The Circus’ Guide to Chiang Mai

As I was writing this the other night, I was watching “Parts Unknown” on CNN where Anthony Bourdain goes to Chiang Mai. It’s my favorite episode and I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything. When I woke up, you can only imagine the shock to learn about his untimely death. I am devastated. Even now the tabs are open from looking up his quotes and recommendations. I have looked up to Bourdain for years and drew so much inspiration from his writing and journalism. To combine humor, food, and politics so flawlessly, is such a great talent. He opened worlds and inspired those who would listen and read to buy the ticket and take the ride.

Here’s to you Anthony, may you forever inspire wanderlust, culinary exploration, and a desire to make an impact on the world.

“As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks — on your body or on your heart — are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.” – Anthony Bourdain

I am so excited to share my favorite spots in Chiang Mai with you all! I have now been to CNX, 16 times! 16! There are very few places I would even consider going to twice, and I have ended up in Thailand more than anywhere else in the world. At one point I was even looking at property there, and might still be. Here are my favorite hotels, watering holes, and restaurants. (No specific order or ranking, just things I like)

  1. Dusit D2 Hotel

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Honestly the beauty of Thailand in general is how inexpensive you can eat, play, and stay. I ended up at the Dusit last year while on a business trip to get 2017’s ENP trip all set up. They have very modern and spacious rooms, very similar to what you would find on an overnight. They are around the corner from the NIGHTLY Night Bazaar, not to be confused with the Sunday night market. (Not far from that either.) Great breakfast buffet and a nice pool with poolside bar and food. What else do you need?

2. Breakfast World and Beer Garden

BW Do I really need to sell you on this? When you wake up at 4am because of jet-lag, don’t fret! In an hour the gates to Breakfast World will be open. German and Thai owned and operated, you are sure to find exactly what you are craving. From meat plates, to eggs, to all of the veggies; you will find something on this 12 page menu to satisfy your appetite. Did I mention they also have beer? Its 4pm your time at home. Have a breakfast beer. I won’t judge.

3. Chiang Mai Cabaret

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Yes, it is cliche. Yes, it is loud. Yes, it will blow your mind. Go see the Lady Boy Cabaret in the Night Bazaar. (Make sure the tuk-tuk driver knows you want to go to the NIGHT BAZAAR Cabaret and not the one an hour outside of town (where some of our volunteers got talked into last year.) This is one of those things that you throw some back before you get in there. It is loud, it is glittery, and its obnoxious. Anthony Bourdain put it best, “If we had a lady boy show in a sports bar we could watch football, drink a lot of beer, and around beer number eight, bring out the lady boys.” These performers are top notch, broadway worthy, best drag show you have ever been to. It has been around for about 20 years and there’s a reason for that. My favorite is the Rhianna impersonator and she was in love with Greg. What can you do? GO! Also across the street is a food truck area with burritos and wine, those are two kinda hard to find things in Thailand. Burrito you say? Yea, after a week of vegan at the park, us carnivores might want a damn quesadilla.

4. Chiang Mai Boutique House

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I end up staying here a lot. Here’s my thing; it’s usually $10-30 USD depending on the night, and it’s around the corner to the Sunday Night Market. The way we plan your week at ENP, you arrive on Sunday and finish on Sunday. I’ll talk more about the night market in a minute but this place is clean, cheap and has awesome showers. It has a great location and you really can’t beat the price. It’s not the nicest hotel in CNX by any means, but its great if there are 2 or 3 of you splitting a room and don’t plan on spending much time in it. It is my go to for a quick night in CNX and the tuk tuk to the airport the next morning is $4 USD. If you are taking the 6am AirAsia flight out the next morning to head out, it is a great option. Or if you are on a budget this comes highly recommended as it sits right on the south loop that circles the city.

5. Sunday Night Market

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Yea, it actually looks like this. Do NOT plan on staying together in a group of more than 2 or 3. However, it is INCREDIBLE. Jewelry, lamps, art, shoes, clothes, tea pots, massages, and food are just SOME of the things I have brought home with me. With our trip typically falling in October, I take about $200 USD out there with me and do all my Xmas shopping for my (8) siblings as well as a few things for myself. My suitcase is FULL coming home, donate all your stuff at the park so you have room in your bag. And the food… EAT EVERYTHING. If it smells good, EAT IT!

