Backpacking Thailand: A Week With Elephants; Day #1

I had many things on my bucket list when hopping on the 18-hour flight to Thailand, all alone, with Thailand being my adventure playground. But even though I had planned my trip in exquisite detail, it was the spontaneous decision to embark on a week’s long jungle adventure with elephants that was the highlight of my month-long excursion. I had heard about the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary before, but I’d never taken the thought of going seriously, it seemed expensive, and muddy, and my ignorance shadowed me of what the experience in fact entailed. It wasn’t just feeding elephants bananas and watching them trot around, although there was a lot of that, it was an all-encompassing volunteer experience, the likes of which you wouldn’t be able to experience anywhere else, one that divulged you into Thai culture as well as made life lasting bonds with both humans and earths largest land mammal. As cliché as it sounds, it was the time of my life.

It all started as I sat in my hostel near Chiang Mai’s lively neighbourhood ‘Night Bazaar’, sipping on the Thai equivalent of a Sainsbury’s basics lager. I spotted a leaflet, tucked away in the corner. Most of it was in Thai, but I checked out the website it listed, which thankfully was in English. It went into some detail about the trip, what to expect, what I would need, and so, without thinking, I booked my place on the week volunteer scheme. Luckily, I got the last available place for that week and later that night I received and email saying that I would be picked up from my hostel at 9am tomorrow morning, as well as more in depth information about the placement, and that was that.

I woke up the next morning slightly apprehensive, partly because I was pretty much going on a whim with little insight into what to expect, and partly because I had no idea who would greet me to pick me up at 9am. 9am came and went, my apprehension grew stronger and my dream of meeting elephants seemed to be dwindling into a black hole. A good thing about Thailand is that the weather is almost always good, so I didn’t mind sitting outside and waiting, although by 10:30 the urge to give up was stronger that I could cope with. To my surprise, at 11am, 2 hours late, a banged up pickup truck arrived. A young, athletic, Thai man hopped out, introduced himself as Bee, grabbed my bags and strapped them to the roof, saying no more than 2 words. It was this type of frenzy that I’d grow to love over the next 7 days. Sat in the back of the truck were 10 other volunteers, young backpackers just like myself, and a group of people I would come to know as the ‘elephamily’ (a pun about elephants, and family) in the very near future.

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The journey in the open back pickup was an interesting one. Driving up through Chiang Mai’s mountains on bumpy dirt roads made for a rather thrilling and stomach churning experience, in fact, it was quite scary at times, but the introductions with the other volunteers distracted our minds adequately enough. We arrived at the base camp in Chiang Mai, for a briefing and to receive 2 quite beautiful ‘elephant ponchos’ and 2 equally beautiful ‘elephant bags’. From there we got back into the pickup, and the nauseating journey up Chiang Mai’s mountains continued.

The first thing on the trips itinerary was a trek through a mini jungle, in order to reach the camp. It was a hot day, at least 30 degrees, and despite the fact the scenery was quite spectacular, the throbbing shoulder and back pain from the weight of our bags significantly hampered the experience. Regardless of this, though, the vivid, colourful Thai wildlife and flowing, untouched streams made for a great start to the trip, especially with the shelter the forest bought from the sunlight and mosquitos!

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by equally jumpy and energetic Thai nationals as Bee was earlier. It was refreshing to see, that these people quite literally living in and with nature were so happy, it was humanity in its purest form. With little time to even set down our bags, we were handed giant trays of short, stubby bananas, it seemed that we would be partaking in an elephant style diet this evening. Following our dinner of bananas and delicious bamboo soup, a group of day volunteers arrived. We were instructed to change into our swim suits, which was easier said than done, at least for the women, due to the limited number of bamboo huts available, and then attend a talk for the day’s visitors. For this, I must admit, I zoned out. It was hard not to take in where I was in such intricate detail, and unfortunately, this led to my concentration on what was being said somewhat disintegrate.

