Momentary Mahout-ing and Paradise-living

July 26, 2016

in Asia, Lauren Raasch, Summer 2016, Thailand

And we’re back from our trip to paradise.

Last weekend was packed with adventure, right now we are all pretty exhausted and have been peeling our sunburns and taking extensive naps to recover from the excitement.

To start off our marathon weekend, we had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit an elephant rescue sanctuary in northern Chiang Rai.  The name of the elephant camp was Anatara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp and it worked in conjugation with Anatara Resort. This resort is an incredibly beautiful resort on the Mekong river that tourists will spend $1,000 plus a night to experience. The elephant aspect of the resort, however, is what I found to be the most beautiful.  If you didn’t know already, the abuse and overuse of elephants for tourist means is extremely prevalent in Thailand.  The elephants and their mahouts will work 12 hours or more a day hauling tourists around on streets or the elephants will be used for labor-intensive logging purposes. The results of these behaviors manifests itself in poor health conditions both physically and mentally for the elephants. What Anatara does to address this issue is, they will rent the elephant from the mahout so that the mahout does not go out and purchase a new elephant.

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In addition to renting the elephant, the resort provides a place for the mahout to live and exceptional care for the elephants themselves. As students we got to experience first-hand how the mahouts manage the elephants and some of the research that takes place at the resort in regards to the elephants’ sensory behavior.

Testing the elephant’s sense of smell

Testing the elephant’s sense of smell

We rode the elephants bare-back, bathed with the elephants, made friends with the mahouts and witnessed two elephants engage in research activities with us. In order to affiliate this experience with microbiology, our professor had us take swabs from different areas on the elephants’ skin in attempts to assess the different types of bacteria that may or may not reside on different areas of an elephant. Anatara resort also provided us with a meal in their main dining space that overlooked the Mekong river and the fields where they let elephants roam. It was absolutely amazing.

After the elephant experience we were all super giddy and did not want the day to end quite yet. So, we took a trip to the golden triangle and got to see the intersection of Burma, Thailand and Laos (we couldn’t cross over to the other side of the river, however, because doing so would unfortunately void our student visas). Right around the golden triangle there was a really neat temple, an opium museum, and a market.

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No one had much energy to continue exploring Friday night so we all called it in early and prepared ourselves for Krabi.

Our plane from Chiang Rai to Bangkok left Saturday morning at 9:45 am.  The flight to Bangkok was around 1 hour, we had a 6-hour layover in Bangkok (where we managed to do the homework that we were inevitable assigned during vacation) and then a second flight from Bangkok to Krabi which was 1 hour long as well. Upon arriving in Krabi we got a bus from the airport (because our group was large enough) to our hotel in Ao Nang and we went out to grab dinner and explore the night life around Ao Nang.

The next day people were in the mood for a beach day.  There are so many small boat stations all around Ao Nang, we were able to go to one that was just down the street from our hotel, Buri Tara, and grab a long boat round trip to infamous Railay Beach for 200 thb (just under 6 USD).

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We spent the day there laying on the beach, getting ocean view massages, swimming in the ocean, drinking fresh fruit smoothies and kayaking.

Kayaking from Railay

Kayaking from Railay

It was so relaxing. One warning about Railay beach is, we experienced jellyfish stings in the shallower parts of the marked off swimming area. Luckily the stings weren’t so severe but 5 people swimming in the same area got brushed by jellyfish tentacles. What to do if you get stung by a jellyfish: scrape the remaining tentacle cells off of you using a credit card, wash it off with sea water and locate vinegar to pour on the affected area. One of the masseuses on the beach happened to have some vinegar for us.

Although Railay was pretty, the other beach we visited (Phra Nang) was our favorite. Phra Nang beach is more isolated than Railay and it is the same distance/price to get there from the mainland by longboat. The beaches are less rocky, the sand is not as crowded, there is a small island near-by that you can swim to, there are caves that you can look at and a whole National Park behind the resorts where you can rock climb for free to the Phra Nang View point (bring climbing shoes for this though, they aren’t provided). Paid rock climbing here looks incredible as well, but it did not look to be too beginner friendly.

