Tag Archives: ayutthaya

Spay Camp and Elephants

Part of what the Animal Shelter does here, aside from the everyday free care and treatment of animals, is to go to neighboring villages and monasteries to spay and neuter dogs and cats of the area.  These spay camps (as we call them) are great opportunities not only to get a day out and away from the everyday tasks of running a shelter, but also to better the community so animal populations don’t run amok and also provides a way for surrounding villages to get to know who we (the animal shelter) are so they can feel more confident about coming to us if ever needed.

Dr. Mays set up several camps for us, two running on consecutive days and then two more for the following week.  Though I have had experience in basic horse care/vet skills, dogs and cats are a different beast.  I had no experience in giving shots, IVs, prepping animals for surgery, etc.  The spay camp I attended quickly changed all that very quickly for me however 🙂

We set off around 10 to a nearby monastery about 30 or so kilometers away (myself, Jo, Nyzil and J. (the vets)) and arrived about a half hour later to an absolutely serene and beautifully peaceful monastery nestled off the road among gentle slopes and lush vegetation.  We were greeted by residents of the monastery and were shown to a large covered car port where we began to set up two tables for surgery.  Since this was my first go round with spays, I was mainly just taking instruction on how to set up the table and basically aped Jo (who is well seasoned with spay camps) asking about a trillion questions along the way.

I was paired with J., the newest vet on the team, and Jo was with Nyzil.  I will admit I was at first a bit reluctant about how J. and I would work as a team because we had several miscommunications that led to many frustrations in times before.  I don’t know what it was exactly that happened however in the first few minutes of setting up the camp.  To this day I still can’t pin it exactly.  But what I do know is that as the table was set and the first two cats were starting to doze into a deep sleep in preparation for the surgery, something just clicked with J. and I.  It wasn’t spoken, it just happened and suddenly I began to understand how she thought and worked.

She taught me how to shave the cats, how to give injections, tricks on how to tell whether the animal was starting to come out of their slumber, how to check the heart rate and much more.  We worked fabulously together and by the end of the day, after a lovely lunch provided to us by the monastery residents, we had banged out 8 cat spays.  Well, in all honesty one of the cats whom we tagged as being female turned out to be male after failing to find the uterus!  Hey now, we all make mistakes!  No judging!! 😉

We finished about 3pm, packed up and headed out.  Since it was still relatively early and we had not received any news from the shelter about needing to return immediately, we decided to check out the Khao Laem National Park, just a few kilometers down the road.  The park boasts a nature trail several kilometers long with 9 different waterfalls and a rather impressively large tree.  We all set off for the hike and crossed the river about 250 meters in to see the tree, but when we crossed back over, Jo broke one of her flip-flops making it basically impossible for us to hike any further.  We instead opted to swim in the river for a bit then made our way back to the car.  The day was still young however so we decided to head off to a village Nyzil knew about that had elephants!

The turning for the village was only about 10km from Sangkhlaburi, but getting to the village required quite a bit of off-roading and a few minutes of scary grounds to drive across.  The dirt road kept splitting and though Nyzil was navigating, every now and again he’d say out loud “I’m not sure this is the right way because we are supposed to be heading toward the mountains”, lol!!

Luckily he did get us to the right place and my oh my, what a beautiful little village it was!!  Nestled at the base of a mountain, across the river on a rather shady yet sturdy bamboo bridge lay a magnificent quiet little community full of life of all kinds.  Nyzil had been there before on a previous spay camp and even recognized several of the dogs he’d operated on by the little notches left in their ears.  No one in the village spoke even a word of english and of course none of us knew the word for elephant in Thai, so we were left to a game of charades.  Correction: we actually left the game of charades to Nyzil who proceeded to try to act out what an elephant looked like to the locals all while repeating the word “elephant?”.  It was seriously quite amusing to watch and I’m sure the villagers were probably playing dumb for a bit just to keep watching him make impressions, lol!!

We finally found one villager who acquiesced to knowing what we were trying to get to and he led us the way.  We walked through a rubber plantation…  Here I have to stop because I had no idea that rubber is made from tree sap!!!  There were hundreds of trees lined and tapped with a little collection basket for the sap and when I was told it was a rubber plantation, I just kept repeating “rubber???  As in rubber tires??” because I’d just no idea that’s where rubber came from.  I just assumed it was all a petrochemical production!  Just goes to show you learn something new every day:)

Moving on, we walked past the rubber plantation following the sound of a distant bell along a wee path.  Our guide then started off the path through the field to which Jo wasn’t able to walk on (no shoes) so she headed on the path just to explore while myself, Nyzil and J. followed our guide.

