Tim's Thailand Blog
Wednesday, May 18
Today, on our final day with Vijo and the Our Land team, we visited Somboon Legacy, a strictly hands-off elephant sanctuary. Here, we split into two groups. The first prepared food for the elephants, and the second planted okra seeds. After a brief lunch, we made our way to the Elephant Museum where we learned about the history and evolution of elephants in the area. Best yet, we made sheets of paper – out of elephant poop! This process involved sifting the fibers out of the… er… product, then collecting the fibers in a sheet and letting them dry.
As we processed poo paper and educated ourselves on elephants, we could hear rain beginning outside. What started as a drizzle quickly turned into a torrential downpour; we scrambled to move belongings inside to avoid the rising water. It may have only been a couple inches (easily wade-able), but it looked like our museum had developed a moat by the time we left. At this point, we split up again to plant trees and take a hard-earned break in the hotel’s pool.
Being our last day with Our Land, we held a celebratory dinner back at the hotel (it was the day after Vijo’s birthday, so we celebrated that as well!). Rather than eating the usual cake, Vijo had brought a durian for the students to try. Now, if you’ve never heard of durian, it is an exceptionally stinky fruit that is banned on most subways due to its sheer pungent odor. If you can get over the smell, though, the inside is soft and delicious. We chowed down, did some final reflection with Our Land, and made our way to bed.
Thursday, May 19
Off to our new destination: cabins in the town of Kuiburi! The morning was mostly spent travelling. Once we reached our destination, we met David, a worker for Bring the Elephant Home. This group specializes in hands-off elephant care. Before we set off, another worker showed up: Pum! We had not seen him since our first day with Our Land (he works with both groups), so it was good getting a chance to catch up.
That afternoon, we travelled a short distance to Kuiburi National Park, where we learned about local conservation efforts for both elephants and other local species. We then filled our water bottles and headed into the jungle to clean a watering hole for elephants. It was a good thing we’d practiced our team work back at the Our Land dam, as this messy job involved a literal bucket line to remove debris from the watering hole before refilling it with fresh water.
Our job complete, we loaded back onto the trucks and drove deeper into the park to look for elephants. It wasn’t long before we saw them – a group of 11, slowly walking through the jungle and grazing. We observed them for several minutes before stopping at a scenic overlook, then heading back to our cabins for the evening.
Friday, May 20
Being our last full day in Thailand, we took some time to relax and see the area. Some students stayed at the cabins while others drove out to the southern tip of the country for a nature hike followed by either a swim in the ocean or extended hike to a scenic cave. I stayed at the ocean, so you’ll need to see Walking Tree’s post for cave information and pictures! We had one final dinner with our Bring the Elephant Home team (pad thai and tom yum soup, both extraordinary), before taking some extra time to pack our bags for the flight out tomorrow.
Saturday, May 21
Departure day! We made the most of it by spending time in Bangkok. After stopping by the clinic (we needed COVID tests before flying to the US), we went to a mall and market to buy last-minute souvenirs and stock up on snacks. One short drive later, and we bid Yusra, Prae, and the country of Thailand farewell before boarding our plane. What an amazing and eye-opening adventure; we hope to be back soon!
Saturday, May 14
On Saturday we said lagon to Bangkok and made our way to the village of Kanchanaburi. We were welcomed by Puya Laor, the village leader, and the members of the Our Land team: Vijo, Mack, Pum, and others. They introduced us to our mission for the next few days: work on various conservation projects to help elephants and humans coexist. After a quick briefing and some time to settle into our cabins, we packed a change of clothes and headed to the river Kwai Yai for a swim and some lessons on the local flora and fauna. Coming out of the water, we took a quick hike, had a near-encounter with wild elephants, turned around, and took another quick hike back to the Our Land Conservation Center where the team taught us about what they do.
A bit about this: here in Thailand, elephants want many of the same things we do: food, water, and a place to call home. They also need areas to safely travel in order to reach these things. Human-elephant conflict (HEC) occurs when this intrudes into areas that people have settled or want to settle. Elephants can cause trouble for local farmers by eating or trampling crops. They also must cross local highways and roads in order to reach the river Kwai Yai, a major source of water. Historically, humans have protected themselves in ways that harm the elephants or are simply ineffective. Our Land strives to find resolutions to the conflict in ways that help people and elephants alike.
