Chiang Mai 2012: Ziplining (Day 4)

We knew we wanted to do ziplining, but as most tourists visiting Chiang Mai would know, there are two major companies to choose from: Jungle Flight and Flight of the Gibbon. Jungle Flight was slightly cheaper than Gibbon and after researching online they both seem to be very similar experience, so we went with Jungle Flight for 1,790 baht per person.

There is also an even cheaper, locally managed ziplining adventure, but we didn’t go for that due to safety concerns. I don’t think there has been any accidents there though, so it’s really up to you if you want to choose this one and support locals instead (Jungle Flight and Gibbon were both managed by foreigners from New Zealand). I think they are about 1200 baht for the same amount of ziplining. Just ask any tour companies and they’ll be glad to assist you.

Day 4 – April 28, 2012

We were picked up early morning (again) at 7:45am and headed straight to the jungle, which was about 30 minutes drive away. Upon arriving, we were each handed a yellow helmet with green hairnet to wear underneath, fitted into a yellow harness and picked up a mysterious bamboo stick (which we later learned is used to control our speed during zip lining).

Yes, we looked ridiculous

We took a short walk to our first platform, where we were briefed on what to do and how to slow down if the ride gets too fast. Over all, it was pretty simple and safe. Our first platform was a pretty short one:

This is the view from one of the platforms. It may not look like it from the picture, but it was very high up, and the forest was massive!

One of the longer platforms. It takes a good 8-10 seconds to reach the other side.

I’m not sure which platform this is, but I took a video of one of the long platforms that had me screaming like a little girl:

Serena looks calm and composed in this picture, but she was actually screaming all the way

Our first abseiling, a 20m plunge. This was really scary!!!

The trip also involved a bit of up hill hiking

This is our last platform: a long 40m drop. I ungracefully screamed all the way down

Tired after a whole day of screamfest, we happily arrive at the last point before lunch. They called it… happy ending. yeah…

And that concludes my amazing visit to Chiang Mai. I will end this post with a picture of our last meal at the favorite place Ratana’s Kitchen. My mouth is watering just remembering how crazy good and insanely cheap the food was back there…

Bye bye Chiang Mai!

Chiang Mai 2012: Patara Elephant Farm (Day 3)

On our third day, we visited Patara Elephant Farm, which is the one activity I looked forward the most in Chiang Mai. It wasn’t cheap, we paid 5,800 baht for a full day of interacting and taking care of the elephants, but I also feel the money was well-justified seeing how all of the elephants were roaming free in a spacious meadow, well-cared for, and just from the sheer amount of food they eat in one day I’m sure they are not cheap to care for.

Day 3 – April 27, 2012

A driver from Patara picked us up at our hotel at 7:30am. From there, we fetched a few more groups and drove to the farm, which is located about an hour drive away from the city and up in the mountains (this means cooler weather!). I slept through the entire ride but woke up just in time as we were driving into the farm. I spotted a few elephants grazing around the meadow and woke everyone else up in excitement.

We were lead to the briefing area, an outdoor wood hut with a few wooden benches, where there were already about 30-something people sitting around. We were later split into four groups of 8-10 people and never saw the other groups again for the rest of the day. Within the vicinity of the hut, there were also two small baby elephants, one only slightly bigger than the other, with their respective mothers. Everyone was super excited because both of them were extremely playful and curious.

We met the owner of Patara Elephant Farm, Pat, who talked about the history of the farm. Pat claims to not be an elephant lover any more than the rest of us, but he started off rescuing one female elephant about 20 years ago and have successfully brought more in since then.

He informed of us of the alarming rate the Thai elephant population have decreased over the past decade – they nearly halved their population in just ten years, due to threats from us human beings (poaching and poisoning due to their destructive nature to farmers) and lack of natural space for them to live. However, on the more positive side, Pat revealed that last year and this year is an exciting time for them, due to the two babies who were born healthy, as well as a few other female elephants who are expecting next year!

I was a bit distracted throughout the briefing because the two curious baby elephants, who seem to be inseparable from each other, would come into our hut and playfully nudge us with their not-so-small head and inspect us with their tiny trunks.

That’s Pat in blue shirt being sandwiched by the two babies. The hands pushing the babies are the mahout’s hands, trying to guide them out of the briefing area to stop distracting everyone.

