Part 1: Monday, December 21, 2015
Today we saved some elephants. Okay not really. But we did spend the day at the Elephant Nature Park outside of Chiang Mai, which rescues injured and abused elephants and provides them with a safe and loving home to live out the rest of their days. No more working 9-5 carrying fat ass tourists through a jungle on their backs for these elephants. And thank god, because they have definitely suffered enough, as I will attempt to illustrate here.
We were picked up at 8:30am for our ride out to ENP. Bee, our adorable guide for the day, was in the car to greet us. She gave us some background and showed us a video about what they do at ENP. Basically, the place funds itself by allowing tourists to pay and come stay for a week at a time, or longer, and work as volunteers. They make the elephant food, shovel giant piles of elephant shit, etc. But they also do day tours for fly-by tourists such as myself. And all the money goes to keep the lights on and rescue and feed more elephants. Oh, and did I mentioned they rescue dogs as well? Can you imagine anything better than dogs and elephants frolicking through the Thai countryside together? And the anticipation builds…
We arrived just in time to feed “Grandma”, the 90 year-old elephant. She is fed alone because she is on a special diet that only allows her to eat soft foods. Elephants get six sets of teeth throughout their life, and after that last set falls out they are basically fucked and walk into the jungle alone to die. But not Grandma. That bitch is still alive and kickin’ because she has tourists to peel watermelons and make rice balls for her. Then we went for a walk around the park to meet some of the various elephants and hear their stories. Many of the elephants have foot injuries from stepping on land mines. People use them for logging in illegal areas that are protected by land mines, because making an elephant drag logs through a jungle is much more stealth than using loud machines. Ass holes. A few of them just have stumps where one of their feet used to be. Some of the elephants are blind, in one eye or both. One elephant we met was blind in both eyes after her owner got mad at her and stabbed her in the eyes. Fucking prick. The elephants were very sweet and good natured, some even lean into you to nuzzle as you give them a scratch. We also saw a few babies, protected fiercely by their mother, or their adopted mother.
I have ridden an elephant before. In Bali, at a zoo. Because my guide took us to the wrong place. And it sucked. It wasn’t fun at all. I don’t even like riding horses because I feel bad for them. But looking back, I can only wonder how those elephants were being treated once visiting hours were over. How many hours of back-breaking work they are subjected to on a daily basis all so that some fat ass tourists with money, such as myself, could get a selfie on their backs? And so, I have come up with a list of some reasons that you should consider avoiding this and instead researching a more responsible form of elephant tourism such as ENP, should you ever find yourself in a part of the world where elephant-riding is big business:
1. You are fat. Should the elephants really have to suffer for your poor life choices? or,
2. You are skinny. In which case your life already rocks, so maybe just take a selfie in a bathing suit and post it on Instagram so I can dislike you more. And then eat a fucking cheeseburger.
3. You can’t even see their cute faces when you ride them! Where is the fun in that? When you pet a dog, do you just want to see the back of his head? No, you want to rub that adorable little schnoz.
4. Feeding them is way more fun than riding them. And far more enjoyable for the elephant. Because those fuckers can eat.
5. Elephants are typically poked by their mahouts with what is essentially a spear to get them to submissively trot around with you on their backs. Do you want to ride something that has to literally be abused to hang out with you? Have some self respect.
A few more interesting facts about these lovable giants. (1) The babies are raised by their mothers until they are 4-6 year-old, at which point the boys leave their mothers and bounce to do their own thing. So we can safely assume these elephants are not Jewish. (2) The girls tend to stay together in little packs. And those packs do not like to socialize with the other packs. It’s kind of like the cafeteria in high school, where everyone sits with the same group of people. And no, you can’t sit with us. (3) Each elephant at ENP has a dedicated “mahout”, who takes care of that particular elephant all day, everyday, except on his days off of course. The elephants at ENP are not assigned a Mahout, but they instead they choose who they want. You do not chose the force, the force chooses you.
After visiting with a bunch of the elephants, it was time for lunch. Lunch was absolutely amazing. There was a separate buffet for the volunteers, as they eat earlier. Our buffet was about 10 minutes away from being ready, but the guides let us know that if we were starving, we could eat from the volunteers’ food. Obviously this was given as an option just to be polite, as what kind of self-important ass hole would take them up on that? Once again, you have underestimated the egotistical and idiotic nature of about 90% of the humans in this world. Because you know there were a few douche bags who ate the volunteers’ food. As our group looked on in judgmental derision.
After lunch we “bathed” the elephants. Which is code for “throwing buckets of water onto them and coming nowhere near getting them clean”. But they just walk out of the water and throw a pile of dirt on their backs anyway. We watched as the elephants then stampeded into the water on their own and rolled around happily. We met some of the boy elephants who they keep in a separate area because they are cheeky bastards who like to throw dirt at tourists and impregnate the girl elephants. Typical. And all too soon, it was time to head back to the city, our hearts a little heavier from what we had experienced today.
We spent the evening drinking wine and sangria at our friendly neighborhood beer garden. The food cart vendors are literally starting to recognize us. We are regulars. Everyone turned in early tonight.
Part 2: Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Today Steph and Katie left us to fly home to spend Christmas with their families. They obviously did not take my blog post on the reasons you should travel over Christmas seriously. So I bid them adieu that morning and headed off with the rest of our crew for our next adventure. And what an adventure it was….
