Thailand Week 3 – monsoons, temple ruins and goodbyes

Joey’s last week in Thailand was just beginning but for me I would have some extra time, passing back through Chiang Mai on my Stray tour I would be starting after Joey left. With just one week left together we wanted to make the most of it. Our days off from diving had mostly been spent relaxing so we were looking forward to doing some exploring and fun activities. We planned to go to Koh Lanta, maybe fit in another fun dive now we were both qualified and do some kayaking and paddle boarding too. Alas it was not meant to be though as they had sold out of ferry tickets on the day we wanted to go and we felt a ten hour night journey by boat and bus would not be fun. Instead we settled on going to the much closer Koh Samui, which still had interesting temples, grandfather and grandmother rocks to see and kayaking too. We booked our ticket and prepared to leave Koh Tao.

Day 86
– Today should have been our warning as to what was to come. Between eating breakfast and spending ten minutes packing up the last of our stuff, the heavens opened. We legged it to the taxi and tried desperately to keep our stuff dry. When we got to the ferry port we had to wade through the flooded street only to be packed in amongst tonnes of other tourists, our raincoats rustling as we jostled to get our tickets and then get on the ferry. This time we weren’t taking any chances, especially with the weather, and we took some travel sickness tablets and managed to squeeze into a space near the railings on a couple of plastic stools. This trip seemed so much easier than the last one, mostly due to the fact that the tablets seemed to totally knock me out. Even when we eventually arrived at our lovely hotel I still couldn’t keep my eyes open and both Joey and I drifted off to the pitter patter of rain on the roof.

Day 87
– We also woke up to the pitter patter of rain on the roof. The weather wasn’t looking much better but we were determined not to let it get to us. It wasn’t a good day for exploring but it was a good day for movies! Seeing as Joey and I are cinema fanatics and both miss the time we had unlimited cinema passes and used to go to see a new film about once a week (at least) we couldn’t resist spending a rainy day eating popcorn and watching movies. We went to the mall and first we saw Assissins Creed, which we both agreed was pretty good except for the last thirty minutes where there were a few flaws with the plot. It is always interesting to go to the cinema abroad too and see how different it is, like the much comfiest seats, the option to sit in double seats with cushions and blankets at the back and at the moment there is also a slideshow of photos of the King where you stand throughout to pay respect. 

After the movie we did a bit of shopping and I got a much needed haircut! Then we couldn’t resist fitting in a second movie and we went back to watch Passengers. For some reason this ticket was even cheaper than the first and we paid about £3-4 for lovely comfy seats and bought in some of our own snacks to make it even cheaper. Passengers was also a good film, if a little predictable, but we enjoyed it. Basically it was our perfect way to spend a rainy day.

Day 88
– Still, we wanted to do some exploring and see what Koh Samui had to offer so when we got back from the cinema we booked to do a tour off the island the next day. However, when we woke up the rain was even worse than the day before. We packed up our stuff in Joey’s dry bag and wrapped up in raincoats but we weren’t holding out a lot of hope of going on this tour and sure enough as soon as we went downstairs we were told the tour was cancelled. We rescheduled for the next day but as the hours stretched on and there was no break in the rain we started to doubt it would happen then either. With no chance of even getting out to the cinema it was a very lazy day of Netflix, napping and beating Joey at cards games (he’ll try to tell you it was the other way around but don’t believe him). 

Day 89 – Rain, rain and more rain. It became a bit of a joke to go to the window every hour and say “guess what? It’s still raining!” We looked up other people’s experiences on social media and saw that everyone was as trapped in crazy floods as we were. Luckily, being on a hill, we didn’t see the worst of it but it was still constant with rivers of water running down the incline behind our room and pouring from pipes. The driveway became a water slide and when we ventured to the end of it there was a huge puddle waiting there. 

Though we had made the best of it the day before, the rain was getting tedious now. Our plans to finally get out and see more of the islands had been ruined. We stayed upbeat though; I continued to beat Joey at our favourite card game, speed, and we watched more movies on Netflix but hiding out in your hotel room is not exactly what you have in mind when you book a trip to Thailand. I was just thankful it happened while Joey was with me as being together we could keep each other laughing and having a good time despite the weather being against us. 

