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Our last day in Chiang Mai, Thailand

On our third day in Chiang Mai, Thailand, we decided to go the “nature” route instead of the “wildlife” one that we had been on the past two days. After tigers and elephants, a hike to a local waterfall would do the trick!  We ventured out in the morning with a personal driver to Mae Sa Waterfalls. These falls are actually a series of 9-10 small waterfalls and cascades spaced anywhere between 100m to 500m apart from each other. We arrived on a chilly morning and began our hike up to see each part of the falls.  Most of the falls were small
but still very beautiful, as was the hike between each part of the falls.  We took lots of pictures of the green, flourishing vegetation; of the hundreds of butterflies that were flying around the park; and of course, of the falls themselves.  At the last part of the falls- the highest
part- we relaxed on the rocks, basking in the sun like little turtles.  It was the warmest point of the day and the sun finally felt warm and nice.  We lay there quietly enjoying the sound of the water’s enchanting lullaby.  After hiking a little further and finding that we were, indeed, at the end of the trail, we headed back down the many steps and hills that we had climbed and rejoined our driver at the entrance to the park.

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When we arrived back at our hostel, we found our next activity awaiting us- our ride to Siam Rice cooking school!  They were an hour earlier than we had expected, but thankfully had waited for us instead of leaving.  We quickly dropped our stuff and changed clothes and then headed out to meet the other people who would be joining us for some Thai cooking!  Once we had picked everyone up, we headed straight to the market.  Here our instructor Pot showed us some of the main ingredients we would be working with:  three different types of basil (Sweet, Lemon, and Holy Basil), lemon grass (which is to be used for flavoring but not actually eaten), different kinds of ginger, the kaffir lime (a bumpy version of our limes), and turmeric.  After she had purchased the ingredients needed to do our cooking, we headed to Siam Rice headquarters, donned our aprons and began to choose which 5 dishes we would be making during the course of the evening.  We were able to choose one kind of soup, noodles, curry, stir-fried vegetables and a dessert to make. 

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We began with the soup.  I chose chicken coconut soup and Trent made hot and creamy soup.  We both learned how to correctly slice up our ingredients and how to mix them together to create the jam-packed flavors of Thai food.  When we finished cooking our soup, we began to cook our noodles.  I chose Pad Thai- one, because I love it, and two, because it was the only non-spicy option.  Trent chose to make drunken noodles.  Pad Thai was kind of stressful to make because it is made in a very short time and the timing of each ingredient is very important.  I quickly obeyed each order our instructor gave and within two minutes, I had Pad Thai ready and waiting to be eaten.  Trent’s dish was not as fast, but definitely just as stressful.  He got to play with fire! (It shouldn’t surprise you to find that ALL the men in our group decided to make this dish)  His dish required a HUGE flame so I was glad that I got to watch from a safe distance and record him working his magic.  When they finished, we all sat down to our first round of food: soup and noodles.  This would have been plenty to fill me up but we were just getting started! 

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Next we got right back into things and prepared the ingredients to make our curry and our stir fried vegetables.  I decided to make yellow curry (since I am a wuss and can’t handle spicy foods) and Trent decided to make jungle curry (a very spicy curry).  We put our first ingredients into the mortar and began crushing them with the pestle.  Once we had a paste, we had the base for our curry.  Then we started cooking, added the chicken and combined all of the other ingredients and had the beginnings of round number two.  We covered our curry to keep it warm and began making our dessert.  For me, it was no question, I wanted my favorite Thai treat- Sticky rice with mango!  We didn’t have to actually make the sticky rice as we were told it is a long process and can take a full day to make.  But we did make the delicious sauce.  Once it was finished, we sat down to rice, curry with vegetables, and dessert.  I don’t think I’ve eaten that much food before or since!  We packed it in until all 5 dishes had been annihilated.  Then we thanked our teacher, Pot, received our class certificates of completion and a cookbooks to bring home to (hopefully) be able to replicate some of the recipes.  Thai food is so flavorful and the cooking class opened our eyes to see all the hard work that goes in to preparing our favorite dishes.  We really enjoyed our evening at Siam Rice Thai Cookery School!Image

