Tag Archives: tropical islands

An Elephant Caretaker (Mahout) For The Day

6 May

Probably the most amazing experience we had while living in Thailand was visiting Baan Chang Elephant Park.  They rescue elephants and protect them from poachers who are willing to kill them  for money.  They also take in elephants who worked in the logging industry and are no longer able to.  We were able to get up close and personal with the elephants, feed them, ride them and bath them.   It was such a great experience that we want to share  it with you.

There are a few elephant rescue organizations in Chiang Mai and we decided on this one based on cost and good reviews from Trip Advisor.  This sanctuary  is serious about protecting and preserving the Asian elephants from poachers.  Each elephant has its own handler, called a “mahout”.  The mahouts live on the property to care for the elephants 24 hrs a day.  When we arrived, it was explained to us that the elephants are chained to an area for several reasons:

  1. To not walk off in the jungle and be killed
  2. To not wander into the village and cause any harm
  3. To not fight and kill one another
Our guide getting bananas ready

Our guide getting bananas ready

They do exercise the elephants 3 times a day, but until they can gain more funding to buy more land, this is the best protection for them.  They provided us a change of clothes as caring for elephants is dirty business.

Ron feeding bananas to an elephant

Ron feeding bananas to an elephant

We were first given a large basket of banana bunches and pieces of sugar cane to give to the elephants as their snack.  We were told to hold out the banana bunch to them and place it on their trunk and they will grab them and put them in their mouth.  So, we grabbed as many bananas as we could and set off to feed the elephants that were in the far back.  As we were passing the other elephants, they would stick their trunks out to us hoping to have some of our bananas, so we fed them on the way to the back and realized we didn’t have much left after passing all the “beggar” elephants and had to go back and replenish.  The elephants really enjoyed the bananas.  One of them didn’t want the bananas in his trunk, so he let it drop to the ground.  His mahout said he likes to be fed in his mouth, so Ron picked up the bananas and put them directing into his mouth!


Dee feeding sugar cane to the elephant

After snack time, we practiced how to sit on an elephant bareback (touristy places have bamboo seats that we were told actually harm the elephants), the commands  to make him turn, move forward and stop. The command to make your elephant lay down is “nah long”.  You have to repeat it and do it loudly and your elephant will kneel down so you can climb on.  It was a bit scary at first sitting 2 stories high on such a large animal, but you get use to it quickly.   One of the elephants we were practicing with walked up to the tree in front of us and started scratching herself like a dog would scratch on a post.  She even wiggled her behind.  She was very funny to watch.

After lunch we were ready for our trek into the jungle on our elephants!  Ron and I shared an elephant and once we got on, off we went.

Riding bareback

Riding bareback

The mahout led us as we walked the path into the jungle following the other people in our group on their elephants.  We stopped after a half hour to give the elephants (and us) a break.  When we finished the trek,  we walked the elephants to a pond where we were each given a bucket and brushes to brush down our elephants.  They really seemed to enjoy this since it was quite hot out and they know their routine that dinner comes next.

Our mahout ordered our elephant to lay down in the water and we got along side her and brushed her in the water.  I decided to climb on top of her and brush her from up there and after 10 minutes or so, without warning, she stood up with me on her!  I was like, “whoa, where ya going?!” But our mahout ordered her to lay back down which she did.  Afterwards the facility provides a simple shower for you to get cleaned up and back into your dry clothes.  As all animals, these are amazing creatures and we are grateful at the opportunity we had to meet them up close.  Here are some more pictures from our day:

Riding along

Riding along

Bath time

Bath time



Chiang Mai: 5 days just wasn’t enough

6 May

Since we’ve been living in Phuket, we thought “shouldn’t we see more of Thailand while we are here”?  Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand, situated in the northern part of the country.  Air Asia, the low-cost carrier here,  makes it pretty easy to get there.

