The Last Changs in Chang Mai.

My first impression of Chang Mai was ‘what a clean city!’ There are fountains everywhere and, for the most part, little trash and stray animals. (Asian countries seem to have an abundance of stray animals roaming around) We arrived at our hostel and were immediately welcomed with an ICE by Sonny. We stayed at Guesthouse #11, I highly recommend this hostel for anyone going to Chang Mai.  The owner was AWESOME! He helped us book all of our excursions (Muay Thai fights/Tiger Kingdom/Eagle Ziplining/ Chang Mai Elephant Excursion). They were all safe for us and, more importantly, they came highly recommended for their care of the animals.  He was so helpful and comical that by the end of our stay we had him in on our ICING escapades too.

1/28/14 Goodbye Tonsai…Hello Chang Mai

This was the last city we would visit before we left Thailand. As usually, we took just about every form of transportation to get to our hostel in Chang Mai….long tail boat, taxi, wondering around lost, plane, tuktuk and wondering around lost again.

While in Tonsai, our friends went to Pucket and from the stories they told us, I am so glad we avoided that city all together.  If you are looking for the most western experience while in an Southeastern Asian country, Pucket is your ticket.  With enough sex slaves, cheese burgers and tourist traps to bring plenty of ignorant westerns from all over the world to one spot.

We were finally here and to top off our little reunion, the hostel manager got us tickets to the local Muay Thai tournament that night!

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Think they look tiny? They are! this was the youngest division, 10yrs!

One thing you will notice quickly about Muay Thai fights is how much of an art form it is and the sportsman like conduct that follows the matches nice to see, especially now days.  There was a tribute mock fight to start off the matches.  I believe this was to pay tribute to the art and technique of the fights and the tradition behind Muay Thai fighting. After that some 10yr olds jumped in the rink. The matches went up in age until the final match.  The up and coming professionals were up next.  It was like watching a Asian version of Mohammad Ali jump into the ring.  This man jumped in, started the match and 3 minutes in his appoint was knocked out on the floor.  Damn.

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The Thai Mohammad Ali of the night.

This man in the photo above was in the men’s division and still he is so tiny! But a total Badass!

After the tournament was over and the fans left the owners let Joe, Kevin and I in the ring to practice our….sweet moves.

 

1/29/14 The Jungle Book of Chang Mai

Today’s agenda… be awesome. Play with tigers then go zip lining through the jungle, deal. The day started bright and early, I slapped on my tiger shorts and was off in a van to see my favorite animal, TIGERS! (Sharks rule too.)

We arrived at the Tiger Kingdom in Chang Mai before 9am.  After paying a good amount of money (2,400BH) to ‘play’ with four different age groups, I was on my way to the babes. We were required to wash our hands and change shoes, then we were ushered into this large pin with baby tigers running around everywhere.  Ahh so cute! I want to hold one!..that though process quickly changed. Fear kicked in and I hid behind Kevin.  (Not ashamed at all!) They were adorable, but they were constantly biting each other and swinging their massive baby paws around.  Not to mention right before we got in the pin with the babies they told us “Don’t be alone.”  They will hunt us? Haha

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2.jpgWhile Joe was having babies’ craw in his lap and Kevin played tug-a-war with one I was nervously taking pictures from a distance.  When I finally felt comfortable around these cuties it was too late and time to see the adolescents.

 

This guys were so full of energy and so fun to watch.  As you can tell I finally lost my nerves and was able to have fun with the experience.

Next cage was the teens, and as typical human teens they were lazy and sleeping the entire time. Please note, that me “pulling” on the cats tail was advised by our guide, Mr. Kitty was fast asleep.

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Like a house cat, tigers seem to get excited by pompoms on a stick too.  Before this photo our instructor was brought it out so the tiger would stop looking at me… n who’da thought it would entertain humans too?

 

Sonnycm14-22.jpg… we joked that the instructor gave the tiger the log to chew on so he wouldn’t chew on us.

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The last cage was mama tiger’s cage… at 2yrs old this thing was almost full grown and so massive!  I took like 500 photos with the tigers just because they are so amazingly beautiful and majestic.  Sounds corny but wow they are an impressive animal up close.

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We ended the day looking at the one lion in this facility.  AND man oh man did this cat HATE Joe.. he can please the baby tigers but when it comes to the King of the Jungle…Joe was a worm.  Joe tried to take a picture near the cage and the lion growled at him, than locked eyes on him for the next 10 minutes.  It was hilarious for us, but I’m sure Joe felt different.  It got to the point where we would tell Joe to walk in certain directions so we could get the perfect photo of the lion looking a certain way.  For some reason Joe had pissed this big kitty off and he was going to give Joe the eye-lock-of-death until he left the area.  So funny.

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Next for our buck list filled day….zip lining in the jungle.  We went through Eagle Zip Lining Co. in Chang Mai, as advised by the awesome owner at Guesthouse #11!  It was a 90min ride into the jungle.  If I thought taxi drivers in Korea would make me sick, try driving through the windy roads (some paved/some not) into the mountains outside Chang Mai.

Once we got to the ‘base camp’ I wanted to puke…mixture of excitement and motion sickness I guess.