 

 

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Lion, and Tigers, and Elephants in Chiang Mai- Part 2

On our second day in Chiang Mai, we left early for Baan Chang Elephant Park.  I had done a considerable amount of research on the different elephant parks and sanctuaries in and around Chiang Mai.  Again, I was looking for sustainable practices and humane treatment of the animals.  This one was one of the top two on my list.  I wasn’t looking for a “dog and pony show,” instead I wanted an authentic learning experience and genuine interactions with elephants.  Baan Chang was definitely the place to go!  Our tour guide Aof (pronounced “Off”) picked us up at 8 and we headed to the park.  It was a chilly morning by Thailand’s standards and, although we were wearing pants and t-shirts, Aof was donning a stocking cap, long-sleeved shirt, and winter vest (after all, it was a balmy 70 degrees).

When we arrived, there were elephants everywhere!  There were a few other tourist groups as well.  As we disembarked with the others from our group (some Aussies, some Brazilians, and others from good ole Las Vegas, Nevada), we were given shirts and pants to wear while interacting with the elephants.  Apparently the old adage “An elephant never forgets” is true because they told us that the elephants will accept anyone wearing this uniform as a friend.  So we put on the (particularly unattractive) outfits and prepared to feed the elephants.  Joining our group was a local business owner, all dressed up, who was making a promotional video about the park for his/her TV show.  So apparently we had our moments of fame as we were a part of this video and somewhere, at some time, we were on Thai TV (our brief and only brush with fame).

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The first thing we did was feed the elephants.  They brought out basket after basket of bananas and sugar cane and taught us how to give it to them.  The first option was to hold it out so that they could grab it by the trunk and bring it to their mouth.  The second option (and far more scary) was to actually put it in the elephant’s mouth.  At first, Trent and I were timid as we fed these enormous creatures, but as we got more comfortable, we got much closer, touching and petting these gentle giants in the process.  It was incredible to see them eat bananas by the bunch and to hear their incredibly powerful jaws chomp down on the sugar cane.  We even saw some clever elephants storing extra sugar cane on top of their heads so that people would continue to feed them, all the while stockpiling for later.  It was very entertaining to watch!

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When we finished feeding the elephants, Aof began telling us more about Baan Chang.  It is a sanctuary that rescues elephants from bad situations (most often from circuses or other destructive elephant parks).  They chain their elephants only twice a day- at feeding time and at night time.  They explained that this is for their safety and for the elephants’ safety.  If we fed them unchained, we would likely be stampeded in the process as, obviously, they would all want the food we had.  Also, they are easily spooked by loud noises.  Especially at night, this could also cause a stampede.  Aof continued by telling us about the hooks that they occasionally use on the elephants.  At first the hooks made me feel really uncomfortable, but his honesty about them and why they are used put my mind at ease.  These too are for the safety of all involved and it doesn’t hurt the elephants indefinitely- it’s more like a little spanking.  He told us too, about the elephants’ skin.  Even though it is thick, it can easily get cut and infected.  Elephants like to rub against trees to itch themselves, but often the trees rough bark can cut through the elephant’s skin and lead to more problematic wounds.  He went on to explain to us the difference between Asian Elephants and African Elephants- Asian Elephants are much smaller and have a big head and small ears whereas African Elephants are much larger and have more “Dumbo-like” ears with a smaller head.

Finally, the time came for us to learn how to ride the elephants.  One of the things that appealed to me about Baan Chang was that, although they let you ride the elephants, it is not for a prolonged time, nor do they use the large seats, which can irreparably damage an elephant’s spine.  We were given the commands to make the elephant get down (“Nalong”) as well as instructions on how to mount an elephant (not an easy task).  Once the elephant gets down, you have to step on his leg and grab the top of his ears, then JUMP up and frantically grab for the other ear while the elephant immediately starts to shift his weight back to a standing position.  I watched as the other people successfully did it (although not without many panicked looks and some escaped profanity) and nervously awaited my own turn.  Trent went first and survived, as did I, although it was terrifying to be up that high!  I can’t even begin to describe what it is like to be on top of an elephant.  First of all, it is much higher than, say, being on a horse (which I have done many times).  Second of all, you have to scoot up, almost to the point where you are on its head, and you can feel its enormous shoulder blades shift with every movement.  It’s not exactly comfortable, but it was pretty cool.  You have to relax your body (easily said, not so easily done) and move with the elephant.