This one demands to be let through. Why, you ask?

Because on the other side a mahout is trying to lure him out, so that he stops distracting our briefing. Danny gave in and let him pass.

Each of us are assigned one elephant per day at Patara. After the briefing, we were instructed to carry these big baskets of elephant food down and meet our elephants. The baskets of food, consisting of chunks of sugar cane and some sort of pumpkin-like fruits, were really big and heavy. We had to walk down a hill and cross a small river to get to the elephant keep, and my arms were hurting by then!

The babies crossed the river with us as well! I’m not sure if you can hear from the video below, but our guide was explaining how the baby was just born in December (so about 4 months old at the time) and wasn’t sure how to do things as an elephants yet. She drank the river water with her mouth instead of with her trunk like usual elephants do. Still learning I guess! :)

We were taught how to inspect our elephants to make sure they are healthy and had a good night sleep. We were also taught how to approach the elephants and see if they accepts us. You do this by approaching them with an arm raised, food in hand, and walking to them from their front as to not startle them. Here is Serena demonstrating how to approach her elephant:

Serena called the elephant’s name, Nui, and she responded (that’s the loud sound you hear in the beginning). If the elephant takes the food from your hands, that means they have accepted you. You have to continue feeding them and making sure they are comfortable with you.

I was assigned to Mari, a 32-year old female elephant rescued from a local circus. She was so gentle and calm that we had no problem getting along throughout the day.

After feeding them, we were instructed to clean the elephants. Because elephants sleep on their sides at night, there are a lot of mud and dirt that needs to be cleaned before they can be bathed. Obviously since these elephants are big, it would be hard to clean them while they are standing up. Elephants are really intelligent animals and can understand several commands so we were taught a command to tell them to crouch down or lay on their sides for cleaning! I was amazed at how quick and responsive they are to these commands!

We then led our elephants into the river and began cleaning them with hard brush and water. It was seriously like cleaning a medium sized car, except the car understands what you’re doing and are watching you!

If you are wondering why there are so many pictures of us, it’s because Patara gave us a DVD full of pictures at the end of the day, all inclusive within the 5,800 baht price tag, so you don’t have to worry about carrying your own cameras.

Here is one of Serena cleaning her elephant, Nui, in style. Nui is a 12 year old female elephant, who was also rescued from a local circus. Nui is a sassy one though, she wasn’t just rescued – she basically ran away in the middle of her circus act, presumably because she decided she won’t put up with it anymore and just up and left. She was described as a playful girl, but has wisened up and is currently one of the mothers expecting a baby this year!

After cleaning the elephants, we went back to our hut to dry off. We were distracted by one of the bigger boys who came into the hut looking for food. I’m with him though, I was also pretty hungry by then!

We were then taught how to ride our elephants, since none of them were equipped with chairs or any sort of support. There were three ways to mount your elephant, and I chose the easiest one :P

Then we took a walk out of the farm, and onto the mountains. It got pretty scary and steep and some points, but the elephants took it well.

After about 20-30 minutes ride, we arrived at an open area with small waterfall. I was most delighted to see that our banana leaf lunch is served and ready to eat!

It was so good that I had THREE of those drum sticks on top of all the sticky rice, dessert and fruits we had. After we were done eating, whatever leftover was given to the elephants – but only the banana leaves and fruits. Elephants can’t eat leftover chicken bones and meat.

We spent some time soaking at the waterfall. You can also opt to bathe with the elephants, but I didn’t feel like getting myself too wet, so we just sat at the side and watched. The elephants were so happy playing around, sprouting water at each other playfully. We were also joined by the two babies and their mothers here.

After about an hour at the waterfall, we went back to the farm the same way we came in – by riding our elephants. The pack of elephants walked in line to the wooden hut.

When we reached the hut, we noticed one of the baby elephants, the smaller one, started making loud panicky noises, which in turn made the rest of the pack go wild with loud noises as well. It turns out the mother had stopped across the river and was separated from the baby. The mother started calling out to the baby and it promptly ran back across the river to be reunited with his mommy. Soooo cute!!!

