Thailand – Songkran

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We really lucked out with timing our trips. Songkran is a celebration of the lunar New Year, celebrated in (among other places) India, Singapore and Thailand. Woah buddy, I knew that New Years was going to be a thing, but I had no idea how MUCH of a thing.

Outside the hotel while we were out and about there were people politely squirting everyone with water from water pistols. Some people had buckets, and some were piled on vehicles in a way you’d never see in the western world (safety concerns, what?) and were squirting people with water as you went past. It all seemed very good humoured and polite.

We found out later that throwing of water is a very traditional thing, and is meant as a symbolic washing the bad away.

Well. All of the bad was well and truly washed away that day! We ourselves wandered down Si Lom Road which had been closed off from traffic that day. Traffic wouldn’t have been able to get down there anyway, because of ALL THE PEOPLE. There must have been hundreds of thousands of people down that road. We wandered down not even a quarter of the road and it was PACKED all the way down.

There were stalls of people selling all sorts (food – how I love 10 Baht Pad Thai!! Chalk, so you can be marked with a blessing, water pistols, ice water for your water pistols, clean water for drinking). There were firetrucks blaring music and water into the crowds. And then there was the people. All of the amazing, wonderful, incredibly polite people.

I’ve never been in such a huge crowd were everyone is sober. If this had happened in New Zealand or in London or wherever, at least half the crowd would have been off their faces and rude, or arrogant or belligerent. This crowd? SO LOVELY!

It was actually phenomenal. I’ve never experienced such a well behaved crowd before in my entire life. Everyone was sober, everyone was happy and dancing and smiling. You often moved slowly along with the crowd (cause there wasn’t anywhere else to go) and as you went people would squirt away with their water pistol at you, and you would squirt back. People would politely touch your face or arms or whatever with a smile and a handful of chalk as they walked by and you’d be blessed. Two seconds later someone else would dump ice water over the crowd and your face would be clean again. The day was warm, so you’d shiver with the ice water but after a moment it would be fine.

It really was wonderful. At one point there was a troop of marching boys, shirtless with whistles and battens moving through the crowd. Everyone stopped and moved out of the way so there was a path in front of the troop. We all stopped to watch them go by. No one jeered, or sent insults or anything. Instead everyone was delighted, and cheered as they moved off into the crowd. Loved it.

After a good few hours we were positively soaked to the bone, happy and tired. It was impossible to get home via the metro, and there were no taxi’s because they couldn’t get through the crowd. So instead we hired a scooter, me and Zee sat behind the driver. It was positively the most dangerous and ridiculous ride I’ve ever been on. Neither Zee nor I had helmets, Zee didn’t have anywhere to place his feet and so was holding them up (in which his feet hit both the exhaust pipe and the spokes of the back wheel). We even went on the motorway for a bit!! It was well insane. Still, all the blessings of the day paid off and we got back to the hotel safe and sound.

The whole experience was almost unbelievable. I’m stoked that we timed our trip perfectly so we could go.

Next up… Japan.

Thailand – Muay Thai Boxing in Bangkok

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We had a few extra days after Krabi and went to see a Muay Thai boxing night in Bangkok. It felt ridiculous walking in. There were children in the ring, and they were tiny! Little kids! A second look, though revealed they weren’t happy go lucky children. They were lean. Very very lean. And if the weight column of my pamphlet was to be believed, they were all 100kg+ of muscle. That’s a lot of muscle for 13 year olds. Still, watching them wave their arms about as the bell dinged in an old school parody of boxing still felt ridiculous. Is this what Muay Thai is?

We sat ringside, in blue plastic bucket seats. There was a live band playing over the PA system to add to the ridiculous, some kind of spiritual-esque tune with bells, a bongo and a recorder. They upped the pace, and it got more urgent the longer the fight went on.

There were men sitting in the stands, and every time the kid in red smashed the kid in blue, they cheered. They were loud, and the cheering frequent. I felt terrible, the poor kid in the blue was hugging the ropes, he got one good kick in before the kid in red had him close and held him down as he brought his knee up. It was hard to watch. I was uncomfortable. Bang, another knee into the stomach. I cringed at the flash of pain from Blue, before the umpire pulled them apart. It was hard to watch Blues head flick back as it’s punched by Red.

I look away. This was brutal. People were cheering, the recorder and bongo were still playing, and poor Blue was being pommeled. It go so bad that eventually I pulled out Zee’s phone as a distraction, to have something else to look at.

The bell rang, match over. Everyone settled down a bit while the new fighters set in. I discovered flappy bird and aimed for a score other than ’0′.