Day 90 – It was a shame that by this time we were looking forward to leaving the drowned rock that was Koh Samui but even that was looking dodgey. When we arrived at the airport it was packed. We spoke to people who had been trying to get a flight out for the last 4 days! Both Joey and I had a limited amount of time left in Thailand as our visas would run out soon so I was starting to get worried. We both thought we would be there for the longhaul when suddenly the man we had been speaking to earlier about the delays scurried past, telling me on the way that our flight was being called. Typically Joey had gone to the bathroom and I tapped my foot, listening to the announcements for our flight and waiting for him to come back. When he did, we grabbed our bags and battled our way to the front desks. One minute we weren’t sure when we would be leaving and the next we were on the shuttle bus heading to the plane. We held our breath until the wheels left the runway though, convinced at any moment we would be turned back, but in the end we left only an hour behind schedule and arrived in Bangkok with no further hiccups. Tired but happy to be somewhere it wasn’t raining we grabbed a bite to eat, Khaosan road beginning to feel like home now it was so familiar to us.

Day 91 – Determined to finally get some exploring in we booked a tour to Ayutthaya, the old capital of Siam until it was burned to the ground by the Burmese. The ruins still remain though and a mini bus picked us up and took us 80km outside Bangkok to see what was left. We started at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, a temple that is still in use today and is home to a reclining Buddha on whose feet you can stick coins for good luck.

 Next was Wat Mahathat, which used to house Buddha relics but is now still full of strange beauty with its crumbling walls and half-destroyed sitting Buddha statues. It is also home to the famous Buddha head embraced by tree roots as they have grown around the serene face over the years. It is quite a sight to see, though ruined slightly by the unavoidable tourist queue to get a photo with it.

After visiting Wat Lokaya Sutha, a 42m long reclining Buddha, this one without coins on the bottom of his feet, we went on to see two others sites. One with a huge pyramid-like temple that almost reminded me of Mexican sites like Chichin Itza and another with three smaller, yet still huge and stunning, stupas in a row. Unfortunatly between the guides quiet voice and thick accent I couldn’t keep track of all the information and googling these places has only left me more confused as they seem to also go by the name Wat Lokaya Sutha (I do apologise for my awful research skills) but what I do know is they were beautiful. We perched on stone steps listening to birds whistling and trying to imagine what these structures might have looked like when they were first built. 

When the day was over we both agreed it wasn’t the best tour in the world, with a unintelligible guide and a rather cold and tasteless lunch it wasn’t what we had hoped for, but it was still one hundred times better than being stuck in a hotel room all day. 

It was Joey’s last night so after a nice meal we did some last minute souvineer shopping and tried to pretend that our adventure together wasn’t coming to an end. Our last souvineer was one for ourselves, and perhaps something that will become a tradition for us one day, we got a cute little caricature drawn together to commemorate such an amazing trip. A very enthusiastic tourist who was waiting to have his drawn next took this very awkward photo of us once it was finished!

Day 92 – The alarm went off at 5:30 am and there was no more avoiding the wake up call; Joey was going home today.Travelling with someone had been a very different experience for me and it was hard not only to say goodbye to my boyfriend but also my travelling companion and also a little piece of home. It seemed incredibly lonely to go back to think of going back to setting up my camera for selfies, for writing my thoughts in my journal instead of sharing them with someone and having to carry my own bag around. I have enjoyed solo travel immensely but at that moment I wasn’t ready to go back there. And I wasn’t ready to let go of someone who knew me before this trip, who could give me news on friends and family and share memories that happened longer than a few weeks ago. 

It was hard for Joey too, knowing that he would be going back to a daily routine without me, that there was still another seven weeks stretching out before we would see each other again. Yet he was excited too, and so was I really, because those seven weeks still held so much in store for me. That evening I headed over to the Stray Asia office and met a whole bunch of people who would be my new travel companions for the next few weeks. The next day I would be starting the Stray bus tour that will take me through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, the end of my trip. The pass allows me to hop on and off the bus when it suits me, staying somewhere longer and catching up later if I want to or following the group. Some activities are included and they will help to book accomodation, though the cost isn’t included in the pass, and this seemed like the perfect mix between independent travel and tour group travel for me. The people I met were lovely too and I tried to forget all about goodbyes and think of it instead as a see you later.

Thailand Week 2 – lost iPad, scuba diving and fiery New Years celebrations!

