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!

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.

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park

We left Harrogate mid morning but our ferry to Ireland didn’t leave Liverpool until 9pm, which left us with quite a few hours to fill in between. I’d seen a few photos of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park on Instagram and, as it was a nice day, we decided to take a detour.

While there are around 80 sculptures placed around the large grounds, there’s also the main gallery and a chapel that houses exhibits.

The first exhibit we looked at was by an artist called Mister Finch, a local man who made anthropomorphic sculptures of animals from found fabric and other materials. This exhibition was based on a story of his where animals who delivered wishes were allowed their own wishes granted… I think. It was quite enchanting.

The next gallery space had works from a number of artists and all the works had something to do with nature. I particularly liked this one:

At first it looked like a pile of potatoes – which it mostly was. This seemed intriguingly strange and then the nearby gallery guard/explainer told us that the artist had taken a cast of his face then buried it with the potatoes then the potatoes had grown into the shape of his eyes and ears etc. Amazing! The artist then cast those potatoes in bronze and then displayed them with regular potatoes.

You won’t recall this, I’m sure, but in my post about Rome earlier this year I included photos of an artwork that was acacia thorns on canvas. Coincidentally, there was one work by the same artist on display in Yorkshire.

We had a little wander through the grounds but it was a bit windy and so I didn’t take too many photos. Also there were a lot of Henry Moore statues, which I’m not that keen on. I did like this though :

A haha over a haha! Possibly the most elaborate pun I’ve seen all year. I don’t know how many other people would get it… or even if the artist intended it.

There was also a neat iron tree by Ai Weiwei.

This was made by making casts of a bunch of parts of other trees then roughly bolting it together.

The last thing we looked at was inside the chapel on the grounds. An elaborate and ethereal string and paper installation by an Asian artist. Lovely! As the clouds came across the windows the strings would glow or become pale.

We finished off with a very tasty lunch in the cafe then continued on to Liverpool, a city I’d expected to like but perhaps we stopped in the wrong part because it smelled rather bad. We had a few drinks at a very fancy pub then headed to the ferry, ready to start the Irish leg of our adventure.

The YSP certainly knew its way around a pie!

Next: fun times on a rocky ferry crossing then we head to Sligo and Galway.

Luke and I Hike Up Skiddaw, Cumbria

Two days before we left Keswick I had an attack of the sads and felt like I hadn’t done enough while I’d been there. I know Luke isn’t obsessed with walking like I am and while he was with me I didn’t want to torture him with huge days of walking. I ended up feeling a bit resentful, which was obviously unfair but I knew I wouldn’t be back for years and there was so much left to do! It probably wasn’t helped by the fact that I’d bought a Wainwright map and realised I’d only bagged seven peaks.

Not that it’s all about ticking things off, but the days I had climbed high I’d been rewarded with amazing views and feelings of accomplishment and I was jonesing for more.

Luke very kindly and generously agreed that our last day, if the weather was decent, would be spent attacking Skiddaw, the fourth highest peak in Cumbria and the closest major mountain to Keswick.

I was both pleased and daunted so I planned a route that was longer but not so steep, as I’d tried to attempt the climb on my last visit but was scared off by the loose gravel.

We took a taxi to the Latrigg car park then headed around between Lonscale Fell and Blencathra and walked along the valley to Skiddaw House YHA.

This way is mostly flat and mostly dry until the walk up behind Skiddaw House which then is a fairly steady, grassy gradient to the saddle between Skiddaw Little Man and Skiddaw.

As we climbed higher it seemed that the whole of the northern fells were visible and I think I could see as far as Scotland!

We reached the saddle and at this point the wind, which had been picking up gradually, became a freezing arctic gale. We each put on a jumper and what few layers we had, astonished at the ferocity of it. Still, the view was excellent. It felt almost like we were standing over Keswick. The photo doesn’t do it justice.

We walked up to the cairns, quickly admired the view and then decided to head down via the steep path to Latrigg car park. We both felt very accomplished for making it to the top, even though it had been a pretty easy walk. Little did we realise that the worst was to come!

