Thailand Week 4 – Stray, the Golden Templ and The White Temple

The last stretch of my adventure was just beginning and yet I still had three more countries to visit. I had met my tour group for Stray, the flexible tour that would allow me to hop on and off at any point during my travels with them while including some activities along the way, and they seemed like a great bunch so I was excited to se off with them.
Day 93 – An excellent way to start the first day of your tour is throwing up constantly all morning. As soon as I woke up I felt a bit queasy but it quickly became so much worse. Despite this I knew I didn’t have a choice but to get on the bus, the countdown to my visa running out imminent. I dragged myself out of the hostel and down the road to the Stray office. As soon as Caitlin, a girl on the tour I met the night before, saw me she said “Are you okay? You look sad”. Sad was one way to put it, death warmed up was another. I almost made it to our first stop of Ayyuthaya without spilling my cookies but not quite. Instead of exploring the old capital I hunkered down on a make shift bed at the guesthouse we were storing our bags at and hoped the sickness would pass.

Luckily by the evening I was getting some of my strength back. In fact I actually counted myself lucky that the first time I had really had tummy problems the whole way through Asia was three months into my trip. I was even more grateful that I had improved before we caught the night train to Chiang Mai. I had already taken a night train in India but this one was quite different and actually more comfortable. Instead of beds being three high there was only two, meaning you got more room. They also seemed wider and had ports to charge your devices on. The only complaint was that they kept the light on all night so its worth bringing an eye mask.


Day 94 – I had heard about the zip lining in Chiang Mai and since it was one thing I didn’t do last time I was there I was keen to do it this time around. I was less keen when I found out the price was over £90! Luckily I wrangled a deal with a girl on the tour who didn’t want to use her included ticket and paid for one of her activities instead, essentially meaning I got it half price. In the end I had a brilliant time but it was barely worth it at half price and I wouldn’t say it was worth the full price at all.

A mini bus picked us up from the hostel and took us to the Gibbon Experience where we spent a rainy afternoon getting soaked to the skin and not even caring as we whizzed over the treetops. Although it wasn’t worth the price the 800m zip line made it almost so. Your heart in your mouth as you step off the platform and fly above the canopy, the rain whipping at your face. It was a lot of fun and as an added bonus we got to see a gibbon sitting in a tree, shaking raindrops off his fur, just as soggy as us.
Day 95 – The day started off with a quiet breakfast at Le Kaa cafe round the corner from Deejai Backpackers hostel where we stayed. I made a plan to visit some temples that day and decided that if I could I would make the trip to Doi Suthep, a beautiful hill temple overlooking stunning views of Chaing Mai below. The guy at the hostel made it sound simple and cheap to get there… I should be so lucky. An hour later I was still on the sidewalk trying to persuade a tuk tuk driver to take me for a fair price. Eventually I gave in and paid for one to take me up and wait for me so he could take me down as well, costing me much more than I had planned but saving myself a huge amount of frustration. The tuk tuks in Thailand have been a new experience. Just as I was getting used to bartering for them in other countries where they will happily talk up and down until a price has agreed upon, I found the drivers in Thailand would shake their heads in disgust at what I suggested and driving away before we could come to an agreement. To be honest it was making me look forward to leaving Thailand. I was told it was the land of smiles but so far I was yet to see many.

All this briefly melted away though when I reached Doi Suthep. The views were just as stunning as promised; you could see the whole of Chiang Mai stretched out below, this vast and bustling city. The temple itself held a greater variety of Buddhas than I had ever seen before, small, big, emerald, gold – all sorts! Behind them the golden stupa glittered in the dying sunlight. I could see why everyone came to see it.