Our first week had already flown by and it seemed like we had already done so much and at the same time not much at all. Joey and I were tired from the routine of Elephant Nature Park; although the work wasn’t hard there was always something to do and the early starts were catching up on us. We were looking forward to heading to our first island stop of Koh Tao but we weren’t expecting a whole lot of rest as next on the agenda was scuba diving!
Day 78 – Boxing Day! Before heading to the islands we had a couple of days left in Chiang Mai to relax and soak up the sun. We stayed in the lovely Eco Resort and got up late, swam in the pool and generally didn’t do a whole lot other than nap and eat. After our odd Christmas Day first at the elephant park, then at the hospital and finally at the night market, today felt more like the lazy Christmas Days I’m used to back home… except with a swimming pool and sunshine! In the evening we went out for pizza but when the restaurant turned out to be closed on Mondays we ended up at this awful Mexican restaurant across the road where the meat tasted like cat food. Ugh! Typically, when we went for a wander afterwards we stumbled across this great night market called Ploen Rudee, which was a treasure trove for foodies. We were too stuffed and tired to stay long but vowed to come back the next day.

Day 79 – Another lazy morning but eventually we roused ourselves from our spot by the pool and went on a boat tour. There wasn’t a whole lot to see and the stop at the herb garden wasn’t much more than a pretty place to eat our fruit snack but it was still enjoyable to float down the river in long, low boat with a shady roof. A relaxing way to spend the afternoon. Later we went to a place I had heard of called Art in Paradise. It’s a museum full of 3D paintings you can stand in to look like you are part of the scenery! It was so much fun, trying to pose to make the pictures look the best. It made us feel like big kids again.

In the evening we stuck to our word and headed back to Ploen Rudee night market where we had a feast of BBQ foods! It was probably the best food of the whole trip. We ate BBQ ribs, chicken wings, prawn skewers and for dessert, baked bananas with marshmallows and chocolate sauce, of which we somehow ended up with a free extra portion. We weren’t complaining! We even ran into some of A Team and got to catch up on what they had been up to since leaving the Elephant Nature Park.

Day 80 – The end of our lie ins as we had to get up early to fly to Krabi and then take a taxi to the ferry office to take a bus to the ferry to take a ferry to the island. It was as hectic as it sounds! Our taxi driver had no clue where the ferry office was and since we were tight on time we were getting more and more worried as we drove round in circles. Eventually we found it only to discover that there was complete chaos there! There was no line just a huge crowd of people all trying to get checked in at once. We battled our way to the front and got our tickets, boarded an insanely hot bus with no air conditioning and began to settle down for the journey. I went to take out my ipad to do some reading… only it wasn’t there. With a painful crystal clear clarity I remembered that I had taken it out on the plane and put it down by my side when I slept, forgetting to pick it up again. It was the cherry on top of the already stressful situation. Luckily a phone call revealed that the ipad had been found but getting it back would be a problem as we weren’t sure whether we would be passing back through Krabi and our bus was already on its way. I opted to have it sent to Bangkok and just prayed that both we and the ipad would make it back there.

The ferry ride did not improve the already horrible day. It was crammed past full capacity and behind schedule. By the time we passed Koh Samui and Koh Phangnan, finally drawing close to Koh Tao, the boat starting rocking up and down on the choppy waves. People around us were being sick and I had to stand outside and stare at the horizon to keep from losing the very little food I had eaten that day. In the process I got soaked from the splashing waves and Joey simply held me tight as we both wished we were there already. Thank goodness the taxi ride from the port to our hotel was short. We had booked this cute little beach hut for our stay on the island but after a full day travel we were too exhausted to appreciate it. We did however appreciate the kind, if abrupt, bustling host who waved the guest form away and told us to just get to our room and get some rest. Needless to say, we didn’t need telling twice!

Day 81
– First on our agenda was to book our diving! I had completed my Open Water certificate on holiday in Mexico earlier in the year but wanted to take things to the next step with my Advanced Open Water, allowing me to dive deeper and hone other skills I have already learnt. Joey was just starting out on his Open Water though so we had to make sure that I could do an extra dive so we would actually get to explore the underwater world together at some point. Our hotel recommended Scuba Shack and they were great. We were signed up straight away and that afternoon Joey started on his theory and I sat outside our beach hut (very much appreciated after a good nights sleep) doing some of my own homework and watching the sun set.

Day 82
– While Joey had to get up early to do some pool work for his first day of diving I, who was going out on the boat later, got a bit of a lie in. It was strange to be doing the same thing but on different schedules and a bit of a shame that we couldn’t do it together. It was my own fault though for being impatient and doing my open water early but it didn’t matter too much as we still crossed paths a lot over the next few days. While Joey had his first experience of diving I went out to open water to practice my navigation and peak performance bouyancy skills. The first dive was on a reef called Junkyard, an artificial reef where coral has been planted on structures and tunnels to encourage reef growth and wildlife. There are all sorts of other things down there though, including a car and some gym equipment! It was very odd to see familiar objects in such an unfamiliar environment but pretty cool too! It also turned out that I got my navigation skills from my mum (sorry mum but you know its true) and although I passed my tasks I did swim an extra length of the square I was navigating, forgetting that I had already turned enough corners to complete it. Oops! 