I could still hear though. The cheering from the men in the stands, shouting out their odds. The bell dinged, match on. The ridiculous music started up. I heard Zee next to me, with an empathetic ‘oo’. I heard a glove hit flesh over and over. The crowd collectively gasped and I looked up.

Blue was on the ground, lying very very still. Before the replay is even up there’s a stretcher out, and Blue is strapped in, carted off. Red’s arm is held in the air in victory.

The replay was shown in big screens over the ring. It was one jab by Red to the temple, and Blue was down. I felt sick. Jaipetch vs Petchmongkol was only event #3. The main event (Ambas vs Jak) is event number #8. A good two hours away at this point.

As each fight went on the boys got older and heavier. The fighting more brutal. Punches caused groans. I never got used to sound of glove hitting flesh over and over. It was horrible, I hated it and I felt like I was the only one. Everyone else was drinking beer and buying crisps like it was good entertainment. For as long as I could, I kept my head down and flapped a little flappy bird away.

In the end I watched the big boys fight. Grown ups who had trained themselves to hit hard and cause damage. I can’t remember who won, but I know my flappy bird personal best was 12.

Thailand – Hong Island

By | RL | No Comments

After a week of luxury lazing (mostly lying between the beach and the pool while people bought me margaritas), we’d spent a lot of time watching the little long boats appear and disappear on the tides. Turns out that you can hire them for day trips! As we’d picked Krabi instead of an island to spend our down week, I was delighted that we’d still be able to go adventure out to one.

Book, the amazing pool guy at the resort organised a (private) trip for us. The next morning ‘Mr E’ would be waiting for us at the resort steps and we could go out to Hong Island after breakfast. So we did, and a fairly comfortable 45 minute boat ride later, we were at Hong Island.






It was unbelievable. We got there early, before the hordes of people descended. It was warm (too long in it and you’d burn warm) but the sky was blue, the sand white and oh, the colour of that water!! Loved it.

We spent the morning wandering about the island for a bit (there’s a ‘nature trail’ which does a small loop), lying about in the sun reading books and hanging out in the water, watching the fish swim about.







Zee even found some ‘treasure’ while he was out snorkelling. However, because it had been in the water so long, it had coral growing through the spokes. I made him put it back. Coral is so fragile and takes so long to grow (something ridiculous like 2mm a year) and I know that many of the reefs world over are being damaged, so to take live coral from the water for a trinket seemed woefully wrong.

It was a pretty interesting island, actually. Zee went exploring for a bit, and managed to climb up to one of the higher points. There was a tsunami in the area in 2004, which explains why there are so many boat skeletons well above the shore line. Afterwards I read some of the accounts of the tsunami – they’re pretty horrific and heartbreaking. It’s insane to think how much devastation and life was lost in such a pretty pretty place.



Once we’d had enough of the beach, we wandered back to our boat and Mr E (who had been waiting patiently for us – what an amazing guy!) and he took us around the back of the island to the lagoon. I don’t have a shot of the whole thing, mostly because it was full of tourists like us. However, not everyone was on a shallow little long boat, and honestly, it felt less pristine and more … tourist trap.

Still, the colour of the water was phenomenal, and there were some really interesting rock formations around the side.




It was an amazing day trip out. Loved it!

The breakdown – this was organised the day before we went, through Book’s contacts (so not the resort and not a tour. The tours were already well booked up at this point). Mr E picked us up, dropped us off, provided snorkelling gear, water and bananas (so tasty!) and I think there was the option to go fishing if we wanted to (we didn’t). All up it cost us 2000 Baht, which is something like £35. We gave Mr E another 500 Baht tip, on top, because he was awesome.

Thailand – Nakamanda

By | nubbed, RL | No Comments

After the fully packed visit that was New Zealand and several days worth of touristing it up in Bangkok we decided that a week’s downtime somewhere would be on the cards. I was so so so ready to lie down and do nothing. Isn’t that what holidays are meant to be about? Rest and Relaxation? Our trip so far has been not that. We visited Krabi, a short flight south from Bangkok and visited Nakamanda, a boutique little hotel. Oh you guys – it was decadent. The rooms were lush (massively huge bed which apparently I domindated, amazingly big bath that had flower petals in it when we arrived), the food amazing, the view phenomenal.

Every morning we walked down to breakfast, and then literally spent the rest of the day hanging out on the sun loungers in front of the resort. For hours, I mean. Many many hours of lying very very still. Chilled out, as Zee would say. We ordered frozen margaritas in fours, I read a stupid number of books and did crossword puzzles, we took naps. We got to be so good at doing just this day after day that Book, the pool guy would save us our preferred sun lounges. He was amazing.

When it got too hot we swam in the pool behind us, or if the tide was in, at the little beach in front. We borrowed snorkelling gear and snorkelled around the little island opposite.

