A Travellerspoint blog

The Lighthouse Orphanage

sunny 32 °C

As we bumped into the dirt courtyard of the Lighthouse Orphanage, I wished I could have brought more. Clouds of dust were billowing up as the older children played volleyball. The youngsters were stacking up brightly coloured building blocks in the shade. I had expected visiting an orphanage to be harrowing experience, but from the moment I stepped out of the moto, I was grabbed by tiny hands all wanting to introduce themselves. I was supposed to meet the managers, but I was escorted off by a young boy and girl who politely introduced themselves and were straight in there with “what is your favourite colour” All around hands grabbed me for attention and there was even some dispute over who would hold my hand first. My apprehension about visiting the orphanage was lost in a sea of smiles. Of course it is impossible to overlook their past mistreatment as some of the children wore the scars visibly on their skin. But we were not here to pry into their past, we were here to play and entertain!

The bag of toys in my right hand had soon been raided and the children were now playing various ball games in the playground. One particular little boy called Somna had us playing volley ball for over 45minutes, in the baking heat. I thought he might get tired or at least bored after the first 15 minutes, but no, he was like a machine and not even breaking a sweat in the 30 degree sun. I had to give in as I was starting to feel a little faint and I went on to building blocks, something a little more relaxing.

Somna

Somna

Rice is Not Only a Source of Nourishment..

Rice is Not Only a Source of Nourishment..

This Little Fellow Liked to Fly Everywhere

This Little Fellow Liked to Fly Everywhere

Other Visitors Who Didn't Even Need to Leave their Tuk Tuk to Provide Amusement!

Other Visitors Who Didn't Even Need to Leave their Tuk Tuk to Provide Amusement!



There were 3 little boys who didn’t need toys to have the time of their lives, just the giant 50kg rice sacks that had been donated. Initially, the rice sacks were stacked up but they would eventually slump down after being jumped on. Of course each time they fell down, Ste was the man to pick them back up again. They wanted me to help but I couldn’t budge them an inch. The children loved having their photos taken and so I offered them my camera to try and take photos themselves. They loved it, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little worried as they were passing it to one another. However there was one thing I really noticed about these children, they were never violent towards one another, or argumentative and if you gave them something like my camera they were extremely careful with it! And honesty, teaching a child to use my SLR is MUCH easier than trying to direct and adult. In fact most of the photos taken that day were by the children. But when the camera went out of my sight I naturally followed.

Playing Ball, Not Even Breaking a Sweat

Playing Ball, Not Even Breaking a Sweat

Knocking it Down, the Best PArt of Building it Up

Knocking it Down, the Best PArt of Building it Up

This Grumpy Chappy Just Needed Some Attention

This Grumpy Chappy Just Needed Some Attention

Nara, a young girl had scurried off with it to take photos of her friends in their dormitory and so I went inside. I was immediately offered a spot on the bed and I noticed the pictures of princesses pinned behind the bed head. We crouched on the bottom bunk and the girls introduced themselves. Their ages ranged from 16 to 12 and they all seemed happy to see me. Their English was immaculate so we had no problem getting to know each other. The girls then did my hair beautifully, plaited, with fresh yellow flowers in the back. I was impressed! And they all giggled when I said they should open a beauty salon. I asked them if they ever get fed up with tourists visitng everyday and tone girl said “no, they are my family, to me” which a found very sad but very touching.

The Girls Dorm

The Girls Dorm


Pretty Impressive!

Pretty Impressive!

The Hairdresser Herself

The Hairdresser Herself


We headed outside and the girls collared Jess so they could paint our nails. First when on a coat of yellow then flowers were intricately drawn on top, with green nail tips to finish. Not exactly my choice of colours but it looked great! One of the girls then tried to teach me some Khmer, which was almost impossible, but I gave my best shot at calling Ste a monkey in Khmer.

The Gang

The Gang

The Girls

The Girls

Footie Team

Footie Team

Manicure

Manicure



Football in the Dust

Football in the Dust

Chris Has Found a New Friend

Chris Has Found a New Friend

Goalie

Goalie

Stes New Friend

Stes New Friend

As we were leaving, the children asked if we were coming back and insisted we should. They tugged on our arms and pleaded with us to stay, we gave in and agreed to come tomorrow which had them cheering. As we left the gates a stream of children followed us into the street and they even climbed onto our tuk tuk! There were lots of hugs goodbye and when our moto set off, they clung to the back before abandoning ship at the end of the street. The orphanage was nothing like I had imagined and I think this is mostly due to the donations it receives, either directly or via the internet. In fact, the most upsetting momet of the day was leaving AND the tiny naked baby in the street trying to run and wave us goodbye but instead, tripped and face planted the concrete road.

