On the first full day of our stay in Chiang Mai, we started off by exploring local temples. For most of us, this visit to the temples was our first, but most definitely exceeded all of our expectations. Our Thai staff explained in detail about the rituals and customs of the temples and lead us in a buddhist prayer. After exploring, we had an opportunity to chat with the monks and pick their brains about daily life and traditions as a monk. Lunch was at a local buffet, and it was pretty much a unanimous vote that the entire group loved the food, (most of us even started to plan a trip back). Before dinner, we received a tour of the Elephant Parade Museum, where they paint elephant sculptures and sell them, donating 10% of their profit to elephant conservation and rehabilitation projects. After the tour, we all painted mini elephant sculptures and packed them up for home. Dinner was in The Coffee Bus, where the cafe actually had a bus as seating and the coffee was the best we’ve had so far. Today was definitely a great start to a wonderful trip.
It is safe to say that the second day of our 2 week trip was one for the books. We started out at the most popular temple in Chiang Mai, which rests upon a huge hill overlooking the entire city. The ride was hard for some, being very windy and elevated, but the temple was worth it. As a group we took the climb of about 380 steps to the top of the hill to explore the entirety of the temple and marvel over a breathtaking view of the city. We attended lunch in the Boat Bakery and it was a delicious meal, as always. Then, it was on to the school exchange. We went to a local Chiang Mai school, named after the King, and they entertained us with a beautiful, traditional Thai dance. In return, we performed an American classic: the Macarena. At the school we formed groups to play a bunch of games with the Thai students and they showed us some of their favorites as well. No face was left without a smile throughout the entire experience and we did not want to leave at the end; they were truly an amazing group of students. We finished the day at a local market, buying gifts for our families and friends, as well as experiencing Thai culture through food and fish feet cleanings.
August 12th written by Jenna Ryan
We all sat for our final meal at the Imm Hotel this morning before we journeyed out to the Thai Elephant Home. Upon arrival, we reviewed our room assignments and quickly jumped right into our first elephant excursion. Everyone was assigned an elephant with their partner that we would ride and attend to for the duration of the trip. After getting to know our new friends through feeding them sugar cane, we started our trek upon their backs through the jungle. Elephant riding was an innovative way to experience the beauty of the land as we developed a bond with our majestic companions. The elephants received a mud bath from our group at a local lunch stop, and we created clay masks for ourselves. By far everyone’s favorite part of the day was bathing the river with our elephants. We cleaned and played with them in the water, and in return, they lifted us high up on their trucks; an exhilarating first for everyone involved. All in all, our jungle trek was a great introduction to these beautiful creatures and we’re excited to work with them for the days to come.
August 13 + 14
Over the past two days, we began our service projects to really give back to the local community, (and our elephants). Half of us were assigned grass cutting while the other half were assigned dam building.
The hike to grass cutting was long and tiring under the hot, morning sun and we were all dripping with sweat by the time we reached the fields. We arrived at a field full of tall stalks of serrated grass that we chopped down with machetes, (carefully, of course), and tied up into a pile with bamboo strands. The machetes were very easy to use after our Thai staff demonstrated, and most, if not all, of the group members enjoyed cutting the grass for our elephants to snack on.
Dam building was up top of a mountain, where the hike was a straight incline in slippery mud, but shorter than the hike for grass cutting. The group members chopped bamboo to make walls for the dam and filled up bags of dirt to their heaviest point to support the dam. There was a lot of slipping and rolling down the mountain, but none of us are afraid to get our hands dirty.
Even those both of these service projects were extremely sweaty and required hard work, the results paid off and it felt good to give back to the community.
August 15th and 16th
These past two days our service groups took turns going to the elephant nursery; about a 40 minute drive from the Thai Elephant Home. Each group was able to play with the babies extensively as they roam freely around their nursery. Sunday, a baby girl who is only 8 months old, was most definitely a crowd favorite with her playful attitude and out-going, kind heart.
We hiked through the jungle with the group of babies and, unlike our full grown elephants, the babies just wander around and play in the mud, not sticking to the path at all. After lunch, we were able to join the elephants in the pond. Everyone was throwing mud and playing with the baby elephants, smiles galore. We gave the babies a mud bath as well.
When we weren’t at the nursery the opposite day, we were able to sign up for massages at home base. Almost everyone got a massage and they were a great way to wind down after all the work we’ve done this week. Both groups made “medicine balls” as well for the elephants, packed with vitamins and nutrients.