6. DASH Restaurant

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It’s hard to talk about the food in Chiang Mai. You are never going to have a bad meal. From Pizza to Thai, they know how to eat. Not to mention most of your meals are going to be about $3-7 USD even on the fancier side. Dash is in a beautiful teak wood house on the south-central loop of the city. Rated one of the top spots to grab a bite, you might even consider making a reservation if it’s a Friday or Saturday night. Grab a Chang and some Tom Yum and you will not be disappointed. Again Bourdain and his wisdom, “There’s almost an inverse relationship, the more hideous looking a dish the more delicious it is.”

7. Sathu Boutique House

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So I go back and forth recommending this place. I have stayed here twice, usually for under $20. They have a really nice pool, and rooms are small but clean. My thing is that the first year we hosted this trip, I booked two rooms here for 5 people. A little cramped no matter how you slice it, however we were only there for one night and we didn’t care. The woman at the front desk and I about ripped each other apart. The website I booked through (Agoda.com) let me book 1 room for 3 people. She insisted that they couldn’t have 3 people in one room. I pulled up my reservation and everything and she still wouldn’t budge. So I tried to book another room to which she told me I wasn’t allowed on the property anymore. I could go on and on, I think I got one bad apple. The next year, I had someone book a room for me without asking the name of the hotel and ended up back here again. Begrudgingly, I went back and actually had a great experience here. Who knows? I like the location and the pool, walk able to everything and the price is right. More importantly the AC works and breakfast is included.

8. Cooking Classes

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Chiang Mai is the culinary capital of Thailand and perhaps even southeast Asia. There are a million cooking classes and you will come home with some awesome new skills and recipes. They tend to check in early in the morning, then they will take you to the local veggie market to grab ingredients, teach you 2-3 meals, then enjoy! Make sure you give yourself an entire morning. Some are done in peoples homes, and some are done in more commercial kitchens. I haven’t read a bad review about any of them. Find one that works for your schedule. I read about one last year that does a bike tour of the city as well as the markets, sounded really fun.

9. Hot Chili Restaurant

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Just off the Sunday Night Market street, west of Thai Pae gate is the Hot Chili Restaurant. They have traditional Thai as well as a selection of western dishes. The food is good don’t get me wrong but you really want to go for the atmosphere. It is so beautiful inside, with red drapes and swings covered in flowers. Paper umbrellas and vines cover the ceiling. You will for sure need a reservation on any weekend and even most weekdays. If you go early enough, around 4-5 you might be able to grab a table. If for whatever reason you simply cannot get in, walk around the building to the west and there is a pizza place with amazing pizza. I know, I know, you didn’t fly to Asia for pizza. Trust me. When you need some carbs, this is the spot. If Hot Chili is full, you bet I’ll be at the pizza place.

10. Massages

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Two years ago, Alexa and I spent a day getting probably no less than 10 massages. They are standard $5-10 for an hour full body Thai massage. If you pay more than that you’re getting ripped off. My favorite place is Lila Thai Massage and Spa. They are clean, do great work, and offer some of the best facials I have ever had. I frequent there numerous times throughout my visit. I have done a few different packages, and depending on how much time you have the Gold Spa Package was divine. It was about 6 hours, so I was in it for the long haul, but for $40 USD I received:

  • Body scrub with gold leaf
  • Shower
  • Hour full body massage with gold leaf oil
  • Shower
  • Gold leaf restorative body wrap
  • Shower
  • Facial
  • Foot and scalp massage
  • Mani and Pedi

Do you know how much that would cost in the states?!? That’s easily $1000 worth of service for $40!!! If the spa is your thing, wait to do a full body package like that until after your week at the park. You will be dirty and grimy and that’s a great way to go home. If they are booked up, which does happen but not often, you can’t walk more than 10 feet without hitting another spa. Prices are posted outside, and honestly I have gotten a million massages in Thailand at a million different places and they are all about the same. You can’t go wrong.