Posted by CarlaTracy 11:26 Archived in Cambodia Tagged children cambodia orphanage help khmer volunteer donation lighthouse_orphanage Comments (1)

The Queen of Fruits

sunny 30 °C

After Lonely Planet had implied that the transport in Phuket was difficult to navigate, we checked with reception about getting a bus to one of the nearby beaches and just stressed not to miss the last bus because a tuk tuk would be at least 500Bt to get back! Which is pretty expensive considering we got all the way from Phuket to Hat Yai for 360Bt and that is a 7 hour journey! We jumped on the bus which waited outside 7/11 and departed once full. The buses in Phuket are great! You just clamber in the back and sit on the sideways facing benches – the bus has no sides or back and if there is no room to squeeze in you just cling onto the back for dear life. It’s not a long journey to Karon, but the bus is pretty slow over the hills. We had no idea where to get off so we stayed on until Karon and as we leapt out of the back we hoped we could easily flag it down again later, otherwise it would be a looong walk! Our first impressions of Karon - busy. Brimming in fact; Thai people were few and far between. We made our way down to the beach, where umbrellas sprouted up as far as I could see. I certainly wasn’t taken aback by the beauty like in Phi Phi – very average, I thought, it looked like somewhere in Spain. I cooled my hot feet in the sea and remarked about how golden the sand was, but we soon left.

Karon Beach

Karon Beach

The Frothy Sea and Golden Sands of Karon

The Frothy Sea and Golden Sands of Karon

The streets were lined with shops and stalls, every few paces guys were trying to drag Ste into a suit shop. I picked up some odd looking and expensive fruit from a little stand, hoping it was the fruit we had sampled the previous night. We popped into a shop and bartered for a writing book to keep my Thailand travel diary – the cheapest we could get it was 5 pounds which wasn’t exactly fantastic, but she wanted it for 11 quid at the opening. As she had duped us out of our money, we insisted she let us video the rather scary taser guns that they had at the front of the shop. The taser disguised as a mobile phone that let out a horrific crack when she turned it on! We both laughed “dangerous” we shouted and she just nodded and smiled like it was completely normal! We were about to vacate when she whipped out the daddy taser gun; this thing was the length of your forearm. She flicked the switch and a tremendous blue light shot out of the end which made us all jump, we all laughed in disbelief! “Very dangerous” we said “goodbyeee.”

Streets of Karon

Streets of Karon

Lazing in a Hammock

Lazing in a Hammock

We never actually made it to Kata beach because the last bus was waiting just around the corner and we didn’t dare risk missing it. The journey back took over an hour as we curb crawled the entire way, I guess the driver was hoping that if we went slow enough people could just jump on the back. I didn’t mind though, it was like a mini sightseeing tour with the commentary.

Back at the hostel I got researching Thai fruit as I munched my way through the whole bag of fruit which I have dubbed the “whiskey fruit” due to its alcoholic taste. People were raving about Mangosteens on various forums, so we rushed out to find some, bearing in mind it was now about 11.30 at night Ste was pretty doubtful we would find any fruit shops open at this hour. We roamed the streets for a good 30 mins before almost giving up, but then I saw a slightly busier lane and we headed down it. And what unfolded before our eyes, nothing other than a fruit utopia! An entire market of fruit and Veg! “What are the chances” we both laughed. We had no trouble finding the Mangosteens, but had no idea how to test the ripeness or what a good Mangosteen looked like. I just picked up a bag and stuffed about ten inside, the vendor weighed them and we were surprised how cheap they were, only 25Bt. But I noticed on another stall they had some much bigger ones and as soon as I laid a hand on one, the vendor was opening it so we could try. We then felt obliged to buy a load more; he initially wanted us to buy 1kg! We then picked up some jackfruit which I’d previously tried in Malaysia – this is the largest fruit to grow on a tree in the world! And they can weigh up to 36kg! They taste like juicy fruit chewing gum with a spring onion aftertaste. Not like any other fruit I have tried.