The sound of the bell grew louder and louder and a few minutes later, up ahead in the bushes enjoying a meal of various natural vegetation stood Moosa!!  What an absolutely BEAUTIFUL creature!!!  She wasn’t scared of humans as she worked in the village but when not working she had the run of the land, going where she pleased and had only a rope with a bell around he neck so she could be found when needed.

I had never touched an elephant before.  Had only fed them cucumbers and other veggies when in Ayutthaya.  This was how I’d wanted to experience them though.  In the wild, free from cages and tourists, no forced tricks or contraptions on her back to give tourists rides, no sticks with sharp hooks at the end to make her go one way or another, simply living free.  I couldn’t stop petting her and telling her how beautiful she was!!  We spent probably a good half hour with her as she continued to nibble then said our goodbyes and headed back to the path.  Interestingly enough our timing was just right as Jo was also returning from her walk along the path and she too had spotted the other elephant of the village down the way.

The sun was starting to set at this point and we were all getting hungry, so we set off for another spot along the way back to Sangkhlaburi for some dinner.  The Nature Club, a hotel and activities center only about 5km from the town was where we chose to stop.  It too is set in a beautiful location surrounded by mountains and a rather large lake.  We had a few drinks and food, then headed home.  The days activities and bonding that occurred throughout the day between the four of us was unexpected but absolutely amazing.  That day is now one of my fondest memories of Thailand.  It was truely a day I think we all came away feeling absolutely blessed and thankful.

On to The “Bum Gun”

Back to Thailand

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The Death Railway

Taking the advice of the owner of the Baan Are Gong Homestay, I headed to Kanchanaburi after several lovely days in Ayutthaya.  I opted to take the mini-bus there, which cost considerably more than the local bus, but it got us all there (other travelers included) in a fraction of the time.  By “considerably more” I mean it cost $12, which is only about $8 more than what the local bus would have cost, so really it was a teeny investment to save potentially an entire day of being on the road.

Along the way I couldn’t help but see so many similarities in the terrain that reminded me of Florida.  Were it not for passing the occasional Wat (Temple) here and there, and of course stores with names written in Thai, I would have seriously thought I was back in the Sunshine State.

Sunshine State???
Sunshine State???

After about 3 hours (with a 10 minute break half-way) we arrived in Kanchanaburi.  Kanchanaburi (among other things) is home to the Bridge on the River Kwai (part of the “Death Railway”), a war museum, and several war cemeteries.  Most people have heard of The Bridge on the River Kwai because of the novel “The Bridge over the River Kwai” by Pierre Boulle published over 60 years ago now.  Though I have read the book a LONG time ago, the significance and history never really hit me until I was standing on the ground where it all happened.  You read in school about the World Wars and all the countries involved, but it just doesn’t make quite the same impact on paper.

The Railway (which the bridge is part of) runs from Bangkok to Burma (now Myanmar) and was built by the Empire of Japan in 1943 using slaves for its construction.  Slaves consisted of civilian Asians and Prisoners of War (POWs) from the Netherlands, England, Australia, America, New Zealand and Canada.  Over 100,000 slaves, just shy of 50% of the original population working on the railway, died during the project, hence it came to be known as “The Death Railway”.

Today the railway still exists and it even still runs.  Additions to Kanchanaburi due to the railway construction includes a War Cemetery dedicated to the almost 7,000 Allied prisoners who lost their lives during the project and a separate monument erected by the Japanese Army in February 1944 in honor of those who died.  Once a year in March, voluntary members of the Japanese community in Thailand assemble there for a memorial ceremony to honor those who perished.  So many lives lost again in cruel and unnecessary ways for the advancement and power of others.

There are two “main” roads in Kanchanaburi, one runs right through the center of the city providing easy in and out access and is lined with every possible business imaginable.  The second meets with the first, but veers off toward the River and runs parallel to it.  It’s the second road that dead ends at the Bridge and along this long road is where the majority of hostels, bars, Thai massage shops, and restaurants can be found.  Or in other words, it’s the main tourist strip.  Bars are a dime a dozen with several hanging signs that boast they will get you drunk for only 10 baht (about $.30).  Though I was actually smart and DIDN’T wander in myself to see if that claim was legit, I have heard from several others that yes, yes the advertisement is NOT false, lol!!