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The talk must have been interesting since there was a buzz about the place afterwards, and then after a quick glance to my left, I spotted the reason for this newfound buzz, and that was the elephants. It was quite breath-taking, seeing the elephants for the first time in my life, as they effortlessly trampled down what was quite a steep and slippery hill, like natures 4×4. Stupidly, I was shocked at how big they were, the tusks almost as long as the average human body. Then, out of the bushes came a bumbling, mischievous, baby elephant who captured the attention of everyone, as the bigger elephants scoffed down the stumpy bananas. It was quite the spectacle, and definitely a humbling experience. It was finally time to feed the elephants. This was an interesting experience, you could feel the strength of these beasts as they sucked the food from your hands, and it was spectacular to see the control these elephants had over their trunks. Managing to snap bamboo in half, manoeuvre it around, and even peel the bananas.  One takeaway from this short encounter that I noted to myself to remember in the future, was to stay away from their tails, they were like whips!

Following this, we were invited to bathe the elephants. If there’s one thing you should know about elephants, it’s that they love mud, in fact, to elephants, mud is life. They recognised what time of day it was, and began getting excited, becoming more energetic and jumping around, as much as elephants can jump around that is. The elephant masters, as we called them, bought them down into the mud and water, where we were patiently waiting and his only instruction was to go crazy, get as muddy as possible and roll around a lot. A few minutes of awkwardness due to people being reluctant to get muddy was soon replaced by a frenzy of rolling around, rugby tackles and happy, smiling faces on both the humans and the elephants. The only potential problem was that elephants are heavy and they like to roll around, meaning you need to be somewhat careful, but other than that it was pretty much a free for all. Further down the stream there was a clean water section and soap for us to wash all the mud off and get clean, as best we could, considering the situation. By the end of the week my desire to get clean had completely diminished however, since I was having mud baths with elephants at least twice a day, but for now, my hygiene was still of importance.

It was the end of the day for the day volunteers, and we were instructed to get back in the pickup as we were being transported to our base camp; camp 6. It wasn’t a long journey, but equally as bumpy, and we had to be careful in dodging the stray tree branches that were crashing into us.

The camp was huge, I guess it had to be if it was housing 8 elephants. With a vast, open, dirt terrain; a huge natural pool and stream, as well as a grassier area around the side in which tables and fridges and the like were, that would be where we eat. At the back of the camp were bamboo huts with toilets in, and hoses they called showers. I never knew that bamboo was so versatile, but here at the camp they had managed to make a mini village out of it. There were also 2 huts, filled with beds, and by beds I mean a thin sheet on a hard wooden floor, encompassed by mosquito nets. The bigger hut, which I slept it, had space for 8 of us, meaning the remaining 3 slept in the upper tier hut, which was equally as luxurious. As we claimed our ‘bed’ we had some time to bond. It was amazing to see such a diverse group of volunteers, ranging from multiple countries including Canada, the US, Korea, China, and of course the UK, band together, and although I didn’t know it yet, become such close friends. Living in such a remote area, away from all the tediousness of everyday life, with no wi-fi, no processed food, and no reality television, is how the best relationships are made. You are forced to interact with each other, and I got to know these people more than I could have imagined over the next week, even if I did struggle without Wi-Fi for the first day or 2.

Next on the itinerary was dinner. The Thai cooks were brilliant, every night making a unique

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Partying With Bee

and delicious soup, it was bamboo soup again tonight though, as well as a vegan friendly and ‘normal’ main course, with fruit for dessert. They were big meals and served with unlimited rice and a vast array of other options, it was surprisingly some of the best food I’d ate in Thailand, even if it was cooked in a little hut on an open fire. We spent the evening talking, drinking the delicious Thai beer; Chang, I say that with upmost sarcasm, and eventually one of the volunteers got his guitar out and we sang along. It was a special night, the only negative being the slightly nauseating smell from the strong mosquito repellent, but unfortunately that was necessary since mosquitos are ruthless and determined to suck as much blood as possible, particularly at night, I would later find this out the hard way.

After a few hours, the monumental amount of food and beer made for a tiring combination, so I called it a night. Gino, the guitar playing Korean/American volunteer, had changed it up from classics like Tiny Dancer to softer, blues music, it was a joy to fall asleep to and distracted me from the lack of comfort the bed provided, although the beer certainly helped with that as well. I had a moment to reflect on what was such a crazy day. It felt like a blur. From the moment I got on that truck this morning I knew I was in for an adventure, but I never could have expected this. Living and working with elephants in the Thai jungles for a week. It sounds surreal, and it was, but it was also reality, and I can’t describe how excited I was to fall asleep that night so I could immerse myself in whatever tomorrow held.