Mangosteen 'The Queen of Fruits'

Mangosteen 'The Queen of Fruits'

The 'Whiskey' Fruit Attacked With PenKnife

The 'Whiskey' Fruit Attacked With PenKnife

The Mangosteens were worth traipsing about town for in the dead of the night. They are about the size of an orange, aubergine in colour, round and have a green tomato-like stalk coming from the top. You can break them open by crushing and twisting them in your palm and when open, they have a deep red thick outer casing and in the centre around 3 segments of pearly white translucent fruit. The taste is sweet and refreshing and they are super juicy. They could be my new favourite fruit. The Mangosteen is notoriously difficult to grow and so apparently, once upon a time, the Queen offered a large sum of money to anyone who could bring her a fresh Mangosteen over to the UK, but no one was able! Bizarre. Some people call it the Queen of fruits and I think it is more worthy a Queen than the Durian is a King.

Posted by CarlaTracy 10:57 Archived in Thailand Tagged beach thailand fruit phuket Comments (0)

Woody Elephant Training

sunny 35 °C

For the last two months in Thailand, I had rejected any offer of riding, seeing, touching or feeding any elephants. I had saved myself for today! I had spent considerable time researching the kind of elephant activities that were on offer in Chiang Mai and it was actually in Phuket that I came across a blog about ‘Woody Elephant Training.’ I was instantly sold on the idea, the photos looked fantastic and there was none of this hideous sitting in cages on the elephants back while it goes in circles for 11 hours a day. In this one day (up to 3 day) activity, you are taught the Thai commands for controlling the elephant, how to ride bareback, how to feed, care for and bathe the elephant. By the time the morning arrived I was SO excited. It was only a 1hour journey in the Sangethaew where we got the chance to meet our fellow Mahouts and the all important Woody, who tried convincing us that he 47 – he had us going for a while! We soon arrived in the most beautiful jungle setting, away from traffic and all other civilisation. We were at Woody’s family home that looked out over the thick forest and a lake; I could see why he was a happy chappy.

Woody, The Man Himself

Woody, The Man Himself

After changing into our sexy navy Mahout uniforms, we gathered around the table on the picturesque balcony for the low down. Amongst jokes, Woody told us some interesting info about his elephants – they were once logging elephants for starters and he had a bought them for around 22 thousand Baht each, around 15 years ago! When they first arrived at their new home, they were completely untameable and it took a great deal of training before people were allowed to interact with them. He told us about how other companies hide the fact they use hooks to control the elephants from the tourists, because they know tourists don’t like to imagine the animal being abused in any way. But he didn’t want to lie to us and he assured us that the hook is essential for training the elephant, and that in the early days it was necessary to use the hook to inflict small amounts of pain, so that the elephant is always aware who is boss. Without the use of hooks, elephants would have no fear and they would pose considerable danger to people. And it would certainly never be possible for strangers to ride them. Now they are trained the hook is never used against the elephants in an aggressive way and the elephants are never aggressive towards people. Instead the hook is used just as a threat and it also aids in manoeuvring the beast, much like a horse and a whip – same same but different. He also told us that they do want to be free and as much as he would like to let them roam the land as they once did, he can’t allow them. All the land is owned, by farmers in particular and if the elephants repeatedly venture onto their farmland, destroying their produce and livelihood then they will be shot. If the elephants break free from their chains and stray onto other land then Woody punishes them by giving them no affection, only food and water for two days and he says that this is a good method of teaching them, as elephants like human affection. And he finished with “and if you think you love elephant more than me, you crazy” the elephants were really part of his family.

Next we needed to learn the Thai Commands. Armed with pen and paper we wrote down what we heard:
Yop Kaa – Lift foot up Soon – Higher Bonsoon – open mouth Yut – Stop Baai – Let’s go Qua – Right Sai – Left Toi – Back


