A Travellerspoint blog

Make Believe You're in a Jungle Movie...

overcast 25 °C
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...Watch the Baby Elephants go by.

The Retiring Old Elephants project is designed so old elephants can retire from working and live their final years in a peaceful existence. Retired elephants don't have their own mahout to care for them and don't receive any income unless they are working. Through this project people like Katherine and I care for the elephants and contribute to their food costs so they don't have to work.

When we arrived at the Elephant Kraal we were assigned a hut to sleep in. It was nicely furnished with two beds, a wardrobe, dresser and aircon. The bathroom was outside. Eva explained the elephant program to us and Michelle assigned us an elephant. Katherine's elephant is called Dok Ma and is about 70 years old. My elephant is called Loong Luen and is about 60 years old.

The four main tasks in caring for our elephants were mucking out, scrubbing, feeding and bathing. Mucking out meant sweeping the elephant poo and used pineapple leaves off their concrete pad and into piles ready to be collected to be taken away to be made into compost or dung paper.

Scrubbing involves taking your elephant to a 'shower' - a concrete pad with a hose. You chain the elephant up and give her some pineapple to keep her happy then you hose her down and scrub her with scrubbing brushes. We only scrubbed one elephant a day. On the last day after scrubbing Loong Luen to a sparkly, clean condition she immediately found a mud hole and sprayed mud allover herself. But this is a good thing as it helps exfoliate the dead skin so I take it as a compliment that I did a good job with the scrubbing brush. You can even scrub their tales, trunks and around their faces.

Feeding involves getting cartloads of pineapple leaves and distributing it to the elephants during the day. They especially like pineapples and other fruit so we were careful to look out for pineapples from the pile of pineapple leaves or take other fruit like guava or watermelon as a special treat for our old elephants.

Bathing is not a chore and it was combined with a riding session. We had real mahouts on the elephants with us to make sure we were ok. Katherine always needed to be pushed on to Dok Ma but I managed to walk up Loong Luen's leg and using her ears pull myself onto her neck. We would walk slowly down to the river where the elephants would drink before going all the way in. One time Loong Luen decided to swim far out into the river. Elephants are very good swimmers - they use their trunk as a snorkel.

When we weren't looking after our elephants we would listen to Eva and Michelle talk about the work at the Elephant Kraal or we would observe the baby elephants or the elephants in the nursery. There are three baby elephants ranging in age from about 2 weeks to 5 weeks old. The older two are quite adventurous. They are very cute the way they try to imitate their mothers and hide under them or sleep in the hay.

The nursery holds baby elephants that are a bit older - up to four years of age - and their mothers. Some are characters - they walk forwards and backwards along the edge of a concrete water trough. They are very agile.

In the mornings we got up early and watched the mahouts get their elephants ready for work. They put blankets and seats on the elephant's back and they wear nice red and gold trousers and shirt. The elephants walk onto a truck - four to a truck and they are driven to town where they give rides to tourists. The young elephants put on a show for the tourists too. All natural behaviours are used and the elephants enjoy the social interaction. Elephants have been domesticated in Thailand for 4000 years so it is very natural for them. Also, the mahouts have very good control of their elephants. My elephant knew I was inexperienced and kept her ears pinned against my legs while I was riding her. This is to protect me and also to stop me kicking her, which I am meant to do to tell her to go forwards.

We had a fantastic three days at the Elephant Kraal. I have only written a fraction of what we did and learnt. Now we have moved on I really miss my elephant and I would love to go back to look after them and become more expert at riding. It was a very, very, very good time.

Posted by pythagnz 20:05 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Wats Galore

semi-overcast 32 °C
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Welcome to my first entry in this blog. I am going to condense the first 25 hrs of travel into a few sentences - it was long and exhausting and we were glad to finally arrive in Bangkok - about 3 hours later than expected. This was because the Melbourne - Bangkok flight had been cancelled so we went Melbourne - Sydney - Bangkok instead. Anyway we arrived safe and sound and checked into Krung Kasem Sri Krung Hotel. It's positive virtues was that it was very close to the train station and had hot water. It's negative virtues were numerous. However, it was adequate for our purposes of stretching out and resting/sleeping for a few hours.

Early (5:30am) Tuesday morning we checked out and headed across the road to the train station and bought our tickets to Ayutthaya. This was on a rapid-express train that didn't seem too rapid. In fact, it was very pedestrian leaving Bangkok but once outside the city it did go faster. We bought some spicy, minced chicken and basil on rice for breakfast. Katherine ate the fried egg and some rice and I ate the rest. We also had a green mango snack. Several people were very kind and informed us that Ayutthaya was the next stop.

The tuk-tuk driver took us to the Baan Lotus guesthouse which is a lovely three story guesthouse with a huge garden. The garden is a bit overgrown but it is very peaceful and lovely to sit on the balcony and watch the squirrels jump through the trees.

Once settled in I hit the wat circuit while Katherine took a rest. I went to several wats by bicycle, all only a few kilometres from the guesthouse at most. Wat Ratchaburana has an impressive prang with very steep steps leading down to faded red, black and gold murals. Wat Mahathat has the most famous sight of a Buddha-head enclosed by the roots of a banyan tree. Most of these wats are several hundred years old but have been destroyed by time and the razing of Ayutthaya by the Burmese.

When I returned we had a brief foray into the main street just to see what there was. We followed that by refreshing watermelon and pineapple fruit shakes. Though Katherine has declared that she will keep away from watermelon after I reminded her that they can carry illnesses.

At 4:30pm we joined 4 Dutch people and 2 other Kiwis in a day-night tour by tuk-tuk. One tuk-tuk for the Dutch and one for the kiwis. We went to several wat again, but these were ones several kilometres from town so it was a great way to see them. The second stop on the tour was the Elephant Kraal to see the baby elephants - one just over a week old. This is the place we are coming to on Thursday. It was very muddy and there were hundreds of elephants (well more than I've ever seen in one place) going about their business, which mainly seemed to be eating. And yes, theh baby elephants were very cute. But also quite strong - look out for your feet.

The tour finished by dropping us at the night market. But it was already packing up so we had some vegetarian pad thai and walked back to the guesthouse. We might go again tonight.

Today (Wednesday) we have been having a quiet day. We started with a visit to eh Chana..[something]..kasem Museum. This consists of three buildings in a compound. They were once used as a royal residence but now they are old and museum pieces themselves. Katherine enjoyed the second building most which housed many different Buddhas. Some stone work was 1500 years old and there was nothing to stop us touching it if we wanted (which would have been naughty so we didn't).

We had a lovely lunch at foodside eatery opposite the guesthouse and now have come back to the main town shops to do some errands. I am now sporting a fancy Thai haircut.

OK, now to answer some of your questions. Katherine is hot and sweaty most of the time but she is not grumpy yet. She may have eaten some meat when the mushroom pastry we ordered tasted like chicken but otherwise has been sticking to her vegetarian diet.

Tomorrow we are off to the Elephant Kraal so might not have access to email there.

Posted by pythagnz 00:38 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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