Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Khao Yai

Beautiful park (60 km in total), all green with rainforests and waterfalls. Also lots of wildlife, the leaflet says elephants, gibbons, deers, tigers, snakes (to name a few) and lots of birds & insects. And no you didn't read that wrong, tigers, just roaming about in the park... They dont give you any health & safety lecture at the entrance either. Welcome to Thailand. But, on one of my treks, I did bump into a tour group who had a guide that spoke very good English so he was able to tell me that the tigers were kept far away from the road or trekking areas. You need like safari trucks to go see them apparently - which they dont offer as tour.

Anyway, saw some awesome waterfalls - probably the highlight of the park. You know the film The Beach (of course you do), well you know the waterfall Leonardo DiCaprio "jumps" off? I went there. It's called Haew Suwat Falls and it's about 20m high (made to look bigger in the film I think) but definitely the best i've seen so far in Thailand, so picturesque it needed a frame (ha). We'll see if the South can top the North...

The train journey was fun, had to go from Ayutthaya to a place called Pak Chong and from there get a taxi (or Songthaew as their known) to the park entrance - so overall took about 4 hours? Like I said, the park is 60km so walking is very much out of the question if you want to see anything, but I hired a motorbike from the main entrance for the 3 days I spent there so got to see a fair bit. The roads were really good and everywhere was mostly signposted so never got lost, thumbs up for exploration.

Spent 2 nights at the park camping, man, I love camping. Made my tent (which you can rent) all by myself - pay attention Hannah Baxter, the whole time I was thinking "What would she do?". The campsite was again very nice, had a small lake and lots of grass, along with numerous huts and a resturant - no shrimps on the barbie here. The only downer was the fact it was so quiet, I met a couple from Australia on the day they were leaving and that was about it. Spent my evenings hanging out with the warden watching Thai television and although I tried not to look at the time, was probably in bed by like 9:00? Meh. The night sky was amazing though, no light pollution so many many stars. The mornings also, peaceful apart from the odd gibbon arguement in the trees - who you'd often see (along with deer) visit the bins thoughout the day. How very... erm, natural.

I did see a wild elephant though from one of the watchtowers which was pretty cool, he was just wandering the lands on his own. Also on a walk back from Haew Suwat I had to walk along the road back to where i'd left my bike and came across a family of gibbons sitting in the road (about 20 of them visible), they weren't the 'jump in your bag and steal your camera' type either - not that I gave them the chance. They weren't friendly or anything but they watched me and I watched them and just let me wander by. After this I hitched a ride (actually recommended in the brochure) because I was beginning to think my map wasn't in proportion and that i'd be walking for days. Oh and crocodiles too, saw them. They're not actually advertised as being in the park but saw one on the day I bumped into the English speaking guide on a trek - they were freshwater incase you were wondering, about 1.5m long. Didn't see an snakes (although enjoyed driving by the "Cobra Crossing" along the road) but did see a few exotic spiders. Oh and butterflies, lots and lots of them. They are the size of small birds.

Im back in Bangkok right now, will be here for the next 4 days with a one day trip to Kanchahaburi probably on Friday. Another weekend market in Bangkok - Alllllll-riiight.

P.s. Trains, just so you know, they're very late here too - over an hour today. The station master looks at his watch and gives you a rough estimate at best, then an hour later it arrives. Oh the wonder. X

Sunday, 22 February 2009


So I left Sukhothai and finally arrived in Ayutthaya (when I say "finally" I mean 3 days ago) - lets just say bus drivers aren't expected to wake you when you arrive at your stop, ended up back in Bangkok and having to get a bus back North, to say I was a bit confused would be right. I sat on a local bus back at about 6:00am surrounded by the morning commuters, forgot how busy things were at early o'clock in the cities. And, well, let's just say I now know what it feels like to be the ethnic minority.

Im staying at a place called Ayutthaya Guesthouse (I know, where DO they come up with this stuff?) and been renting a bicycle from them everyday (about 60p a day) and been off exploring the city... I think technically that's what it is but it's not very big at all, a town by our standards. It's kind of a small Chaing Mai with hints of Sukhothai (and a little bit of basil?) and I understand that means nothing to anyone except me - it's just small, slightly busy, with more shops and lots of ruins.