The Commands, In One Ear Out the Other

The Commands, In One Ear Out the Other

I wrote them on the back of my hand, I knew I would forget them once I was up there!
Next, it was time to meet those faithful pachyderms. They….were…HUGE! I know it’s a stupid thing to say, of course they are, they are elephants! But wow! Woody introduced us to them all, but unfortunately I can’t remember their names, they were all in Thai. He then hacked up some sugar cane and it was time to try the “Bonsoon” command. I walked over “Bonsoon” and the elephant opened its huge mouth, I couldn’t see any teeth, just a giant slobbery tongue. I had to place the sugar cane at the back of its shelf like tongue and my hand got covered in slobber. Its tongue wasn’t rough like I had expected, it was entirely the opposite, it was as smooth as the inside of my cheek. I then got a massive kiss on the face from its trunk, its skin felt like bark. It was an amazing feeling to touch an elephant for the first time. Everyone got kisses and love from all the elephants and return they got their favourite sugarcane treats. They are so gentle and well behaved and when I looked closely into one of the elephants tiny eyes, I could see it was looking back in an accepting way.
After feeding, the elephants were freed and they began to take up certain formations so we could give them a hug, while Woody took photos – two of them even made a seat with their trunks and lifted me up into the air! Next were kisses from two elephants at once and they draped their giant trunks like arms over my shoulders. It was great, and the elephants really didn’t seem to mind the attention, in fact they seemed to love it! I think this had to be among one of the best experiences of my life! It was now time to try out the commands.

My First Elephant Hug

My First Elephant Hug

Meeting the Elephants

Meeting the Elephants

Bon Soon!

Bon Soon!


An Experience of a Lifetime

An Experience of a Lifetime

Elephant Kisses

Elephant Kisses

Elephant Love

Elephant Love

The Team

The Team

Of course I was directed, with Ste, to the largest of all the elephants. It towered above me as I took its ear in my right hand and some skin in my left. I kicked at the back of its leg with my left foot “Yop Kaa” I shouted with the instructor and it bent its leg backwards and raised its knee up. I put my left foot onto the back of its knee and my right foot on the front “Soon” I shouted and it raised its knee up and with considerable help from my instructor I managed to slither and hoist myself up. I was SO HIGH! I shuffled down onto its neck, as far forward as I could, until my knees were touching the back of her ears. She then handed me the hook from the floor with her trunk…how convenient! The first lesson was to practice the stop command – so left hand on the elephants head, simultaneously bring the hook down gently onto the elephant’s forehead “YUT.” It was difficult to get the correct amount of force when bringing down the hook, in no way were we supposed to hurt the elephant, just make it aware of the hook. Next was turning her full circle to the right – so left hand goes flat on the head, with the right hand reach the hook to the side of the head, right next to the ear and pull to the right, while kicking with the left leg “QUA!” I shouted and the elephant did as I instructed and when she had circled 360 degrees “YUT” and she stopped….of course with some help from the instructors.

Go!

Go!

The command for turning left was the same as turning right, except the opposite way round and calling ‘SAI.”
It was all very well being able to turn my elephant left and right, but I wouldn’t be getting very far very quickly without the forward command. I jumped back on board, getting up was a little easier this time! First I reversed her – the hook is placed lower down on the forehead while shuffling the bum backwards “TOI” and then came forward – place the hook flat across the top of the head, kick the ears with both feet and shout “BAI” These are the basics of riding an elephant.

BAI!

BAI!

It was time for the pachyderms to have a rest and so we broke for lunch. There was a great spread awaiting us on the balcony, but I think everyone had lost their appetite! Maybe they were nervous about riding elephants? I wasn’t nervous, just excited! I couldn’t wait for lunch to be over so we could get out there. I recited my commands which were still going in one ear and out the other. We were given straw hats to complete our look and then it was time.

The Elephant Doesn't Look Impressed

The Elephant Doesn't Look Impressed

Just Chilling in the Shade

Just Chilling in the Shade

Measuring the Elephants Height

Measuring the Elephants Height

Needs some Palmers on This Leather Skin

Needs some Palmers on This Leather Skin

Loving the Attention

Loving the Attention

Lunchtime

Lunchtime

It was two people to each elephant and each elephant had one guide. We now had the second largest elephant and Ste was up on top first and perched on the back which meant I was up second and first to ride! Once we were all seated we took off into the jungle. The path had been trekked a lot and so it was clear, we weren’t forging a new path which was probably a good thing for us beginners. It is surprisingly easy to balance on top of an elephant, I mean its head is just HUGE and its neck is equally a wide and plus I really really didn’t want to fall from that height. We rode for half an hour before stopping at what can only be decribed as a wooden dilapidated shack, on stilts. Climbing the crumbling stairs to get up was more dangerous than riding the elephants. Woody prepared more sugar cane and palm stems for them to eat and they stretched their huge trunks through the holes in the woodwork to steal some food. Woody also had some tamarind seeds and so he lit a fire sing bamboo to cook them for us to try; pretty chewy like burnt popcorn.