We started down and at first the track was a wide bridleway but it narrowed and became steep loose gravel. I genuinely cannot comprehend how people run this track, even though I saw people doing it. I don’t understand how people can manage it either going up or down.

We crept down the path at at snail’s pace and it took us almost as long to travel the one kilometre down as it took us to travel the five or so kilometres up. We had to stop to rest several times because of pain in our knees – and I never get pain in my knees. I was very, very glad I’d bought replacement hiking poles and that Luke had one as well.

The soles of my feet stung from sliding in my shoes and at one point we found a grassy stretch and attempted to slide down it using my plastic-coated map as a toboggan but it didn’t really work. We did have a laugh though!

The attempted toboggan slope.

Luke says ‘why not?’

Despite the pain it was certainly an achievement. As Luke said afterwards: I’ve done something I thought I couldn’t do so now I can be more confident with other things. He was right!

My weeks of walking in the Lakes have shown me that I have no problems with camping alone in the wild (if you can consider anywhere in England ‘wild’), that I can walk a fair way carrying all my gear, that I actually enjoy scrambling over rock faces (as long as they’re not too steep) and that I enjoy my own company for days on end. These are all good things of know!

When I get home I will start planning some Tasmanian walks and finally do the Great Ocean Walk in Victoria. Maybe one day I could even aim for something really huge!

Have you ever conquered a physical challenge? Have you done something you thought was not possible? I’d love to hear about other’s achievements!

High Rigg and Buttermere – Two Walks Near Keswick.

We arrived in Keswick pretty late in the day after a taxi, two trains and a bus from Cheltenham.

We stopped in at our BnB (The Cartwheel in Blencathra Street) to unload and briefly relax before heading out on a very short walk to Castle Hill.

Despite the fact that it was only about a kilometre away I missed the right lane but we made it eventually to the little dark forest that crowned a small rise near Derwentwater.

As I expected, my lack of long walks or serious hills showed and I was a bit puffed by the time we made it to the top. The nice thing about this time of year is that the school holidays are over so we saw only a few people on the way up and had the top to ourselves.

We took a few photos but it was getting dark so we took a walk down through town to the camping and caravan club where I camped in May and June. I pointed out all the significant spots and hills I’d climbed while Luke humoured me by making noises to indicate he was listening.

When we got to the lake it was getting quite dark and it looked quite moody and gloomy – very different to earlier balmy days. Also the black and white makes it look even more eerie ;-).

We stopped at The Bank Tavern for a drink and shared a chicken kiev. While we haven’t been sharing dinner as often as we should we’re trying to remember to do it now.

We then went to The Dog And Gun, which was packed with dogs – five just in the alcove we were sitting in. We had a piece of apple pie drowning in custard, which made Luke happy, then walked back to the Cartwheel for an early night.

While on the bus that day I’d wrenched my neck and lying in a soft bed seemed to make it worse – by morning I was struggling to move it at all or sit comfortably. I took some nurofen with breakfast, which seems to help but I’m hoping it comes better soon.

The following day I decided that I wanted to walk High Rigg, a hill near Castlerigg Stone Circle and very close to the walk Pete and Deb and I did in June.

We caught the bus as close as we could then walked up the hill and along the ridge. Luke did not enjoy the walk up, but it was pretty! And reasonably dry, too.

As I’d read, there were excellent panoramic views from the top and we followed the ridge for about a kilometre then down the southern end. There was no path marked on my OS map but it was pretty clear where to go.

We only saw one other couple along the way and it was marvellously quiet. The rain that had happened through the night had cleared and only the top of Skiddaw and Blencathra were covered in cloud. We even got a bit of sun on our way down.

The path ended right at a 555 bus stop, which was super handy, so we caught the bus back to Keswick then the 77A to Buttermere to eat our lunch then go for a wander along the lake. While it was perhaps not quite as fine a day as last time I was here, the lack of crowds made up for it.