This boy is dirty again after playing in the mud, but apparently they were smart – the mud act as a sun block for them, and also to ward off bugs that feast on their blood (similar to mosquitoes, but much bigger and scary!)

While we were sitting in the hut resting, we got to observe some elephants interaction with each other. Apparently elephants form friendship outside family relations, just like humans. One of the younger boy is particularly close to another much older male elephant, even though they had only met at Patara. You can often spot them by each other’s side. I find this extremely endearing!

Towards the end of our visit, I was still sitting in the hut and I spotted my elephant Mari as she seemingly spotted me as well. Then she walked fast and straight towards me, stopping only a few feet away. Serena asked if it’s because she remembers me. I’m not entirely sure about that, but it sure seemed like it. I could feel her watching me with her large, human-like eyes. I went up to her, rubbed her trunk and said good bye before she was taken by her mahout back to her living area :(

I left Patara with a heavy heart. I really wanted to spend more time with these gentle giants and one day was definitely not enough. A visit back to Chiang Mai to one of these elephant farms is definitely in the future for me!

On our way out we spotted the two babies again, this time accompanied by three adult elephants walking back to their living area.

Exhausted after a day of taking care of the elephants, we opted for an easy dinner by the river recommended by our hotel again. When we got to the place though, it was closed due to a royal family visit :( so in the end we were dropped off at a touristy restaurant by the Mae Ping river. Upon entering the restaurant, we were asked if we would like to sit on the boat for an extra 300 baht per table. We agreed since the weather was nice and 75 baht per person is really cheap.

Halfway through finishing our dinner, the waiter informed us there will be no more orders after 8. We were confused but thought nothing of it, until they started turning off the lights and revving up the boat’s engine… and then we were off on a surprise cruise! Apparently the 300 baht table includes a 45 minute boat cruise down Mae Ping river! We were pleased by this surprise. It was a nice, memorable way to end the day!

Next up, is our ziplining adventure through the jungles of Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai 2012: Tiger Kingdom (Day 2)

For our second day in Chiang Mai, we visited Tiger Kingdom. I’m aware of the moral complication associated with this place with the allegation of drugged / beaten tigers, but my stance on the tigers is this: If they aren’t cared for at the Tiger Kingdom, they would have been endangered by us human pushing for modern living (and this includes anyone reading this paragraph) as well as face the dangers of being hunted down by poachers looking for tiger parts.

Visiting Tiger Kingdom was expensive, but so does caring and feeding these big cats. I do believe the money was well-justified in that sense, and that boycotting this place without any real personal effort to better the lives of these tigers is just another example of silly slacktivism.

Day 2 – April 26, 2012

Getting to Tiger Kingdom was easy enough, just approach any of the red tuk tuk van that can be found all around Chiang Mai. We bargained our fare down to about 200-300 baht for our round trip and it took about 20 minutes from the city. Once you get there, you can choose to spend time with four types of tigers – baby, small, medium and large tigers – for 520 baht each. They also have packages consisting of visits to the S, M and L tigers, but we were only interested in the baby and the large tigers so we didn’t buy the package and spent 1,040 baht instead.

We visited the big tigers first. I have to say, I was really scared and nervous to be so close to the large tigers!

Really did not want to touch this big one. They are really big, heavy and intimidating. They were mostly laying around being lazy, but they occasionally open their eyes, and boy does it track you with their piercing stares. I figured I’ve already gone so far, might as well get a picture in.

The tigers were mostly napping throughout the entire day – they are nocturnal beings after all, sleeping 16-18 hours during the day. We try not to bug them in case that makes them angry.

Next we visited the cub cages, which was far less intimidating than their mothers.

Cure little soft paws!

The cubs were really, really cute, but I did get a sense that they just wanted to sleep and be left alone. They are not domesticated animals, so I mostly just took pictures of them sleeping around. A few of them would be awake and playful, like the one above.

After Tiger Kingdom, we went back to the hotel to rest up for the day. We were really exhausted from the heat!

For dinner, we got another recommendation from our hotel lady. She wrote us the address on a piece of paper to give to our tuk tuk driver and it was all in Thai, so I never found out the exact name of it. All I know is that it’s referred to as “dangling feet” restaurant, because the place is located on wooden structure on the second floor and you could choose to be seated on a table with hole below it, as such:

We didn’t sit on these table though. Instead we sat on one of those low tables on the floor. We knew the place was REALLY local when we opened the menu and not a single english alphabet was seen. Thankfully the waiter was able to give us some recommendations with her limited english and fortunately everything was tasty!