Yummmy, Sugarcane

Yummmy, Sugarcane

Gentle Eyes

Gentle Eyes

Palm Stalk, The Elephants Loved it

Palm Stalk, The Elephants Loved it

Cooking Tamarind Seeds

Cooking Tamarind Seeds

Our chariot awaited and Ste was in the driving seat this time. I think he was little nervous at first, but he soon got into it. The sun was shining and there we were, plodding through some open jungle with the hills rolling into the distance. It was so peaceful up there almost like a dream. The wind sighed around us lifting our hats from our heads and casting them into the bushes, luckily the elephants were there to pass them back up.

Heading into the Jungle

Heading into the Jungle

Woo! The Silly Hats Make you Ride Better

Woo! The Silly Hats Make you Ride Better

Fully Fledged Mahouts

Fully Fledged Mahouts

We plodded down to the river, where the elephants were fed once again and then it was bath time! The elephants lay in the river on their sides and it was our job to give them a thorough scrubbing. My elephant really looked like it was loving this life of pampering and she lay perfectly still even when I washed around her eyes, her long eyelashes collecting the droplets of water. After a good half hour of scrubbing it was water fight time and I sat on her back and when the instructor gave the command she hosed me with an entire trunk full of cold water. I was wetting myself with laughter and when Ste jumped on she continued until there wasn’t an inch of me that was dry! Being drenched by an elephant is something that doesn’t happen everyday…we then had a water fight and the more we splashed the small elephant with water the more it soaked us back, but we ended up grabbing its trunk and aiming it in each other’s faces! Who needs a water pistol when you’ve got an elephant super soaker!

So Beautiful!

So Beautiful!

Rub a Dub Dub

Rub a Dub Dub

Elephant Shower

Elephant Shower

Elephant Super Soaker

Elephant Super Soaker

POW!

POW!

Take That!

Take That!


A swim in the deep lake was sadly the last event of the day and by now the sun was starting to set across the lake. Our elephants followed in a line down into the lake and every time our instructor shouted a command it submerged itself entirely under the water. Good job it was warm, the water was up to our waists! Everyone was in hysterics as we bobbed around and did an entire circuit of the lake. My elephant’s skin felt much softer now she had been the water and as she emerged her skin was glowing in the dusky light. The bristles on her head weren’t so sharp now also.

IMG_9868

IMG_9868

Getting Soaked in the Lake

Getting Soaked in the Lake

Nice and Clean After Her Dip

Nice and Clean After Her Dip

It was nearly time to say farewell and so we posed for a soggy looking group photo. There was one last laugh to be had as an elephant swirled it trunk around me and lifted me into the air! AMAZING! It truly was an amazing day. I was so sad to leave, knowing there are no opportunities in the UK to do things like this – too dangerous? Too boring…I dragged my aching legs into the Sangethaew. I couldn’t wait to share my experience with mum and dad.

Can't Say Ive HAd This Happen Before

Can't Say Ive HAd This Happen Before

I Hope She Doesn't Sprain Her Truck

I Hope She Doesn't Sprain Her Truck

Elephant Kisses

Elephant Kisses


Posted by CarlaTracy 09:46 Archived in Thailand Tagged elephant thailand adventure jungle chiang_mai activities training Comments (0)

Tiger Kingdom

sunny 29 °C

9am the alarm goes off, 10am the alarm goes off, 11am we finally managed to drag ourselves out of bed after a bad night’s sleep, due to a loud buzzing noise in our room. We sorted a few tours out at reception – Elephant Mahout and the Long Neck Tribe Trek and discovered we could get a tuk tuk to Tiger Kingdom for 300B and then headed off to find some morning sustenance. I wasn’t feeling on top form with my stomach, nothing terrible but I just didn’t feel right, or particularly hungry. I settled for a pancake with chocolate and banana from a street vendor. He had clearly mastered the art of pancake making, and was drawing sauce bottles like weapons from behind his little stand and swirling it onto the pancakes with one hand, while simultaneously mixing up some fresh batter with the other. Pancakes and strawberry ice smoothies in hand, we hopped into a 250B tuk tuk (to the tiger kingdom and back) and pootled off at an agreeable speed down the busy Chaing Mai streets. 30Km, it took a while, but with the sun shining and the wind rushing through the tuk tuk, it was a pleasant journey; much more relaxing than Bangkok tuk tuks.

