 

Much Love,

Monday, 10 November 2014

Sukhothai Historical Park

Sooo, its been a while..

I don't  know weather it's because my family is in France at the moment, or because we're in ex-French colonial Laos, where Boulangaries and crumbling French houses are everywhere, but I've had France on the brain  lately, and as such have spent the spare time I would previously have spent blogging, playing Duolingo.. I've gotten a bit obsessed..

Anyways, back to to Sukhothai.

Sukhothai was the base from which the kindgom of Siam was formed, way back in the thirteenth century, and it remained the capital of the kingdom until the mid 14th century, (when its place was taken by the city of Ayutthaya).

 Unlike Ayutthaya however, Sukhothai had been largely abandoned by the 1400's, so was spared much of the trauma of the 1767 sacking which destroyed its replacement.

On our first day in the Historical Park, we explored some of the temples closest to the songthaew drop off point  (30 bhat Songthaew fare and 150 bhat park entry, plus a little more if you want to bring in a bike -we forwent the bikes on our first day, a decision that was probably a mistake, since walking was almost unbearable in the mid day heat!)

(another) Wat Mahathat

Founded  somewhere  between the late 1200's, and the mid 1300's, this temple became the main place of devotion for the people of Siam, and remains the largest complex in all of Sukhothai.

One of the best preserved sites in the city, the complex consists of the remains of an assembly hall, and a principle Chedi, inside which are beleived to be preserved several relics of the Buddha (some hair, and fragments of neck bone for those of you that are curious). Beyond this, are eight other significant Chedis, and the remains of two hundred smaller Chedis, which serve as grave markers for various monks and lay peoples.

Wat Si Sawai

Constructed before the creation of the kingdom of Siam this temple was originally a Hindu shrine to Vishnu, which was later adapted by the Thai people.

Whilst certainly beautiful in its own right, this temple gets more interesting (to me at least..) when you know a little of it's history.

The site was originally constructed in the Khmer style (like Angkor Wat), and there is still evidence of this in the lower portion of the prangs. The tops however, have been renovated in the Thai style; much of the sculptural stucco work is still visible today. Probably this is just me being a history nerd, but I love the way you can read the history of the area in the building. A place which previously held connotations of life under the Khmer rule, had been adapted to become a symbol of Thai independence.

Three prangs | Modern Devotions 

Wat Tra Phang Ngoen

Overlooking a lake this temple is not nearly as well preserved as its contemporaries  (it was built around the time of Wat Mahathat).

Consisting of a Chedi, a walking Buddha*, and and the footprint of an ordination hall (set on an island on a lake), we didn't feel that there was all that much too see here. That said, it is a really beautiful place to just stop, and take in everything that you've seen; Joe and I spent a good 45 minutes, just sitting in the shade, on the island, surrounded by a lake filled with lilies, just people wathing, and thinking about how lucky we are to be where we were. .

Wat Sa Si

Another lake based temple, this site contaied a central Chedi, a large seated Buddha looking out over the lake, and the remains of an ordination hall.

Whilst mostly unremarkable (bear in mind that we had seen a lot of temples by this point), this complex was undeniably beautiful.

On our second day, we rented bikes (30 bhat, from a shop just outside the main complex), and having breifly revisited several of the temples from the day before, we headed out past the old city walls, in search of Wat Phra Luang.

The route was easy, and took us ten minutes or so out of the city, a really lovely cycle past several ruins, and lots of cows (at one point we even got chased down by a Thai style tractor, a very surreal experience. .)

Wat Phra Luang

Similar in its construction to Wat Si Sawai, though not as well preserved, this temple had previously been recognised as the most important temple in the city, (it was ultimately superseded by Wat Mahathat).

Year of the Horse | Decorative Stucco work 

Like Wat Si Sawai, this complex is also serves as a visual representation of the transition from the Khmer empire to the kingdom of Siam, but sadly by this point, Joe and I were just too hot (me), too ill (him), and too tired (both) to be too interested, so we slowly cycled back, returned the bikes, and headed home for a nap.

We didn't think it was possible, but it seems there really is such a thing as too many ruins..

Wow, that was a wordy one.. Thank you so much if you stuck with me throuh all that history nerd stuff. If ya didn't here's a cheeky summary; we saw old stuff, it looked cool. :)

Much Love,

*The walking Buddha is a Sukhothai invention intended to emphasise the earthly nature of the Buddha; based on images depicting his return to earth from heaven -where he had been sharing his teachings with the reincarnation of his mother- the graceful statue is beleived to represent the Buddha walking with the people, spreading his teachings throughout the lay comunity.