We found a lovely patch of fly agaric too!

At the southern end we spent a few minutes watching a dog try to pick up a rock out of a stream – the rock was bigger than its head and we watched in amazement as it finally managed to pick the rock up and get it up to the bank.

We caught the bus back to Keswick by 5 and headed straight to the Wainwright pub where we shared a steak and ale pie, Luke agreed it was the best he’d had yet. After we’d finished eating another couple asked if they could share the table and we ended up talking to them for ages. Janice and Steve were from Newcastle and on their yearly holiday to the lakes. They had their immaculately white west highland terrier with them and we talked dogs and walks and travel for a while before Luke and I decided it was getting late and headed back to the Cartwheel.

A lovely day out!

Last Day In Lauterbrunnen.

We had left ourselves a free day in Lauterbrunnen to see things in the area that caught our eye. First up was a Swiss culture festival that was being held up a nearby mountain.

We caught the usual assortment of trains and cable cars and arrived at Männlichen on a bright and sunny morning.

It turns out that there’s nothing but a hotel, playground and viewing point at the top, plus a herd of cows with bells to make it all one hundred percent Swiss. You could hear everyone stepping out of the cable car station making ‘oooh’ noises because the scene was just so pretty.

Wildflowers everywhere, snow-capped mountains all around and Grindelwald visible down the valley in the distance. We took some photos and had a wander then made our way to the hotel, where all kind of Swiss things were happening on the deck.

Alpenhorn!

Whip cracking demonstration. I don’t know if it’s actually easy or he was just really good at it.

We watched for a while and took some photos but it was all pretty similar to the music we’d seen in the last two days so we headed to our next activity, a cog-wheel train to Schynnige Platt. Even though this train had been on the map as an activity, it had looked pretty short and so we expected it to go to a low plateau where the Alpine Botanical Garden was reputed to be.

It turned out to be probably the most scenic ride we took in our whole time there! The sides of the little train were open, which meant it was much better for taking photos and videos (no reflection) and it took about forty minutes to get to the top.

There was not a whole lot there but we had a quick look at the Alpine Garden and then sat and had some lunch at the hotel. It was a perfect day with amazing visibility and pleasantly cool at that altitude.

If you go up Schynige Platt go to the top level of the hotel restaurant.

We had thought about trying to make it to Trümmelbach Falls afterwards but ran out of time so Luke visited them the next morning before we left while I packed my bag.

View from the Schynige Platt railway

We were very sad to leave the Bernese Oberland. By far our favorite place that we’d visited so far and it had raised a very high (unfairly high, some would say) bar for Geneva to reach. I don’t often go to countries and think that I would happily move there but Switzerland makes the list. One day we’ll come back and see it in a different season and visit more of its cities. One day!

Postcard perfect Switzerland

View through the cable car station window.

Interlaken: Buses, Chocolate Making, Cable Cars and More.

Our Bernese Oberland Pass began today so we jumped out of bed at 6:30 to make the most of it. I’ll post more about the pass after we get to Geneva when we work out whether or not it was worth buying.

First activity for the day was catching a local bus to Beatenberg, a little village further up in the hills (I mean mountains… Switzerland’s mountains look like hills because there are even bigger mountains behind them). The bus ride took less than half an hour and we got out a few stops before the end of line and walked along the ridge that Beatenberg sits on, admiring the houses, the view, and enjoying the peace and quiet.

Everywhere around Interlaken are spring water fountains where you can fill up your water bottle with cold water. I think my favourite spring that I’ve seen so far was this one in Beatenberg.

So stylish!

If I could say that this part of Switzerland reminded me of another place I’ve been I would liken it to Japan. Equally clean, full of polite people, and the architecture, if you take away the geraniums, is very similar to wooden Japanese houses, only heavier and more ornate.

We bused back down to Interlaken in good time for our chocolate-making class at the Funky Chocolate Club. We were the only Aussies in a group of Americans but they were all very nice and we had a lot of fun.