Mmmmm Banana Pancake Man

Mmmmm Banana Pancake Man

We already knew Tiger Kingdom meant handing out more than we would like to of our precious Baht, but where in the world can you cuddle up to a 15month old tiger! No chains, no drugs, just you and man eating big cat. ‘Biggest and Smallest Tiger’ 820B package, it had to be – the cutest and the scariest! We had a quick nosey at the Big Cat enclosures from above, where people were cautiously posing for photos and sitting timidly beside them. “An accident waiting to happen” the words from an online review I had read kept reeling through my head. Yes I agreed, it did look rather like an accident waiting to happen, Sigfried and roy style. But I’m not turning down any once in a lifetime experiences on these travels and so we paid.

I was relieved to bet led to the lion cub enclosure first and we didn’t have to wait long to get our turn. The building was split into two sections, one for the 2 month olds and the other, the 4 month olds. After washing our hands we immediately sat beside THE cutest animals I have seen in my life! These 2 month cubs were adorable, chasing about and play fighting. The keeper, who was a Western volunteer, invited me to sit down by Euro, his favourite cub. How could he have favourites! There were 3 of them and they were all equally as adorable. They were such funny looking things, completely out of proportion, with huge feet and dumbo-like ears. Euros coat was far finer than that of the Chase the lion cub I had handled in New Zealand and the individual strands lay flat to his body. The lion cub was more wooly I guess, more padded and fluffy. I gave him a cuddle and rubbed his belly, but he was more interested in watching his companions play fighting. One nipped at Stes ankle as he was photographing me. Ste took a spot on the floor and Euro immediately took up residence on his knee, like any normal domestic cat.

Euro, So Cute

Euro, So Cute

Me and 2 Month Old Euro

Me and 2 Month Old Euro

2 month Old Euro

2 month Old Euro

I didn’t want to leave but the keeper coaxed us away by offering us a stroke of the four months old cats.
Lulu was flat out on a table sleeping, it’s their favourite pastime, tigers sleep up to 13 hours a day! I know there is a lot of controversy about tiger attractions such as Tiger Kingdom and the Tiger monastery drugging their cats, but these certainly weren’t, the cubs had tonnes of energy and were dashing about the place and the larger ones were very alert once woken. The keeper prodded Lala and she began to play with his stick reaching out to grab it with her claws. We were allowed to lie down next to Lulu on the table for some photos and she wasn’t in the slightest bit bothered as he pulled up her whiskers to reveal her sharp canines. A couple that came in after us were feeding one of the cubs with a bottle – so cute!

Me and Lulu

Me and Lulu

Ste With 4 Month Old Lulu

Ste With 4 Month Old Lulu

Big Paws!

Big Paws!

Ste and Lulu

Ste and Lulu

Napping

Napping

4 Month Old Lala

4 Month Old Lala

4 Month Old Lala Playing

4 Month Old Lala Playing

Next up, the BIG cats, but the queue was long so we took a stroll to see a HUGE tiger we could see in a cage down the opposite end of the park. Admittedly this tiger was far too colossal in size to be stuffed in such a small cage, but he looked remarkable well cared for – better than most zooz I have seen in England. He was just chilling out on his perch right next to the wire, but he perked up as we got closer. I need to emphasise that he – was – HUGE! And you could reach out and touch him if you really wanted too! His eyes were piercing and he was honestly so intimidating, that it was hard to look him in the eye. His paws were bigger than my head and his skull was the size of a cows! I got closer to photograph his eye when – BAM! He lunged for me with his paw! I leapt about 6 feet backwards. There were some raised eyebrows from onlookers, who were probably considering ripping up their big cat tickets that very second. “erm…I’m not too sure about the big cats anymore” I said to Ste, my heart was like a hummingbirds.

IMG_9535

IMG_9535

We took our place in the queue and tried to forget what we had just seen. “Does that huge one around the corner come out to play” I asked a keeper. He laughed, “He is fully grown and no one can touch him anymore” - “but he has to stay in that small cage all the time?” I asked. The keeper tried to convince me that he didn’t need much space because tigers mostly sleep, but I’m sure a little more couldn’t have hurt, like in New Zealand. He was in incredible health and condition though, which at the end of the day, is the highest priority for all captive animals. If his hair had been dropping out and he looked malnourished, like animals I have seen in Japanese and Hungarian zoos, then I think I would have found his situation upsetting. Most of the adult tigers from Tiger Kingdom are sold to other zoos, but the park was founded primarily for the preservation of the endangered Indo-Chinese species of tiger and also to earn money from tourists, for the upkeep of the tigers in its affiliated zoos.

