Tag Archives: elephants

Ko Lantaaaah

Ko Lanta or rather Lantaaaah, which is how all the locals say “Lanta” is a 300 sq. km island just off mainland Thailand, only a short ferry ride from Phi Phi.  Thailand is known as the “land of a thousand smiles” and though people throughout my travels in Thailand had been very nice and friendly, none were as smiley, friendly and good-natured as those we met on Ko Lantaaaah.  That island alone could be called the land of a thousand smiles! 🙂

Originally, Anna and I were only planning on using Ko Lantaaaah as a brief stopping point, a jump off to get to Ko Ngai (aka Hai) or Ko Mook (aka Muk).  However, things always change when traveling.  Mind you, both Anna and myself are very easy going travellers.  Whenever we asked locals about getting to one place or another, if they said “no, you should go here instead, or do this instead” well, we just about always followed that.

It all started as we were waiting to board our ferry to Lantaaaah.  We were down by the pier hanging out when we were approached by Win, one of the locals.  He showed us a brochure for Lanta New Beach, a hotel just along Long Beach on Ko Lanta.  At first we brushed it off, but then started to think that maybe it would be better to stay one night in Lantaaaah, just so we didn’t have to have such a long travel day in getting to the other islands.

So for 500 baht, we booked one night at Lanta New Beach at the Phi Phi pier.  Funnily enough, we almost ended up missing the ferry because though we were right there, Win kept saying to wait for him and he’d let us know when to board, but then suddenly he was gone and we were running to the ferry.  When we arrived at the ferry, all the locals were laughing at us and signaling us to calm down and just walk.  They had been waiting for us apparently but they also didn’t seem in any rush to get going on time.

Once we boarded, the real salesmanship games began!  Win, along with other gentlemen Toom and Mark (and at least 3 others) were circulating around the boat selling people accommodations and tours.  Toom was standing nearby speaking to some guys sitting behind us about various tours.  They kept asking questions about getting to Ko Tao and other destinations, and even though they kept arguing with him about the prices, everything Toom was saying about each destination (costs, etc) was directly on point.  So I knew (as did Anna) that he wasn’t full of it or just trying to hike prices for no reason.  I wanted to tell the boys behind us that they were idiots for not listening, but it wasn’t my business to do so.

Anyway, once Toom finished up with the boys, he moved onto Anna and I.  We had already booked Lanta New Beach for the night, so he began asking us whether we wanted any tours.  Out came a brochure on an elephant trekking adventure that his father owned.  I should mention at this point that one of Anna’s objectives while visiting me in Thailand was to ride on an elephant.  Personally, while I like the idea of it, how they treat the animals and whether the animals are really happy about taking people on rides was my primary concern.  But talking with Toom put my mind to rest and Anna and I signed up for an elephant trekking tour, which also included a hike to a waterfall and bat cave.

We arrived at Ko Lanta, loaded into a truck and were dropped off at Lanta New Beach.  We thought we had died and gone to heaven!!!  After spending the past 4 nights in the ‘Kamikaze Cockbox’, we had now arrived to a beautiful hotel which basically offered anything and everything one might want!  They had 2 pools (one of which was just outside our door) the structures were all solid, they were located directly on the beach, they offered a large variety of massages right on the beach, they had a restaurant and bar (which offered Happy Shakes!) and a tour office on site as well!  We were so awe-struck, especially considering it was only 500 baht per night!

Needless to say, we ended up staying there 4 or 5 nights living it up with almost daily massages, dining like queens, swimming in the lovely pools, enjoying cocktails with the setting sun nightly and having our first taste of Lao Cow (Whiskey made in Thailand!!).  Our days were filled with relaxing, the elephant trekking tour, wandering around town shopping, riding around the island on a motorbike we rented for only 200 baht a day to the Sea Gypsy village and Old Town, and a short visit to the Animal Sanctuary.  Though Lantaaaah was a bit of a ghost town (being low-season and all), it was such a breath of fresh air compared to Phi Phi and definitely worth the visit!!

On to Elephant Trekking

Back to Thailand

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Things to Love about Thailand

I’ve been traveling in Thailand now for over 5 months now, so I thought perhaps now is the best time to break out with a few things I love or at least find the most interesting about Thailand:)

It will be a working list and isn’t in any particular order with the exception of the first one.  🙂

#1: NO SHOES!!!
I absolutely adore how before entering any building, home or place of work you must first remove your shoes!  This goes for just about every place, with the exception of some grocery stores (though no one would squawk if you didn’t have your shoes on) and with some restaurants as well.  But for the most part (including in the vet clinic where I volunteered) you have to kick off your shoes before entering.  I will admit sometimes it’s a pain to do so (if you are wearing anything other than flip  flops) but otherwise, the no shoe rule is my favorite cultural behavior and one that I will be using wherever I end up for good:) I love, love, LOVE it!!