11. La Meridian Hotel and the Holiday Inn

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Two separate hotels, but they do not need separate reviews. The La Meridian is one of the few 5 star hotels in CNX. I haven’t stayed there but I had cocktails there one night. It is beautiful, probably about $80-100 night. That’s up to you. There are a million hotels and guesthouses in CNX and this one is in the city, personally I think it’s overpriced for CNX when there are so many non-brand name stunning places for a third of the price.

I stayed at the Holiday Inn after last years week because we have points and Alexa and I were flying out first thing in the morning. Rooms were much bigger than a typical Holiday Inn, and it sits off the river on the other side of the city. Meaning you will have to tuk-tuk to shop etc. The buffet though was really great. We were tired and just spent the night at the Night Market, so it was nice to be able to just go back to the hotel, eat and leave. To put it bluntly, if you are used to your creature comforts, or perhaps this is your first time abroad, there’s nothing wrong with doing something familiar. Both these hotels will feel like an overnight, I am simply saying there are a million options. Don’t stay here just because you know the brand.

12. Night Bazaar

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Not to be confused with the Sunday Night Market. The Night Bazaar is on the eastern side of the city just before the river. It is a nightly market with different options from the Sunday Night Market. In 2012 Thailand’s government really cracked down on counterfeit goods. So don’t head to CNX expecting a fake bag or sunglasses. Unfortunately you will have to head to BKK or HKG to get those things (at better quality anyway), but the Night Bazaar will have some things, like backpacks and housewares; simply different items from the Sunday Night Market. You should definitely check it out if not both. The Night Bazaar is dead on Sunday because of the night market, so I try and hit both in the same night if I can. There is a great antique shop as well there if you are looking for decorative items from the late 18-19th century. Also as mentioned earlier this is where all the food trucks are with wine and live music. Grab a tuk-tuk and take a look. Make sure you go all the way back to where the cabaret is for hidden watering holes and live music.

13. Tigers, Monkeys, Bears, Snakes, Oh My!

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DON’T DO IT. YOU ARE HERE FOR AN ELEPHANT SANCTUARY.  It is never ever ok to exploit an animal for entertainment. The VERY popular Tiger Kingdom and Flight of the Gibbons are tourist hell. Tiger Kingdom has been found guilty over and over again by numerous outlets including the Thai government for drugging their tigers. This also applies to the monkey and other animal shows. I am BEGGING you not to go. Is that picture really worth this tiger’s life of being so drugged up everyday? The only way we can end this and similar practices are to educate others, and obviously not go ourselves. Feel free to check out this link, it’s a tear jerker, if you don’t believe me, or better yet, share it and educate others about the atrocities that happen at places like Tiger Kingdom. If you end up doing a guided tour as well make sure there are no elephants involved. Period. MANY “sanctuaries” exist in Thailand. There are only 2 that are legitimate sanctuaries. We will talk all about riding elephants once you get to the park (not ok either) but again, please do not participate in any tourist attraction involving animals. You are going to a world recognized animal sanctuary. There are a million animals there for you to responsibly interact with and actually help the animals.

http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/exposed-thailands-tiger-kingdom-sanctuary-or-sham/

14. Wat Rong Khun

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Wat Rong Khun is perhaps one of the most stunning temples in Thailand. It is privately owned and operated and recently refurbished in the Chiang Rai province, north of Chiang Mai, about 3 hours by car or bus. It is worth the drive. Stunning arches and bridges dot the landscape in this sprawling temple. There are lots of other temples and wats in the city proper. Just make sure you know the proper etiquette for entering and being in the temple. You can check out this link http://thailandforvisitors.com/general/templetikit.html for how to dress and other things to know before you head to any of the temples.

As always feel free to email me or visit our website if you have any questions!

Happy Travels!

*Most photos stolen from Google image search. I have a million photos, but it would take me a year to go through all of them to find these specifics*

Elephant Nature Park SWAVIG Trip 2015, “Lek, the elephant whisperer.”