Unfortunatly my peak performance bouyancy wasn’t much better, though I blame the weather conditions for that mostly. The sea was quite choppy, churning up all the sediment on the bottom and making visibility awful as well as making my task to hover in the water even harder. Peak performance bouyancy is where you control your weight, air in your BCD (bouyancy control device – the jacket divers wear underwater) and your breathing to be able to hover just off the bottom of the sea. This is called neutral bouyancy and when you achieve this you should be able to control your movements simply by breathing in, filling your lungs full of air and making you more buoyant, to float over the reef and then letting it out to drift downwards as you become slightly less bouyant. Obviously this is pretty tricky when the first rule of diving is to always breath continuously but the adjustments are very subtle and its a skill I enjoy practicing so it was good fun despite the conditions. It was also nice to finally catch up with Joey over dinner, getting more and more excited about the diving adventures we would soon be able to take together in the future.

Day 83
– New Years Eve! It was our second day of diving and this time we at least got to go out on the boat together as Joey started his open water dives. The conditions were still less than perfect though and I felt bad for Joey that after I had gone on about how amazing swimming underwater is and all the things you can see, he could barely see anything. He said he didn’t mind though as it helped him concentrate on learning instead of getting distracted by beautiful corals and fish, plus it would make it twice as amazing for him when he did get the chance to dive in clearer waters. 

While Joey continued to learn I went on two more adventure dives. Firstly I did my deep dive, going down to 28m and seeing how colour and water pressure is different a tha depth. We took down a red packet of crisps  but until my instructor shined his light on it you would have thought it was brown. The pressure had also suctioned the packet to the crisps, making it hard and awkwardly shaped. We took a bottle down too, filled it with air at depth and back on the boat watched the lid pop off as the expanded air tried to escape.

In the evening it was time to celebrate New Year’s Eve! The place to be seemed to be down on the beach. Everyone was gathered, drinking from buckets and watching the many fire shows along the shoreline. We hopped from place to place, first having BBQ prawns on the beach, then fancy dessert and wine just off the beach front and later positioning ourselves in front of the New Years signs with a bucket of booze to watch it go up in flames at the countdown. We seemed to have picked the wrong one though as next doors went off with a dramatic fiery blow torch whereas ours was lit by two guys holding long stick with flames on the end. Still, it was amazing to say that we were starting 2017 on a beach in Thailand and more amazing still to be seeing the new year in with together.

Day 84
– New Years Day! For the first day of 2017 we got a day off from diving as the instructors recovered from their hangovers. This meant we could enjoy an easy day too, exploring the island a bit more, tracking down a nice place to sit and watch the sunset, feeling grateful to be where we were.

Day 85
– The final day of diving for both of us and at last we got a chance to dive together. On Joey’s third dive I did an extra dive just to tag along and enjoy experiencing it together. Again, visibility made it slightly disappointing but it was good to get a feel for what it would be like to be dive buddies and later that evening we would already be planning dive holidays we could go on together. My final dive was Fish Identification and it was probably the most enjoyable of them all. My dad, a bit of a fish fanatic, would have been proud. This dive basically involved me diving as usual but with a board I could write on underwater to point out the different kinds of fish we saw. There were none of my favourite trunkfish, little boxy fish with tiny whirring fins, but there were huge batfish with black and white stripes and pufferfish, bigger than you might imagine, and with their spines pressed flat against their bodies.

Finally we had both passed our diving courses and to celebrate we shared a chocolate brownie after a lovely dinner. It was starting to feel like all we did was sleep, eat and dive! It was perfect! It had to end though as we needed to move on to our next stop. We had planned to make the long journey back by ferry to the mainland to cross to the west coast islands and visit Koh Lanta. We were hoping that the weather might be better that side and we could get in another dive with better visibility. Alas it was not meant to be, the ferry was booked up and instead of taking the arduous night journey that was the only option available on the day we wanted to travel, we settled on the closer island of Koh Samui. It was a decision we would come to regret but at that point we were just looking forward to some free time to explore an island properly. Little did we know what awaited us on Koh Samui.

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.