At low tide a sand bank appeared between the resort and the island. Sadly it was often covered in rubbish – a few times I went out and picked up whatever as I walked by. On one of the later nights I asked for a big black rubbish bag and went out with the express purpose of picking up rubbish. I more than filled the bag. That was possibly the only downside. There is a culture of littering, especially off the boats. It’s a bit heartbreaking. Still, it was a gorgeous place. The best bit about low tide was the crabs! The little itty bitty crabs came out in full force, and would scuttle out of the way underneath your feet as your walked.

We kayaked too. Paddling out into the ocean with kayaks borrowed from the resort, so we could swim away from . A few times we got thai massages – which were cheap but, woah buddy. Pretty intense. One time we even had thai massages on the beach, which felt pretty decadent. If you’re not used to them though, thai massages can be pretty brutal.

We took a lot of selfies, too.

In the evenings we’d dress for dinner and head out of the resort to one of the many little restaurants just outside the resort. It was pretty lovely. One of the highlights was as we’d go out for dinner, there were tiny ponds with lily pads. If we timed it right you could see the little frogs out and about. There was also the time we were lounging and we saw a little dragon hanging out not a metre away! Loved it.

As always, such simple and happy times rarely make for good reading. It was phenomenal though. We drank lots of lovely drinks. We ate lovely food. We did a lot of wonderful nothing.

I’m learning that every trip needs downtime, and this week was very much welcome.

The List: Number 13 – Ride/Swim with an Elephant

By | RL | 5 Comments

Number 13 on The List… after my last post about tigers it’s difficult to come back and tell you how I rode and swam with elephants. I know that my last post was also about animal abuse in the name of tourism and profit and it’s almost as if I hadn’t learnt anything last time, because this is the same line all over again. I did this, I rode and swam with elephants and I did it TWICE because I loved it so much.

It’s less than awesome, I know. 100% wrong, and horrible.

Wild animals shouldn’t be used as tourist attractions to make money.

It’s a weak excuse, ignorance, but the truth was I actually didn’t know. This experience was sold as a delightful add on. It was on The List, and so I said yes. Ticked the box that said free elephant experience if you get the tiger one. See the tigers and swim with the elephants! Fun times all around. Then because the first time was so phenomenal I booked a second experienced when we had a spare day.

Obviously that week was big on animal abuse, one that I recognise I encouraged with my tourist money, and I didn’t even realise. It wasn’t until I got back to the UK a good month later and was going through the photos that I started to wonder, and then I saw the huge outcry that Dooce got when she happened upon a baby elephant unexpectedly… and my heart sort of dropped. I read her post, and clicked through all the links, and followed more down a rabbit hole of how very not awesome elephant tourism is. And then I put some search terms into google and went down a few more rabbit holes.

Shame. That’s how I feel. Uncomfortable shame.

So, I’m going to post the pictures from both days and talk about how easy and amazing it was, and how very wrong the whole situation is. I promise this is the is the last animal cruelty tourist post I’ll write, because I don’t plan on supporting any more of these experiences with my tourist money. My eyes, 100% wide open.

After the tigers, we were driven on our tour out to Elephant Village Muang Sing, which is small elephant park. So small it doesn’t have a website, and is mostly advertised through tour operators. It wasn’t far away, really. First up we went swimming, which ideally was to help bath the elephant.

We got on the back of an elephant, and walked down to the water. Once in the water it was lovely, really. We sat on the back of the elephant has he waded around. Sometimes he sat, sometimes he stood. What I didn’t realise at the time is that he was 100% following instructions from his mahout for our benefit.

It is not okay to train animals behaviour to do tricks for tourists.

But that’s what he did. You stand here, and he lifts his trunk, lifting you into the air. You stand here, on his leg, and he’ll lift you up, a nice board for you to dive off, or pose for a photo.

We have a million photos. Millions of them. I’m actually ashamed to post them all and realised that I was posting two of the more tame ones. Truth is that most of them actually look more like this one:

Oh, sad face.

It is terrible, I know this. But it was also amazing – an absolutely phenomenal experience. Scrubbing away at the elephant with little brushes while he moved around us was really lovely. His skin was rough, and bristly in most spots, and in others (like behind his ears) so soft and silken. He was massive, and I felt tiny and small next to him. It was pretty amazing.

Next up, we had an elephant ride.

Dun dun dun. This was at least really physically uncomfortable. Riding behind the elephants head was a million times more comfortable for us than riding in that horrible chair. It’s even more horrible for the elephant.

Elephants spines aren’t designed to support the weight of humans long term.

Add two humans and that horrible chair contraption, factor in (based on the number of sessions we could pick from) 10 half hour walks a day and that’s a good five hours a day of carrying around a lot of weight on a back that isn’t meant to be carrying that much weight around. Which means the more we ride them, we’re causing some seriously long-term harm. Boo.

I think even worse for me though is that wild elephants won’t let humans ride on top of the. To tame a wild elephant, a baby elephant is basically tortured.

Baby elephants should not be tamed. Baby elephants should not be tortured

It’s horrible. It looks like this:

(source. Photo taken by Brent Lewin / Redux Pictures. Brent won a Science/Natural History Award of Excellence for this image at the Pictures of the Year competition in 2011.)

Here is a video. I actually couldn’t even watch all of it. I got a few seconds in and felt sick (and ashamed, and guilty….)

It’s ghastly. Horrific. I HATE it. But this is how they tame elephants. They call it crushing (or Phajaan). They take them away from their mothers, confine them to a small space and beat them clubs and prod them with bull hooks. On top of that, they are starved and deprived of sleep. They learn to fear the bull hook, and take commands from their mahout.

We take a relatively relaxed ride through the jungle on the back of an elephant with no idea that, to begin with, this how they train them to do that.

Yeah. Look at that massive big hook that mahout is carrying. He carried that the whole way around our walk.

Shame shame shame shaaaaaame. That’s how I feel. All of the shame.

Afterwards, we fed them. You buy a bucket of bananas and stand on a balcony and they come up and eat. Considering how much they eat, I feel like this little single bit was acceptable. This bit alone was okay (and I did lots of checking, turns out elephants eat bananas if they can find them, and they’re not deprived of food outside of crushing, and they get enough foilage… I was sure at this point that by feeding them I was doing something wrong).

And then we gave our mahouts tips for the amazing experience (because it was amazing, ignorance allows things like this to be amazing) and we went home, uploaded some shots to instagram and talked about how fantastic that whole thing was. What an amazing day! Oh, we had no idea. No idea about the animal cruelty that had been inflicted so we could have had such an amazing day.

It was so amazing, and we talked about it for such a long time that a week later we did it again. This time we were in Krabi, and visited Nosey Parker Elephant Camp (yes, that was it’s actual name).

This time we did a trek on the elephant, which seemed fine enough. This elephant had an experienced mahout who generally guided the elephant around with words and clucks rather than using pain or the bull hook he carried with him. He was pretty lovely, actually. The elephant seemed pretty happy, and was allowed to stop and eat and she pleased. Her daughter met us half way around and they were clearly affectionate with each other.

Which is to say it all seemed so relaxed and easy. It’s hard to align such a lovely ride with all the horrible training that she had to go through to get there.

Sad face.

Next, we went swimming with another lady elephant. This one did an awful lot of pooping, and at one point I was completely surrounded by it, before the current took it away down river.

Otherwise, it was just as lovely as previously. Elephant moves around and underneath you, sprays you with water. Sits down in the water as you swim around her. Again, another lovely, glorious experience. Really difficult to remember that as wonderful as it was, she’d never interact like this with anyone in the wild. Never ever.

She’s been trained to do this, for our benefit, so someone else can make a profit.

Sad face.

So, if I was ashamed before about the tigers, I’m even more ashamed now.

How to help? – Do your research.

I didn’t do enough research, I really really didn’t. I didn’t know about the abuse, or how they train elephants into doing unnatural things. I didn’t know that elephants spines don’t do well with human loads for long hours. I didn’t know that there’s a law loop hole and baby elephants are being trafficked into Thailand. I didn’t know that tourist dollars are primarily fuelling this abuse.

I didn’t know. I didn’t think. I didn’t ask questions. I should have.

Visit sanctuaries, not for profit tourist experiences

If you want to visit with elephants, make sure you’re doing it at a sanctuary like the Elephant Nature Park. This place? Rescues elephants from abuse, exactly like the two places that I visited. The Nosey Parker Elephant Park and the Elephant Village Muang Sing both train unnatural behaviour for tourist + profit. They both crush their elephants into submission.

Visit a place where elephants don’t have to carry people around on their backs for rides. Where they won’t be beaten or prodded with bull hooks. Where they don’t have to be tortured into obeying.

There are places like that. You can still interact with them, apparently. However the elephants aren’t forced into interacting with you.

Donate.

Donate to WWF. Turns out the Asian Elephant is endangered (there are now less than 2000 wild elephants living in Thailand) and it’s habitat is shrinking thanks to an ever growing human population. Wild elephant populations are mostly small, isolated, and unable to join as ancient migratory routes are cut off by human settlements.

WWF is committed to conserving the remaining wild populations and their habitats. It’s a worthy cause, I think.

So then, I did #13 and #72 in the same week, and I have to say I’m not proud of having done either.