The first day I was here... About 30 minutes after I got back on my bike (by the way, how hot it is/was and how much energy I have, is surprising) there was a massive thunderstorm and epic amounts of rain. I was standing out under a canopy thing but I have never heard lightening strike so close, it was like War of The Worlds - the Steven Spielberg one. The rain did freshen things up a bit though and im glad it didn't continue as in the afternoon I booked my train ticket to Khao Yai National Park, the idea of trekking round that in the rain was REALLY appealing :-/

So basically everyday i've been out on my bike, kind of too much time and not enough destinations really, could have left today if it wasn't for the fact my guide book said dont go to Khao Yai on a weekend - way too busy considering it's proximatey to Bangkok. So im leaving tomorrow (Monday) for probably a 2 day stint in the park, most likely in a tent (hello mosquito spray) which will be a bit of a change, although not much when you compare it to some of the huts i've stayed in.

Anyway, there's a few more bars and stuff here than Sukhothai, and the Wat ruins are quite impressive (one called Wat Chaiwatthanaram - im well naming my child that - was very nice, I think the fact it was sunset and there were a group of monks mulling around made it so) so it's been a pleasant stay but if you ever come, 1 day would probably be enough. A walk around the city at night reveals nothing except a banana & chocolate pancake - which was actually worth it. Oh and today I got directions to a "mall" along some strech of road a woman drew on my map to try and find a book shop (no book shops here! Really annoying!), so about 40 minutes later and after a casual trip down a motorway - everything is so casual here - I find it and next door is a Tesco's (yeah, weird) so of course I had to give it a look. Ended up being just a generic supermarket with the same old crowd of shoppers and products you get in England - except Thai of course - so it wasn't quite the taste of home I didn't not want (?). These Western stamps seem to spoil Thailand... It's all too big and air conditioned for my liking.

Oh, and the book shop I originally went for had only Thai books, even though the woman said it wouldn't. I care not, it occupied me for an afternoon, although I think she should get fired because she was an official information giver at the T.A.T (Tourist Authority of Thailand).

P.s. I have criminal sunburn today, proper lobster arms with a really crisp line where my t-shirt was. You'd think after 6 weeks my arms wouldn't be so god damn white. Grr... X

Michael Jackson

"It don' matter if your blog's black or white."


Thursday, 19 February 2009


After leaving Pai I spent one more night in Chaing Mai, where as promised I posted home some stuff. It should take 3-4 weeks because I did it economy air mail (strangely cheaper than economy sea mail which takes 2-3 months - weird no?) so let me know when or if that arrives. I have a number and a website to check where it is in the world, but how accurate that is I dont know.

My bus to Sukhothai from Chaing Mai took 6 hours and amusingly, I was befriended by a Thai lady called Doi who 10 minutes into a semi-conversation, got out her Thai-English "Love" book and started pointing out phrases like 'Handsome' and 'You take ride with me?', then insisted (because she lived in Sukhothai) that I go stay with her. I laughed quite alot and continued to sit near her (with iPod on) but declined her offers - she had a very severe face.

Im staying at a place called Ban Thai Guesthouse by the river and it has a great shower - at full power it leaves scars - and the people here are really nice. This is a very quiet part of Thailand though, doesn't get the flow of travellers that the North or South get, but I kinda knew that before getting here. Yesterday I rented a bike (non-motor variety) and spent the day visiting the Old City and the temple ruins, felt like I hadn't been on a bike in ages so enjoyed cycling around. The ruins were really impressive, lots of buddhas and temple relics, alot of them in really good condition. There were about 14 sites to visit and if im honest, by site number 10 it was getting a bit same-same, but I tried to ignore that and see everything with new eyes. They were definitely the best ancient ruins i've seen in Thailand so far and a great taster for Angkor Wat in Cambodia - will upload pictures when I get to Bangkok.

In the evenings there isn't much to do here, at about 6:00pm everyday day on the other side of the river there is a mass public aerobics session, reminded me of something that would happen in China but it never ceases to amuse, especially the music they use - lots of Western remixes. Oh, and although observing, I haven't yet taken part. I've mostly been reading and sitting on the deck outfront of the guesthouse, finished a book in 2 nights (settle down) which is the fastest ever for me. Whether it was a really good book or whether I was that bored I dont know, but I enjoyed regardless... Probably a good book come to think of it.

Im leaving today on a night bus to Ayuttaya (saves on accomodation) which takes another 6 or so hours. Im not sure what to expect in Ayuttaya, more temples and ruins I think but there seems to be a bit more to do, especially because of it's proximatey to Bangkok. If not, well im 2 hours into "The God Delusion" audiobook - thanks Mark Pavey, it's good so far - which should keep me company. Will update at some point between now and then... Whenever then is.


Sunday, 15 February 2009

Bye Bye Pai.

OK so tomorrow im off back to Chiang Mai for one night, then heading South to a place called Sukhothai (it's inbetween Chiang Mai and Bangkok). I dont think i'll be there long, maybe just one day and one night, there's a few places I want to go before heading getting to Bangkok for the 1st of March (that's when I head to the Southern islands) so will have to be a bit of a location hopper until then. Other places I intend to go are Ayutthaya (and hour from Bangkok), Khao Yai National Park (East of Ayutthaya) and Kanchanaburi (West of Bangkok to ride the Death Railway over the River Kwai - which im guessing wont be the happiest of trips considering it's history but educational none the least). So yeah, a lot to do 13 days... by my standard atleast.

The last two days me and my friend Marc (from Oxford - bumped into him 3 times on my trip so far, small world huh?) have been exploring Pai on motorbike (dum dum dum!... Dont worry, I was actually a really good driver, 110 km/h and all) so have visited a few waterfalls, the hot springs, Pai Canyon... Scenery has been beautiful, but the annoying thing about mo-peds is you pass too much too quickly, so many photo opportunities missed. Oh, and for the record, never put a rubbish water bottle in your bag with a rubbish lid because it leaked all over my guide book and journal... BIG grrr... Luckily my journal has dried without any real damage but my Rough Guide... It looks like someone's been playing football with it in the rain :(

Now I know i've been saying this for like a week but tomorrow when im in Chaing Mai I will definitely be sending some stuff home. I think it takes about 4 weeks or something but I was putting it off to add a few more bits otherwise it hardly seemed worth it. Also, postcards, doing that tomorrow aswell, but, thinking about it, my blog is pretty much a long continuous postcard anyway so might be tricky finding something to write. Maybe i'll draw you each a picture (?) because you all know how much of a talented drawer I am (?).

Oh, and one more thing, being that im trying to keep this blog honest, I thought I share with you that I was sick for the first time last night. Yeah, have no idea what happened, had lunch, felt fine, 3 hours later after walking around the markets felt a bit unusual (that's the medical term) and that continued till about 10pm when I went home, then I was just sick throughout the night. It was almost like my stomach was saying (in a Brian Blessed esc voice) "No Thomas, I will not let this food pass by, it is very bad and will cause many problems". But this morning I felt pretty much fine (weird) and I haven't been or felt sick so all is normal, I was just grateful it was coming from my mouth and not the other end. I am taking it easy today though so thus the reason for another long post. And no mum, there's no need to send in the Red Cross, im fine.

P.s. I watched Slumdog Millionaire in a bamboo cinema a few nights ago, really good film! If you haven't seen it already go (Chris Elphick im looking in your direction), it's like a cross between City of God and... One of those movies which makes you feel good afterwards - a heart warmer yes.


Saturday, 14 February 2009

Happy Paveytines Day. X

Just for the record, Mark isn't that special but i've only just figured the whole uploading pictures thing so he gets first dibs. You ALL know I would have done the same for you... (Except maybe Lozinge) (ha). The thing in the background is a view over Pai. Have a good one Mark! X

ENP in 3 Pictures.

Chiang Mai in 3 Pictures.

Ko Chang in 3 Pictures

Ko Samet in 3 Pictures.

Bangkok in 3 Pictures.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Pai (pronouced Pi)

The twisty road was all a bunch of scaremongering. Yeah ok it was twisty, just not extreme hardcore twisty. Definitey not enough to make me feel ill. One girl did get sick though, meh, lightweights.

Pai is a very small place, it's all nice and chilled out - very bohemian. Seems like a good little city with lots of lanes and a few hidden gems hidden around, you definitely can walk from one side of the city to the other. I had a little trek up to the temple on the hill with clear views across the valley which was swell. Then spent the day wandering the markets, some really nice t-shirts here graphic designer fans - strange, but I might invest.

Tomorrow im renting a bike and taking a trip to a waterfall and a few other temples - yeah, big gold buildings and buddhas dont get boring. No seriously, they dont... Ok maybe a little. Oh, and i've also figured out (like it was hard) how to upload pictures (oh yes) so i'll do that at some point - I know, I can feel your excitement... Or, just look on Facebook because folk seem to be uploading them there.

Like, totally. X

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Elephant Nature Park Part. 3

A last round up of all things elephant from my time at the park (I know, change the record already) :

- The park has recently acquired new land about and hours drive from where they are now - a winding road through the jungle and up some quite steep slopes and bends (im not going to say it was the most comfortable journey in the back of a van but the scenery made up for it). The land is 3 times the size of where they are now, going from 5o sq km to 150, so over the next few years they'll be preparing the site (building huts etc). We were the first group of people to see it outside the park staff, and even most of them hadn't seen it. Lek's ultimate goal is to not chain the elephants up at all at night, allowing them to roam so this is a big step in achieving this. The site where they are now is surrounded by farmland so to leaving the elephants to roam would cost alot of farmers their banana trees. The first job at the new site was fire breaking, clearing a 10m gap so fires wouldn't destroy the vegetation. We were literally in the middle of the jungle on quite a steep slobe cutting back plants for a few hours - cuts and blisters applenty. There wasn't much wildlife which was a bit of a surprise, lots of insects but no birds or monkeys, we just all got on with it, ignoring the fact snakes could be lurking under foot.

- A quick point about the food at the park, it was second best only to the elephants for how much you looked forward to it everyday. A massive buffet at lunch and a smaller more traditional one at dinner but it was like a Pizza Hut buffet on steroids - i.e. VERY good, the best food i've had here by far, and the food here is really good so...

- My 3 favourite elephants at the park were Aura, Hope and Makio. Everyday after a bath Aura loved to eat bread and would actively give out kisses to receive slices... Lets just say on one afternoon I was obviously very appealing because I got 7 kisses in a row. I also bought a carving of her on my last day which was done by her mahoot, all proceeds going straight back into the park. Hope was the first elephant to be raised by Lek through non-traditional methods - control through love, not fear - so he's pretty special, he is like the proof of practice... He's also going through his naughty teenage years so can be very unpredictable, he's the only elephant in the park who wears a bell so you can hear him coming.

- Mid-week all the volunteers went to visit a local school and spend the aftrenoon there talking English with the kids and generally having fun. We were just literally pushed infront of a class and expected to know what the hell to do, but all the kids were really friendly so for most of the time we just played football and volleyball in the playground, I became quite popular because of my height and my eye-brow ring so was dragged from place to place. (*sigh* popular at last...)

- On the Saturday we went on a 2 hour trek with 7 of the elephants to a place known as Elephant Haven, a cabin in the jungle where the elephants are allowed to roam free all night. Because we took Hope we did have to go on a bit of a night hike throught he jungle because he has tendencies to wander too far, but no, we found him pretty quick - Mahoots are awesome trackers. This really showed the trust between keeper and elephant, I mean if I left even Benson out all night im pretty sure he wouldn't have been as good as them. During the night we sat around the fire, Pom told us lots of stories and the Mahoots played us some music - a few Christmas songs which was quite unexpected, overall another great experience.

- Lastly, im going to try and return to the park for another week in July just before I return home (yeah, im a little hooked, can you tell?) so might put aside some money for that. It'll be the wet season so will be a bit different...

This will be my last post from Chaing Mai, booked my ticket to Pai this morning so leave tomorrow morning. Also picked up some motion sickness pills (even though I dont get car sick) because the road to Pai is renowned for it's twisty-ness (370 curves or something), i've heard a lot of vomit stories... So I might give you a quick update tomorrow evening or Friday with the gorey details.

Adios X

Monday, 9 February 2009

Elephant Nature Park Part. 2

So I may keep referencing Jurassic Park, but this time for real, especially the drive to the park through all the jungle and valley - scenery was beautiful, the kind which cant be captured by a camera (this also applies to sunsets). Elephants are dinosaurs - their skin, the way they move, their smell and especially the noise they make. It was a strange feeling to not have anything between me and them, no fence, no wall, no glass, no trench... Takes a day or so to get used to, learning their body language and behavior, I mean they are so powerful but also amazingly gentle. They had 37 elephants at the park when I arrived and 39 when we left (will discuss that later) but they're basically BIG dogs with python noses, with the a definite old lady feeling.

Everyday we were up at 7:00 for breakfast and morning chores would start at 8:00. The mornings were pretty cold, not so much the air but there was a lot of wind so ended up being kinda refreshing. Jobs in the mornings ranged from cleaning up elephant poo, cleaning out the buffalo pen, cutting corn and banana picking, through to fire breaking (digging a 5 metre border around the park to stop forest fires) and bamboo recycling (for new huts). Afternoon work was based solely around the elephants - feeding them, bathing them in the river (A-mazing), scrubbing them, treating them at the medical centre, more feeding... And everything was hands on. Every elephant at the park has a Mahoot (a keeper) who stays with them for life, so they basically trust and listen to them. The only rules were never approach an elephant without his/her Mahoot - so only at night when they were chained up), and of course some of the elephants had had very traumatic lives so some just kept themselves to themselves. A few had even turned on their original owners and killed them so you learnt who you could approach and who you couldn't. Bath time was the best, everyone's given buckets and scrubbing brushes and it basically turns into a big water fight everyday with the elephants getting involved too. They were all very gentle, which seems bizarre considering their size but obviously on a couple of occasions you had to get out of the way sharpish because elephants being elephants, sometimes didn't listen.

On the 4th day we got word that an elephant trekking camp a couple of km along the road had 2 in need of rescue. Lek who's a pretty amazing woman (she's the founder) literally thinks and talks about nothing else but the wellfare, treatment and safety of elephants, got us all into a truck and we went to the camp on mass. Obviously this is the shorthand description of what happened, there was alot more talking between Lek and the owners of the elephants over many days or weeks about what needed to be done but we ended up saving 2 over 2 days, a bit of a privilege considering they last rescued one 5 months prior. They were so thin and beaten up with cuts & scars across their heads and bad skin conditions - it really was depressing, and yet us Western tourists continue to fund this sort of thing. I mean im only scratching the surface here, you'll have to see the dvd when I send it home, it's very shocking.

So after the rescues there was a daily routine of tending to them - creams, lotions, antiseptics etc and it was kinda amazing how well the elephant responded considering it's life, I mean it was 65 years old and had probably never had a day off, yet somehow they sense you're there to help so allow for all the attention. A highlight of the week for me was when I came back from my hut (a treehouse by the way!) for feeding, Pom - the second in command after Lek - gave me a basket of fruit and asked me to go feed the rescued elephant on my own, away from all the day visitors and other volunteers. So there I was on my own, about 100m from everyone else with this elephant (not even chained up) just feeding her this basket of fruit in the sunshine for about 30 minutes. It was a real wow moment you know? She was so gentle and I was rubbing her nose and behind her ears, this is the sort of trust they have. I think the park is works on trust, even between the staff and the volunteers, I built up good relationships with the staff and had good banter so sometimes I think they trusted me more.

Ok so this is the longest post ever? I'll end it there but im just working my way through my journal transcribing things so i'll post some more another time. Im in Chiang Mai till Wednesday and then im heading off North-er to Pai, wasn't originally on my itenary but i've heard good things. Im off up a mountain tomorrow (it's only about an hour by taxi-van) to a temple called Doi Suthep, it has incredible views across Chiang Mai so here's hoping there's no cloud.

Speak soon X

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Elephant Nature Park

My eyes have been opened so wide it hurts. Truly an amazing experience, it's so hard to convey right now how it was, I think I need to let it sink in, even trying to write about it now is hard, the words just aren't coming. What Lek (the founder) and the park are doing is incredible. When you see how elephants are treated in Thailand for tourist trekking & such and then what they are trying to do to rescue & protect them it's unbelievable. It's a pretty emotional journey we all went on so I dont know where to start, I'll probably be blogging about it for a couple of days because there's so much to say. I guess this is to just sum up how it was, and it's so strange because I literally feel like this is the end of my trip, I dont know why, like I feel this is the highlight of my journey and will be throughout, just feels a bit strange - like I have to keep reminding myself - that I have 5 months left. Maybe in a couple of days it will change but right now, trust me when I say, I could have stayed at the park indefinitely - yeah, that good.

I guess over the next few days i'll post stuff i've written in my journal - it's a lot more chatty and not so "oh my god, so much emotion"... But for now i'll just leave it at that. It's 8:00pm here and alot of the volunteers have come back to Chaing Mai so we're all meeting at 9:00 for goodbye drinks. Visit and if you're thinking about coming to Thailand to see elephants, REAL elephants, then avoid any of the tourist trekking or street elephants because it's beyond belief how they treat them. I might sound a bit preachy or whatever when you're reading this back home but im just trying to be honest, I disregard credibility right now.

And on a lighter note, I have loads of photos so it wont be something I forget... Unless I get a job there because let's just say i've been enquiring. Anyway, until tomorrow atleast i'll leave it there, my brain needs to settle. Thomas Havell loves the gentle giants of Thailand. X

Happy Birthday Jean Havell

See, I made it.

Have a great day! (all be it a cold one according to your comments). I'll be heading to the post office tomorrow or the next day to hopefully post some stuff home, only a few bits but I dont want to lose or break them. Look out for the DVD's I include because every volunteer at the park gets a film of their experience which has been made during the week... I feature quite alot... It's erm, interesting. You can look forward to that...

Ok well I have so much going on in my head about the Elephant Nature Park it's hard to not write about it so have a nice day mum and hope you get some good presents and stuff (scarfs, hats, gloves etc by the sounds of things) :)


Sunday, 1 February 2009

Chiang Mai / Elephant Sanctuary

So i've been out and about in Chiang Mai today, arrived about 10:00am after a pretty decent sleep on the train - apart from the occasional loud vibrating sound of the train stopping, shame it was dark but I get to see the scenery on the way back down.

It is so much calmer and relaxed here, much less hectic than Bangkok with people being much more friendly, or atleast genuinely so. Folk just say hello and there's never that over-bearing emphasis on buying stuff, people are just happy for you to browse - a bit like the weekend market actually, surprisingly.

Im staying at a place called Top North Hotel in Tha Pae Gate Area and annoyingly, even though I missed it, had a guy at the train station holding a placard with my name on it, proper business like. Instead though (because I totally had no idea they were picking me up) I paid 80B for a tuk tuk. But, and this is a big but, maybe even in capitals... BUT my room... I am never booking accommodation as part of any package again, it's way too high end! I asked the porter and he said the room i've got is 800B a night (!), I was only paying 300-400B in Ko Chang/Ko Samet and the North is supposed to be cheaper! Grr... I hope I didn't pay more than 600B for this room, thankfully it's only for 1 night but still, it's too nice (in a very bad way), no young folk at all.

Luckily, and this is the only plus point, the place I have to meet tomorrow to go to the elephant sanctuary is 2 minutes down the road from Top North so that's good, I have to be there at 8:00 so cuts out a lot of the hassle.

This might be my last post for the 7 days im at the elephant sanctuary because according to the information pack i've got, internet access is very limited, it says even just to full time staff but I dont know how true that is (just to give you a heads up). I'll have to keep extra notes and stuff so come Feb 8th/9th, i'll post a big update about it. Im pretty excited though (!). Yesterday infact, me and Frida went to the zoo in Bangkok (by accident really) and we purposefully avoided the elephants because of the conditions they were in, that pretty much went for every animal there though, just so much concrete. I did see hippos, tigers, bears and monkeys though but still, you can see them in any zoo. I did make humourous Moira Stewart voices when we came accross the giraffes - big up Chris Elphick for that.

Ok unless you want all the very boring details about every single thing, I think I have nothing more to say. Im off to Wat Phra Singh this evening, apparently very beautiful in the sunset with all the reflections and stuff - a Thai guy with family in Hackney told me that. So, like I said, might post something sooner that the 8th but I'll see what the situation is. I'll definitely hope to post something on the 8th because it's a certain someone's birthday... :)

Sawat dii. X