Today we did a motorbike tour. Don’t worry, I am fully aware of the fact that I have no business on a motorbike considering I can barely drive my Mazda. I was driven. Kim had heard about this tour from a friend of her’s who claimed it was the absolute highlight of her entire trip to Thailand. That’s high praise, because getting drunk on boats is fucking hard to beat in my book. My first response to Kim when she mentioned that they were doing this motorbike tour was “hell no”. My reasons being;
(1) I’m the shittiest driver in the world. Mercury insurance actually dropped me from my mom’s policy at one point because I’m too much of a liability. Mercury. That’s like Walmart refusing to serve you because you are too white trash. I then had to go on my Dad’s car insurance because no one would insure me on my own. What a loser.
(2) I hate driving. I spent 7 years commuting an hour each way to work. I feel like I’ve paid my driving dues. I have road rage. My commute now is about 20 minutes and I flip people off about 4 times a week, on average. If I never had to drive again, it would be too soon. Add my intense desire for a driver to the list of reasons why I need a sugar daddy.
(3) I don’t know how to drive anything with two wheels. I once ate shit pedaling the half mile home from the Hermosa pier on my strand cruiser. Granted, I was highly intoxicated. I can only imagine the kind of damage I would do on a fucking motorbike.
(4) Have you seen how they drive in Asia? I don’t want to be racist here, but think about how Asians drive at home. Then multiply that by EVERYONE ON THE ROAD. Let’s then couple that with items 1-3 above and we have a recipe for disaster.
Enter option #2: have a Thai dude half my size drive me around while I sit on the back. Still not all that appealing, I know. But everyone else in the group was doing it, so basically, I jumped off the bridge because it’s what all the hippies were doing. I suffer from severe and chronic FOMO. For those of you that don’t know (do you live under a rock?) FOMO stands for “fear of missing out”. Basically, I am always worried that if I opt out of something it will end up being the best thing ever and everyone will talk nonstop about how great it was and I will be the ass hole who didn’t go. Have you have seen me turn down a party? A trip to the bar? A trip anywhere? Nope. Because I pretty much always says yes. My FOMO is so bad that my dog actually has it too. I shit you not. We call it “Beau Beau FOMO”. So apparently it’s contagious.
We were picked up at 8:30am. Both devils on my shoulders were saying “bitch, turn back now”. But I didn’t listen. We show up at the tour office and Kim and Nicole were instantly berated with questions about how much experience they have driving bikes. The guides looked very nervous for them. Carly and I started to get a little scared. So Kim and Nicole took a few bikes out for a test drive down the street. They came back terrified and we knew right away we would need a few more Thai guys as drivers. So that this point, out of all five of us, Brandon is the only one actually driving. Then they tell us that we will be riding on the motorbikes two hours out to the area where the “tour” actually starts. And then two hours home. Woof. This basically sounds like the day from hell to me, but travel Rory is trying to go with the flow.
I have included below excerpts from the actual tour description online, followed by what actually happened. Keep in mind that we (foolishly) opted to substitute motorbiking instead of trekking. Because those were the only two options.
As advertised: “Drive on a countryside road to Mae Wang district, stop for a short time to get supplies and lunch. Continue driving for 30 minutes to the waterfall where we will play in the waterfall and then start trekking.”
What actually happened: Fear for you life as you swerve through the streets of Chiang Mai. Stop at a market where your guides will get lunch while you buy the market out of beer in an effort to calm yourself for the rest of the trip. Continue driving to somewhat unimpressive waterfall and watch some people cliff jump.
As advertised: “We will trek for about two and a half hours to a real Karen hilltribe family who live in the middle of the jungle without any luxury. We will share our lunch with them and you can learn about how they live on the mountain.”
What actually happened: We will take a motorbike off-roading through the jungle, at which point one of your bikes will have a flat tire. You will then sit on the side of a country road while the guides go get a new tire and fix it. You will enjoy a delicious lunch by the picturesque side of the road where everyone will eat with their hands after fixing said tire. You will finally make it, albeit a little late, to a Karen hilltribe village. No one will offer you any explanation for what you are doing there or any information about their way of life. You will wander around aimlessly while some children beg you for money in exchange for some string braided together. You will buy some shit from them because of your white-man guilt. You will then find a family of malnourished hiltribe dogs who you will feed with your leftovers. You will feel bad for feeding the dogs instead of the people, and will make a hasty exit.
As advertised: After enjoying your time with them we will trek for another 3 hours along the river where you will see many waterfalls and we will stop at some of them for a swim.
What actually happened: After fleeing the uncomfortable hilltribe situation you will motorbike through extremely dangerous terrain that your motorbikes were not built to drive on. You will still try to hold on with one hand and catch the action on your go pro. We will then stop at a river for a swim. We will see some water cascading about five feet and call it a waterfall.
As advertised: The trekking will end at another Karen hilltribe village and we will drive from there back to the city.
What actually happened: There is no other hilltribe village. You will be grateful for that. We will then drive two and a half hour on the motorbike back to the city. It will hurt. Your ass will never be the same again. You will cry of happiness when you see the finish line.
The name of the tour company was “Something Different Tours”. And they definitely lived up to their name, that is for sure. In all honesty, we had no business being on that tour. It was our own damn fault. But hey, you can’t win ’em all. We at dinner and went to bed. It’s a few days later and my ass still hurts. The physical wounds will heal. The psychological ones will take a bit longer. I’m sure I will soon look back on today and laugh my ass off about that time I road a motorbike through the Thailand backwoods for 8 hours. But for now, you laughing your ass off at our expense will have to do.