The keeper slid open cage door and I hoped that the tiger staring directly at me only a few feet away wasn’t feeling in the mood to make a break for it today. “Don’t worry I protect you” said the vertically challenged bloke as he flashed us a foot long stick of bamboo, expecting us to trust that he could fend off the 10 foot long beast; oh and it’s two tiger mates that were relaxing around the corner! He guided us away from the jaws of death and to safer tail end of the immense creature. He gave its rump a couple of heavy handed pats to make the tiger aware of our presence, as gently tickling and brushing the tiger like a fly could only cause it to spontaneously try and bat you off! The keeper then grabbed me “You like tiger?” and without waiting for a reply he draped me over its back so that I was literally lying on the fully grown man eating cat! It was an amazing experience to lie alongside such a beautiful animal, but I was always ready for fight or flight, just in case it whipped round its giant jaws. I didn’t want to be that ‘accident waiting to happen!’ After my turn, Ste tentatively sat down next to him and gave him a stroke, he didn’t look 100% comfortable but who in their right mind would be?!

HUGE!

HUGE!

Like a Cuddly Toy - the 16 Month Old

Like a Cuddly Toy - the 16 Month Old

My Heart was like a Hummingbirds

My Heart was like a Hummingbirds

Ste Looking Slightly Nervous

Ste Looking Slightly Nervous

Ste and I With the 16 Month Old

Ste and I With the 16 Month Old

One of the other tigers had perked us and was now thrashing around in the pool and chasing after a coconut shell attached to a stick that the keeper was waving in front of it. It was playing like any other domestic cat, but this was a tiger! A full sized tiger, with all the energy and spirit of the tiny cubs we had seen earlier. Our guide dragged us closer, and closer! We could now practically feel the playful tigers breath against our faces. It was bounding around, claws out and leaping in the air after the coconut. I really couldn’t believe I was so close!! I usually feel slightly on edge looking at tigers through bars and here I was standing face to face with one. I took a couple of steps back as it approached us “No worry, no worry” said the keeper and brought us closer still to watch the tiger jump from some rocks and into the pool. We then had a peek at the other two tigers that were now cuddled up together and grooming one another, but I was always checking my back for the forgotten tiger that was now wading about the pool behind everyone; tiger always attack from behind! Out of the gate, limbs intact, with both let out a breath of relief.

It's...MASSIVE! EKKKK

It's...MASSIVE! EKKKK

Thank God That's Not Me..

Thank God That's Not Me..

Eye of the Tiger

Eye of the Tiger

This Tiger was Definately Not High!

This Tiger was Definately Not High!

Concentration...

Concentration...

Cooling off in the Pool

Cooling off in the Pool

Ready to Pounce?...I Hope Not

Ready to Pounce?...I Hope Not

Even though this park constantly promotes the fact that ‘Tigers don’t need drugs’ I still reckon there are many disbelievers out there, but honestly, the amount of energy these creatures had when they weren’t sunbathing or sleeping was incredible and they were much happier and more well cared for than a lot of zoos I have been to. I don’t know what the people that give it the bad reviews on trip advisor are expecting. If you really can’t stand to see captive animals, then don’t bother even considering it These tigers have been born, bred and hand raised in captivity and so they can never be released into the wild. They will never be free and allowed to act naturally but they are still enjoying a good quality of life at the Tiger Kingdom.

Posted by CarlaTracy 09:10 Archived in Thailand Tagged animals thailand zoo adventure tiger chiang_mai activities Comments (0)

The Worst Bus Journey EVER - Nha Trang to Hoi An

overcast 27 °C

I suppose we have been pretty lucky in our 10 months of travelling. We haven’t really encountered a travel experience that is worthy of being dubbed ‘a journey from hell’ But little did we know as we were tucking into our boiled eggs and baguettes that morning, that we were waiting for the WORST bus in existence to show up. 7.20am the bus was supposed to be outside the travel agent w booked it through and the man who we booked it through kept popping his head in to assure us that it would be arriving soon. I didn’t think anything of it at the time but looking back now I remember a big blue, swanky looking bus drive past around about the time we should have been leaving. Instead, a grooty old minivan shows up and the guy, looking a little sheepish, instructed us into this shuttle bus. Ste made doubly sure we wouldn’t be travelling for 12 hours in this tin can piece of junk and fortunately we were just going to the bus station.