This post was originally written in 2015 when we took our first group to the park. There have been a lot of positive changes! There is now an ATM at the park as well as a coffee shop! YAY! The work and trip itself has stayed the same for the most part and updates are in parenthesis in respective paragraphs.  – April 2019

This was the first big trip we took as an organization! Very exciting! 33 passionate employees, their friends and family joined us on a journey to Chiang Mai, Thailand for a week at the Elephant Nature Park. An elephant sanctuary for abused and exploited elephants.

We are planning on making this an annual trip and this is a good recount of what we did and what to expect. There are two follow up articles coming soon for further reading. Sorry there isn’t much of an intro. I will talk about the traveling to/from in the next article

Enjoy!

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Arriving in Chiang Mai

We were all required to be in Chaing Mai by Sunday and the project started on Monday. Included in the program fee is transportation from their offices in the city up to the park, which is about an hour and a half north of Chiang Mai. ENP as of 11/1/17, raised their price, and we as an organization to continue to partner with ENP, have had to raise the price to $525.00USD for the total program fee. That includes food, lodging and transportation at the park.

Most of us stayed at Hotel M, a mid range price hotel in the heart of town for about $40-80 booked ahead of time online, comfy beds and moderate rooms. Others, myself included, stayed at the Sathu Boutique Guesthouse a few blocks away and I would NOT recommend it. The rooms were extremely small and the beds were sub-par. It was $28 a night and even by Thai standards was not worth it. The staff was extremely rude as well and wouldn’t let anyone, including myself on the property if we weren’t staying there which became troublesome with a group our size. We dealt with it being it was just for the night and we all knew we were heading for an amazing project.

The Sathu Boutique Guesthouse - beautiful property but rude staff

The Sathu Boutique Guesthouse – beautiful property but rude staff

Make sure to have extra Baht about 2500THB ($80USD) upon arriving at the park as they have a small concession stand with fresh coconuts, sodas, snacks and Chang beer, wine and liquor. They also have Thai massages in the evening for 150THB ($5USD). Yes, you are reading that right, $5 for an hour massage. There is now an ATM at the park (4/10/19) so if you need to pull out more cash you can.

The accommodations are a bit rustic. There are rooms with 2, 3, 4 and 5 beds to them. Each bed has mosquito netting over the whole thing. The walls are thin and you can hear people talking so make sure to bring earplugs from work and an eye mask as well. Bathrooms are dorm style and can be a little rough if you’re scared of bugs. There is WIFI in public areas but works intermittently, and doesn’t work at all if the day trips are here too. I recommend getting a data plan or a SIM card with unlimited data if you would like to Face Time or chat with your family and friends at home.

Standard room with mosquito net over bed

Standard room with mosquito net over bed

Day 1&2

We woke up at 545am and met for yoga in the morning. A nice peaceful way to start our morning with good energy and watching the sunrise over the mountains with elephant sounds in the background.

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Photo property of Talesfromtheflyingcircus

Breakfast is at 7am and is a buffet style; all vegan. There is a selection of toast and jams, fresh fruit, beans, egg substitute cooked in different ways, steamed veggies, coffee and tea. One of our favorite items was toast covered in almond butter with sliced bananas on top.

Work starts at 8am.

Everyone is split into groups of about 10-14, we had 33 in our AV group and then there were about 20 other people here from all over the world. So 5 different work groups. Each work group is given a different job depending on the day, and they rotate daily.

The first day our group was combined with 2 other groups to clean up poop and clean out the elephant shelters. For this job and since it was our first day we showed up in flip-flops and shorts. It wasn’t really a problem and wasn’t too uncomfortable, we weren’t overly dirty. Its not easy work, its hot and you are shoveling heavy mounds of dirt and bamboo into the back of trucks. With the 3 groups combined we had all the shelters and poop scooped up in about 2 hours. Water breaks are a must and sunscreen. There is quite a bit of downtime in between finishing work and meals and it’s a great time to grab a snack or a drink from the snack stand and observe the elephants.

Kristen scooping poop!

Kristen scooping poop!

Lunch is between 1115 and 1145 and is another amazing colorful selection of rice, noodles, tofu, veggies and a salad bar in every style you can imagine. All the food comes from local farms and is vegan organic. Did not have a bad meal there and every thing was amazing. (And healthy.)

