Close Encounters at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai

Close Encounters at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai

I’m not sure how elephants get away with being so damn cute. They’re hairy, wrinkled, fat, covered in mud, and have an alien appendage for a nose. But somehow they managed to work the gentle giant/big ears angle and fall pretty high on the lovable wild animals people want to cuddle with scale. I also have no defense against this baffling adorability and set out to get some QT with an elephant before leaving Thailand. There are plenty of companies offering tourists close encounters with elephants – ranging from riding them at a show to volunteering at a conservation park. Unfortunately, there is quite a deal of controversy concerning animal abuse at some of these organizations. We chose the Elephant Nature Park. The elephants don’t perform in any shows and you don’t get to ride on them – which we took as a sign of more humane treatment. A van picked me and my friend Jessica up one rainy morning and we made me our way through the downpour toward the park. As we drove deeper into the mountains and rainforest, a line of elephants from another company passed our van. Shoulder after elephant shoulder moved just inches from the window. On top of each animal were two tourists holding umbrellas. I had a brief pang of jealousy knowing we wouldn’t get that close during our visit. But that quickly faded once we got to the park and heard stories about the rescued elephants. There are almost 30 elephants living on the grounds, all rescued after being injured or becoming too old to be profitable. Some were blind from...
Rock Climbing at Crazy Horse in Chiang Mai: There Will Be Bruises

Rock Climbing at Crazy Horse in Chiang Mai: There Will Be Bruises

Love hurts. Particularly when that love is rock climbing. By the end of Saturday, I was covered in bruises, scratches, and had a pocket full of bloody tissues. But, like any dysfunctional relationship, the more it pushed me away, the more determined I was to try to make it work. Before my trip to Thailand, I’d never climbed outside. When I lived in DC, I went to an indoor climbing gym and quickly fell head over heels for the amazing athleticism the sport required. Unfortunately, I devoted very little time to attaining this athleticism because I spent most of my climbing sessions staring in awe at the people effortlessly crawling UPSIDE DOWN ACROSS THE CEILING. Wtf. Seriously. Like Spiderman. In Chiang Mai, for 3,000 Baht, you can pay for a one-day course in outdoor rock climbing. Or you can find a nice Polish rock climber who is in such desperate need of a partner he will willingly take a beginner for free. It happened that I was lucky enough to come across just such a desperate Polish rock climber at a Couchsurfing meetup last week. We headed out by motorbike for the 45-minute drive to Crazy Horse Buttress. The area is part of a mountain that looks like someone shaved off the greenery to reveal sheer tan and black cliffs. It’s named after a rock formation at the top that resembles a horse. But, after looking at it, I just referred to it as No Way in Hell l Can Climb That Buttress. Tomek asked if I wanted to start off in the cave. I quickly agreed as that...
Nimmanhaemin Road, Chiang Mai: It’s a beautiful day in my neighborhood

Nimmanhaemin Road, Chiang Mai: It’s a beautiful day in my neighborhood

When I first got to Chiang Mai, I stayed in the walled “old city,” where backpackers, guest houses, and harem pants with elephant prints run rampant. But when I started looking for an apartment, my volunteer organization suggested the trendy Nimmanhaemin Road area. After I made the move, I found that I’d traded tour signs for elegant wine bars, and now end up impossibly underdressed everywhere I go. Ten years ago, the neighborhood — Nimman for short — was nothing more than old apartment complexes and noodle shops. But, a revitalization of the area left it bursting at the seams with almost painfully hip cafes, restaurants, and boutiques. Hints of its history remain, making my new home a mix of authentic Thai and quirky new commercial...
Looking for an Apartment in Chiang Mai

Looking for an Apartment in Chiang Mai

Now that I was moving to a new city, it was finally time to begin my first apartment search in Thailand! I would be volunteering in Chiang Mai for the next month and needed to find a place to call home asap. Since most Thai apartment complexes don’t have websites — or at least not ones I can read — I decided my best bet was just to walk from place to place and ask in person about rates and to see the rooms. I had a taxi dropped me off in Nimman, the neighborhood recommended by another volunteer at the foundation. I optimistically set off into the midday sun, ready to view as many apartments as the day could hold. I started out at the large Baan Thai apartment complex. The room was sparse, but clean and bright. I loved the giant balcony, and the pool certainly didn’t hurt things. I felt like this could be a good option. But if I could get all this for only 5200 baht ($187), what was available for a little more? I decided to go see a few more buildings. I entered several faded high-rises and played the same game of charades when the staff said they didn’t speak English (my two Thai words of hello and thank you could really only book-end the conversation at best): I smiled brightly and pointed to myself. I held up one-finger to indicate one month and then made my hands into a pillow, closed my eyes, and tilted my head to the side to indicate I wanted to sleep there. Then I held up both...
Leaving the New Life Foundation

Leaving the New Life Foundation

I’ve been here almost a month! Still not kidnapped and only one trip to the hospital! Success. Tomorrow, I leave the safe cocoon of the New Life Foundation to move to Chiang Mai. Beginning my trip at NLF was perfect. I got used to being alone on the other side of the world, without being alone at all. It’s like I’ve been wearing traveling training wheels. But, after four weeks, I feel ready to head out on my own. Here’s a quick summary of some of the experiences I’ll take with me from NLF: Meditation Since I arrived, I have been falling asleep, dying of boredom, squishing ants with my toes, learning to meditate. I am really really not good at it. In fact, the more I do it, the worse I get. The only session I enjoyed was one where the guy next to me started laughing and then we all started cracking up and had to call it off. See! Wasn’t that more fun? I know there is the cliched parable of the Westerner who travels to Asia and struggles to calm his or her overstimulated, technology-consuming-mind, but, after weeks of hard work, has a single blissful experience that changes life forever. Or at least that’s what happened in Eat, Pray, Love. That is not what happened to me. I still suck at it. The picture to the right is of the meditation hall. You’ll notice, I am not there. Life Coaching My general understanding is that the only people who aren’t crazy are the people you don’t know well enough. So, I thought it was great that...