Chiang Mai, Thailand: A Day At The Elephant Nature Sanctuary.

This was our first trip to Chiang Mai and I hadn’t heard a bad word about it from anyone – but I also didn’t really know what to expect either, except for markets, markets and more markets. My only goal for the week was to find a decent tailor and Lea wanted to spend a day with elephants.

Flying into Chiang Mai was certainly more impressive than landing in smoggy Bangkok. Big green hills covered in tropical forest sit quite close to city and, for the second largest city in Thailand, it has a relatively small airport and few tall buildings.

We caught a taxi to our hotel – Rimping Village. Sitting just over the Ping River from the heart of the city, the hotel had quiet and green grounds and a decent sized pool sheltered by an enormous rubber tree that was filled with epiphytes.

The hotel grounds were full of orchids of various colours, shapes and sizes as well as several frangipani trees. A little oasis in a very busy city.

One of the first Chiang Mai icons we became familiar with was the Iron Bridge (locals pronounce it ‘eye-ron’, this is important to know when telling a taxi driver where to go!), which didn’t look at that impressive to us by day but certainly attracted hordes of self-taking teenagers and fishermen at night. It also just seemed, despite being quite narrow, to be a place to just hang out. People of all ages draped themselves like wet socks over the rails as soon as dusk descended.

While the locals assured us it was winter (ha!) and did indeed walk around in jeans and jackets, it was still 34 degrees during the day and felt about 40 if you were out in the sun in the breeze-less city. We mostly stuck to the pool during the day and wandered out at night.

The Elephant Nature Park

This was our only whole day, relatively expensive, excursion in Chiang Mai. There are many elephant parks around the city but this one is exceptional as a refuge for elderly, injured, and mistreated animals (dogs, cats, buffalo, horses and more as well) and the respect and love the staff have for the animals is evident everywhere. If you are thinking of visiting an elephant sanctuary I highly recommend this one.

We were picked up at 8:30 from our hotel and our group of six for the day included a nice couple from the UK – Duncan and Fiona. During the hour’s drive out into the forest we watched a video on the rules of how to behave around elephants – most of which we ended up breaking at some point during the day.

Our guide was a funny young man named Dave whose love of elephants became more and more obvious as the day progressed. He told us about his favourite elephant dying recently of old age and how, for weeks after, he could not talk about him without crying.

Our first stop was a walk along a forest track with three female elephants. Dave and the mahouts gave us bags of bananas and sugar cane to put in the elephants’ trunks. It was a bit intimidating as they could almost eat them faster than we could get them out of the bags and being followed closely by a hungry elephant is quite a memorable experience.

Pete is pestered by a persistent pachyderm.

Next was a tasty vegetarian lunch in a hut where we waited for the next group of elephants.

We helped prepare food for elephants who were on a high-calorie diet after being semi-starved by their previous owners who wanted to keep the elephants small to make it seem that they were younger than they really were – younger elephants can be sold for more money.

We chopped up watermelon and made balls of rice and dried fruit that had to be put directly into the elephants’ mouths so they didn’t fall apart.

Apparently elephants don’t have to wait an hour after eating before going for a swim as we went straight to the river and got in with buckets so we could splash water all over the elephants. One went out into the deepest part of the river and completely submerged itself and rolled around. I was very glad to have my reef shoes for this part of the day as submerged and slippery rocks were a bit of a hazard.

To get to the main camp we got into rubber boats and did a little bit of white-water rafting down the river, passing some bathing elephants along the way.

The Elephant Nature Park lets most of its elephants roam free around the reserve with their mahouts, who are there to protect and help feed them. Newcomers are restricted to the inner grounds and sleep overnight in shelters with sand heaps(for lying against), water and four nightly feedings.

Dave with one of the oldest elephants at the park. I think she was in her 80s!

It was interesting to learn that the elephants at the park choose their mahouts rather than the other way round. Some mahouts come with their elephants to the park and some meet when they arrive. All the mahouts seem to spend most of the day lying in little cabana shelters or wandering next to their elephant. It would have been very interesting to talk to one of them about their job.

The last thing we did was walk around the sanctuary and see the newer or more injured elephants. One was completely blind thanks to a cruel owner’s punishment. Another had a deformed foot after stepping on a land mine. While the stories at the ENP are often tragic, it is heartening that places like this exist and so many people come to volunteer their time to take care of the animals.

An incredible and emotional day that we all enjoyed!

To finish, here are a few of the gorgeous dogs that are up for adoption should anyone visit the sanctuary and want to take them home.

Every one of the 600+ dogs at the sanctuary is named and many are adopted by people in other countries, especially Britain. No surprise to me after seeing all the dogs in the UK!