No Shoes
No Shoes

#2: Nature
The diversity of the landscapes here are extraordinary!  From the beaches to jungle to islands, mountains, rivers and lakes, Thailand seems to have just about every kind of terrain one would want to find.

#3: House Geckos
I just adore these creatures!  They are simply a much larger version of regular geckos and they are quite beneficial to have in the home since they take care of the majority of other insects in the home (including spiders, yay!!).  They also make the cutest and most interesting sound.  They start off with a quick series of chitters, then make a series of staccato sounds in repetition.  When I first heard their sound I thought I was crazy because it sounded like they were saying “F you” in slow repetition.  However, I’ve come across many other travelers and very-well-spoken-in-English-locals who have also pointed this out, so I guess I wasn’t as crazy as I thought, LOL!

#4: Animals
I know I just wrote about the geckos, and they technically would qualify in the animal section as well, but I just love those little buggers so much that they got their own section.  However, I do also adore the large variety of other kinds of animals here in Thailand.  From elephants, street dogs and cats, variety of monkeys, flying squirrels, regular squirrels, lizards, birds, the diversity is so rich!  You just never know what you are going to find!  The sea life is also beautifully diverse and lush!  From corals to sting rays, sharks, nudibranchs, sea cucumbers, and a huge variety of fish, it’s amazingly impressive!

#5: Kind & Honest People
The people are generous and kind, patient and welcoming.  I have yet to run into a rude local here and though I’ve heard from other fellow travelers that it all depends on where you go, in my opinion and experience the people have been nothing but kind.  In addition to the generous and kind nature of the people here, they are also very honest.  In particular when it comes to money.  I’ve been other places where I’ve handed over too much money (from being tired or just not thinking the correct exchange rate) and they’ve gone on their way with the extra money in hand.  Here, there have been several occasions where I’ve handed over too much and they immediately return whatever over I’ve paid, even if it’s just a single baht!  I’ve gotten so comfortable with their honesty that there have also been several times when my mind wasn’t working properly to understand how much I owed in Thai that I’ve simply held a bunch of bills and let them pick what they needed.  I love that kind of honesty as it makes one feel more comfortable in their surroundings!!  Now, that’s not to say some people won’t try to overcharge you for something (cab ride, etc) but if you ask upfront what something will cost, they stick by it.

#6: No sleazy men
Traveling in Latin American countries, one thing I had to get used to that also really annoyed me at times, but just had to learn to ignore, was the cat calls, whistles, stares and hissing sounds (they literally sounded like snakes to be honest) men would constantly make toward any female as you walked by.  Here, no such behavior exists!  The men are much more respectful in that way and even to the point where I sometimes wondered why I wasn’t getting any looks from locals, and it simply is because their culture, unlike others, is to not display emotions of affection in any way in public.  Hence, no cat calls, uncomfortable stares or hissing sounds!

#7: Packaging with plastic bags
This one I personally struggle with from the environmental perspective and really wish they would cut back on their use of plastic bags, but I do also find it interesting and entertaining how they package to-go food or drink items.  Coffee, sodas, rice, soups, and more are packaged in a plastic bag tied off with a rubber band for take away.  Other items like rice and pad thai are put in styrofoam containers, so it’s one evil for the environment versus the other… While I can understand the simplicity and ease of using plastic bags, I wish in general they would cut back because they insist in using a ton of bags for very few items.  I’m always refusing bags (as I generally bring my own or just don’t need one) but you really have to be on the ball to say you don’t want a bag as they are very quick to snatch one out.  The straws also drive me nuts (though technically from the hygienic perspective it’s better) as they will give you one for each can or bottle purchased (including for beers) so if I walked in and bought 2 bottles of water and a soda they would put in 3 straws!

#8: Built to last
Another thing that really impresses me about Thailand is the construction of their homes and buildings.  Yes, there are several homes that are made entirely from bamboo and other wood (though bamboo is a very highly resilient wood to begin with!) but many homes, stores and general buildings are built to a very high quality standard and are built to last!  It’s amazing watching them construct a home or other building because their scaffolding is simply rickety looking pieces of wood that you wouldn’t think would hold people walking or working around them, yet the finished product is brick and concrete with tile throughout.

#9: Muay Thai
Whether it’s enjoying an evening out watching fights or joining in training yourself, Muay Thai is entertaining, engaging and a real real-kicker!  Granted not all fights are created equal as some are much more entertaining or gruesome than others, but all the fighters have a real sportsmanship about them that isn’t as easily found in countless other sports.  What I love the most is the fights where it’s evident that the competitors are friends.  They encourage each other between fighting rounds but when the bell goes off, all bets are off and “may the best fighter win” kicks in.  Another thing I love about Muay Thai is the sense of tradition and culture.  The fighters respect the ring, the judges, their opponent and their God.  The more I train in Muay Thai, the more I understand the fights as I watch and questions I had before while watching fights are now answered because of my own training.  I won’t go into that here, but will in a future post for sure!

To be continued…

Back to Thailand

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

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”