Hey, everyone! It's Saturday so we have most of the day off from our volunteer duties at New Life Foundation, and I finally have some time to upload pics and update you on what we've been up to.
Although our original plan was to say in Chiang Mai for four days and Chiang Rai for two before coming to New Life, we changed our plans because of some activities we wanted to do in Chiang Mai and decided to stay there all six days. We really didn't do much in Chiang Mai that the guide books recommended--we didn't see any of the temples, or climb the famous hill that overlooks the city. It rained a good bit, so we visited several museums and hung out in cafes and perused some used book stores (one of my favorite things to do)! It was a lot of fun, and a nice break from being a tourist.
The major touristy things we did were visit the markets, spend a few hours in an Illusion Art museum (you'll understand once I upload some pics!), and visit the Baan Chang Elephant Park. For me, the elephant park was definitely the highlight of our time in Chiang Mai and one of the highlights of our whole trip--and the reason we decided to stay in Chiang Mai longer. When we tried to book our visit there, we found out the next date they had room was Sunday the 12th. We'd been planning on leaving on Friday and there were a lot of other elephant parks around, but this one had such a good reputation that we decided to change our plans so that we could visit. I'm so glad we decided to take that route, because it was amazing! We arrived, changed into our work clothes, and pretty immediately started interacting with and feeding the elephants. They told us a little about each one and how some had been rescued from illegal logging and dancing shows and other backgrounds. The park pays a lot of money to rescue the elephants from these circumstances and they explained that some of the other parks in the area claim to be "rescues" but really don't treat their animals very well, so we were glad we waited to visit this one. Feeding and touching the elephants and seeing them up close was cool as it was, but then it was time to climb up and ride them. First, we were taught some commands, like "go," "stop," "turn," and "down," and we each practiced climbing on the elephant (we were riding bareback, as the chairs are apparently bad for their spines) and riding in a small circle. Ian went first and I, of course, hung back and went second to last because I was very nervous! But it was really awesome. After that, each couple got an elephant and we went on an hour-long ride through the jungle. There was always a mahout, or elephant trainer, with us so that if something happened they could take over. Our elephant was a bit mischievous and many times tried to veer off the path and eventually started sucking muddy water into her trunk and spraying it all over us, but to me that made her all the more fun to ride! After the ride, we got to go into a pond with the elephants and give them a bath, which was also really fun and amazing.
The next morning, we took a bus to Chiang Rai, about three hours north, and then a tuk-tuk about 30 minutes out here to the foundation. We've had a really peaceful and relaxing time here, doing some work and yoga and meditation and learning about the good work that the foundation does. I've learned a lot about mindfulness and had some other really neat experiences, like brushing down the cows yesterday morning. Although mindfulness is all about being in the now, the quiet here has also given me a good opportunity to reflect on the entire trip, the unbelievable experiences we've had, and the upcoming journey home.
On Monday morning we will leave here for Chiang Mai and eventually make our way back to Bangkok and south to Koh Samui. I am really looking forward to this last leg of the trip at the beach and will try to tear myself away from the ocean to post another update before leaving for home on the 30th. :)