Hannah's Blog 16- Elephant riding, Bamboo rafting, Burma Border, Buddhist Temples & Thai Orphanage
Okay before I start this blog, I just want to warn you all that it is probably going to be somewhat lengthy because we did SO much today. My head hurts just thinking about all the activities and I literally have the scars and marks from it. However, if you are still inclined to read this blog, please fasten your seat belts and hold on because it was quite a ride, literally and figuratively.
The day began with a beautiful sunrise and meditation by the lake. I went to bed very early the night before and so I woke up around 6 AM and decided to sit by the lake and take in the beauty of the Thai scenery. It felt very serene and peaceful just staring into the mountains and the lake.
After watching a beautiful sunrise, we all crammed into a canoe like speedboat to ride to the elephant farm. On our way, we stopped by a sunken temple. Although the water had gotten the best of the temple, you could still see the beautiful details of the building and some of the brilliant colors from it. After admiring the sunken temple for a bit longer, we continued our route and finally landed at the elephant farm.
I got off the boat and realized that we were in a rural area because low and behold, two elephants walked past us as we were getting off the boat and we were surrounded by traditional Thai houses. We followed a guide to an area near the river where we were greeted by a herd of elephants. I froze for a moment because it seemed so crazy that I was standing right next to a group of Thai elephants, like they were somebody's pet dogs or something. Well that's a bit extreme. Elephants aren't as common and populous as dogs, in fact they are almost endangered in Thailand. Experts say that there are about 2000 wild elephants in Thailand in national parks or in agricultural villages. The government has made programs to try and breed them in elephant conversation farms and camps, but the numbers still aren't as high as they want them to be. In any case, I was nervous and excited to ride an elephant.
We got to first feed them some bananas and then it was time to get on top and ride them. The way to get up on the elephant was interesting. You first step on the elephant's leg, then stop on the guide's leg (he had quads of steel btw) then pull yourself on top. After getting on top of the elephant with my English mate Nick, we started our trek. We enjoyed a long (they may be strong, but they don't really move very fast) trek through the jungle. Nick and I also took turns riding on the neck of the elephant, which was fun. I affectionately called my elephant Luqman Jr. because he did whatever he wanted and didn't listen to what I was telling him at all. Speaking of listening, the Thai elephant trainers and guides had the most interesting noise they made at the elephants. I couldn't even begin to describe it to you, but I shall try my best to spell it out, it was something like euuughhee…try to sound that out loud… yeah…exactly…
After our elephant ride, we enjoyed some boxed lunches of rice, greens, egg and some freshly cut (and I mean FRESH as in they cut it in front of us with a machete knife) pineapple. Then we proceeded to the river to part take in bamboo rafting. So when I heard about this activity at first, it seemed like run and a great idea. However, I think I underestimated the amount of work and effort it would take. First of all, you literally are standing on a board of bamboo and your "rowers" are two big bamboo sticks. Now this sounds pretty simple and easy, but when you have to stand up and do this for almost two hours, your arms feel like they are on fire and you kinda feel like you're gonna die, well at least I did. Luckily for me, my wonderful bamboo raft mate Luqman has muscles for miles (I keep telling him to try out for American Gladiators) and he helped me out a lot. Well let's be honest, he pretty much carried us all the way by himself. In any case, I recommend this activity, but only if you got the guns/muscles and stamina.
Following my recovery, we took the canoe speed boat back to the guesthouse only to find that we had 5 minutes to quickly change clothes because we had even more activities ahead of us. I couldn't believe it! All I wanted to do was to go to my room and pose like a laying Buddha, but I changed clothes and hoped aboard the songtheaew, which is pretty much a pickup truck with two vertical benches on the bed of the truck. We rode for a while and then finally stopped at the Thai-Burmese border. Arjan told us about how since 1984, there has been a huge influx of Burmese refugees into Thailand. As of 2007, there are an estimated 151,000 Burmese refugees that live in the refugee camps that are scattered along the border. Most of these refugees come to the Thailand to escapee the ongoing fighting in Burma. There is much political turmoil and corruption that is going on.
We had some free time at the border so Luqman and I took this opportunity to look at the many Burmese crafts and we purchased some gifts for our friends and family who were holding it down for us in the good ole' US of A.
So you probably think that after this we headed home right, well think again. We went to yet another activity. We went to visit a local orphanage to watch a yoga performance that some of the children had prepared for us. For those of you who know me, you know that I am absolutely enamored with babies and children so you can imagine how I reacted when I saw all those kids and how much my heart broke when I thought about how they all didn't have homes. The director of the orphanage, a lovely Italian woman named Gianna, told us about how most of these children do not get adopted because many of them are dropped off or don't have any paperwork (birth certificates, passports, etc.) so they end up staying at the orphanage until their mid teens where they go out and get jobs. I know Angelina Jolie gets a lot of flack for adopting so many children but after visiting this orphanage, I know how she feels and I support her. If I had the ways and means, I would have taken all of those kids home with me.
We said our good-byes to the kids and then walked along this old wooden bridge which happens to be the longest bridge in Thailand. We arrived at the guest house absolutely famished and finally ate some traditional Thai dishes for dinner and then it was FINALLY time for bed. It really wasn't that late, but I seriously think I fell asleep before my head hit the pillow. I knew that we would be jam packed with activities, but I didn't think that I would be this tired. Besides learning a lot about Thai history and culture as well as some Burmese current events, I learned that I am way out of shape, especially compared to Luqman and that when I get back to the states I am immediately finding a trainer who can buff me up so next time when I go bamboo rafting, Luqman only has to do 80% of the work compared to the 99.9% of the work he did this time. Okay so now I'm exhausted once again from just typing this up and reliving this busy day. Until next time, I wish you sunny Thai rays and elephant riding filled days!