After the introduction, Vijo gave a presentation/demonstration on local snakes. We ate dinner and were about to begin a get-to-know-you activity with the team when we had our second surprise of the day: more elephants! One had made its way near to the shelter where we were meeting. We turned out the lights and got as quiet as possible to avoid scaring her away while she snacked on some nearby jackfruit. What a way to start our work with Our Land!
Sunday, May 15
Today, we began our service work with the Our Land team with our first project: building a dam out of stone and wire in order to create a drinking area for elephants and other wildlife. These structures (which looked oddly like large rocky burritos) served to slow down and divert water. It would still flow, but it would create a safe pool before continuing down the stream.
One problem: the dam we were building needed to be on one side of the stream. The rocks we needed were on the other. This led to us creating a bucket line of sorts across a narrow land bridge made of dirt and stone. We passed rocks one by one, student to student, from one edge of the stream to the other in order to create our dam. Though the work was heavy and the weather hot, we sang to keep our spirits up, and we managed to finish our work before the day reached its hottest point. I know I was not alone in enjoying the chance to engage in such a team-oriented service project.
After a break back at our homestay cabins, we explored a larger local dam, met with Puya and the others to make our own fried rice. Many of us stayed up late, enjoying the chance to talk and reveling in the day’s success. One project down, several more to go!
Monday, May 16
This morning, we delved into the apian and arboreal aspects of the jungle. We started by learning about the importance of bees to the local ecosystem and had a chance to hold bees and taste local honey. From there, we moved to a tree nursey and helped plant seedlings. These small trees will be moved to larger and larger plants as they grow until they area ready to be placed into the ground.
After a final lunch at the homestay, we bid farewell to Puya Laor and drove to our next residence: a houseboat on the river Kwai Noi! This houseboat was actually two large rafts tied together. Each raft had a structure containing a communal space, a large sleeping area, a couple small rooms, and a bathroom. We didn’t have much time for settling in at first, though, as our desire to enter the water and escape the heat was too strong. We boarded a bamboo raft and enjoyed our time playing under a waterfall, then travelled back to the main houseboats for a relaxing evening of food and discussion before turning in for the night.
Tuesday, May 17
That brings us to today! We departed the houseboat after breakfast and made our way to the Elephant Haven for our first (intentional) interactions with elephants. Lon Pat, or Patrick, guided us through making balls out of rice, banana, tamarind, and protein powder, then taught us how to slice watermelon. The elephants loved our offerings, and we were able to feed them straight from our hands. Once the elephants were fed, we walked with them through the jungle, enjoying the chance to observe them in a more natural habitat. These majestic creatures move surprisingly quietly, and more than once we would lose sight of an elephant only to realize it was a few feet away in the jungle.
After our own lunch, we departed for our next hotel. Given the heat and recent full schedule, we decided to take the afternoon to clean and rest up before dinner in town. I think the respite was much-needed, and as I type at my laptop, I am filled with energy for whatever adventure awaits us tomorrow.
After bed, of course. Talk to you later, everyone!
Sawatdee khrap from Thailand!
After another 10-hour flight Wednesday into Thursday, we finally reached our destination of Bangkok, Thailand. Our Walking Tree leaders, Yusra and Prea, met us with smiles and wai, the traditional Thai bow, before whisking us off to our hotel in the heart of the city. One delicious meal and solid night's rest, and we were ready for our first full day.
And what a day it was! We started off by creating group rules for maintaining respect while travelling, then learned about the language and customs from Prea. We exchanged US dollars for Thai baht, made a snack stop at the 7/11 convenience store (which was incredible, by the way), and grabbed some noodles before setting out on a boat tour of the river and canals through the city. The boats took us to two different temples: Wat Pho and Wat Arun. You'll need to ask your students about these; it is difficult to fully capture the locations' splendor in a mere blog post (be sure to ask about the giant reclining Buddha and gong!). We returned to the hotel to clean up before hitting China Town for dinner.
A few days in, and I am already incredibly proud of the students. Travelling isn't easy, and they have stayed respectful and flexible while maintaining the sense of humor this group is known for. I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!
We are one day into our journey and off to a fantastic start! After a 9-hour flight from Denver to Munich, we disembarked, exchanged dollars for euros, and caught a train into the bustling heart of the city: The Marienplatz (or Mary's Plaza). We took in the sights but didn't waste any time in getting to our destination: Ratskeller München, one of Munich's most famous restaurants. A little walking and another train ride brought us through the countryside and back to the airport. Now, well-fed and with hours until our next flight, we are taking some time for some much-needed sleep. Catch you again in Thailand!