Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"My favorite thing is to go where I've never been."

After a layover in the Singapore airport (seriously the best airport to spend several hours in) we arrived in Bangkok, Thailand! Thailand has been on my list for quite a while!! I couldn't wait to begin exploring!  We were lucky that our hostel was situated in the more authentic part of the city.  With locals all around, street markets and food, and incredible tea!  Later after a speedy boat ride down the canal we were zipping through the packed streets in a tuk tuk.  This provided a unique view of this vast city. After seeing some beautiful Buddhist temples, sampling some more tasty street foods such as dumplings and fried bananas, we boarded the overnight train headed north to Chiang Mai.  This was quite an epic train ride, supposed 12 hours turned into about 19+ hours! Wow! Finally we arrived to the lovely Chiang Mai. There were fresh fruit juices on every other street and numerous exquisite temples to explore, and after a delicious lunch we spoke with the owner about taking a cooking class the following day.  That evening we visited the night bazaar!  Rows and rows of jewelry, souvenirs, shirts, bags, scarves, and much more!  We wove our way through the maze of people, browsing through the goods, as well as enjoyed some scrumptious goodies!

Filled with excitement, we arrived early the following morning to begin our class with a trip to the market, a real treat for the senses!  She enlightened us on the various varieties of fruits, vegetables, rice, noodles, and spices.  We arrived back to her restaurant and set up in her kitchen eager to learn the ways of Thai cooking.  With the breeze from the open windows, the funky music mix in the background, and the heavenly smells and sounds of sizzling, mincing, and chopping it made for such an authentic experience.  We learned several dishes such as panang, green curry, coconut curry, papaya salad, pad Thai, and mango sticky rice.  We recorded all our recipes and instructions in a little notebook which she later decorated with paper and it became our little Thai cook book.  We  had the opportunity to enjoy our creations as well!!

After another extra long train journey we arrived back in Bangkok and had to relocate to a different train station for our trip west.  We boarded our train for our journey to Kanchanaburi where we would be volunteering for a week with elephants with Elephant Nature Park (if you're ever in Thailand totally do it!!)

I have loved elephants since I was little and had been dreaming of an experience like this for so long.  Our area consisted of little cabins, an outdoor kitchen/dining area surrounded by a small village of families, the jungle, and the river.  Our mornings began with feeding the elephants buckets of bananas for breakfast.  It's challenging to describe the true amazingness of being so close to these extraordinary animals.  There were 5 retired elephants there.  It was heartbreaking to think of the work they had been forced to do throughout there life but wonderful to be able to help out with them now that they are free (more info),  It was so wild to feel their strong trunk as they took the bananas from my hand.  It was quite an adventure to be so near to these beautiful and powerful animals.  Throughout the week we chopped sugarcane and grass, built fences out of bamboo, weeded and planted in the garden, and picked up poop.  We prepared treats for the elephants by mixing pineapple leaves, cassava, and a few other ingredients in a giant mortar, as well as some other snacks and whatever else we could do to contribute during our time there.  Each afternoon we bathed the elephants in the river with buckets that ended with us completely wet as well!  Along with the other 2 volunteers we also sometimes worked with the mahouts.  These were younger boys who cared and looked after their individual elephant.  They didn't use hooks or poles to control the elephants but had a very special relationship with them.  It was fascinating to see their bond.  Throughout the week we learned a great deal and it was surely a time I will never forget.  I definitely plan to return to Thailand in the future!

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