The Elephants

No trip to northern Thailand is complete without elephants. The brochure stands at any and every hotel / hostel in Chiang Mai are full information about the different organisations offering ‘elephant safaris’ ranging from half a day to a couple of days.

Now, to be honest, I’m not really a fan of these animal safaris, and I picked up a whole bunch of these brochures for research purposes only. But then I spoke to a few people who had made this safari, and every one of them recommended the experience.

Elephants, by their very nature, are not accustomed to intimate human interaction. Now you may argue that elephants and humans have lived closely together in small villages across Asia and Africa, but what wild elephant is going to let you feed them by hand and hug their trunks?

So, with my barrage of brochures, I discerned that the safaris in Chiang Mai were broadly organised into two camps – one that let you ride the elephants, and the other that strictly do not. A quick Google search (I have come a long way from my previous adventures – read here), and it is apparent that the riding camp is the one you need to avoid like the plague. The only way you can make an animal that weighs a few thousand kilos allow a puny human to get on its back and command and steer it, is by torture. Apparently they catch them young, and then use hooks, chains and other methods of pain to to break the elephant’s soul into submission and subservience for the rest of their lives. Hell no.

I was fortunate in finding an organisation that had a bunch of small camps – mine had 6 elephants, 2 of which were babies. While I’m certain these elephants did go through some methods of disciplining, I hope and pray they weren’t as brutal as the riding camps; and on the face of it, these elephants did seem truly happy. Case in point:

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The trip started with a 6:30 am pick up from my hostel, and after we picked up a few more people from neighbouring hostels, we quickly hit the highway for our ~2 hour ride to the elephant camp. The ride was, to say the least, puke inducing – and I was glad I had no food in my belly that morning. Once we got there, we had a quick briefing, were asked to wear a colourful elephant camp shirt(?), and handed a bunch of bananas to feed the elephants. We were even taught the elephant command for asking them to raise their trunks to feed them directly into their mouths! An elephant eats around 200 kilos of food everyday, and they kept pushing their trunks in front of every tourist asking for some bananas. They ate, and they ate, and they ate… then the mahouts brought in another large crate of bananas and sugarcane, and they ate that too. And when all of that was done, they were brought some corn / leaves, and they ate that as well; of course, posing for pictures and giving hugs while they did.

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Happy food face.
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Hugs.
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More hugs.
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Me trying to get him to raise his trunk.
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He’s just trying to get to the food in my pocket here!

After this we were asked to change into our swimsuits and we made our way down to the river to give these cuties a mud bath!

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And this was followed by a dip in clearer water to wash off both, the elephants and ourselves. At this point we were also greeted with some extra loud elephant farts!

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Clean me up, humans.
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Clean me up good.

After this we were fed a simple Thai lunch, and the elephants got their lunch too. At the end of that, we were given one last chance to click some pictures with the elephants. Obviously, the elephants got some more food at this point as well.

All in all, I rate the experience as amazing, and while I’m undecided on whether this trip was ethical / in the best interests of the elephants, I’m happy my money will be used to feed their bottomless bellies, and maybe, just maybe, even put a smile on their faces…

 

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Catmosphere

Cats are assholes!

Now that we’ve got the facts out of the way, let’s move on…

I ended up at this cafe in Chiang Mai today called the Catmosphere Cafe – a cafe dedicated to cats. I say ended up here because we originally set out to visit this underground temple, which was a disappointment. We decided to pay this cafe a visit as a saving grace. Boy, was that a good decision.

A short walk from the famous Maya Mall, you need to wash your hands and use some hand sanitiser before you can enter the cafe. This is to make sure the cats don’t get your germs, but once you’re in, it is cat heaven.

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These fuzzy fur balls walk around the cafe not giving a damn – just like any cat in the history of cats.

Now, I gotta admit, I was not a cat fan a year back. But over the last year or so, I’ve seen so many cat memes, that I’ve come to admit that cats can be fun too (thanks NN). The back of the menu card gives you the names of the cats in the cafe – not that they’d even give you a glance if you shouted their names for eternity – but it’s cute.

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Now I tried giving these cuties some love, and I tried getting them to pose for my camera. I mean really really tried. But cats just don’t seem to care (or like me). Finally, I gave up and just sat there drinking my coffee.

But if you’re ever in Chiang Mai, I strongly recommend this place. To learn how to deal with rejection, if not anything else.

I did get a few pictures of cats being cats, so here they are:

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And here’s my favourite one… apple bottom jeans, boots with the fur?

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Temple Run

After my dramatic, and potentially dangerous, feud with the Bar Mafia, I left Bangkok to move northwards to Chiang Mai, stopping over at a few interesting places along the way.

I started off with Ayutthaya, which used to be the old capital of Thailand – before it was razed to the ground by the invading Burmese. The area (or what remains of it) is fairly spread out, and either a bicycle / motorbike is the easiest ways to explore the old city. I decided to go with the bicycle, which was generally fine, save that I am now a few shades darker, and my butt still hurts…

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I stayed at this guesthouse, a 5 minute bike ride from the area that hosts the temple ruins, that was run by this adorable Thai family. The old man was the friendliest and nicest – made my think of my old grandpa. He even cooked me this delicious ham and pineapple pizza (it’s delicious people – get real).

