Chiang Mai is the place to be if you want to get up close and personal with Elephants. We also had my best friend from home, the almighty Sophie Keogh visiting us at this point and we felt it was the perfect way to spend one of our few days together. We booked with an organisation called Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, which is 100% ethical and cares only for elephants that have been rescued from tourist riding camps. After an hours drive we parked up in an expansive National Park and trekked down into a valley where eight elephants were grazing on bamboo sticks. They were absolutely gorgeous, and without a doubt the calmest animals I have ever encountered. We first fed them moldy bananas and bamboo sticks (mmm) before walking alongside the peaceful giants for about 20 minutes up into the forest to the 'elephant hotel'. (Which isn't as exciting as it sounds, it's an opening in the forest where the elephants apparently like to sleep). What was really nice at this point was that the elephants were left to make their own way back whilst we walked down for a delicious local lunch. However, one of the elephants had to stay with us, she had very recently been rescued from Bangkok and was prone to running away from the safety of the sanctuary. They actually had to keep a chain tied around one of her legs; it wasn't attached to anything but they explained it kept her grounded because it was something she had been used to for the majority of her life. Eventually they would ween her off it just as they had with most of the other elephants in the camp. A depth of trauma unimaginable. Next we experienced a 'therapeutic mud bath' with elephants. Elephants love mud. They were rolling on their backs with their feet in the air, and I'm 99% sure they were grinning from one giant flappy ear to the other. After the mud spa it was time for a wash. Some of the elephants were happy enough walking down the stream to wash themselves, but for a few the stream was where the party was at. One of them was actually dancing in celebration, moving backwards and forwards whilst nodding her head and waving her trunk in the air. The best part was that they weren't being forced to act in that way. The elephants were able to walk off whenever and wherever they liked, no one was giving orders and their wasn't a whip or hook in sight. Calm, intelligent and majestic creatures with a sense of humour to match.
The Hot Springs
The weather in Pai this time of year isn't far from a decent British summer, 25 degrees in the day but fairly cold at night. With this in mind we headed for the hot springs early one morning. After a treacherous road in (Soph likened it to wacky races) we parked up and walked down towards the springs. It was the perfect time of day to arrive, barely anyone was there and the sun was just starting to spread its' heat as we stripped down and plunged into the warmth. Ahhh it was goood - I'm staring to realise this was the worst piece to write as I sit here surrounded by a freezing cloudy mist on the balcony of our bamboo hut! There are three separate pools that the clear water runs through surrounded with lush greenery, it's a setting to rival any 5* spa. We lounged there for over an hour, chatting and laughing in the sun; a gorgeous morning with gorgeous people!
Our final stop in Thailand with Sophie was Pai, a small but nonetheless vibrant backpacker's town around 3 hours drive from Chiang Mai. Although the town is small there are a plethora of beautiful things to see surrounding it, for which a moped is the best option for travel. After our hot springs experience we decided it was best Sophie and I ride on one moped and Dod on the other, the roads back to the ring road were rather hilly so we needed as little weight as possible on each bike. We just about made it up the first hill travelling at whopping 3 mph but the next was more of a struggle. About half way up the bike slowed to a stop. We slammed our feet down but the bike was too heavy and the hill was too steep, as we started to slide backwards I realised our best option was to throw ourselves into the ditch on the side of the road. I came off lightly but Sophie had baldy cut the back of her foot. Thank fully two Thai men came to help us and the bike up, it then took all four of us to push the bike up to the top of the hill! We tied tissue around Soph's foot using my head scarf and put her into a kind locals car saying we'd meet her at the ring road. Back at the hut we performed our very best first aid on her poor foot but decided she should get a tetanus shot just in case. We also decided it was time to take the bikes back to the hire shop before our mini biker gang had any more mishaps! As we dropped Soph at the pharmacy around 50 meters up the road from the hire shop I followed Dod in performing a U turn, but it seems our gang was about fall to pieces. I revved just a little too much, and headed for the pavement I swerved last minute causing the bike to come down on top of me. The bad part was I had flip flops and so my right foot was pretty much bent in half at the toe. Unable to lift the bike and feeling like my toe was about to snap off I screamed out for help. Dod had at this point dismounted his bike in the middle of the road to run back to help, but a bystander made it over first helping me up and off the bike. I was in total shock, white and shaking uncontrollably. I expected there to be blood and bones all over the floor, and from the way I screamed I think the whole street was expecting the same! But there was nothing except a bloody wonky wing mirror. Soph came out of the pharmacy at this point to find me shaking on the curb, the confusion on her face was hilarious thinking back. Dod then had to drive both the mopeds back to the shop before helping a hobbling me and Sophie down the street. RIP to the Stigglemites (don't ask) biker gang, it was fun while it lasted!