Surprisingly I had a fantastic sleep, but like I said, the beer probably helped with that. The wakeup call was 7am, which was great as I always wanted to acclimatise my body to waking up early. I was excited like a kid on Christmas day, so waking up was nice and easy in this instance. We were called outside, buzzing to find out what we would be doing today, only to be told that in order to have breakfast, we must clean up the mountains of elephant poo left by the 8 elephants the day before, and unsurprisingly, there was a lot. It was an interesting start to the day, but not necessarily a bad one, in fact, it was quite fun. Elephant poo doesn’t actually smell so it wasn’t too bad, and seeing as there was 11 of us, we got through the mound of mess relatively quickly. And that signalled the start of day 2…

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this and want to be notified for the next instalment, then sign up to the mailing list in the right sidebar. Also for more photos from the trip, check out my Instagram, also in the right sidebar.

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“Being Vegan Is Too Hard”… 2/365

Today I’d just like to address the statement “Being a Vegan is too Hard”. I uploaded the picture on instagram, click here, of this incredible, 100% vegan burger, I ate at a local restaurant and it just made me think. Being vegan is now easier than ever. More and more companies are taking responsibility and offering food and products which are safe for vegans. Granted, they are only doing this for profit, supply meets demand and all that, but it still means that veganism is being presented to the mainstream and is easily accessible. It feels like every week I see an announcement that a shop or restaurant has a new range of vegan food/has changed the recipe of a meal to make it vegan. For example; just last week Sainsburys released a delicious range of vegan cheeses, now nicknamed Gary, and even McDonald’s have made their burger (if you ask for no mayo) and fries vegan friendly. The food industry really is revolutionising, the dairy industry is declining rapidly and veganism is rising at that same pace. Just look at the statistics for veganunary. 2016 saw a rise of 5x the amount of people participating, and 6 months on 50% of them had remained vegan, that’s a lot of people.

Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked. I guess what I’m trying to say is this. Don’t use the excuse that being vegan is too hard, educate yourself and come to the decision based on actual logic rather than laziness. Yes, we might have to read labels and such, but what’s 5 minutes out of your day.

Please see yesterday’s post here, if you wish.

Thanks for reading day 2/365 and keep smiling, Harrison 🙂

Thinking. (The Start of the 365 Day Challenge.)

Lately I have been thinking a lot. Assessing my life and just spending time reflecting on where I am right now, in this present moment. I came to a few conclusions; one being that I am probably the happiest I have ever been, but one stood out, and that was this blog, in particular the fact that I don’t write for this blog half as much as I should, and would like. Honestly, uploading a blog post is my favourite thing to do. Just seeing the likes come in (granted it isn’t many, but it’s still super cool) always feels extremely rewarding, yet, due to laziness, I haven’t uploaded a blog post in almost a month and this must change. So I have decided to make a bold decision, one which I aim to stick to and complete, and that is to upload an Instagram picture and hopefully an accompanying blog post every day for 365 days, or a year, as 365 days is known. I feel this will be a great way to document the year and maybe even inspire others as there isn’t much positivity on social media these days. Now, hear me out, the blog post may not happen every day. In an ideal world it will, but uni and stuff, so sometimes it will only be a picture, or a very short post, but still, there will be something. And it won’t just be a stupid Instagram picture either, it will be something that has inspired me in that day, something I’ve done etc. Kind of like a mini blog post in itself. But yeah, I have made a new Instagram account for this (so not the one on the side of this page), I would love it if you could follow it. The account is @mrharrisondavis (just click that and it should appear like magic).

Anyway, that’s all from me. Hope you’re all doling well and thanks for reading. Keep smiling Harrison.

Solo Travel vs Travelling in a Group

Travelling solo versus travelling in a group/with friends. It’s a topic debated by many travelers around the world and I’m here to offer my share of wisdom on this topic. I may not have an abundance of knowledge on this, however; I have done both and therefore feel like I am adequately experienced to provide some good and valid insight, so here we go.

