Greetings from Chiang Mai!
Our time here is just flying by and we have really grown to love big city life in Northern Thailand after having lived a simpler life in Mae Salak. We arrived here to a whirlwind reception by our Thai cooking instructor who showed us the ins and outs of a Thai market. Walking through the different vendors, we asked lots of questions about the different fruits and vegetables as well as the different meats people were selling. Most were surprised to find out that there were three different kinds of basil, and it was easy to tell the difference between them just by smelling the leaves of the plant. From here we were taken to a nearby neighborhood where we began our cooking class. In total, we learned how to make four dishes including: pad Thai, green curry, tom yam soup, as well as a steamed banana and coconut dish for dessert. The class was really fun, and everyone enjoyed getting to prepare their meals – even if some of the food turned out on the crispier side!
The next morning, we had a day of service teaching English at the Watpakoitai Primary School. Pulling up to the school grounds, it was clear that this school was not like a school back home. Hallways were all open air, and we arrived to see that all of the children were dressed in their pink Friday uniforms. Walking into the classrooms was difficult at first as we weren’t really sure how we would be received. The teachers gave us all the space to teach lessons on animals, parts of the body, and the letters of the alphabet. By the end of the morning the hallways were full of the sounds of songs being sung by students and teenagers alike. In the afternoon we returned to the school to play some outdoor games, and just have fun with the kids. At the end of the day the director of the school presented us with some certificates of appreciation and a little gift to say thank you for our service. It was a rewarding day that we won’t soon forget.
Our day of service was followed by another day of awesome adventure. We headed off to Eagle Track Zip lining for what could be considered one of the biggest ropes courses in Thailand. We had fun taking photos of our hairnets and helmets before heading out on the course. Once we got out there we saw the beauty of the Thai mountains. From zip lines to vertical drops to rope and suspension bridges – this course had it all. The course itself challenged us physically and gave us a good excuse to let loose for the day. Our last vertical drop ended with a short walk to a beautiful jungle waterfall while a buffet lunch waited back at the camp.
At night we took our first visit to the Chiang Mai night market. Our senses were overwhelmed by all of the different vendors selling everything from t-shirts to banana pancakes to jewelry and more. The custom here is to bargain with the vendors so as to get the best price, and it was fun to be able to compare the different deals we got on our purchases. One of the most exciting parts of this market was the Chiang Mai ice cream stand, which apparently is a YouTube sensation. Workers use a frozen plate to slice and chop up favorite ingredients along with some cream to create delectable ice cream treats. Anyone who tried it said it was worth the three-minute wait for its creation.
Elephants awaited us when we woke up early the next morning. We spent most of the next two days with some new big, grey friends at Patara Elephant Farm. Opening the van doors we were greeted by a very friendly elephant who took pictures with us and gave us each a hug to say hello. From here we were taken to the lower area of the farm and given the history of why the site exists, and why there are so many passionate people devoting their lives to the care of elephants. It was an inspiring talk to say the least, and we learned about how much the elephant population in Thailand has decreased – over 40% in the past 40 years!
After a quick chat with our guide, we walked down to the area where we were to spend the next few hours. It was a big open space where we were each paired with an elephant for the morning. We learned that if we were going to become friends with these creatures we would have to feed them – so that’s exactly what we did. Each person (or pair) was given a basket of bananas and sugar cane to feed to their elephant. We each got to speak with our own guide about the animal. What came next was bath time! The elephants walked with us down to the river where we got right in there with them to clean all of the dirt off of their skin. Elephants at the farm receive daily skin care as a means to keep them healthy and happy. They loved getting scrubbed from head to toe and were very playful too – squirting water on all of us.
After a few more photos down at the river, we enjoyed a delicious and healthy lunch prepared by women from the local village. It was a serene moment sitting by the banks of the river eating off a plate made of banana leaf and eating fruits that seemed to have been picked that morning. The serenity wouldn’t last forever, and soon enough we were reunited with our new friends for exercise time. We got on the backs of the elephants for a walk through the forest – a track that they do daily to get the elephants some exercise. The experience was made even more authentic when we were given some locally made shirts and pants to wear while riding the elephants.
On our second day at the farm we were introduced to their newest additions, the babies! It was fun to see how the littlest elephants still couldn’t use their trunks to pick up food, and how they needed to have their bananas peeled for them. Perhaps the highlight of the day was a trek up into the woods to see the youngest elephant –born only 8 days prior! These creatures really stole our hearts, and we feel that we now have a better understanding of this amazing animal, largely in part to working with them so closely.
Up next we have our Muay Thai class, and then it’s off to the south for some much needed time on the beach. The next time you hear from us we’ll be catching some rays and finding some Nemos down in the Indian Ocean.
Until next time,
The Westcoast Blogger
Do you want to be part of this community service program? Check out our Thailand trips for students and get ready for the experience of a lifetime with Westcoast Connection.