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Then we learned how to direct the elephant- we say “Bai” to make the elephant go, and we say “Kuay” along with a kick of the opposite leg to move in either direction.  When we want to stop we say “Ho” and to get back down we again say “Nalong.”

After a delicious lunch of fried chicken, rice and pineapple sauce, soup, fresh pineapple and coffee, it was time for us to put our knowledge into action as we took an elephant ride around the compound, through the forest and along the river. It is now that I should insert that Trent’s elephant LOVED to eat.  She wasn’t named “Naughty Girl” for no reason.  At any given moment she was pulling at trees and eating plants, and mine, being directly behind his, thought it okay to do the same.  It is pretty disconcerting to be sitting on an elephant’s neck when they lean their head back and put their trunks way up into a tree to get something to eat!

At some point we stopped to take a break (seriously, riding an elephant is NOT comfortable).  Trent’s elephant had to be chained (because she was so naughty) and the others roamed freely while we rested in the shade and drank some water.  It was in this time that we saw two crazy/cool things.  The first is not for the faint of heart or for the easily embarrassed.  If that is you, skip to the next paragraph.  We saw an elephant penis.  Yep, you heard that right… and it was… well… elephant sized.  One of the elephants was trying to mount another while we all sat back, both horrified and intrigued by what we were seeing.  Rest assured, it never turned into full-blown elephant sex (the female elephant played hard-to-get) but it was awkward nonetheless!

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The second crazy/cool thing we saw is how elephants drink.  Our guide was telling us that we could pour the water from our water bottles into the elephants’ trunks and then they would spray it in their mouths to drink it.  I watched and filmed as one of the other ladies in our group tried it.  It was fascinating to watch!  They sprayed the water into their mouths with such force and power!

The final event of the day was to take our elephants to the watering hole to bathe them.  This was probably the most fun.  Even though the elephants pooped in the water (yes, there was floating poop as we were in the water), we had a blast washing and brushing our elephants.  The guides were playful as they threw buckets full of water at us and at each other.  They even told Trent and I we could stand on our elephant’s back for a picture.  We did and we had so much fun that we didn’t want to leave.  But alas, our time with them had come to an end.

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We were extremely blessed to be able to see and learn about elephants in such a personal, up-close encounter.  We developed a deeper and more profound respect for these beautiful and powerful creatures and loved our time there.  We would recommend Baan Chang Elephant Park to anyone who will be in the Chiang Mai area!

The rest of the night seemed pretty anticlimactic compared to the excitement of the day, but we came pretty close when we found Mexican food!  Now, to most, that probably seems pretty trivial, but in China where we live… no hay nada.  So “Loco Elvis” had our vote.  We ate delicious burritos with chips and salsa (I haven’t had salsa since September in Beijing!) and tried some local Thai beers while enjoying some live music.  On the way back we came across a massage parlor that was so cheap we couldn’t refuse.  We chose the hour-long foot, head, neck, and back massage for like 7 dollars.  Unfortunately 50 minutes of that hour were spent on our feet (I HATE foot massages) and only 10 minutes for the rest.  So boo.  Then we headed back to our hostel to rest in preparation for our final day in Chiang Mai.

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Lion, and Tigers and Elephants in Chiang Mai! (part 1)

As we embarked on our Christmas adventure, our first destination was Thailand.  We arrived in the northern city of Chiang Mai at around 10 am after spending nearly 12 overnight hours sprawled out across the metal chairs in the Bangkok airport.  Needless to say, when we arrived at MD House, we were exhausted!  We ate a quick breakfast at the hostel and took a short nap, enjoying the warm breeze wafting in through the window.  All that was on our agenda for the day was to visit Tiger Kingdom and explore our Thailand surroundings.