First we heard a bit about the history of chocolate and where in the world it comes from. Then we tasted everything from 100% cocoa (revolting) and pure cocoa nibs (not bad) through dark, semi sweet, milk, and white. We then learned to temper chocolate to make three blocks of our own.

My favourite part was learning that correctly tempered chocolate twirls in a ribbon rather than dropping straight from the spoon. I got to use my lettering skills to write on our bars. It was harder than it looked!

You’ll probably find this hard to believe, but Luke and I did not gorge ourselves senseless on chocolate and only ate half a handful of bits during the class. Therefore we felt we deserved a hearty lunch at the bierhaus our walking tour leader had recommended the day before.

Specifically Alessandra had recommended the mac and cheese so we ordered one and a salad. It was, hands-down, the best mac and cheese I’ve had on our travels and I would’ve tried over a dozen in the US. This one was topped with fried onions, had plenty of cheese sauce and speck, plus it had a side of apple sauce. I don’t know if I’ll ever eat mac and cheese again without it – one of those unexpected pairings that turns out to be magical. Although we all know cheese and apples are good together… why did I not think of this already?

Next up was a bus ride along Lake Thun to reach a tourist attraction that I wasn’t at all keen on – the home of an ancient monk named Saint Beatus. He was possibly Irish and came to the area to convert the Helvetii and also claimed to have slain a dragon, which the Helvetii seemed to think was totally legit and so this monk lived in a cave and then had a take away shop named after him. This would’ve been pretty handy because the cave is miles from the nearest shops.

The site consisted of a long and steep ramp up to the little cave where the monk lived plus entry to an almost 1km stretch of tunnel that contained a river and stalagmites etc. Luke pestered me to give the caves a go and I said ok (I caved if you will. BOOM TISH) but we only got about 50 metres in before the roof got a bit low and I started quietly crying and had to leave. I was trying to convince myself it would be fine but the further I went underground the more a voice in my head kept saying ‘you are trapped!’ and I had to leave. Luke walked me back down to the gate and I sat outside and read my kindle. I felt totally fine when I got out and Luke went back to have a look but that’s it for me and caves. No more!

The outside was certainly attractive and worth a look. There’s a museum too but we didn’t bother.

We went back to the bus stop and caught the next bus to the base of the Neiderhorn funicular and cable car. The cost of this was included in our travel pass.

The view from the Neiderhorn was gob-smacking in every direction. The Neiderhorn is a long ridge so from the top you can see over the edge on one side and down towards Interlaken on the other.

On all the buses, the funicular, and cable car there’d been hardly a soul all day. That was to change, however, for our next activity. In the meantime we enjoyed looking at this Bernese Mountain dog being a bit lazy and catching the bus.

We don’t blame you, buddy. It’s 30 degrees out there.

Our last excursion of the day was another fantastic spot to see the sights.

Harder Kulm ( or, as we like to call it, Heidi Klum) is a restaurant and viewpoint that is accessible via a long hard walk or a funicular from close to the middle of Interlaken, therefore it is very popular.

We crammed aboard the funicular to make it up in time for sunset and a lovely meal of schnitzel and salad. Despite some bad reviews on TripAdvisor we found the staff very friendly and welcoming. Luck of the draw, perhaps.

The space at the top has a viewing platform that extends out over the valley a little and was filled with people getting their photos taken.

We decided not to linger as we knew the funicular would be crowded on the way down and so we lined up and ended up having a nice chat with a high school girl from the Netherlands who was travelling Europe solo in her school holidays. How wonderful to be a teenager in Europe. In country NSW we had a choice between Queensland and Sydney for our getaways. Yawn!

We walked back to our hostel via a sculpture in town that I wanted to take a photo with – a Bollywood director who had filmed many of his hits in Interlaken. Our walking tour guide had even been in one of the movies as an extra!

We were exhausted by the time we got back to the hostel but I’ve been a complete trooper and finished this entry straightaway. What a champion I am!

A photo of me with an empty bowl. How intriguing!