Work starts again at 1p most days, but day one we had a welcome talk about rules and expectations and how to act around the elephants. Very educational. I wasn’t really sure what to expect while we were here. I had no idea that riding, and touching the elephants are actually a harmful tourist attraction and ENP is in the process of trying to change that. I will get back to that a little later.

Digging holes to plant trees

Digging holes to plant trees

We had free time after that and spent some time bonding as a group then every week with each group of volunteers, the local village shaman comes up to bless the week and volunteers. It was beautiful. He chants and blesses the groups with holy water and gives each a wish bracelet and when it falls off you are supposed to hang it on a tree branch for good intention. The entire ceremony was about 45 minutes and a very nice way to end the evening. We grabbed some beers as a group then headed to bed early.

Welcome blessing ceremony

Welcome blessing ceremony

Day 3

CORN DAY!

Mo hauling corn

Mo hauling corn

So the morning started with breakfast again with a divine assortment of fruits and veggies and the norm. Then we broke off into work groups again. Some were doing poo again and some were cleaning the park. We headed an hour north in an open work trunk while sitting in the bed, to a field owned by a local farmer. ENP outsources their crops and brings jobs and money into the local economy into surrounding villages. Once we arrived at the cornfield, we were each given a scythe to cut the corn by hand and harvest it. It was hard, long, sweaty work (sexual innuendo intended) but it was fun. We would cut down 20 stalks and pile them for loading into truck. (Update as of April 2019, we haven’t had a corn day at the park since 2015, it’s just based on need and projects. We have also done a few other off site special projects in the past.)

Riding home on the beer truck, Chang included

Riding home on the beer truck, Chang included

Keep a positive attitude and everything will be ok! They provided a yummy lunch for us at the field.  We had to ride back on top of the corn for an hour drive back. According to our VC (volunteer coordinator) no one has been hurt yet! Our group did an amazing job and got to go tubing down the river upon our return. For this project, we needed pants, a long sleeve shirt, a hat, gloves, close toe shoes, sunscreen and water.

After the tubing we came back to shower. Showering here can be a bit of an adventure. There are about 7 showers and everyone, especially in a group our size, is fighting for first dibs. The water tends to be cold and water pressure doesn’t really exist. The showers are outside and open to the bugs, I had to keep one eye on the spider on the wall that was the size of a small cat.

This picture doesn't do this spider justice

This picture doesn’t do this spider justice

Peter and I found that the “community shower” in the main area has hot water and water pressure, the only catch is that you then have to walk back through the entire park in your towel if you forgot to bring clean clothes with you, like I did.

Looks like another SWA over-night. (photo courtesy of Wayne Tipton)

Looks like another SWA over-night. (photo courtesy of Wayne Tipton)

We spent the rest of the night mingling with other volunteer and having a few beers outside. We had brought some card games to pass the downtime that were a great icebreaker. Notice the trend of beers in the evening.

Day 4

Wednesday we were assigned park clean up which meant walking around the different areas of the park and collecting bamboo piles and elephant poo that’s out in the field. Each project takes about 3 hours and then breaks for lunch. By this day people are starting to fall into the routine of how our days will be.

Afternoon activities included an “elephant walk”.  It was about a two-hour walk around the whole park meeting the different elephants. It was extremely hot so don’t forget to fill your water with ice before you leave.

She had purple medicine on her feet

She had purple medicine on her feet

The sanctuary is also home to a dog and cat rescue. ENP is home to more than 400 dogs that are looking for their forever home. Volunteers can work specifically in just the dog volunteer program or swap out a day at the Elephant park for a day walking the dogs and playing with them. Many volunteers go up to the dog park after lunch in between activities to walk the dogs as well. ENP is always looking for people to escort dogs all around the world on their flights. Something to consider for next years group. Or you can always adopt if you fall in love with one of them!

Memphis was a good dog. He slept outside our rooms at night and would follow us to our job sites.

Memphis was a good dog. He slept outside our rooms at night and would follow us to our job sites.