I finished my evening back at Roen Pludee, the food market Joey and I stumbled across and had some of the best food in Thailand. However, it wasn’t quite the same by myself and after a long day I headed back for an early night.
Day 96 – Today we headed towards the border and into Laos but first we made a stop along the way. I had seen photos of the White Temple and was really pleased to find out we would stop there along the way. This incredible temple is so different from any other I have seen on my travels. It is completely white edged with silver mirrors and has a modern influence, with spider man painted on the walls and masks of recent film characters hanging in the trees outside. If that isn’t strange enough the entrance features an expanse of reaching hands and contorted faces. It was bizarre and beautiful. Unfortunately I didn’t get to appreciate it as much as I would have liked though since our local guide rushed us through, a problem that would crop up several times on Stray, so it wasn’t long before we were back on the bus.


In the late afternoon we passed through border control and as the sun was setting we jostled down the bumpy road in the back of a tuk tuk towards our guest house. All of us were amazed at how pretty Laos was. I think everyone was a bit sick of Thailand by then and ready for a change. We ate dinner next to the Mekong river, gazing across it towards Thailand on the other side, excited about the adventures we had ahead of us in Laos.

Thailand Week 1 – Elephants, A Team and Bed Bugs on Christmas

The last few weeks has been so full on I’ve struggled to keep up with the blog and I’m well behind on my videos but before I tell you more about my last two weeks in Borneo I thought it was best to update everyone on my first Christmas abroad.For this part of the trip my travel buddy (a.k.a. My boyfriend, Joey) would be joining me for three weeks. . We met in Bangkok and planned to spend our first week in Chiang Mai at The Elephant Nature Park volunteering with elephants before heading South for the islands.

Day 68
– Today was a travel day. I left Borneo and the friends I had made on my recent Great Projects tour behind and spent the journey buzzing with excitement to finally see Joey again. When you’ve been away for so long any piece of home is the best thing ever so you can imagine how much I was looking forward to seeing him. Even though he set off the day before me I would still arrive in Bangkok an hour or so before his flight, so I headed over to the meeting point (there’s actually a designated meeting spot which is really useful if you’re trying to find someone in the airport) and took out my little sign for him. When he touched down we managed to message over wifi for a while. He was just waiting for his bag, he was so close, just down the hall from me and then… my wifi cut out. I tried to reconnect but was worried I would miss him if I was distracted so I gripped my sign tightly and waited. Eventually I saw him strolling through the crowds. I couldn’t stop smiling and the second he saw me with my sign a massive grin spread across his face too. Once we had finally untangled ourselves from our bags and each other, we headed off to our hotel for some much needed rest after a long day of travelling.



Day 69
– Unfortunatly we had tried but failed to extend our booking for our hotel so we were turfed out and spent the morning moving to the hotel next door and doing washing so I had something to wear other than smelly jungle clothes. Since Joey was still pretty jet lagged and we’d had a rushed morning we decided to have a slow paced day exploring the surrounding area. We stayed the next street over from Koh San Road and as we sat and ate pad Thai and green curry by the roadside,venders trying to sell us wooden croaking frogs and scewered scorpions, it was nice to see the famous road changing as the evening went on. Tourists haggled for elephant tops and gypsy pants at the roadside stalls, carts of fried grass hoppers, spiders and all manner of creepy crawlies appeared and music blared from the many roadside bars. My favourite part of the day though was tracking down The Fabulous Dessert Cafe where teddy bears sat at the tables and we ate waffles and rainbow crepe cake. We washed this down with some drinks at one of the pop up bars made from an old VW mini bus near our hotel.



Day 70
– We decided some culture was in order before flying to Chiang Mai that afternoon so we headed to the Royal Palace. After much difficulties with the tuk tuk drivers who try to scam you into doing a full day tour including a stop at one of their sponsors, we walked there. The roads were heaving with people dressed in black and filtering through check points. They were mourners, making their way to the Palace as well to pay ther respects to the king. Apparently this will continue for a full year after his death. Because of this the majority of the Royal Palace was closed off but what we did see was spectacular. Everything glitters and sparkles. The temples and pyramid shaped buildings are covered in thousands of gold tiles. Where there is no gold there are intricate paintings or mosaics and shiny statues standing guard. I don’t think I’ve ever visited such a bejeweled place before.