Doing Nothing At Lebua In Bangkok

View from our balcony.

I have almost nothing to write about Bangkok because we planned on doing nothing and barely ventured from our hotel.

Luke’s parents, Lea and Pete, were meeting us there and we were all travelling through Thailand together for three weeks.

Luke and I arrived first in the mid afternoon after a ten and a half hour flight from London on which I slept almost the entire way. There is an immense feeling of satisfaction when this happens – like performing some kind of magic trick that makes a whole lot of boredom and discomfort disappear. Luke’s parents arrived late the same night so we met them at breakfast the next day.

The first morning we woke up to huge pink thunderclouds. The view from our balcony was magnificent.

As I have written previously, Lebua does an excellent breakfast buffet, even by Asian hotel standards. There’s food from almost every continent and whether you want crepes, bagels, hummus, roast pork, sashimi, salad, wonton soup, curry or even a bowl of humble cereal, your tastes will be catered for. Thanks to 3am jet lag every morning I made it down in time for a light six am breakfast then a return at eight or nine for food with everyone else.

Breakfast by the pool.

Speaking of jet lag, even though Luke and I came from the same time zone it seemed to affect us completely differently. I struggled for a week and a half with waking up super early and feeling like a zombie at 4pm, Luke sporadically woke up at midnight for several hours and had trouble getting to sleep in the evening. Why is this so? If you know please leave a comment!

After breakfast I would spend an hour walking up hill in the gym while Pete and Lea would hang out by the pool and Luke did some video editing. Pretty soon it would be time for the complementary afternoon tea with all drinks included.

The balcony outside the restaurant where we had afternoon tea.

Lea discovered she quite likes pina coladas (I mean, who doesn’t, amirite?) and we’d all get a bit squiffy before a quiet evening of looking at the view from our balconies and going up to the roof bar and trying to take photos while avoiding buying any overpriced drinks. And I do mean overpriced! The cocktails were all $20-$30 and one of the glasses of champagne was $100.

So, not the most thrilling post I’ve ever written but you can see why we like to stay here – complete indulgence! Although we didn’t spend a huge amount of time outside the weather was noticeably cooler than it is in April (on our other trips), being around 34 degrees rather than 40. Walking around at night (we did leave the hotel a couple of times) wasn’t a sweat-drenched nightmare.

Next we headed to Chiang Mai to experience a different side of Thailand.

Three Plays, and High Tea On A London Bus

While in London Jess, Luke and I stayed at a flat in Camden that was in an excellent location for two reasons: first, it was only a block away from Camden tube station and second, because it had a huge glass window that overlooked a narrow street where van played dodgem cars – literally ramming each other to make parking spaces. As we watched I couldn’t help thinking how much my dad would enjoy sitting 5ere and watching the mayhem play out below.

The apartment, like all AirBnb places under a certain price, had its oddities. Like 18 halogen downlights in the small lounge/kitchen space and a bathroom fan switch that was so high up it almost touched the ceiling. Weird.

While in London we did a bunch of things! Here they are in a roughly chronological list.

The Play That Goes Wrong

Andrew and Lila came down from Cambridge with us and we bought them tickets as a thank you present for letting us use their house as a backpackers hostel.

We had seen a bit of the play on YouTube and it didn’t disappoint live. Much hilarity, both slapstick and more clever humour. Well worth the ticket price.

High Tea On A London Routemaster Bus

My friend Lorraine and her daughter Rosie were in London at the same time as us so Jess and I joined them for a lovely afternoon tea on a bus!

We arrived a little early and had a chat to the bus driver who was a proper cockney.

I booked an upstairs table and we had a lovely time! They catered for vegetarian and gluten intolerances (Jess and Lorraine) and the food was good!

After we’d eaten the food pictured above the scones were brought out and these were the first warm scones we’d been served in all our UK afternoon tea experiences. We were very pleased!

I will admit that we didn’t pay all that much attention to the commentary and the only thing I really remember is passing the ship front from the movie Kingsman.

Not a cheap experience, at £45 each but worth it for the special treat.

Cereal Killer Cafe

Jess’ friend Erin joined us for the next few days and we all made an early trip to Cereal Killer cafe to see what the fuss was about.

Although not all he ones pictured above were for sale. I had Oreo and a peanut butter cereal mixed together. It was delicious but tasted more like dessert than breakfast. There was literally nothing healthy on the menu.

The decor was neat – very 90s bedroom chic.

A Comedy About A Bank Robbery

At the end of the first play we saw they announced that the same production company was putting on another play in the West End so we went to see that too.

