Fights, Elephants and Motorbikes
12.03.2012 - 16.03.2012 34 °C
We decided to venture out one evening to take Megan and Phil to a Muay Thai fight – it was a bit disappointing actually compared to the one we had seen in Bangkok. The arena was in the centre of a pub area and the fights weren’t that great. There were a couple of child fights (around 10 years old) and a few miss matched bigger fights.
The highlight though was the comedy ‘special fight’ halfway through which consisted of 6 blindfolded fighters being let loose on each other in the ring for 5 minutes! It was hilarious as they all spun around wildly, some doing a windmill tactic, others just thumping the air until they felt something solid then opening up a can of whoop ass on what was frequently either the corner of the ring or the ref! It was total chaos!
By the end we were all laughing out loud and when they came round for donations we couldn't help but drop a few Baht in their boxes. The final fight was also a good end to the night as a rather large Australian boxer knocked seven shades of shite out of a tubby Thai guy. Eventually hitting him in the leg so hard that the Thai guy went straight to the floor like a felled tree, unable to stand back up!
At the end of the last fight the four of us went back to the hotel as the next day we all had a date with an elephant!
Elephant Nature Park
After hearing conflicting reports on the elephant trekking tours and homestays, we decided to spend our money on a visit to an elephant sanctuary about 1.5 hours outside of Chiang Mai. The lady who set it up has won several awards for her dedication to rescuing neglected working elephants from Thailand and Burma*.
- Logging with elephants was made illegal in Thailand in the 80s but still continues until today in Burma. She has saved a total of 35 elephants, several who had broken feet, legs and hips from being overworked, or were made blind by their owners stabbing them in the face or shooting them with slingshots to force them to work harder. A few had even lost legs from stepping on land mines, again mostly in Burma.
When we arrived it was great to see the Nature Parks layout was so huge and set in an incredibly beautiful valley. The elephants can roam around the entire valley and there was even a lovely clean river running through the middle of it. Most of the elephants are free to wander as they please, they even break into the neighbouring farmer’s orchards every now and then and steal his fruit! They always come back to the sanctuary though as they know it is a safe place for them and that they will be fed twice a day by the tourists and volunteers who work there.
It was explained that there are a handful of particularly friendly elephants who we could get up close with to practice the best way to feed them. The guide took our group down the gangway and into the fields so we could walk amongst them. Although they are gentle and majestic creatures it is still very intimidating standing beside an animal that weighs over 3 tons and towers metres over you. It was a lot more frightening then we had imagined!
We spent a couple of hours placing huge bunches of bananas into their trunks which they would toss into their mouths like we would with peanuts, chew on for a few seconds then wave their trunks for more!
After a while you could sense how gentle they were and we really enjoyed walking with them and even found one who loved a good scratch on her back...
We also met a poor elephant who had her ankle broken while logging,
then was sold to someone who tried to use her for breeding. They do this by tying them up so they can not move and then letting the bull elephant jump all over her. This unfortunately broke her hip so she was sold again to a new owner. This owner realised she was quite deformed because of her injuries and so decided she would make a great begging elephant. Walking the streets of Chaing Mai selling fruit and begging money from tourists. Eventually she was rescued by the sanctuary and is apparently not in pain any more. She was my favourite of the whole day. Her determination never to give up finaly led her to a safe place where she has now made a very close friend in another elephant who has been blinded by sling shots. They are never more than a few feet away from each other and they wandered over to us to inspect my camera.
After the practice feeding was over the group was led around to see some of the other elephants. Some were chained up temporarily as they were ill or awaiting a vet to arrive, but this we were assured by the guide was the only time they are tethered and it’s for their own safety.
It was then feeding time for the other elephants in the park. This is done by a team of volunteers and tourists who gather at the top of a raised platform where the elephants stick their heads over and await their allocated basket of food. It was really fun placing the fruit in their trunks and watching them all chow down and immediately ask for more by waving their trunks at you.
Feeding time over for the elephants, it was now our turn to be fed. The nature park put on a fantastic spread of curries, fried veg, potatoes, salad – it was all lovely and everyone ate far too much!
Feeling rather like elephants ourselves it was now time to change into some different clothes that we would be using while bathing the elephants. I had been looking forward to this part all day and as we were led down into the river we were given buckets and told to wait for the arrival of our first dirty customer.
Several elephants appeared over the grassy hill and made their way into the river and stood completely still, knee deep in water and waiting for their free bath. All of us threw buckets of water over them (and each other!) until they were super clean. Each elephant would decide when they were clean enough and would turn around and head back into the fields, making way for the next one.
It was great fun, a real highlight of the day and a great way to keep cool in the heat of the afternoon!