After exploring the Royal Palace we still had some time left so we walked down the road to. Wat Pho, temple of the recline in Buddha. This temple complex was equally impressive, especially the main attraction. The golden Buddha seemed even more massive crammed into a long room no much bigger than itsel and encased in pillars as if he were reclining in the middle of a forest. Behind the statue was a row of pots and you can change a 20 Baht note to drop one coin in the 108 bronze pots and make a wish in each. It is an interesting experience because I found I quickly ran out o things to wish for and had to hint hard about what I really wanted. Too soon we were running out of time and had to make our way to the airport for our flight to Chiang Mai.

We had booked a cheap hostel in a rush the day before and it was a decision we would live to regret. The second we stepped out of the taxi the owner began asking me questions about when we would check out the next day and why hadn’t i read his email about the front desk closing at 8pm and they had been waiting for us. All the while the taxi driver was asking for his money and Joey was trying to juggle the situation. When eventually everyone was paid and happy we got to see our room.. We ere greeted by a rock hard bed (I mean seriously the floor was softer) and a toilet that not only could you not throw toilet paper down but also needed to be flushed with a bucket of water. This is what £2.50 pp accomodation will get you. Safe to say we were eager to get out and explore the night market. We met up with Ell, a friend from back home who happened to not only be in Thailand at the same time ass us but had just finished the same elephant volunteering week we were about to start. As the hustle and bustle of the night market surrouned us and we followed the flow of people down the street, peering at hand made souvineers, sandals and elephant carvings galore, she told us what we had in store for the next week. If possible it made me even more excited.


Day 71– Our volunteering week began! In the morning we went to the Elephant Nature Park Office to be transferred to the park. On the way we watched a couple of documentaries about the torture these poor animals go through before working in the tourist industry. Young elephants are taken and put into crushes where their legs, neck and body are restrained with tight ropes between a small wooden structure. They are not allowed to move or even lie down. “Mahouts” then beat them using a hook, often fiercely jabbing it into the elephants ears and head. This is designed to break their spirit so that they will fear and obey the mahouts, who will continue to beat or threaten the elephants if they don’t comply.

It was a depressing start but something we all needed to know and it made seeing the elephants for the first time that much more poignant. We also got to meet some other residents of Elephant Nature Park when we took a stroll to cat corner. Alongside elephants they have rescued hundreds of dogs and cats, starting with those left homeless by the tsunami. Our welcome day ended with a blessing by a shaman, which involved little string bracelets tied round our wrists for luck and holy water being sprinkled on us.
Day 72 – The real work began and we kicked off our volunteer week with possibly the best job… scooping up elephant poo! It actually wasn’t as bad as it sounds and best of all it meant we got to be out in the park with the elephants. We even took a break halfway through just to watch these magnificent creatures enjoying their freedom. These rescued animals get to roam the park and do what they like, their mahouts (not like the cruel ones from the crushes but men who care deeply for their charges) watching over them, feeding them and guiding them back to their shelters at night. Currently there are a few older elephants you can stroke, and we were also lucky enough to bathe them,  but the park is soon to start a “hands off” policy so that the elephants can have even more freedom and be one step closer to their wild selves. In the meantime though we enjoyed meeting Mae Jan Peng, an old elephant, her eyesight damaged by constant camera flashes of tourists, and stroked her leathery skin. It’s strange that you can actually feel how saggy it is on them, almost hollow and yet at the same time thick. Their skin is covered in coarse hairs and for some elephants this is quite thick and on others it is more sparse. It was incredible! A lifelong dream come true!