Our room at Le Meridien

Our room at Le Meridien

From what we read, Chiang Mai has a more laid back atmosphere than Phuket.  They have lots of cafes, artsy areas, restaurants that serve organic and gluten-free meals and a much bigger variety of restaurants than we saw in Phuket.  We decided to spend 5 days there and then go to Bangkok for 3 days.

We used points (we ALWAYS use points) and stayed right in the center of town at a Le Meridien.  It was a very nice hotel, centrally located, with one of the most comfortable beds we’ve ever stayed in.

Night market

Night market

There is a street “night market” every night right outside your door from the hotel.  Vendors start setting up around 4:00pm and stay open until midnight.  They sell everything from knock-off tee shirts to fake Tiffany jewelry.

We booked a tour for our second day here to learn how to cook Thai food at an organic farm outside the city.  We were picked up at our hotel and taken to a local farmers market to learn about the different rice they have, the fruits and meats that are for sale and given time to walk the market.  We watched a vendor use a machine to ground fresh-cut coconuts to make coconut milk.  After that it was on to the farm to learn about what they grow.

Emdee cutting lemongrass

Emdee cutting lemongrass

Our guide’s name was Emdee.  She was a blast!  We have never met anyone with such energy before. In the classroom, we were each given a list  of dishes and told to choose 4 main dishes and 1 dessert that we would like to make.  We each had our own cooking station and we began by learning the difference between regular rice and sticky rice.  After getting that started steaming, we learned how to make Tom Ka Gai soup, which is coconut milk with chicken and lemongrass.  It is WONDERFUL and so easy to make!  We were all hungry now, so we ate our soup and then we learned how to make curry paste.  Ron made green curry and I made yellow.  If you make your own paste, you can control how spicy it is.  This works for me since I can’t tolerate spicy and Ron loves the heat.  Once the paste was done, we continued to make our curry  and then ate  that with the rice we had cooked in the steamer.

Potential chefs

Potential chefs

We also made chicken with cashews, chicken with basil, pad thai, and steamed egg rolls.  After that Ron and I decided to make 2 different things for dessert so we could each taste the others.  He made mango with sticky rice and I made banana in coconut milk.  Both were very good but I’d say we both preferred the mango with sticky rice.  Lucky for us, we were given a recipe book so we can prepare authentic Thai food at home.  We had a great time and are now qualified to cook Thai food for our friends 🙂

We spent the next day as elephant caretakers at Baan Chang Elephant Farm, about 45 minutes outside the city of   Chiang Mai.   They rescue Asian elephants who have been mistreated or are in danger from poachers.  It was such an awesome experience, that we have to write about it in a separate blog.DSCN2304

Our Tuk-Tuk driver napping

Our Tuk-Tuk driver napping

After all of our hard work, we decided to just lay by the pool and chill out the next day.  Later in the afternoon we decided to  take a Tuk-Tuk (a type of open air taxi)tour of the center part of the city.  We realized there is a canal going right through the middle of the city and an ancient wall that surrounds it.  Most of the wall is worn away, but you can still see parts of it along the canal.

We found a good review of a Mexican restaurant and tried it one night.  The food was great, especially since Phuket doesn’t really have any Mexican restaurants.

Restaurants in Chiang Mai

Restaurants in Chiang Mai

It was a really nice night out so with the help of Google maps, we decided to walk back to our hotel.  We strolled along the canal and made our way to the river.  Here, we stumbled upon a few restaurants with outdoor seating, live bands and good-looking menus.  We returned to one of them on our last night, called Good View,  and loved the relaxed atmosphere of sitting on the riverfront, outside, listening to American music.

Good View restaurant

Good View restaurant

On our last day in Chiang Mai, we rented a scooter to tour around on our own and after getting to the other side of town, we decided it was way too hot (101 degrees!) to be riding the scooter and changed plans and decided to have a long massage instead.  We found a place that had good reviews not far from our hotel and enjoyed a 90 minute massage for $15US.  Much better idea.

Our only complaint about our hotel was the $20US cost pp for breakfast.  Lucky for us, we passed what looked like an American diner called Butter Is Better Bakery.  We looked at their menu and got so excited to read things like: blueberry pancakes, gluten-free banana pancakes, homemade bagel with cream cheese, biscuits and gravy, etc.  WE FOUND HOME COOKING!!