I stayed in a little hostel called the Green View Hostel right in the center of tourist-ville, but it was tucked back just enough off the road to drown out all the street noise.  For 200 baht a night I got a very large and clean private room with a private bathroom (SCORE!!!) surrounded by lush beautiful foliage.  I was practically the only one staying there during the 4 nights I was there and honestly it’s beyond me as to why because the place was absolutely lovely!!  I wouldn’t recommed any other place unless one was looking to spend at least twice what I paid so they could be on the River.

In general the feeling I got from Kanchanaburi is that it’s a “good ol’ boy’s” place.  There were so many older men from Australia or England staying year round because of their various Thai girlfriends.  I found it to be such a cliché really.  Mostly they stayed steadily drunk all day and shared personal stories about their lives and their girlfriends that I really never cared to hear about.  Unfortunately they were also somewhat unavoidable because every time I’d go to eat somewhere one or two would inevitably come to chat… whatever sign I had on my forehead that made them think I somehow cared to hear about their sob stories, I promise I tried multiple times to scrub OFF!

Luckily there were several others around who were pleasant (not from England or Australia interestingly enough) to be around and chat with.  But I will come back to that in a second…

I lingered in Kanchanaburi for 5 days, and honestly the only reason I stayed so long was because I just couldn’t decide what my next move/place to visit would actually be.  I had heard of the Erawan National Park where the famous 7 tier waterfall is and really wanted to go there, but I didn’t want to do a day trip because the earliest bus would get there at 10am and then we would have to leave again at 4pm.  It was possible to camp out there but reserving a spot was harder than doing my taxes!

The woman at Baan Are Gong recommended going to Sangkhlaburi to see the famous Mon bridge, but it was over 200 kilometers from where I was near the border with Myanmar (Burma) and the only way to get back to other places in Thailand like Chiang Mai would be to go back through Kanchanaburi (since the Myanmar border is closed currently) and that just seemed like a waste of time to me.

I just couldn’t decide.  I debated literally in my sleep and would wake nightly to conjur a new plan of where to go/what to do.  The logistics of it was killing me.  The only way to get to the Erawan National Park was from Kanchanaburi.  The only way to get to Sangkhlaburi was also from Kanchanaburi, even though the National Park is ON THE WAY TO Sangkhlaburi…. Grrr….. I was close to just saying “screw it”, I’ll skip going all the way up to Sangkhlaburi and will just show up at the Park and hope there is a place to camp available…

Then at lunch, the day before I planned to leave I met a lovely man from Germany.  We got to chatting and he told me he had just gotten back from Sangkhlaburi.  Excellent!  I can ask him if it’s worth it!  I posed the question and out came his IPad.  For the next 20 minutes he showed me picture after picture and mini-movie after, well, you get the idea.  Ok, ok.  I have to go there.  New plan (number 192): make the long haul to Sangkhlaburi first, then go to the Park (via another stop in Kanchanaburi).

For some reason, even though all the other plans just didn’t feel right, suddenly this one did.  And now I know why…

On To Sangkhlaburi New Year’s: Human Version

Back to Thailand

Animal Exploitations?

I will fully admit that one of the big things that put Thailand on my map of places to visit was because of the Tiger Temple.  When I first heard about it and saw pictures from a customer at my workplace I was in absolute awe!  You mean you can walk beside, pet and sit with REAL tigers????  I was sold!!  I wanted to be a part of that!!  I had heard things like; there is a Temple in Thailand where monks live and care for the tigers; the tigers are fed cooked meat so they don’t look at humans (raw meat) as being a food source; the tigers are docile and are pretty much exactly like house cats, except much larger.  A Tiger Temple was even featured as one of the locations where they went in The Amazing Race during the first season.  I was highly intrigued!!

tiger temple_1
tiger temple_1

Then I started doing research…  There isn’t just ONE tiger Temple in Thailand.  They are a dime a dozen (here in Kanchanaburi you can barely walk 10 feet without seeing a sign for a tiger tour).  Tour groups are taken daily to the various Temples so that each tourist can have a “genuine” experience with the tigers… I should have figured.  After really looking into it, I can’t help but wonder whether these “Temples” aren’t so much about the benefit of the animals as they are simply another way to bring in the tourist, essentially exploiting the tigers along the way.  I’m not saying the tigers are mistreated.  I doubt they would be since it is such a popular tourist attraction.  What I am saying is tigers are by nature wild.  As much as I love the fantasy of being able to chill along side a tiger, I would much rather have a genuine encounter (much to the fear of my family I’m sure) in the wild (where tigers really belong) with one than to stand in line, wait my turn and get my picture taken with a “tame” tiger.

tiger temple_2
tiger temple_2

I’m not sure how these Temples began.  Perhaps the first did originally start as a place where tigers that would otherwise die in the wild were taken in and cared for.  Then perhaps from there it evolved into the circus it is today?   I’m not sure.  But I now know I don’t want to be a part of that.