Zip lining was awesome, we did the Silver Package and it was perfect, we got in some good zip lining, saw some great views, did two repels. And we had an amazing staff direct us the whole time.  The best part by far was watching our friend Sonny do the 40m repel drop.  He took screaming like a girl to a whole new level. haha We ended the excursion with a home cooked Thai meal (thanks to the staff).  Then to top off our excursion we got a free baby tees.  I am sure they fit Thai tourists, but on westerners they looked more like baby tees.

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We ended our awesome day with messages, of course, and an early bed time. We got a date with elephants tomorrow!

1/30/14 The Elephants and Me

I was up early dressed in my Thai elephant pants and ready to get real tribal with some elephants. We rode up to the refuge in the back of a pickup truck. While frowned down upon in the U.S, for Thailand this was a norm of transportation.  In fact, we would see pickup beds used as school buses….a bunch of little kids crammed in and hanging off the sides, cursin down the road. So safe!

The trip to the refuge was long and towards the end scary.  The deeper we got into the jungle the more dangerous our trip became. The roads turned to dirt and rock that had clearly started erode from heavy rains.  Going down what felt like a straight drop of a road build up some anxiety pretty quickly for me.

Upon our arrival all I could think was “Hell yes! Bout to get real jungle book up in here!” There were only 10 of us hanging out with a pack of 11 elephants for the day, my group, a young couple from France and a Spaniard.

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The instructor first taught us how to communicate with them, and some interesting facts about elephants.  He also told us a few folk stories about the relationship of elephants act the Thai people hundreds of years ago. Like how some tribes actually worshiped the animal. They would make annual sacrifices of chickens to bring good health upon the elephants.  While he said this we noticed there were many chickens running around our hut, he then explained that this refuge still carries out these practices today….  He told us about how the placement of an elephants ears can say about their mood or personality.  The loyalty of elephants to their herd and to their trainer.  They explained that once a trainer is set up with an elephant they really try to stay with them for life because the elephants can suffer harsh abandonment and trust issues if they are seperated. We also learned that if poachers saw off the tusks to short they will never grow back again.  He showed us one of the poor males in the group that couldn’t grow his anymore, thanks to poaching….heartbreaking.

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Next up, we got to feed the elephants, chat with them and practice the commands we learned. (I found out quickly that the commands were just a fun activity for us to learn…. Because you have to build trust with the animal before they will obey you). They are so smart!  One of my favorite elephants was DoDo, he could blow you kisses, put hats on your head and lift his trunk high in the air.

It was finally time to get upon the elephants and ride them into the jungle!  We were broken into pairs and had one partner ride on the neck of the elephant and one ride bare back.  I learned that this was the best way for two people to ride, because the neck is the strongest part to sit on for the elephant and the back is, surprisingly, fairly weak.  So not using harness on their back is best.  The jungle ride was quite fun……our elephant was mama to the baby back at camp and was always stopping to eat…every five minutes.  I didn’t mind at all though, it was just amazing to be riding along with such a massive animal.  Going slow was especially appreciated whenever we headed down a hill…I had a massive fear of flipping down her face.  So slow and steady was A-okay with me!

Once we got back it was time to take a bath in the river!  They lead us, the elephants and the baby to a nearby river. Then the water fight began.  Our instructors were naughty! The river was freezing but that did not stop them from splashing us with buckets, having the elephants spray us, ect. The worst part about the water fight was  trying to dodge the trunks, and buckets from our instructors… and the occasional dung that floated on by. Next up was giving the big guys a big scrub down.

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I realized quickly where the phrase “Shit, Shower, Shave” might of come from.  As soon as we got in the river it was a group effort of shit, showers and scrubbing. They pooed and took trunk showers, while we scrubbed them down.

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Getting ICEd at the Elephant refuge…

My favorite part was when the instructor who was our photographer for the day placed me and Joe on top of one of the males laying down. I thought, “cool I’ll just chill on the elephant and relax in the river”… nope.  Khun khun, the instructor yelled, the elephant stood up, then he yelled at me. Up, Up!…And like the elephant I obeyed. So there I was standing on an elephant in a river…in the jungle. Epic.

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Our day came to a close, we were exhausted but not ready to say goodbye to these beautiful creatures.  It was the best way to spend our last day. Seeing how attached the trainers were to their elephants made me feel good about the excursion we paid for.  It may have been more expensive then others but we were at a refuge where the elephants were rescued and living out happy lives.  Thailand is notorious for elephant brutality and I was so happy we waited all the way to the end of the trip to find the right place to be/ride elephants.2.jpg

 

Back at our hostel we got a massage, got ready, then were off to Sonny’s cousin’s restaurant for a much unexpected feast. Sonny’s family, being from Laos originally, is scattered in the US and parts of Thailand.  Even though Sonny had never met his cousin, he welcomed us into his restaurant and personally served us his restaurant’s finest. It was amazing! And if I might add, what an awesome family he has.  No matter the distance or how well they know each other, there was an instant love and respect shared. Pretty neat.

We finished our night yelling (karaoke) on a bar stage ‘Come Sail Away’ followed by some 90s R&B. Then we hit up some of Chang Mai’s clubs.  Really cool street set up with tons of bars to hop to and fire dancers all over; but I was so exhausted, the night ended fairly early for me.

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Like this street cat sleeping on some spices in the market, I was exhausted and fully satisfied with our lifetime trip to Thailand.  The best trip I have yet to have in my life and I look forward to the day I return to this the Amazing Thailand.

 

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