Butter is Better Bakery

Butter is Better Bakery

We went every single morning and ordered corn beef sandwiches on rye bread for the plane ride to Bangkok!  After being outside the US for almost 3 months, you start to crave some comfort foods.  We found them here. We also found a restaurant on the river for dinner called The Duke.  It was a 3 story American restaurant that had a big variety of dinners and each one was great.

We were walking past a McDonalds and passed this statue of Ronald.  We thought it was interesting because that is the traditional greeting Thai people will give you when saying hello which is pronounced Sa wah dee kaaaa if you are a woman and Sa wah dee cop if you are a man.

Ronald saying Sawadee

Ronald saying Sawadee

We also know how to say thank you in Thai, which is Korb Koon Kaa if you are a woman and Korb Koon Cop if you are a man.  I could get technical here because for a man, the cop is pronounced crop in Bangkok but not in Phuket.

Overall, we liked Chiang Mai and would have preferred to live there and just visit Phuket because we found the cost of things to be a little cheaper, they had more American visitors than Phuket and we didn’t see a large influx of Russian tourists.  We also liked the variety of restaurants including organic ones,  and just the overall “vibe” of the place was very welcoming.

Karakters West

Karakters of Thailand

We did come across a bus that served as a restaurant on one of our walks!

Up next:  Bangkok

A Newbie’s Guide to Phuket: If I knew then what I know now…

4 May
Longtail boats at Nai Harn Beach

Longtail boats at Nai Harn Beach

Ron and I have one more week left of our 3 month trip to Thailand before we head to Spain.  We are grateful of the opportunity we had to “live” with the locals in this beautiful country.

What brought us to Thailand, of all places?  Well, we first wanted warm weather.  And nice beaches.  Oh, and a good place to live on a budget.  We did a lot of research before we left California about Thailand and where we thought we would live.  We now realize there were some things we didn’t know before we left and wish we did.  Hindsight is 20/20, right?

This blog is for people considering going to Thailand, specifically Phuket and may have some helpful information for you based solely on our views and opinions.  Here is a list of things we really love about Phuket:

  • New friends we made

    New friends we made

    Thai people- they are some of  the most warm, welcoming people you will ever meet.  They really go out of their way to help you, even if they can’t personally.  They will find someone who can.

  • Weather – we visited from February – May, during “high” season and only saw rain once from Feb – Mar.  The days are warm and sunny, the nights comfortable.


    Enjoying good, cheap street food.

  • Beaches – There are so many to choose from!  We loved walking Kamala (where we lived) beach at dusk when it’s not too hot.
  • Massages- You can have a wonderful 1 hr massage for $10US everywhere you go.
  • Thai Food – How about ordering 1 Chicken with mixed vegetables, 1 Fried Rice w/Chicken and a bottle of water for $4.80US?  Not too bad.
  • It was inevitable

    Songkran Festival

    Songkran Festival- April is the Thai new year and it’s celebrated by splashing people with water to wish them luck for the upcoming year.  Get your water pistols out and join the fun!

  • Jungcelyon Mall – There is a modern movie theatre on the 3rd floor that shows first rate movies in English.  On Wednesday, the price is $3.40pp.  Before every movie,  a tribute to the King will be played and it’s mandatory to stand during it.
  • Bartering- Thai people are very proud and there is a scientific way to negotiate prices with them.  They will give you a price first (shown to you on a calculator) and you should barter with them to pay 1/2 the original quoted price by going back and forth.  If they are stuck on a higher price, then just walk away.  That will restart the bargaining again.  They enjoy this and will act put out by “allowing” your lowered price, but once they agree, everyone is all smiles.