All my life I have traveled in a group, whether that be for a school trip, a family holiday, a lad’s holiday, or anything in between and they have all been great. On the other hand; I have also traveled a few times alone, recently on my month long backpacking trip to Thailand, which again was amazing. Now there are obviously pro’s and con’s to both, and that’s what I’m here to discuss, starting with travelling in a group.

The obvious benefit of travelling with other people is that it’s cheaper. 1 room split between 2 people, for example, is the best and most obvious saving. But the savings don’t stop there. Depending on the size of your group you can save on things like tours, taxi’s, entrance fee’s etc, granted this isn’t a guarantee, but with good haggling skills it can be achieved and sometimes with great success, and depending on where you are in the world, it can save you a lot of money.

Another positive for travelling in a group is that you have someone to share your incredible travel experiences with, something that will make you closer with that person and something that you can reminisce about together for years to come. In my opinion, it’s always better to share these moments with others, especially friends, however; I do understand that solo travelers prefer the more personal feelings of travelling alone, I just prefer to share these experiences with others.

Travelling in a group also means you won’t, or are less likely to, get lonely. Sometimes you just want someone to talk to, and if you are travelling solo this is, sometimes, not an option. But obviously if you have a travel partner/s you will always have someone to lift your spirits and mask the feeling of homesickness which might creep in from time to time. Travelling is not always easy, it can get stressful as things won’t always go to plan, therefore having someone you know with you is often very beneficial and again can keep your morale up and get you through the challenges of travelling.

On the other hand, solo travel also has its benefits. The main one is the fact that it is you and only you making all of the decisions. In a group people will have differing opinions on where to go, what to eat, where to stay etc. This could mean that you miss out on something you wanted to do due to the fact the majority of your party chose something else. Also, it could slow you down as it can often take a while to come to a decision on said subjects. Furthermore, the feeling of total freedom you get travelling alone is unbeatable. It’s very intimate, and evolves you as a person in ways you could never imagine. It’s just you and the earth, and that is so powerful.

However; obviously the best thing about solo travel is the fact that you will meet new people and make some great new friends. Whilst this isn’t restricted to solo travel, you will be more inclined to go out and interact with new people more. This can lead to new friendships made and a massive growth in your confidence. I mean, if you can go to a completely foreign country, overcome an insane amount of culture shock, meet new friends, gain amazing new experiences and just have an overall amazing time, then it is quite clear solo travel is definitely worth it, and in my opinion can be more rewarding than travelling with a group, particularly due to the amount of personal growth you will achieve.

So there is my two cents on the subject, I hope you enjoyed reading this. Stay tuned for new posts and keep smiling 🙂

 

Blog Design Update!

I have finally got round to updating the look of my blog. The tiresome, boring old look that once was has now been replaced by what I hope is a better and more lively design. I’m not great with this stuff, so it might be terrible, but I hope it looks better and is a more welcoming website.

All I’ve really done is change the theme, font, and colour scheme, as well as add a nice collage of travel pictures I have taken. Making the look actually reflect the content of the blog posts. But it’s a start and I have many more plans which unfortunately take a bit longer to make a reality.

I have also added a page for my recent Thailand Adventure, so check that out.

Hope you like the new look, keep smiling, Harrison 🙂

Back From Thailand | Airport Horrors – Backpacking Thailand #3

My trip in Thailand is over. In fact it ended about a week ago, I’m just being lazy/recovering from the worst thing about travelling, and as it happens what this blog post is dedicated to; airports.

I know I’m not alone with this opinion, airports, and flying in general, sucks. The invention of teleportation couldn’t come soon enough in my eyes, something like in Star Trek, I’d love to be beamed to my location by Scotty. But unfortunately this isn’t the Star Trek universe, and because of this depressing fact we have to deal with airports in all their hellish glory. From people walking with about 5 too many bags so you can’t get past them and are stuck behind their pace of around 1.4 kmph (woah that was a mouthful), to having to run what feels like a marathon to actually get out of the place, or to your connecting flights; airports really are the bane of my existence, and you’re about to find out why.