For all the animal encounters I wish I was able to have, I certainly won’t if it’s at the potential exploitation of the animal.  That is why I didn’t take an elephant ride in Ayutthaya.  I’m always very wary of how the animals are treated before paying to be a part of an activity with them, though I did buy a basket of food to feed to them (since the food was going directly to them).  There were several elephants off giving rides to tourists down the street and back and three remained at the main location without any harnesses on, but tied by their foot with a chain to the hitching post beside them.

tiger temple_3
tiger temple_3

It was hard to see chains around their legs, but here I will play a bit of the devil’s advocate.  As a horse back rider, we tie horses up with halters and a lead lines to keep them in one place.  We don’t tie a leg of course nor do we use chains in tying a horse, but I had to wonder if since elephants are soooo much larger, if chains are just the equivalent to a cotton or nylon tether to a horse?  Elephants are highly intelligent however so I also wondered why they would need ties at all to stay within an area?  And again, since I’m not educated enough on the proper treatment of elephants and whether these ones were properly cared for, I didn’t agree to a ride, just a direct feeding to them.

 

Elephants
Elephants waiting for food

In Ayutthaya they also have a place called the Elephant Kraal and the Ayutthaya Elephant Village, right next to the floating market.  I did think to go check them out, but thankfully read up on some reviews first… This review was also confirmed by a couple staying in the hostel who had personally gone to see it.  First the floating market is nothing but a tourist trap.  Second, they said that the elephants look stressed and unhappy, that they made the baby elephants do tricks that were unnatural for an elephant to do and third they also had TIGERS that they kept in small cement cages with their legs tied to the edge of the cage.  The couple said the tether was so tight that it was cutting into their skin.  Absolutely unacceptable!!!

Soapbox time…  Though it may not make any difference (because most people are too much into their own needs to care) I urge people NOT to support any cruelty to animals and subsequently do NOT support places or people who treat their animals in foul ways.  The best way to get them to stop is simply to not support them.  Unfortunately many of these kinds of places open up because tourism drives them.  Since they have animals native to their lands that many other places in the world consider exotic, many places make a buisiness out of exploiting the animals so tourists can get up close and personal with them so they can show off to friends and family back home on what they got to do with a wild animal.  If we don’t support these businesses, they can’t survive.  The drive will die off and those who exploit animals for profit will no longer make money.

As I write the above rant, the only concern that comes to mind of course is: What will happen to the animals themselves?  I don’t have all the answers.  If I could wave a magic wand I would have a place of my own (or enough money to support a place) that would provide safe and natural habitats to abused, mistreated and exploited animals.  Somewhere where they could simply be.  Sounds like a zoo, I know, but what I envision would be just large expanses of land where only the injured/unable to live in the wild would be in enclosures so they could be properly cared for.  The rest would roam free.  Until then, all I know is step 1 is to not support places like the above mentioned or any other.  And if anyone out there has better suggestions, I’m open to hearing them 🙂

I do hope there are genuinely good places here that really care for their animals, as I am interested in volunteering.  Whether that means shoveling shit, or any other nitty gritty “gross” job necessary to benefit the animals.  So far I haven’t found any yet but hold hope that they are here somewhere…

On To Gone to the Dogs

Back to Thailand

p.s… all tiger images in this post were taken from Google Images, keyword “tiger temple images”

What IS That?!!?

I arrived in Ayutthaya by train from Bangkok.  Though it said it would only be just over an hour, as I’ve read from other travelers, travel times should never be trusted as it always takes much longer than stated.  The train was very basic.  No air conditioning, only windows and honestly reminded me of a school bus on train tracks.  People at each stop would hop aboard to sell water, bits of food, rice, etc for the journey.  Leaving Bangkok it was amazing to see how many people live and set up work directly on the edge of the train tracks.

Along the way a very friendly Thai woman started chatting with me and as it turned out she lived in Ayutthaya and volunteered to make sure I got off at the right place :).  Though they do have an intercom system on the train that tells you what stop is next, I was still very grateful I had someone to tell me for sure since my ears are not yet trained to hear Thai words correctly.

Just across the street and almost down to the end I found my hostel for the next several nights: Baan Are Gong GuestHouse.  Originally I planned to stay 3 nights, but extended to 4 as I just got so comfortable there!!  The people are very friendly, the accommodations are clean and the location couldn’t be better and easier as the train station is just down the road and the boat to get across the river is right next door!  I stayed in a private room on the second floor (fan only) and adored that everyone has to take off their shoes before going upstairs.

The only perhaps, let’s call it ‘culture shock’ that I hadn’t encountered yet was the bathrooms… They were shared bathrooms and there were several sets of flip-flops in front of the bathrooms to slip on before going in.  Inside the bathroom was a regular toilet, sink and mounted on the wall was a shower head and knobs.  But no shower curtain…  So when showering it’s literally like going into a standard single bathroom stall (except larger) and showering.  Water of course goes everywhere and there’s just no way to avoid that!  So it sprays all over the toilet, the sink and all over the floor.  There is a drain behind the toilet to drain shower water away, but if it gets clogged with hair, well you then have a mini-flood going on… Definitely was a first for me and I kept having to remind myself that all the water on the toilet seat was from the shower, not from people peeing on it… I hope anyway, lol!!

But all in all, I adored this hostel!!  They also have a little puppy that is just too darn cute for words and I just couldn’t help but play with him every second I got!  The woman who owns the place is very nice to talk to and she gave me some great information on places to visit in the country.

My stay in Ayutthaya included going into town the first night to watch the street festival in honor of the King’s Birthday.  One of the main streets was shut to traffic and they had stage after stage set up with live music, traditional Thai dancing, a muay thai boxing ring, and tons upon tons of street vendors selling everything from live fish (as pets), shoes, food, desserts, and my personal favorite to see: fried crickets and worms!  No… I wasn’t brave enough to try any, but it was awesome to see!!  A couple hours later once the sun set and the full moon rose high in the sky, fireworks started shooting off.  It was such a fantastic time!!

Other activities included spending the whole day wandering the streets of Ayutthaya visiting the tons upon tons of temples and temple ruins they have available.  From Wat Lokayasutharam (Buddha reclining) to the Phra Ram Park where several little Temples could be found, to Wat Maha That, site of an ancient Temple ruins, the Ancient Palace, Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit where one of the largest bronze Buddha images in Thailand can be found and so many more!  Though some of the Temples have been given the status of being World Heritage Sites, they do charge admission (50 baht) for foreigners.  Some people I came across took issue with that, but it’s such a teeny amount, I really wasn’t that bothered by it.

One funny here: as I was wandering through the park, walking through the grass in my flip-fops, I was thinking to myself whether there were any animals in Thailand to be worried about.  Before going to Costa Rica EVERYONE and their brother (mine included) warned about the fer-de-lance snake (highly poisonous and can kill you within a half hour!!) but I hadn’t heard a thing from any fellow traveler to Thailand of critters to beware of.  Just as I was thinking this, up ahead on the side walk was… Is that??… What IS that?!?!?… No…. Is that a komodo dragon???  Do they have those here???  Of course, my instinct toward animals not always being on point, I stealthily rushed toward it so not to scare it off, but yes I wanted a picture!!  Later I looked it up and it’s not a komodo dragon, but rather what they call a ‘water monitor’.  Interesting stuff!

I came across a local fishing for shrimp in the river, which was fun to watch for a bit 🙂

They also have an Elephant Village in Ayutthaya in the center of town where people could ride them down and back on the street.  I opted NOT to do this, but did buy a basket of food that I fed directly to the elephants hanging out at the ticket area.  I have so much more to say on this topic, but will save it for another post as it’s too long for this one…

My last activity in Ayutthaya was of a boat tour.  For 200 baht, the two-hour tour included a visit to Wat Phanan Choeng near the Japanese settlement that featured a bronze Buddha that looked larger than the one at Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit, then over to Wat Phutthai Sawan followed by the ever so beautiful and my favorite (especially at sunset!!) Wat Chaiwatthanaram.  The tour ended by continuing along the river until we made a full circle back to our Guesthouse:)

On to Animal Exploitations?

Back to Thailand