Phra Nang Beach

Phra Nang Beach

One downside of Phra Nang beach was that it was hard to find food to eat.  The only option that there was for us was either a very expensive resort restaurant or a longboat selling street food on the ocean.  The longboat-turned-food stand was the way to go.

The one day that is unaccounted for so far we spent on a private speedboat touring the islands in the Andaman Sea around the coast of Krabi. I can see how it would be difficult to imagine a group of public school college kids being able to afford that but remember: we are in Thailand and amongst us are some good barterers. We managed to get the speedboat tour from 10:00 am-5:00 pm with snorkeling, waters, fruit and lunch included for under 25 USD a person.

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We made stops at Phi Phi Island, Monkey Island, a few Lagoons and countless other docking sights where we were free to explore and rest at our own leisure. The highlight of the speedboat tour was the snorkeling part, we discovered that the fish thoroughly enjoy watermelon and would swarm us if we held a piece in the water.

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If you look closely you can see the fish swarming the watermelon!

Getting home from Krabi was just about as time consuming as the initial trip out there. But, again, it gave us time to read and work on stuff that was due the next day in class. Getting home on Wednesday and going back to school Thursday morning did not leave us much time to study for our exams on Friday but we all had a collective cram session Thursday day/evening and came out of our exams intact (for the most part).

Cimelio coffee shop, former community center

Cimelio coffee shop, former community center

We spent this weekend exploring Chiang Rai and planning an excursion for next weekend. Saturday day we spent the morning at a really neat community center-turned-coffee shop and the day time exploring caves and visiting the Monkey Temple, a market and a really neat art gallery.  The monkey temple was one of the coolest things I have seen on this trip.  For 20 thb you can buy peanuts to give to the monkeys that are roaming about the grounds of the temple.

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The monkeys will come right up to you and take the peanut out of your hand. There were so many of them it was surreal.  At the same temple there was a really neat koi/catfish pond teeming with fish that you could feed as well.

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We also took an adventure up a very steep Naga-lined staircase and discovered a cave at the top along with a beautiful scenic over-look of the city

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After the temple we ventured to the border of Burma once again and visited an historical market.  The market was along the infamous silk road and has existed for years.  It was an extensive outdoor market with the best selection of knock-off brands I have seen yet in Thailand. I managed to pick up a pair of convincing Ray Bans, a Fjallraven Kanken backpack and a North Face raincoat all for under 30 USD.

Market on the border

Market on the border

And the day is not over yet! Ajaan Anthony (who is responsible for this excursion packed day) took us to a really neat art gallery with some art work from Thawan Duchanee (the Black House artist). After the art gallery we got a few minutes to re-cooperate and change for the evening. The same busses that toured us around all day dropped us off at the walking street downtown Chiang Rai where they have a large market (this walking street was even better than the one in Chiang Mai, it was much less touristy).  A friend and I split a full fish that we bought roasting over a spigot in the middle of the market, it was bony but delicious nonetheless.

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After watching Chalermchai’s clock-tower strike 10 and change colors (the golden clock tower featured in my previous post “Hit the Ground Running”) we decided to head back and crash after our incredibly eventful day.

Today everyone is taking it easy, hence why I am blogging. I finally have a chance to breathe and catch up on a bunch of homework in preparation for this week. Looking forward, 10 of us have plans to catch a plane to Bangkok this upcoming Friday night where Ajaan Anthony arranged a private tour of the massive street market in Bangkok for us. The group split up due to conflicting living arrangement ideas and the people I am sticking with decided to snag a hostel in the middle of town. But until Friday, we will be laboring away on our papers and lab reports so we can properly enjoy our trip to Thailand’s epicenter.

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