When all of the friendly elephants had been bathed it was then time for us to take to the raised platform ready to watch the naughty ones go in the river with their Mahouts. The naughtiest one is called HOPE and wears a bell so that you can hear when he is coming. Just as well because he ran into the lake at full steam and started rolling about like a playful teenager with only his trainer close by, good thing we had been told to leave or there would have been a few tourist pancakes!
He even tried spraying us all on the platform above using his trunk full of water!
We were then allowed back down when the danger of crushing had moved on and were lucky enough to get a snog from a young female elephant! She sucked on your face with her trunk, it was soo funny everybody couldn't help but laugh!
All of the group then got to sit and watch them all scratching and playing in the mud pit for a while (elephants don’t seem to want to be clean for long!).
After a while we were led back up to the main building and asked to go to a movie room where we could watch a video on how the elephants are trained. It is a horrific and barbaric ritual and left me feeling quite sick that a country who once held this wonderful creature in such high regard now treats them worse than cattle.
Video over (thank god) it was feeding time again (every time is feeding time when you’re an elephant!) and we again helped them get their daily intake of 500 a day!
It was a fantastic day and although expensive we all looked at it as the best money we had spent for a long time. The chance to get so close to these magnificent animals coupled with the feeling that your money had actually helped them was a really good way to spend our time.
That night we all fancied a bit of chang so went out for a party in the town. Phil found a really funky jazz club with a live band playing classic tracks so we spent a bit of time on there before heading to a dancey bar for a bit more modern stuff. The girls went home about midnight but Phil and I stayed out until about 5am partying until all the bars had just about closed.
Next day was a quiet one, trying to save some money after our expensive last few days. I slept in after my late night and watched a movie while Jayne went to the station to book our train tickets to take us back to Bangkok. The plan was to spend our last few weeks on a lovely island somewhere south, so Bangkok was an essential gateway.
Train tickets bought we planned with Phil & Megan to get motorbikes tomorrow to explore the nearby mountains.
Getting up in the morning and filling ourselves with fruit shakes from the lovely lady down the road, we waited for our chariots to arrive. Mine turned out to be a slightly well used manual Honda and Phil got a newer auto one. Although my helmet was by far the best as it had a rasta design and said reggae all over it, yeah mon!
Off we drove armed only with a rough map someone had drawn that we found on the internet and headed towards the surrounding hills. The roads were surprisingly fantastic! They had been recently resurfaced and we had fantastic views as we followed them, winding their way up into the hills towards the 1700 metre peak.
Along the way we stopped at a couple of viewpoints to get some great views of Chiang Mai.
On our hand drawn map there was something scribbled about a dirt road leading to a temple. So when we thought we had found the right dirt track we bumped our way along it and eventually came across the temple. It was very run down and quite small
so after a brief stop we continued on the main road.
The road came to a fork and part was blocked to vehicles so parking the bikes up we jumped the barrier and started walking to the summit. Eventually we got there after a half hour or so walk, there was not really any view to speak of, but it was a nice walk all the same.
Deciding we were both low on fuel we devised a game of seeing who could roll down the hill the fastest without ever turning on the engine. It was great fun, it actually reminded me of being a kid and building a go cart. I rolled all the way trying to keep speed up through the corners and break as little as possible, I only had to use the power once to go around a bus then it was back to coasting. I must have averaged around 60kmh which is impressive without an engine!
Back in town Phil and I dropped off the girls and went for a burn around the town. The old area of Chiang Mai we were in is surrounded by a moat and has a one way road going all the way around it. It is about 2km x 2km and burning around it weaving in and out of traffic felt like a level off of Mario Cart. I was waiting for Phil to chuck a banana at me or having to dodge a spinning giant shell! After about 5 laps my remaining fuel was exhausted so we headed back to the pits sorry hotel to park up.
The rest of the night we played rain worms again followed by Yaatzee into the early hours fuelled only by Chang.
Last day in Chiang Mai
Popped to Tesco this morning to get some food for our long journey ahead and then returned the bikes. Jayne shopped for curry making ingredients that we thought might be hard to find at home and I had a massage that was really great, but slightly painful to as she offered me a free back click and I stupidly accepted.
A sad goodbye was said to Phil and Megan – we have had a great time with them and were really sad to go our separate ways.
Flagging down a bus/van we managed to get to the train station with 10 mins to spare and this time found ourselves in a top bunk with 2 local ladies below us.
It was actually quite comfy as we were led across the width of the train this time and felt much less motion from the carriage. It again felt very safe so we ate some of our food and read books as the veil of darkness was pulled across the carriage window. I would have had a great nights sleep if it hadn't been for me having to ignore a bunch of ignorant Russians who insisted on watching a film on their laptop at full volume long into the night!