Day 73 – Food day today! We spent the morning passing tiny watermelons down a line of people to be scrubbed and prepped for the elephants. The older ones who have no teeth get the rind taken off for them too because they can no longer digest it. We also made rice balls by compacting rice with oats, banana and coconut in so they can pick it up with their trunks to eat it. Later we provided them with some enrichment by stacking corn stalks around their night shelters. In the evening we got a lesson in Thai culture and language and even learnt a Thai song about elephants. I confess I can’t remember the rest but I still have the first bit of “chang Chang Chang” in my head, meaning “elephant, elephant, elephant”. If I can I will try to remember all the lyrics and write them down here though.
Day 74 – More poo! Our group, A Team, seemed to have drawn the short straw when it came to the poo task but we made the best of it, hitching rides on the truck and working together to get it done quickly. Our team was mostly the group of us who had travelled to the park on the mini bus together; we got on so well we requested to be put together. A bunch of us even went to a cooking class together in the evening. Our kind host, Pookie, had tiny gas stoves set up on her patio outside and together we learnt to make some Thai classics: Tom Yum soup, Pad Thai, green and red curry and (our new favourite dessert) mango sticky rice – which you should not knock until you try! At the end Pookie and her assistant showed us a traditional way of making sticky rice in a bamboo, making it slightly caramelised around the edges and even sweeter.

Day 75 – We finished our food task early today so that we could visit a local school. Many of the mahouts children go to this school and it is one of the perks of their job that their children are provided with a good education. It was great to see the project supporting not just animals but the local community too. As soon as we arrived I was accosted by a gang of girls who led me round, showing me the bracelets and candles the students make and sell, not to mention quickly getting their hands on my camera and becoming little photographers. One in particular was a professional in the making, getting me and the other girls to pose for her. I’m even a little jealous of some of the shots she got!


Day 76 – Christmas Eve! At home maybe this would have been an easy day of chilling out and getting ready for Christmas Day, maybe seeing friends and having a few drinks but no such luck at Elephant Nature Park as elephants are hungry even on Christmas Eve! This was possibly our hardest day as we had to travel outside the park in the back of a truck and spend the day hacking down tall, prickly grass in the hot sun. We were rewarded with a party in the evening though and a couple of members of A Team, Leon and Erin, even played Santa Clause and Mrs Clause in handing out presents to all the staff and the mahouts. There were lots of performances too and we got to see some traditional dances as well as ones other volunteers had come up with themselves. It was an unusual Christmas Eve but nice to finally be getting in the spirit of christmas!


Day 77 – Christmas Day! So elephants still eat on Christmas Eve and apparently they still shit on Christmas Day. It seemed only itting to end our time at elephant nature park as it began – scooping poo! This time it was done with some Christmas cheer though…


Once our final task was done and we had said our last goodbyes to the elephants we waited for our transfer to the lovely Eco Resort where we would be spending Christmas. I was chatting away to A Team and scratching absent minded lay at my arm. No matter how much I itched it wouldn’t seem to stop and when I looked down I had massive red welts on my arm. I was covered in little spots in other places but where i had scratched was the worse! It was unbelievable how itchy it was! I had to sit on y hands to control myself. Sleeping on the journey back was the only thing that calmed it, that and some natural bite cream we managed to get at the eco resort, but by then Joey was starting to notice little red marks too and getting just as itchy. 

As if this wasn’t bad enough I had been suffering with a bladder infection for the last week so when our Christmas Day would have involved swimming in the pool and tracking down a nice place to eat it actually ended with us sat in hospital so I could get some antibiotics and something for our bites, which we still have no idea whether they were down to bed bugs or heat rash but whatever it was I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. 

Not an ideal Christmas to say the least but all that faded to insignificance when we Skype our families. It has been my first Christmas away from home and so hard not to spend it with my mum. Yet even miles away, across the ocean and in a different time zone she is still looking out for me. I got to open a little hand made stocking full of goodies and travel supplies. I honestly have the best mum ever! As for me and Joey getting presents for each other we headed to Chiang Mai night market again and spent an enjoyable evening scouring the stalls for souvineers for each other. I ended up with some beautiful rings and I got Joey some sunglasses (genuine rayban I was assured). In short, Christmas didn’t go quite as planned, but it didn’t matter, not one bit. Not when I was spending it with someone special and not when I knew my mum was back one with family having a lovely time too. 

My first week with Joey at Elephant Nature Park was amazing. I met some great people and got to be up close to an animal I have admired for years and even based my novel on. It was the best way to start our time together and made us even more excited for our New Years celebrations in the South of Thailand.