    Prices and chair choices for movie theatre

  • Meeting people from all parts of the world – We have met people on tours and restaurants from Finland to Australia, South Africa to Bali.
  • English- Is spoken widely in Phuket.  We rarely had difficulty in conversing with people and if we did, I took out my iPhone and used Google Translate.
  • Medical Care- Since Thailand is a medial vacation destination, prices for services at Bangkok Phuket Hospital were a 1/3 of what you pay in the US.  We had a dentist cleaning for $30US and a partial physical with bloodwork for $34US.  The hospital is every bit as modern if not more than those in the US.
  • Shopping – Thailand is not the third world country you may of thought it was.  In the bigger cities like Patong, Bangkok and Chiang Mai, you will see American fast food places like Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Starbucks and Haagen Dazs ice cream.  In Bangkok you will find ultra modern malls with stores like Chanel, H&M, Coach, etc.  I managed to find a Krispy Kreme in the Paragon Mall in Bangkok, which was next to the Aunt Annie’s Pretzels.
  • Internet (a favorite topic of mine) – I purchased a local Happy sim card for $5 and added a 1G of 3G for 1 month for $13.75.  If you use more than 1G, you’ll receive a text allowing you to purchase a “booster” of another 1G for $5!  You can add money from any of the gazillion 7-11s in Thailand.  I was even able to make my iPhone a wifi “hotspot”.
  • Our current mode of transportation.

    Our current mode of transportation.

    We loved not having a car and driving our scooter everywhere.  You don’t have to worry about anyone stealing your helmut.  Just leave it on your scooter with no worries. And make sure you don’t fill up at places that sell “bottles” of gas.  They are a rip-off.  Look for regular gas stations and single gas pumps on the side of the road.

So you see, there are plenty of things to like about Phuket.  Next, I’ll discuss some of the “less desirable” things we noticed about living here.

Our kitchen

Our kitchen

  • Lodging- For what we wanted, we found it to be expensive.  You can live very cheaply in Phuket if you want to stay in a hostel or rent a room that doesn’t have a kitchen.  Prices go down even further after May.  We like to cook and found it very difficult before we arrived to find lodging and decided to just look once we got here.  We hired a driver and drove around the west side of the island and settled on Kamala.  It’s a lot quieter than Patong, but close enough for shopping and our weekly movies.  We rented a one bedroom condo with a kitchen (no oven as they are rare to find here) 5 minutes to the beach and it cost $400US a month more than we budgeted.   Next time we think we’d prefer the more livelier Kata/Karon area.
  • Sunset over Patong Beach at a nice restaurant.

    Sunset over Patong Beach at a nice restaurant.

    Restaurants- For a short visit, there would be no issues.  But for a longer stay, you might want a change from Thai food and the choices are schnitzel, spaghetti bolognese, pizza and fried chicken.  We could not find a Mexican or American restaurant near us.  If you want a really nice meal, you can find them, but you will pay close to US prices.  We enjoyed Mom’s Tri Kitchen in Kata, where it seemed they had more variety of restaurants.

  • Big C grocery store in Patong

    Big C grocery store in Patong

    Grocery prices- We shopped at the Big C in Patong, and once every 10 days rented a car and drove to Phuket Town to visit the big Tesco-Lotus and my personal favorite,  Tops Central Market because it has more of American branded products and a gourmet bakery.  If you cook in and want things like cheeses, crackers, olive oil, you will pay double what you paid in the US.  There is at least a double if not more tax on imports here.  Locally grown lettuce will be very cheap, but a box of Chips Ahoy will set you back. For the same reason, wine, champagne and liquor will not be cheap.  Local beers in a bar are inexpensive at $2US.

  • Car Rentals- Most Thais can’t afford a car and use scooters.  It’s expensive to rent a car.  We pay between $30-40 a day to rent a car when we need to.  A scooter costs us $85 a month.
  • Construction- Phuket is booming right now and there is construction going on everywhere building new hotels and condos.  There is still only 1 main road in most areas and the traffic is getting worse.  We are afraid that overbuilding has already begun and is changing the landscape daily.
  • Phang Nha Bay

    Phang Nha Bay

    Foreigners – As we said, we met a lot of different people but what we didn’t know was that the top 3 visitors to Phuket are: 1.  Chinese  2.  Russians  3.  Australians.