It’s safe to say my airport experience was one of the worst. Missing my flight home by literally 5 minutes, absolutely ridiculous I know, and therefore having to spend an extremely gruelling 10 hours in this fear inducing hell on earth. Okay, maybe I’m being a bit over dramatic, but you get the picture, it was horrible. Not only that though, as you can well imagine flights from Thailand to the UK are rather expensive, £400 in fact, aka a whole lot of money to lose for just being a pathetic 5 minutes late. So, it was 8am (2am UK time) and I’m panicking like mad as I have no idea how, or when, I’m going to be able to get home. Initially I was told there were no flights to Birmingham until the next day, but then I had somewhat of a lightbulb moment and realised I could just fly to London and get the train to Coventry, so that’s what I did. Forgetting of course that I would have to negotiate the treacherous London Underground, at rush hour may I add, with all my bags, not good. It was a long process, highly inconvenient, definitely not good for the blood pressure, however; believe it or not, it was quite the adventure, and actually a good experience. Well, at least it makes a decent story, ey. Looking back I’m not actually sure how I passed the time in the airport, because the 10 hours didn’t actually feel that long, the fits of fidgety boredom were saved for the flights themselves, god I hate flying.

So yeah, I made it home. Not only did I make it home, but I made it home alive and relatively uninjured, to my family’s surprise. I’m pretty sure they were taking bets on how long I’d last out there, and to be honest, I don’t blame them. I hope you enjoyed this post, just a short one to let you know I’m back and will be writing about my various escapades in the very near future, so there’s something to look forward to. In the meantime be happy and keep smiling, Harrison 🙂

Backpacking Thailand: The Temples of Bangkok

One thing I wanted to do in Thailand was visit the temples, and they did not disappoint.

As someone who has taken interest in Buddhism in the past, it was fascinating for me to actually be in a Buddhist place of worship and see the monks kitted in their orange robes and going about there daily lives, lives which are incredibly different to the ones we live, it’s quite amazing  to see the contrast. There was something special about being there, it’s hard to describe, but you could feel the connection. You may think visiting the temples is just looking at the buildings and leaving, but it’s so much more than that. Yes the buildings and archetecture are beyond beautiful but more importantly, at least for me, was the educational side of the visits. The temples I visited in Bangkok were Wat Traimit and Wat Pho and both were very informative about Buddhist traditions and how the temples were built and when etc. Wat Traimit featured an absolutely mesmorising Golden Buddha, the largest in the world in fact, which was 14ft and estimated to be over 600 years old, and many of that time it spent covered in stucco to protect it from Burmese invaders in Ayyuthaya. You could tell how much the Buddhists respected and worshipped this statue, it was somewhat divine and I throughouly enjoyed being in the presence of such important history. In comparison to others, this is a relatively small temple, however it makes up for that on beauty, so you will be able to get those Instagram shots. Outside of the temple are various souvenirs stands, some of which offer some very nice memorabilia that you wont find anywhere else in Thailand, so I’d definitely recommend having a quick look around. I purchased a little something myself, of course Wat Traimit is also conveniently located next to Chinatown, so it was awesome to head straight from the temple to the hectic streets of Chinatown.

The second temple I visited was Wat Pho. This is located right next to the Grand Palace and has a lot more to see and do than Wat Traimit and, because of that, is a lot more touristy. The main attraction of course is the reclining Buddha, it is huge, 46 metres long to be precise. Wat Pho is also home to the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, there are literally hundreds and not to mention the best Thai massage you can find in Bangkok, or so I’ve heard I didn’t actually get one. What is cool about this temple is that it was, and still is to an extent, a school for medicine and was in fact the first ever site for public education in Thailand. Again so much history and if you go make sure to throughouly look around and read all the information on display as it most definitely makes your visit far more worthwhile.

So yeah, I loved visiting a few of Bangkok’s temples, they really are wonderful places and something everyone visiting Thailand should at least consider, whether you are interested in Buddhism, history or even just photography, it is certainly worth it.

Hope you enjoyed this post, sorry it’s late, been busy haha. And I just realised this sounds like a tripadviser review, my bad :/. Keep smiling, Harrison.
Wat Traimit:

Wat Pho: