On 28th March I left Wales for Thailand, and a trip of a lifetime!
It was my first ever experience of travelling alone and I’d never been to Asia before, so I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t apprehensive, but the opportunity to spend time at an elephant sanctuary was too good to miss, and the experience was amazing.
This is the diary I wrote while I was there…
Sat 29th March
After travelling over night I have finally arrived in Thailand. The journey has been a star studded affair; not only was actress Gillian Anderson on my flight (Scully from X Files) but when I arrived at Bangkok airport the corridor to border control was lined with teenage girls desperately clutching smart phones and cameras, as I was about walk through to show my passport an high pitched scream erupted around the building. Apparently a famous Korean actor (and heartthrob obviously) had just disembarked from a plane.
A few hours later, following another short flight, I arrived in the city of Chiang Mai. Within just a few minutes of being there I’d found a place offering a full body massage for just £5. What a start to a holiday! It was the tonic I needed after such a long journey.
As I write this I am sat in the city’s night market eating pad Thai with a bag full of goodies I bought at the infamous night market.
Sun 30th March
I didn’t wake up until lunchtime – the jet lag is obviously to blame!
As you can’t come to Thailand without visiting a temple I thought I’d visit three today. I started at the oldest in the city, before visiting the two biggest buddhist temples in Chiang Mai. As well as the traditional Buddhas which are recognisable to westerners, I was also amazed to see the deities of the day at each of the three temples.
I am now enjoying a cooling passion fruit smoothie made freshly in front of me for just 50p at a stall in the Sunday market. Soon I’ll be heading to my hotel in a tuk tuk as I have an early start in the morning.
Mon 31st April
The email said I needed to be at the office at 8am but typically I was late. Thankfully there were so many people checking in to be volunteers it didn’t really matter. I was handed an official ‘save the elephant’ t-shirt and water bottle and boarded the mini bus to the sanctuary.
An hour and a half later we arrived… I can’t really begin to describe the wonder I felt at seeing the elephants wandering around the park without a care in the world, but if you think of that scene in Jurassic Park when they see the dinosaurs for the first time, it was something like that!
After a tour around the park, where we were told some truly sad stories about how the elephants came to be in the camp (like the one who was being used in the tourist trade that was run over by a car, and another that lost part of her foot when she stood on a landline) we watched a video a about how elephants are traditionally trained in Thailand – it was heart breaking to see the abuse and torture they suffer. I won’t go into too much detail here as its too upsetting, but basically they are put in a tiny cage called ‘The Crush’ and beaten until their spirit breaks. How can anyone treat these majestic animals so cruelly?
Tue 1st April
I’ve never been a morning person but being here is another story, getting up for breakfast was definitely worth it! I sat here eating my toast surrounded by elephants; it’s the most amazing start to the day.
Then the hard work began. My team (team A) were given poo picking duties an everyone got really stuck in. There are two girls from Nottingham, Charley and Jaz, who are really glamorous but not afraid to get stuck in – they really make me laugh! There’s also a lovely couple from Essex, called Mick and Carol Bellini (amazing surname), who were on my bus here from Chiang Mai and my roommate Jacks who’s from Australia.
This afternoon was amazing! We walked around the park, to clean up rubbish and of course more poo, but when we got to the mud put there was a heard of elephants getting stuck in to the dirt. We sat and watched them playing – as well as being fun, the mud cools the elephants down and acts as a natural sunscreen. Two then walked down to the river and we sat on the banks as they bathed in the sun.
Wed 2nd April
We had two new members of the team today – Jake and his mum Julie who are from Boston. I’m also getting to know the rest of our group better. There are two lovely Canadians, Lindsay and Sheri (they didn’t know each other before this trip) and two teenage friends from England, Emily and Kate.
Our role today was collecting corn bundles and then carrying banana trees up a hill into a truck. It felt like an an amazing workout and I know the elephants will enjoy eating them!