    Bangla Road, Patong

    Bangla Road, Patong

    Living in the US does not afford us the opportunity to run into Russian tourists too often.  Phuket, however, has a strong influx of Russian tourists. In our experience, we found them to be very unfriendly, rude and down right arrogant.  Too many times to count, we were cut in front of, reached over, or not acknowledged by them.  I continually read in the local newspaper of problems the Thais had with the Russians.  When we talked to Thai people,  they all stated a similiar dislike for them. They told us how the Russians refuse to speak English to them.  They think the Thai’s should speak Russian.  Our tour guide in Bangkok told us that Phuket has a serious problem with the Russian mob influence and the local Thai’s put up with them because they are afraid of losing their business so they tolerate their bad behavior.

  • Beaches- If you are coming to Phuket to see pristine beaches from
    Rows of chairs at Patong Beach

    Rows of chairs at Kamala Beach

    magazines,  you might be disappointed.   Due to the increase in tourists and boat traffic, the beaches on the west coast during high season are overcrowded with rows of beach chairs and umbrellas and littered.  Sometimes you may not be able to see your feet while in the water.  We found Patong beach to be the worst offender.  During one walk on the beach, we collected 3 bags of trash left by visitors.  We didn’t visit the Phi Phi islands as we were told how crowded they are and wanted to avoid that.

  • Patong – Very crowded, often times omitting a sewer smell and difficult to walk around due to lack of sidewalks on some streets.
  • Laguna Golf Course, Bang Tao

    Laguna Golf Course, Bang Tao

    Golf- Very expensive to play in Phuket at $150pp a round and up.

  • Beauty Salon Prices- For women who are looking for a quality manicure & pedicure, maybe a haircut and color, you will probably not save a whole bunch from what it costs in the US.  An OPI gel polish in Patong costs $34US.

Here are some observations we feel are important to know:

  • Shoes- The majority of Thais are Buddhists and believe the feet are the most dirty part of a body.  It is their custom to remove your shoes before entering a temple, a person’s home and some businesses.
    No shoes allowed inside

    Shoes outside a business


  • The King- Is loved by everyone in Thailand.  In fact, you should NEVER say anything negative about him.  We accidently dropped a coin with the King’s pictures on it and Ron stepped on the coin to prevent it from rolling away.  Our guide warned us to never use your feet on anything related to the king as that would be very disrespectful and could cause one to be arrested.
  • Eating Out- We found it cheaper to eat out than buy groceries and cook in.  Steak is very expensive in Thailand as it’s imported from Australia and New Zealand.  Remember, anything imported will be expensive.  When we did try and order steak a couple of times, we were very disappointed.
  • Eating Out Part II-  What ever you order will come out of the kitchen one at a time.  You will not be served the appitizer first as in the US.  As they make the dishes, is how it comes out of the kitchen.
  • Watering station vs. armed pickup

    Watering station vs. armed pickup

    If you can be in Thailand during their New Years celebration Songkran, we highly recommend it.  Join the locals in wishing everyone luck in the upcoming year by pouring water on them. But if you don’t want to get wet, definitely stay inside!!

  • Prices come down on lodging after May, however, the moonsoon season starts. The humidity and overcast skies begin mid-April and start in full force in May.   We found out it started a little early this year and if your only means of transportation is a scooter, you will either get very wet to go out to eat or you need a kitchen to prepare meals in the event it rains.
  • We decided to see other parts of Thailand and traveled to Chiang Mai and Bangkok.  Although we are beach lovers, we decided Chiang Mai had a better mix of people, culture and restaurants for us.  We also took a weeks vacation to Vietnam and loved it there.  You can read about that in our other blogs.

As our observations are purely personal, we hope this helps you if you are deciding to visit Phuket.  We are so grateful we were able to live in this beautiful country briefly and would love to return some day for it’s beauty and simply way of life.

Kamala beach sunset

Kamala beach sunset