A Better Elephant Experience

bw elephant

Jokia was born in 1960 along the Thai-Burmese border. When she was younger, Jokia worked in the logging trade to support her tribal family. However, after the 1989 logging ban in Thailand, Jokia found herself unemployed. Being no longer useful to her tribe, they sold her to an illegal logging camp, after which she soon became pregnant. Working through her entire pregnancy, she gave birth while pulling a large log uphill and wearing heavy chains. The baby rolled down the hill behind her and she was not allowed to tend to her newborn. From the death of her new baby, Jokia was understandably depressed and refused to work despite physical threats. One such physical threat included being hit by a sling-shotted rock blinding her in one eye. She started working for a brief time before she hit her owner, who afterwards, completely blinded her by shooting her remaining eye with a bow and arrow. Now, unable to see, Jokia was forced back to work. When Sangduen “Lek” Chailert rescued Jokia in 1999, Lek found Jokia full of infected cuts and scars along with tears coming from her blinded eye and empty socket.

two elephants

The story of this elephant is only one of the 36 currently being supported by the Elephant Nature Park outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand. The pasts of the others are equally tragic from being orphaned when only weeks old to stepping on forgotten land mines to being severely handicapped from being forced to mate when no longer useful. Lek Chailert, the Founder and Director of the Elephant Nature Park was born in the small hill tribe village of Baan Lao. She grew to love elephants when her grandfather received a baby one as payment for saving a man’s life, and now she has made it her life work to save as many of these sacred and revered animals that still remain.

elephant eye

Unfortunately, with these domesticated animals out of work and expensive to care for, their owners have started using them more and more in the tourism industry offering rides. My desire to go see Lek’s Elephant Nature Park came from my two-day trek when I saw how the elephants were treated. There were chains around their ankles and necks, their owners had hooks to stab them with, and many of their tusks were either missing or cut. In a country where no house, no restaurant, and no shop is complete without decorative elephants, I wanted a better elephant experience before leaving, and I found just that at the Elephant Nature Park. We fed the elephants, bathed the elephants, and learned about their complicated but rich history in Thailand.

elephant bath

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

In a setting that is cooler in temperature than most of Malaysia, the Cameron Highlands offer many a tourist activity. While there, I stayed at the very nice Father’s Guest House, just a couple minutes away from the center of town, where one night I witnessed a Hindu procession down the middle of the street. This procession was a reminder of Malaysia’s diverse history as I feel most cultures and religions are mutually respected throughout the country. Also during my stay, I toured the BOH Tea Plantation, a butterfly garden, a strawberry farm, a flower nursery, and a Buddhist Temple.

cameron highlands flower
Flower spotted after the rain at BOH Tea Plantation
BOH tea field
Tea Leaves from the BOH Plantation
View from Father's Guest House
View from Father's Guest House, Cameron Highlands
butterfly malaysia
Butterfly Garden in Cameron Highlands
Hindu procession
Hindu Procession through Town

Highlights from Beijing

The Forbidden City was the Chinese palace between the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Although it served as the home to the emperors during these periods, it seemed to lack a homeliness with its vast open spaces and elaborate structures. That said, it was still marvelously detailed and colorful.

Forbidden city

forbidden city2

forbidden city bw

Tiananmen Square more than anything is an historical place. Unfortunately, the large concrete field that comprises the square almost pales in comparison to everything that has happened there. From government demonstrations of power to citizen protests, this square has been a central part of Chinese political history.

Old Beijing Street is relatively new, but is meant to represent how a shopping area might look in times past. The Starbucks and Haagen-Dazs ice cream may take away a little from the authenticity, but even these modern shops are set in themed buildings.

haagen dazs

old beijing

Jingshan park, located just north of the Forbidden City offers a fun hike to the top of the city to get an appreciation of the vastness and the layout of Beijing.

Jingshan park

The Summer Palace was probably one of my favorite spots in Beijing, and not only because I got to dress up like a king. It is set next to a beautiful lake and both the serenity of the nature it is near along with the grandeur of towering Chinese palaces. It was nice to stroll through the palace and next to the lake.

summer palace1

summer palace bw


summer palace2

summer palace3

The Temple of Heaven, a place used for worship, again is comprised of awe-inspiring structures laid out in a very methodical manner. And again, similar to the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven is surrounded by thousands of trees.

temple of heaven1

temple of heaven2