The following day I made a day trip to Lopburi, which was an hour and a half by train from Ayutthaya – tickets were only THB 13!

The old town of Lopburi is this tiny little town – and I think I covered the whole town on foot in a couple of hours. They have a few temple ruins, obviously dedicated to Buddha, but also some that have an Indian influence. They had an active temple dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu!

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One of the temples in the old town, the Pran Sam Yod, also happens to be a monkey mafia stronghold. They are literally everywhere, ready for a sneak attack. A couple of them even tried jumping on me when my back was turned, but little did they know that I already had mafia experience. They were no match.

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As I stepped out from the temple, one monkey, unscrupulously jumped onto a passing truck and stole a pipe. I don’t know what use he had of it, but here are pictures of him looking at the pipe, and then chewing the said pipe.

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After Lopburi, I moved further north to Sukhothai – which hosts the Sukhothai historical park, a park that has 193 ruins! I only had a few hours, so I hired a motorbike this time (my butt was most grateful), and only covered the ruins that interested me.

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And then came the highlight of the park (for me anyway), the Wat Si Chum. The little description at the ruin tells me that back in the day, when the Burmese army invaded Thailand, they crossed this temple, saw the Buddha and fled. The ruin looks absolutely amazing even today – so it’s not hard to imagine how powerful that image of Buddha was back in the day. There’s a narrow slit in the structure itself that gives you a glimpse of the large Buddha on the inside. Warning: I don’t know what the people in the second picture are doing – so please ignore them and look at the Buddha.

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From Sukhothai I took a long, long bus ride up to Chiang Mai – where I have been the last couple of days, and dealing with the loneliness of solo travel. More on that later…

 

The Bar Mafia

Nestled away in dingy first floor room in the Patpong district of Bankgok you will find a peculiar institution – one with women on a stage with stripper poles and no panties.

While this may seem like a really cool ‘bottomless party’ (Harold and Kumar reference – YouTube it!), it is in fact what you think it is… a god damn ping pong show.

If you ever are in Bangkok and go to any tourist area, literally any of them, you will be approached by at least one Thai guy with a worn out, laminated piece of paper that reads ‘ping pong show pussy pussy pussy’. You usually avoid him and laugh at the kind of tourist that falls that.

But that night, we actually went looking for the guy…

Didn’t take us long; 5 steps into the main street, and we had our man. A little bargaining and we quickly arrived at a price that worked for all parties. THB 100 per person to catch the show (we were 8). He led us through what seemed like a legit night club entrance, all the way up to the first floor, which suddenly seemed nothing like a night club. The place was dimly lit, had the stripper poles and bottomless women I mentioned above, and reeked of scam. A quick glance to the table near the entrance, and who do I see? Good old Indian men enjoying the show! Woo!

Anyway.

Once we got to our table(s) – the seats were all along the perimeter of the place, so that everyone gets a good view of the stage – we are asked to order a drink each. It’s not acceptable not to. It’s a business, I get it – we order a beer each for another THB 100. That’s THB 200 each – so far so good.

The show begins…

Avoiding the specifics because it’s unbelievable gross, the lovely ladies:

(1) accurately shot darts towards some balloons;

(2) lit the candles of a plastic birthday cake and skilfully blew them out;

(3) shot ping pong balls towards us (they left us some paddles on the table to get into the game); and

(4) smoked a whole cigarette!

Now, in case you think this is no major feat for a woman, they did all of this with their vaginas! I have not seen, or heard (god, the sounds), anything like what I witnessed that night. I would even say I am somewhat scarred by what I witnessed.

Noticing we had had enough, the bar owner / manager lady comes to us with our bill. THB 12,800 (~US$ 400 for those wondering). That’s THB 1600 per person!

Obviously, we refused to pay that ungodly sum for the ungodly acts we had just witnessed, but she was firm in her demands. She even produced a whole different laminated piece of paper that, instead of saying ‘ping pong show pussy pussy pussy’ like we were expecting, said ‘ping pong show – 1300′. The additional 300 was for the originally agreed 100 for entry, 100 for the beer, and 100 for tip! The gall.

Anyway, arguments ensued. We told her we had agreed to 100 for the show with the man downstairs. She said she owned the bar, and not him, and this was the price. Fair point, but when she realised we weren’t going to pay the full amount, she quickly dropped to 800 per person. We stuck firm on the 200, some of us even tried to bargain for 150. And this is when the owner / manager lost it.

You see, I referred to her as the owner / manager, because as we would soon find out, she actually had a boss as well. So I’m not completely sure if she was the owner or the manager. Off she goes, and comes back with her iPhone, threatening to dial her boss’ number. We call her bluff, she dials – making it a point for us to see that she is in fact dialling the BAR MAFIA!

She did this a few times. Either Mr. Bar Mafia was really busy, or he was just avoiding her calls. Can’t blame him though.

The asking price slowly drops to 600 per head, then 400, then 300, and then an acceptable 250. We pay her, one of us smashes a beer bottle to make a point, we exchange a few ‘fuck yous’ with the bar people, and we were out.

Having escaped the dreaded Bar Mafia’s clutches, we go to an actual, 100% legit bar this time, drink a few more beers, and dance away the night.

And with that, I have successfully encountered, tackled, and survived my first Thailand scam.

Final verdict: To anyone still considering checking this out. I do not recommend this experience. To anyone. Ever. Never ever ever.

I wish I had pictures, but the Bar Mafia was watching. 😉

Pad Thai

This is a post about my favourite Thai dish.

The story goes that way back, during World War II, Thailand went through a phase where rice was scarce. In order to promote an alternative staple, the Thai government heavily promoted noodles. Around the same time, the government also changed the name of the country from Siam to Thailand, to eliminate the influence of the Chinese, and promote patriotism.

Influenced by a bunch of different cuisines, most notably the Vietnamese, but also Chinese(!), Malay and even Indian (the tamarind), the pad Thai was born. It was then pushed onto the masses via push-carts on the streets of Thailand, and soon, the dish became ubiquitous, and it was even patriotic to eat pad Thai.

Today, pad Thai is synonymous with Thai cuisine all over the world, and within Thailand, you will find pad Thai at every nook and corner, made fresh at street stalls. While the base remains the same, every stall you go to seems to have a slightly different take on pad Thai, and therefore, a slightly different taste.

Wondering how I like my pad Thai? I like it best when it’s inside my belly. Kidding, go to Thip Samai.

Pictures? You get none because Thip Samai is being renovated currently. So here’s a picture of pad Thai from the restaurant right next to it, which is quite good too!

(Pardon my poor picture clicking skills)

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Why we all need a little Google in our lives

It’s a hard thing being an Indian, really. We’re a really cheap bunch of people. It’s even harder if that Indian is me. Now, if you know me, you’d know that I spend money on the most frivolous things you can find. What you probably don’t know, is that I will try and save money in places nobody in their right mind should even try. Read on…

So, my Thailand plans take me northward tomorrow to the old capital city of Thailand, Ayutthaya. There’s a plethora of travel options to Ayutthaya from Bangkok – each taking around 2-3 hours. But I need comfort, and Wiki says the train has the best scenery, so I will take the train.

Not wanting to stress about having a ticket (I had to get slightly less comfortable seats for my train from Pak Chong to Bangkok due to unavailability), I decided to walk to the Hua Lampong train station in Bangkok to get my ticket in advance. You read that right: walk. I decided to walk for an hour in the 35 degree centigrade plus (my weather app says it feels like 40) humid weather of Bangkok. A taxi would have cost me no more than a 100 Baht. But hey, it would be an adventure, and more money for beer?

I begin my journey, and I planned on hitting a cafe after getting my ticket, so I also carried my computer. Big mistake. About half way through my walk, I was reminded of the fact that we’re still very much in the celebratory period of Songkran. I was splashed. Twice. Yelling in English that you have a laptop on you does not work with the Thai. They simply do not care… or understand.

Now drenched, but resilient, I continue walking. After what felt like years, I finally made it to the station – my tee shirt now a equal parts sweat and Songkran water. I personally think it made a really cool design. Pushed my way to the counter (not really, I stood in line), and asked the gentleman at the counter for a ticket to Ayutthaya on April 16. He tells me tickets to Ayutthaya are only sold on the day of travel.

Fuck.

Songkran

I am back in Bangkok for the next few nights to celebrate the Songkran (Thai new year). It’s this massive celebration where everyone hits the streets with water guns and buckets of water, to throw them at people passing by. Quite like Holi, actually, minus the colours and bhang.

Curiously, a quick Wiki search tells me that the word Songkran itself is derived from Sanksrit, and interestingly enough, the dates coincide with Vaisakhi, which is the Sikh new year. It’s amazing how cultures around the world are so different, yet, sometimes, so similar.

Coming back to Songkran: as my train pulled into Bangkok, we were splattered with buckets of water – inside the train! Fortunately, I got a taxi right outside the station, so my bags (and me) were protected… that is right until I reached my hostel. An entourage of kids and grown ups assembled right at the entrance, and tactically soaked my shorts (but not my bags) with their water guns. Props for skill.

After a quick shower and some free beer and prawn crackers at the hostel, I decided to check out Khao San Road. And oh man, was that insane. If any of you have visited Khao San, or even done a Google Image search, you’d know that the street is packed to the brim with tourists and locals. But during Songkran, they somehow seem to have found a way to pack some more.

Needless to say, I was soaked. Some enterprising groups even throw in ice cubes in their buckets of water for that added bite. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my phone with me, so there’s no pictures. But I’m going to come back and update this with some pictures from tonight. (Forgot to mention that they celebrate the new year for 3 whole days!)

With that, it’s now been 10 days since I got to Thailand, and today marks my first laundry day. Time to go check if my clothes are done.

Edit: Updated with pictures 🙂

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