That night there was an hour video detailing the elephant tourist industry and the atrocities that face the elephants in South East Asia. It was graphic, but something I feel we all needed to see to truly understand what is happening with the elephants you see carrying tourist and begging for food in the street. I will get more into that later.

Day 5

Breakfast was the norm and we were on elephant food duty, where we unloaded trucks of watermelon and pumpkin.  This might sound easy but it was a lot of work.  The trucks come in with hundreds of melons and it was easiest, and fun to make a production line.  You toss the melons down the line until they are in their respective places. A blast! We had music going, team cheers, and whenever someone would drop a melon the whole camp would shout! Got some serious bruises from being pegged in different places on my body with 3+ pound watermelons. After the trucks are unloaded, we needed to clean the melons by scrubbing them in a trough of water.  Once they are cleaned they are ready to be fed to the elephant.

Washing pumpkins

Washing pumpkins

We then got to make the elephant treats! Nasty work. For me at least. I would rather scoop poop everyday than be covered in sticky honey textured tamarind. Anxiety much? There’s not a whole lot i’ll actually say, “no.” to but I wasn’t going to do this. I was on DJ duty. The group sat in a circle around a tub of tamarind and formed sticky sweet elephant treats. Guess they really go nuts over tamarind, salt and sugar balls. The treats are then given to the elephant mahouts (the people who watch over the elephants) who give to elephants for positive reinforcement. It’s also a great way for staff to hide medicine for the elephants, kind of like giving your dog a treat with a pill inside.

Nasty sticky balls

Nasty sticky balls

That afternoon, it was time to plant grass. We went out to one of the main fields and starting pulling up the roots of some of the Bermuda grass that has taken over that field. After we collected 5-6 baskets full of roots they bussed us up to another area of the park to start planting. Let’s be honest, we just weeded a field for them to play soccer on. JK. Planting consisted of hoeing a small hole about 2-5 inches deep and burying 2-3 lines of the Bermuda grass root. It started pouring rain, but the scenery was quite spectacular with the green glistening around us. This took about 2 hours, but there were about 20 volunteers helping so it went by pretty quick when everyone was working. In between the root pulling and truck up to the planting site, I had to take care of some administrative work. I ended up getting separated from my group. I ran into Teri and Jay who were just getting back from their corn day. Teri bought me a beer and insisted I go tubing with them. As much as I would have Luved to do that, as a group leader I knew I needed to show up to my planting site. So why not with a beer in hand? Way easier to plant grass with a beer.

Yea we weeded this field, then replanted the roots.

Yea we weeded this field, then replanted the roots.

In the evening we headed up to the conference room to have a Q&A with a park trainer about positive reinforcement training. Chrissy, a former orca trainer at Busch Gardens in Florida, discussed how the elephants, although not in a captive environment anymore, still need some form of training to receive medical attention and care from their mahout and staff at ENP. Instead of violent training methods, ENP hired on Chrissy to bring “Positive Reinforcement Training” to the park. She will reward the elephant, and discipline in a non-violent manner to get the elephant the proper care needed. She was very transparent and real about her approach to training and the park in general. Some examples she included were about an elephant that would get extremely food aggressive when at the platform. Instead of the “normal” Thai way of using force and a bull-hook, she used a squirt gun with water to let the elephant know when they needed to calm down. Also she uses her training for medical assistance. Other elephants she would reward with a tamarind ball if they didn’t lash out during routine checkups and vaccinations. Her goals for the park were very straightforward and positive. Ideally she would like to see the park not have the feeding platform at all (Where day trip tourist feed the elephants) and also see the park not have an “elephant bathing” session everyday. (Where park guest can throw buckets of water on the elephants and help bathe them) She continued that both these activities aren’t necessary for the park to continue to be profitable, but it is a bit of a vicious circle. Bottom line, tourists like doing these things. It’s not really harming the elephants, however it’s also a bit contradictory to the entire goal of a completely free-range park. An extremely interesting conversation and good insight to what park goals are. (Update from April 2019, Chrissy is no longer at the park)

"Bathing" the elephants

“Bathing” the elephants

Take advantage of the massages offered every night between 3-9pm. Also, there are laundry services provided.  The services arrives at the park about 3pm every day and leave at 5:30pm.  You can drop off any clothes you want washed and they return them back to the park the next day between the same times. It is very cheap and super efficient to use so all your clothes are clean for you to head home. ENP will take any and all donations you have. I left over half my bag with them. Clothes, shoes, work boots, gloves, these are all things the park really needs and you don’t want to haul home with you anyway, It also cleared up my bag for shopping back in Chiang Mai.

