Life at Elephant Nature Park

This was one of my most memorable experiences of our trip.

The sanctuary and rescue center was founded by an incredible woman, Lek, who has won numerous awards and recognition for her work. Since 1996, she has been rescuing elephants from street begging, logging, and tourism. This is a sad reality for the majority of elephants living in captivity, as they are usually the main source of income for the mahouts who own them. The lives that these elephants have lead are heartbreaking. Many of them are disabled from permanent injuries, blind, or orphaned.

I did a lot of research to find a sanctuary that wasn't exploiting rescued elephants. Doing a simple Google search will provide you with links to tons of elephant sanctuaries and parks in Thailand. This is the only that rescues mistreated elephants from captivity and allows them to heal and to live out the rest of their lives roaming free on the 250 acre sanctuary.

There are currently 36 elephants that live here, each with their own mahout, or care taker. These elephants are never chained or hit with sticks/hooks (commonly used during elephant rides and other forms of elephant tourism); they are never subjected to tourist rides, jungle treks, or shows. They are given loads of love and respect. They live in self-chosen families, which usually consist of a mother, baby, nanny, and an additional friend or two. Friendships last a lifetime. A fun fact: They eat a lot: 100 kilos of fruit and 200 kilos of vegetation…a day.

In addition to their mission of providing a safe environment, the Elephant Nature Park, located in the Chiang Mai province, also has programs that focus on Rain Forest Restoration, Cultural Preservation, and Visitor Education. For more info, visit their website.

(Note: Some images shot by Sam Fuller)

Chiang Mai

There is so much to do in Chiang Mai that it seems nearly impossible to get a sampling of all it has to offer in the span of a week. My favorite was it's Old City quarter. It's only one square mile and surrounded by a moat, but there is plenty to do inside the Old City's Walls. I loved wandering around the quiet, narrow alleys, stumbling across the many wats scattered throughout.

As with most cities in Thailand, the surrounding countryside is beautiful, with tiny villages and happy kids running around, playing together (exploring the countryside quickly became my favorite part of arriving in each new place).

 And of course, one of the main reasons for our visit: to spend some time with the creatures I love most in the world: Elephants! I'll write all about that next :) I hope everyone enjoys the holidays!

Pai, Thailand

The road to Pai is a hard one. With so many curves (think Highway 1 to Stinson Beach, only 50 times worse), it is certainly not for the faint of stomach. T-shirts in town proudly boast "762 Curves to Pai." But once you arrive, you see immediately it was worth it.

The tiny town of Pai is surrounded by lush mountains and epic clouds, watched over by a white buddha at the temple on the hill. It's a little hippy town filled with loads of arts and crafts and as always, delicious street food. The town is quiet during the day as there is plenty of exploration to do in the countryside, but at night it comes alive with a nightly street market, where one can shop for crafts and sample food from the endless vendors lining the streets.

The countryside is picturesque and fairly easy to navigate if you have a map. A motorbike here is $3/day and the best way to explore. There's a canyon to hike (with a terrifyingly narrow path dropping off on either side), waterfalls, hot springs (one spring is so hot, you can cook eggs in it!), look out points (I highly recommend going to the mountain above the Chinese Village at sunset or sunrise - especially after a rainfall!), river rafting, and if you're still looking for more, endless rice paddies to stare in awe at.

(Thanks to Sam Fuller for snapping the photo of me at the canyon)

Koh Tao

It was nearing sun down. The water was warm, clear, calm, and glowing in a golden pinkish hue. Sounds of long tail boats zipping by. A small island about a 2 hour ferry ride from Koh Samui, Koh Tao is known as one of the best places to go divining in the world.

What I love most about traveling is how things fall in to place. Big Blue Dive School felt just like that. Their instructors are super rad and really care about everything that comes with diving. We signed up to get our Open Water Certification. A course that over 3 days and 4 open water dives, teaches you all you need to know about diving with a partner to a depth of 18 meters. The days were filled with excitement, fear, exhaustion, sea sickness, you name it. And at the end of it all, we decided to jump right in to an Advanced Certification. After 5 more dives (including a thrilling Night Dive), learning a few more skills, diving to new depths, getting 'narced' (so fun), some more seasickness, and 'getting triggered,' we are now, as my brother puts it, certified fish, able to go to depths of 30 meters.

The open waters are a whole new world. Schools of thousands of fish all moving as one large organism, eels lurking in the shadows of coral, sleeping turtles in caves, rainbow fish hunting, barracudas, tiny colorful plants that shoot into the coral for safety if you get too close…and on and on. Needless to say, it was an exciting week and I'm looking forward to more dive trips in the future!!

3 Days in Bangkok

Bangkok is an incredible city. While overwhelming at first, once you adjust to the rhythm and flow, the magic becomes thrilling. The city is filled with no shortage of the most incredible food (street food is usually 10-40 baht. That's only $.30 - $1.30!!), warm, smiling faces, mazes of alleyways filled with stands and store fronts selling just about anything, pristine temples (wats) scattered throughout the city where one can find some peace and quiet, tuk tuks and hot pink taxis, and on and on. Many people seem to fly in to Bangkok and leave immediately, but this definitely a city to explore and get lost in.