For our next day, we had booked a day at Patara Elephant Farm for a day of elephant care taking.

Chiang Mai 2012: Thai Cooking Class (Day 1)

Back in April I did a 1.5 week trip to Thailand. I met up with Serena, who has become my regular travel buddy since we went to HK/TW a year ago. This time we were joined by two other friends: Danny and my sister for Bangkok and Chiang Mai then Danny and Jenie for Phuket (my sister went back home after Chiang Mai).

Since Serena and friends traveled a long, long way to Thailand, we decided to hit up as much touristy spots as we can in one go. We flew in to Bangkok and stayed there for two days, then went on to Chiang Mai for 4 days and to Phuket for 3 days.

I had been to Bangkok before, not just once but twice over the past two years, so this time around I spent my time sitting around getting a massage or reading in our hotel while my friends did the floating market and visited the royal palace. As for Phuket, I have also been there before and didn’t do anything different from last time, so I’m not going to write about these two places again.

Day 1 – April 25, 2012

We flew to Chiang Mai on our third day in Thailand. As soon as we landed, we were greeted by a HOT, dry 100-something degree weather that resembles Vegas in the summer. In fact it was so hot that my nose bled three times on the first day!

We arrived around noon, and took a (really cheap) taxi van to our hotel near the night market area. Everything in Chiang Mai is noticeably cheaper than Bangkok and Phuket. I think we paid 80 baht (US$2.40) per person for the taxi ride. As for our hotel, we stayed at Studio 99 at another 2 bedroom apartment, which was super spacious and cheap.

We asked for lunch recommendation and the hotel lady pointed us to Ratana’s Kitchen, which quickly became our favorite spot for the rest of the Chiang Mai trip and consequently the best Thai food I had in the entire trip! They sell Chang beer for super cheap, around 60-70 baht so Danny and I happily helped ourselves to a bottle with each meal.

One of the things to do when you are in Chiang Mai is to take a Thai cooking class, so we did exactly that. We booked a course through our hotel with Asia Scenic and were promptly picked up at 4pm on the same day.

Upon arriving at the school, which looks like an ordinary residential house, we were offered a traditional Thai appetizer called Miang Kum, pictured above. According to our guide, this appetizer is typically offered to a guest visiting your house as a welcome snack. You put any combination of the ingredients above (coconut shavings, peanuts, onion, chili, lime and ginger) into the lettuce and drizzle some palm sugar on it, wrap it up and pop them into your mouth. I liked it so much I had three servings of these!

After a brief introduction, we were asked to choose our own menu. Since we did the half day class we only get to choose one stir fry, one curry and one soup. I chose to make Chicken Pad See Ew, Panang curry and Tom Yum soup. After that, we were taken to a local wet market to buy ingredients.

Then the cooking begins. First up is the stir fry category, or Chicken Pad See Ew for me.

From the same category, you can choose other menu but will cook it at the same time with the rest of the class. Here is Danny and Serena hard at work with their own dishes.

Pad See Ew is done! it was relatively easy since the ingredients have been prepared for you, and all you had to do is throw things into the frying pan with fish sauce :P Mine was yummy!

Next up is the curry, which involves a bit more effort as you make the curry paste from scratch. This means mashing up some raw chili and other ingredients. I just let Danny do all the hard work…

After the curry paste is done, you cook it with some coconut milk in the frying pan

… and done! My panang curry was really yummy! I chose this type of curry because i’m a huge fan of nuts, and this curry calls for peanuts on top of all the chili so the resulting curry is this thick, nutty, super yummy red curry.

For my soup I chose Tom Yum soup, but since it wasn’t very photogenic I didn’t take a picture of it. Also mine was kinda a failure :( it just tasted like sour water with some salt…

And here is the complete meal. It was quite an experience cooking my own Thai food. I appreciate how simple – yet tasty everything was! Thai food definitely ranks high up there as my favorite cuisine.

After the class, we walked around night market looking for things to do the next day (Continue to Chiang Mai, Day 2).