The following day we were headed to Chiang Mai. The bus took longer than expected and didn’t make a single toilet break in the six hour journey. It seems Thai people don’t have bladders or food intolerances but somehow I made it there without disasters. Once we got to Chiang Mai, we got a hair-raising Tuk Tuk to our hostel. The woman driving would go on the wrong side of the road to avoid traffic jams, she under took then cut up another tuk tuk driver whilst screaming at him. Then we came to a small traffic jam and she got out of the vehicle, stormed out to the driver behind us and started screaming at him and rocking his tuk tuk until it nearly fell over. I was convinced we were about to be involved in some kind of road rage incident but once again, we somehow survived.
At the hostel the owner warmly greeted us and sat us down for a good hour and half whilst she showed us maps and discussed trips etc. All the while I was just thinking “JUST LET ME GO TO THE SODDING TOILET” haha. We booked a trip for few days afterwards to go and see the elephants, which I was really excited about! That evening, the owner cooked us a meal along with two Germans who were also staying, which was really kind, and delicious!
The following day we had a lie in, missed breakfast, staggered out into the heat… Couldn’t figure out what to do or find a restaurant so had a pot noodle (they’re much better this side of the globe, honest) and then caught a small bus up to a temple on the top of a hill just outside of Chaing Mai. The bus, which is standard in Thailand, was basically a pick up truck with a roof and two benches inside, one against each window side. It hurtled in and out of the traffic and then up the mountain. Because I could only see out sideways, and had a dodgy tummy anyway, I began to feel horrifically travel sick. It got so bad that I thought I was about to be sick when the bus finally stopped 40 minutes later. I am not exaggerating when I say I was about two minutes away from vomiting. Tom said I was completely grey. I sat on the pavement with my head in my hands for a few minutes, waiting for it to pass, then the driver came out and smeared some peppermint oil onto my nostrils. This was quite alarming, as I didn’t really know what was going on but felt too ill to care. The peppermint helped a bit, and also made my eyes water so much it looked like I was crying. HA.
(The only photo I got of the temple as I felt too lousy.)
Eventually I dragged myself up the 200 or so steps up to the temple. This was in the midday heat and I just felt awful. Anyway, it was good to see the temple I guess. On the way back down the driver let me sit behind her front seat so I was facing forwards and didn’t feel so awful. I also was sat next to an American bloke who told me some horror stories about using a moped in Vietnam and Laos, so Ive decided bikes and mopeds are definitely off the agenda, and that we will just stock up on travel sickness tablets instead!
When we were back in Chiang Mai, we had a wander around the Saturday market. There’s lots of lovely things for sale. Tom wanted some food, but when we went to the food stalls there were lots of mussels and god knows what else covered in flies and strong smells so I found myself with my hat pressed to my mouth and clutching my belly and just had to go and chill at the hostel for a bit. A few hours later, we ventured out and had some eggy chilli soup which I managed to splash into my eye… Not a very good day for me really haha!!
The next day was Sunday, and a fairly lazy one for us. We just chilled out and in the evening went to the Sunday market, which was really nice and arty. Had an early night in preparation for the ELEPHANTS.
I barely slept that night because I was really excited and also really hot. We got up at 6.30 ready for our pick up and had some breakfast in the hostel. We were put in one of my favourite trucks, but as there was only me and Tom on it, I managed to hang my head out of the window and face forward, a bit like when you see a dog hanging out of a car on the motorway. Not feeling sick this time, yay!
We drove for an hour out of Chaing Mai and up into the jungly mountains. When we arrived we were greeted by our guide, and sat down for a briefing. We were delighted to discover it was only Tom and me, so we were eager for lots of elephant time! The Hug Elephant Sanctuary had a pet monkey called Chilli, who was kept chained up to a tree. This made me feel really apprehensive about how the elephants would be treated….
….But it ended up being fine!
We walked up a hill into the forest where we saw the two elephants just chilling. We each had a bag of bananas and we were shown how to feed the elephants. This was just an insane experience. The elephants are so huge! And they instantly recognised the banana bags so their trunk just came straight at you and into the bag. We held the bananas out and they took it in their trunks and popped them in their mouths. The trunk was like something off a Star Wars film! So flexible and snake-like and it was constantly making a sucking noise whilst grappling for a banana. The elephants were so quick, you’d hand them a banana and before you had time to reach for another, their trunk was already in the bag! So funny.
We learnt how the elephant sanctuary was formed. A lot of elephants in Thailand are used for tourist rides, which aren’t good for the animals. It’s a tricky issue, because most of the time, a poor family will own the elephant, which is their only source of income. The solution made by the Hug Elephant Sanctuary is that the elephants and their human families move to the sanctuary, where they are much better looked after, and fed and bathed by the tourists, plus there’s still a source of income for the families.
So, the elephants are used to human company, but are much happier than when used for treks.
(That trunk is just saying “excuse me?? Banana please!)
The whole day felt like such a privilege, and I’m so glad that I got to hang out with the stunning creatures when it was just me and Tom and the trainers. In the afternoon, we were joined by four British lads and we took the elephants for a walk down to a big mud bath. The bath is really cooling for the elephants and they love it! We patted mud onto their skin, which feels like really rough old leather, with wirey hairs all over it. Then we headed to a big pool where the elephants kept lying down under the water and then sticking their trunks up to breath. So funny! It was hilarious when they trumpeted and squirted water everywhere.
All in all, it was a wonderful day!
(Exit stage left, pursued by an elephant)