This time it was just Luke and I – Erin and Jess went to see The Lion King – and we LOVED it. It was funny and clever and they set design was fantastic. Go see it if you get a chance! We bought tickets on the day and still managed really good seats. The theatre itself was beautiful- like a wedding cake turned inside out.

My photo doesn’t really do it justice.

The Importance of Being Ernest

We saw this production on our last day and it wasn’t bad. I’ve seen it before many years ago and I like all the Oscar Wilde I’ve read but I wasn’t thrilled by this interpretation. It felt rushed and the two male leads seemed to be shouting most of the way through.

Camden

We all did quite a lot of walking around Camden. We looked at street art.

And I went with Jess and Erin super early to take a photo at… well, you can guess where.

On our last day Luke and I took a walk around Hampstead Heath and looked at all the dogs. I’ve tried to go to HH a number of times previously but my hay fever has always flared up. Autumn was definitely in the air this time so I was safe.

Our last meal in London was a return to Five Guys, a burger chain Luke’s Aunt Sue had recommended. We enjoyed it a lot more this time as we’d been able to read the menu, unlike our attempt in France;-).

Also Oreo shakes are amazing!

So that ends the European part of this trip! We packed our bags and boarded our Thai Airways flight for Bangkok. I spent most of my awake hours on the flight thinking about how I could manage to come back next year to do more hiking in the north of England. We’ll see!

The Peak District and Makeney Hall

Apologies to the handful of people who check the blog with any regularity, I’ve really fallen off the regular-posting bandwagon these last few weeks. Partially because we’ve been lazy and haven’t done a lot of noteworthy things and partly because when there’s other people around I try to be more social. Hopefully I’ll catch up before we get home in a week and a half.

We start at the end of the last post – catching the ferry from Dublin to Liverpool.

After a 4:30am breakfast, the ferry from Dublin to Liverpool disgorges it’s passengers at the cruel hour of 5:30am, which meant we had a long day to fill before booking into our accommodation for that night.

Jess and Luke loved the croissants onboard and we could see why all the truck drivers were virtually spherical. Excellent food and service on the overnight P&O ferry!

We filled our day by first taking a drive to Edale, a little village in the Peak District and well known to me as the start/end of the Pennine Way, England’s most well known long distance trail. Possibly also it’s most grueling too. Not that I’ve done it, but it was nice to take a drive through the gorgeous hills and then stop for a cup of tea at the campsite cafe, once it opened. We were seriously early.

A classic British pub. Hopefully we’ll be back one day during opening hours.

Next we drove to Chatsworth farm house and cafe for a slice of cake and more tea. The range of stuff on sale was very tempting (and pricey) and I bought a few things for Andrew and some tasty treats for us too, including a ginger brack (a type of cake that keeps well) to put in my package of stuff to send home.

Fancy farm shop pies.

After the cafe we took a quick drive through the actual Chatsworth estate but we were all a bit too knackered to be bothered with the entry price and doing much walking around. The weather was glorious though and the building looked magnificent.

Last stop before our hotel was a leisurely walk around Bakewell, a very pretty, touristy and well-kept northern town. We looked through a few shops then made our way to Makeney Hall. As I’d thought the Lake District was too far to drive and our preferred hotel there wasn’t available anyhow and we thought it would be nice to spend one night in a relatively fancy country house/hotel and Makeney Hall looked nice and was in about the right location.

The hotel ended up looking quite nice on the outside but having a somewhat run-down feeling in the interior. Tatty carpet, dirty windows in the restaurant, and the bedrooms were pretty ordinary.

We had booked an afternoon tea and we were the only people in the spacious dining room. The food was nice and the ambience improved once we disconnected the country/pop music playlist on the staff iPad and connected my phone with more suitable classical music. Luckily the staff weren’t fussed.

All in all, not a hotel I’d recommend but we enjoyed taking a walk in the evening and watching the rabbits and squirrels in the garden.

The next day we drove to Cambridge for two nights then spent our last week in London, where we saw a number of plays and had high tea on a bus! More about the next post.

Here Comes The Planet 80 – Amalfi Coast (2018)

In this episode we take in the sights of the Amalfi Coast. First we stop in Amalfi to check out the medieval Roman Catholic cathedral in the Piazza del Duomo, and then head up to Ravello, a resort town set 365 meters above the Tyrrhenian Sea. Stunning views all across the board!

Click here to read Amanda’s blog entry about the Amalfi Coast!

Here Comes The Planet 79 – Where to eat pizza in Naples (2018)

Being the pizza lover that he is, Luke explores some of the most renowned spots in Naples to buy a slice of the finest Neapolitan Margherita, and gets down to eating. After watching this video you will know where to go (and also maybe where not to go!).

For a more detailed description of every pizza Luke tried while in Naples, head to this entry of the blog.