Sat in the truck on the way back from the banana field I had the most surreal experience of the trip so far – my iPhone was connected to the speaker and Charley was our DJ, after looking through my songs she decided Christmas songs were the way forward, so we sat there in the blaring heat singing our hearts out to Wham’s last Christmas!
Thur 3rd April
This morning’s job was my favourite so far – we worked in the elephant kitchen preparing fruit and veg. My role was to make the banana balls, mushing up the bananas with my hands then we added a few scoops of corn and a big scoop of bran then when all the ingredients were mixed I rolled them into balls.
We then walked around the park feeding the elephants. I had the most amazing moment with one called Mae Perm, who was the first elephant that Lek (the founder of this sanctuary) rescued. I was stood in front of heroising for a photo when she walked up to me and let me stroked her trunk!
This afternoon was spent planting grass for the elephants to eat and then the team had a treat for us…. Tubing! We were driven up river in one of the trucks and dropped off higher up the river, then we climbed into a rubber ring and floated down stream, back to the elephant park, for hour!
Fri 4th April
The hardest day so far.
We spent he whole day away from the park at a corn field, chopping crops and then loading bales on the truck. We stopped for a picnic of noodles rice and freshly cut pineapple then on the way home we stopped for ice cream! Most of the team rode on top of the corn in the truck, but Sheri and I chose the two seats in the cab and travelled back singing along to the cheesy tunes on my iPhone – the driver don’t seem to mind!
It was also sad day for Team A though, as three of our members left today but we’re definitely going to stay in touch!
Sat 5th April
The started back in the elephant kitchen. Today I was chopping melons. It was hard work sat bent over on the floor chopping for two and a half hours, but we had some light relief when a kitten climbed over the pile of melons and onto Lindsay’s lap where it sat purring as she chopped. Once that was done we chopped up juicy banana trees for the elephants to eat.
This afternoon has been idyllic, after a group photo at 1.30 we were given the rest of the day off. As I’m writing this I’m sat looking at four beautiful elephants enjoying the sun and the mud pit.
Soon I’m off to walk some dogs who are residents at the park’s dog sanctuary (there are 400 in total and most were rescued from Bangkok in 2011 when the city was flooded) then tonight we’re having a special dinner with entertainment from the local school children.
Sun 6th April
Sad to be leaving the sanctuary today. As I sit here eating my toast as I write this with elephants just a few meters away from me, I know breakfast will never be the same again!
But before all the volunteers leave there’s work for us to do, teams A and B are on poo collection duty before lunch, then I get a 1pm transfer.
Looking forward to rejoining some of my new friends at a mini volunteer reunion in Chiang Mai this evening
Mon 7th April
Had such a fun time last night, we ended up at a Ladyboy show in Chiang Mai! Well when in Rome, or should that be Thailand?
Flew to Bangkok this morning. Arriving at the domestic airport was a surreal experience, the runway was literally on a golf course!
Dropped my bags at the hotel and headed for some culture. I started at the King’s Palace and the temple of the Emerald Buddha – colours and the details on the building were incredible. Every surface was covered with glass mosaics, statuettes or murals. Then I moved on to the impressive King’s Palace before visiting the reclining Buddha, a statue that fills the whole length of the Wat Po Temple.
This evening I’m off to a restaurant I saw on the Hairy Bikers tour of Asia series, I hope it’s as delicious as it looked on tv!
Tue 8th April
Today I have shopped til I dropped! Most of my purchases were presents for friends and family, although if did treat myself to a rather lively handbag and purse!
Off to Khao San Road shortly for food, drinks and a stroll around the markets with Lindsay, my Canadian friend from the elephant sanctuary who flew into Bangkok late last night.
Wed 9th April
I’ve just arrived at the airport ready for my flight home. I’m sad to be leaving Thailand, the people have been amazing and my time at the elephant sanctuary was incredible. But I’ll be glad to see my pets again, and I know I’ll visit Thailand again.