Day 6

Melon stacking

Melon stacking

Today is the last day of work!!!!! Almost done. We scooped poop again in the morning and then went to help unload all the food trucks.  The afternoon is a rest day before leaving in the morning. Lek, The founder of ENP, spoke to us about where she started, how she got involved and what we can do to help. This woman is a true inspiration.

From Save Elephant Foundation

Sangduen “Lek” Chailert was born in 1962 in the small hill tribe village of Baan Lao, two hours north of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Her love for elephants began when her grandfather, a traditional healer, received a baby elephant as payment for saving a mans life. Lek would spend many hours with her newfound friend, named Tongkum (Golden One), resulting in a passion that would shape the rest of her life, as well as the lives of others.

With a love and respect for her country’s national symbol, and the knowledge that they were becoming endangered, Lek began advocating for the rights and welfare of the Asian elephants in Thailand. In an industry steeped in tradition, advocating for positive change in the ways domestic and wild Asian elephants are treated has not been an easy battle. However, with hard work and determination her voice is now internationally recognized. In addition to several documentaries produced by National Geographic, Discovery, Animal Planet and the BBC, Lek has also won many honorary awards.

Lek’s mission continues to affect others as her voice is heard throughout the world. Her story and voice have made an impact in the minds of all who give their lives to animal welfare and conservation. Lek’s mission to save the Asian elephants continues to expand. She has formed the Save Elephant Foundation and a dedicated team works tirelessly by her side to protect the Asian elephant.

Today, Lek continues to be at the forefront of elephant (and other animal rights causes), raising international awareness and encouraging other countries in the region to follow her lead, as well as helping provide sustainable alternatives to local villages. At the same time, she maintains special relationships with the animals she rescues. Most days, she can be found at Elephant Nature Park spending time with the rescued herd.

After her speech, all of us were visibly moved, and many including myself in tears. You can hear her passion and determination in her voice. She spoke about every elephant as if the elephant was a close friend. I gave her a hug and introduced myself and my goals for my non-profit and how we would like to continue working hand in hand with this incredible foundation.

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Day 7

By the end of the week, let’s be honest, everyone has checked out.

To my group’s credit, they all headed to the food truck to help unload and scrub pumpkins and watermelons after breakfast. Awesome job guys! After about 2 hours of work everyone went back to their rooms to pack up and make a pile of donations. We said goodbye to the friends we had made at the park as well as the friends we had made in our group. Many of us continued traveling on after and the others headed back to the states. We arrived back in Chiang Mai at about 1p Sunday. Every Sunday in Chiang Mai they hold the Sunday Night Market. Amazing and super cheap shopping. I managed to finish all my Christmas shopping for about $100. I have 7 siblings so to get all my shopping done before Halloween and for $100?! Yea I’m impressed too. Art, jewelry, crafts, decor, you name it and you can find something unique at the market. We learned the hard way this is NOT the market for counterfeit goods. I was a little disappointed. I had a long list from my parents wanting fake bags and electronics. Every other market I have ever been to in SE Asia has these things but after talking to a few locals the government cracked down on this in this particular market. If you want these things, get them in Hong Kong or Cambodia.

The Chiang Mai Boutique Hotel, best bang for your buck at $28/night for a double room

The Chiang Mai Boutique Hotel, best bang for your buck at $28/night for a double room

In closing this trip was life changing. It was a beautiful experience and so educational. I got so much out of this physically and emotionally I’m having a hard time putting it into words. I can only hope that everyone who visits falls in love the way I did. With the park, the people, the land, and the animals. Can’t wait to take you all there next year!

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Cheers!