After our short nap, we got a tuk-tuk and headed out.  As the cool air filled the space around us, we drank in the sights: beautiful mountains and landscapes, elaborate Buddhist temples, farms, and even a water buffalo sauntering along.  We arrived at Tiger Kingdom mid-afternoon, which, according to my research, was the tigers’ calmest time of the day (and not too long after they’d been fed).  We had read quite a bit about this place.  Tigers, being my grandpa’s favorite animal, have always been intriguing to me as has my love for cats (even really big ones).  We wanted to see them but we also wanted to be conscious of what kinds of things our money was going to support.  The tigers here are neither chained nor drugged (at least according to them).  They have been raised since babies to be around humans and therefore, have become comfortable being touched.  Their record is spotless- they have never had anyone seriously hurt, mauled, or killed.  Nevertheless, I cannot say that we weren’t nervous to interact with these great and powerful creatures.  As we entered the small building, we saw people in the enclosure with the big cats.  We explored our options and decided to see three different groups of tigers: the “smallest,” “small,” and “big” cats.  We also forked over the extra 12 bucks to get a professional photographer to take pictures with the big boys.  As we waited we watched people getting their feet nibbled by fish who eat the dead skin off of them, we saw these huge, translucent plastic balls that people could go in on the water, and we watched people eat at the restaurant overlooking the tigers.  Finally it was our turn to go in. 

We started with the “smallest” tigers, which probably helped calm our nerves.  We also had seen others (probably much more “delicious” than myself) go in and emerge unscathed, so by the time it was our turn to go in, our anxiety had quickly faded to excitement.  When we went into the enclosure, we were able to pet these little 3 month old tiger cubs.  They were so soft and warm.  Most of them were sleeping- in fact, all but one was sleeping, but that is typical not only for cats (who can sleep up to 18 hours a day), but especially for babies.  We began with those ones (the least intimidating by far).  The trainers in there with us assured us that it was okay not only to pet them, but also to lay on them, which we timidly did.  Then we moved on to the little tiger who was awake, mischievous, and playful.  He was very fun to watch and we got some cute pictures when he slowed down long enough to stay still. 

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After the cubs, we moved on to the bigger cats, which still fell into the “small” category.  These cats were all around 6 months old and as we entered this cage, we felt much more comfortable interacting with these magnificent creatures.  One even put his sweet little paw on my head in his sleep!

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After the “small” tigers, we had to wait a while before our encounter with the “big” cats.  While we waited, we wandered around and watched the other cats play.  We watched two in particular that had us convinced that Tiger Kingdom’s claims about not tranquilizing or drugging their animals were true.  These two cats bounded about, chasing and play-fighting with each other.  They splashed around in the pool and looked to be as carefree as ever.  There were several other tigers in another enclosure that were also chasing each other and play-fighting.  We saw some newborn tigers, from a distance of course, as they are far too young to be handled by lots of humans.  They were so furry and adorable!  There was one lion (yes, a lion) who made our stomachs “catch in our throats” as he roared his mighty and powerful roar right next to us.  We also saw colorful parrots and other tropical birds.  None of the animals looked sad, per-se, but one thing that did me sad was the size of the cages they are confined to at night. 

Finally, our “big” moment arrived and we went in with the large, adult tigers.  Here we lifted the tiger’s tail (which was thick and HEAVY, almost like lifting a baseball bat), firmly petted and stroked their coarse fur (light touches are ticklish and can make the tigers irritable).  And it was here that we got the photo- op of a lifetime when our huge tiger yawned, revealing a mouth full of massive teeth for us to record in digital history forever.

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By the time we finished up, we were exhausted, but on an obvious high!  We hit the souvenir shop, got our photo CD, and headed back to our hostel. 

That evening we decided on Thai food (You know what they say… “While in Thailand…”) and went to a restaurant right next to our hostel.  I had Pad Thai (always a favorite) and Trent had Matunayu curry (a new favorite).  After dinner we explored the city.  We walked around under the light of the full moon, stopping to admire statues, architecture, temples and shops.  We returned home with some new souvenirs and a bunch of irreplaceable memories.  What a magnificent first day of vacation!

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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