What greeted us wasn’t the big blue us we had seen on the photo but a big white one. There were a couple of other young packpackers with us, but as we tried to put our bags into the hold a Vietnamese man came running over and shouting angrily in …Vietnamese. Of course no one had clue what he was getting so hept up about but all we knew is he didn’t want our huge bags in the luggage. As I boarded the bus with my huge pack that would barely fit through the door, he started shouting in my face and pushing me around! I actually got pretty pissed off, because there I was stuck in the aisle with my backpack wedged between the beds unable to move forward. He then started stuffing a plastic bag in my face – I think he wanted me to put my shoes in it, but he had a funny way of telling me!! By this time everyone was starting to get very worked up as he continued to shout in people’s faces and push them about. I had enough I threw my bag on the floor and just left it there, they could move it themselves. This was clearly not the bus we ordered and certainly not a tourist bus. The bed/chairs were so unbelievably small and cramped it was verging on claustrophobic. Ste couldn’t even fit his feet under the opposite seat. It was honestly so ridiculous, the thought we would be on this bus for the next 12 hours that I had to laugh – otherwise I would cry.

Still more room than Ryan Air...?

Still more room than Ryan Air...?

These Bed/Seats Were Modelled on Gnomes

These Bed/Seats Were Modelled on Gnomes

I continued to watch as everyone else tried to board the bus and one of the attendants was trying to move my bag. I really wouldn’t have cared if he had broken his back in the process, these bus attendants were complete arseholes who obviously hated tourists! Looking around I could see where they had made makeshift extra beds in the aisles out of ods and ends – a complete safety hazard! The journey began with the three men laughing and joking around at the front of the bus, the driver smoking out of the window. I turned up my Ipod to drown out the noise and attempted to do some drawing.

Not a Happy Bunny

Not a Happy Bunny

I looked up; one of the attendants was throwing a bag of rubbish out of window, presumably from the food and drink they had been eating. And just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, we were on a mountainous road and they started pratting around, swerving the bus from one side of the road to the other and finding it oh so hilarious! I honestly couldn’t believe it. I have been in South East Asia for 6 months now and haven’t experienced anything remotely like it!

We stopped once at the start of the journey at the most disgusting service station I have seen in my life! The toilets were….indescribably filthy, and I have seen all manner of toilets on my travels. There was no time to get a drink as the man ordered us back on the bus, screaming and shouting. The journey went on, no stops for over 5 hours which meant no food or drink. A man tried to ask when we would be stopping but the driver just pointed into the distance and ignored him. We eventually stopped and there was only one shop in sight that was selling wholesale goods. We didn’t want 20 bottles of water or 50 packs of peanuts but we would just have to buy something as there was another 4 hours of the journey to go and I was famished. We were just about to pay when we heard shouts from outside. The bus was driving off as tourists ran alongside trying to leap in. “WAIT” we shouted, practically getting run over to make it onto the bus. I was livid and shouted all manner of obscenities at them and they just laughed amongst each other.

I really felt like crying, I’d had nothing to eat or drink for 12 hours now. They then had the cheek to pull up in the middle of nowhere to smoke fags and piss around. I just wanted to get off the bus and thinking that Danang was before Hoi An, I begged Ste that we just get off the bus there.

As it became dark the driving became more erratic and there were several points when we were on a head on collision course with oncoming lorries – there were even moments when we had to stop dead in the road. When I thought we must be close I saw a sign for Danang 70km away. It was still so far and in my mind Hoi An was an hour from Danang. It wasn’t until we unexpectedly arrived in Hoi that I realised I had got confused. Danang was AFTER Hoi An. I was elated stepping off that bus. I instantly headed for a baguette stand for THE best spicy chicken baguette EVER.

We thought it would be easy to find a hotel, but we zig-zagged from one to the other, to the tune of ‘sorry full up.’ Fortunately a kind man let us dump our bags down in his travel shop, so long as we were back before 9pm when he closed. It took a while, but we eventually found somewhere. The price at $18 was a complete rip off for the quality of the room, but we had no choice. It was great to be able to relax; we couldn’t even be bothered to leave the room for dinner that evening, so we tucked into the snacks at the side of the bed.

Posted by CarlaTracy 07:27 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

(Entries 21 - 25 of 32) « Page 1 2 3 4 [5] 6 7 »