When Life Gives You Dried Rice…

Last weekend, Thai people celebrated Asarnha Bucha Day and the start of the Buddhist Lent. This holiday marks the day when Buddha delivered his first sermon in India over 2,500 years ago. A lot of Thai men also enter monkshood on this day and stay in a temple, typically for the next 3 months.

For me, this meant a 4-day weekend and chance to travel to Chiang Mai, the second largest and popular city in Thailand (Bangkok being #1). I was to take a van into Bangkok on Friday, and then catch an 8:20pm overnight bus to Chiang Mai. Once in Chiang Mai, I was going to meet up with some friends and take care of elephants at an elephant sanctuary. However, things did not go exactly according to plan.

First off, Bangkok traffic is the worst. Even though I left straight from school on Friday at 4, we hit heavy traffic. Panicking that Lucy and I would not make it to the overnight bus and be stuck in Bangkok, we jumped on a motorbike to weave through traffic and make it to the bus terminal in time. Unfortunately, our driver weaved a little too intensely, making some very sharp turns and getting too close to other cars. After finally making it to the bus station, I realized that my purse had slipped off during the 20-minute ride. Goodbye wallet, phone, camera, and apartment keys.

Thus began my decent into the stages of grief. Yes, grief. Because as much as I hate to admit it, I am attached to my phone in Thailand. Not because of social media, but because I use it as a survival tool; GoogleMaps and GoogleTranslate are lifesavers here. Being without places you in a very vulnerable position. Let’s just say it was not my finest moment. To top it off, I had to make the quick decision of whether to return home (which I had no clue on how to do at this point) or continue to Chiang Mai without a phone and wallet. Figuring that it’s better to be around other people (and elephants) then to mope by myself for 4 days, we found the overnight bus and I spent a fair amount of time on it making mental lists of what to do and face palming myself on everything from my lack of street smarts to my inability to now complete my hole-punch card for a free coffee.

Thankfully, I have amazing and incredibly caring friends who made sure I did not mope for the weekend and let me borrow their phones to make necessary phone calls. We hit up several of the night markets, which is THE way to go when wanting to get the most for your baht (buck) in Thailand.

Chiang Mai was not at all what I expected it to be. Instead of a city full of high buildings, it resembled more of a hipster resort town full of cute craft shops, dried fruit stores, cafés, and restaurants. The air was fresh and not filled with the exhaust fumes I’m so used to in Bangkok and Chonburi City. If I’m to extend my stay in Thailand, I am definitely transferring to a school in Chiang Mai.

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Fellow songthaew companions

On Sunday, we went to the all-day elephant sanctuary to complete one of the top things on my Thailand Backlist: taking care of elephants. The day started out by taking an hour-long songthaew ride into the mountains. The road was really winding and bumpy with sharp turns (I started having flashbacks to the motorcycle incident), but the people on our songthaew made the ride awesome.

It’s hard to explain, but one of the coolest things about traveling is meeting fellow travelers. You meet people from different countries who have different dialects, traveling plans, experiences, and customs. Yet, you can bond instantly with these people because they are foreigners too and you all made life choices that resulted in being in the same space for a period of time. In my case, being in a crowded songthaew to go see elephants. Call that my second “profound thought” on this blog.

After an hour of trading traveling stories, we arrived at our destination. Photos with captions are better than paragraphs for the following. Shout out to my amazing friends who spared some of their elephant time to take pictures for me!

 

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The workers at the sanctuary had us line up and hold out a banana as a way to greet the elephants. They told us to trick the elephants and hide the rest of the bananas behind our backs.  This trick failed within 2 seconds as the elephants probably have this “trick” played on them multiple times a day.

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Not to mention, their trunks are like super arms.

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Elephant love.

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Elephants eat a LOT of food. This meant that we had to make several hikes up a steep hill to carry corn stalks to them.

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Our coordinator taught us how to make medicine balls for elephants. Ingredients: Lemons, bananas, water, cooked rice, and dried rice- all mashed together. “You see the dried rice and cooked rice,” said our coordinator. “Same, same… but different. We must mix in dried rice to make medicine for elephants.” Moral of the day: when life gives you dried rice, make medicine balls.

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After many feedings, we had to bathe the elephants.

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It was so cute! The elephants LOVED playing in the water and rolling around in the mud and under the waterfall.

To put it simply, my day at the elephant sanctuary was amazing. It turned the dried rice I was given in Bangkok to scrumptious medicine balls (see what I did there? 😉 )

For Monday, we impulsively planned an excursion up Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand. For the first time since being in Thailand, I FELT COLD! We were up in the clouds, so we had this swirling, chilling mist around us the whole time. I thought about hot chocolate, something I completely forgot existed at this point.

More photos ensued (another shout out to my friends):

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Feet on the ground, but heads in the clouds

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Visiting the Queen’s monument in the mountains.

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Chasing waterfalls

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As we descended down the mountain, we visited the rural village of Karin. There were cute puppies that came running up to us and licked our faces. Although there’s stray dogs everywhere in Thailand, I have been told countless times not to touch them. I couldn’t resist with these pups.

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Karin farming fields

The next day, my friends had to catch an early flight home, so I had the day to myself in Chiang Mai. Without any means to know where I was going, I wandered around, got a Thai massage, and went to a restaurant where I ordered an extravagant mango and multi-colored sticky rice and an avocado shake (just gotta keep making those medicine balls…). It was nice to be living in the moment.

Returning home to Chonburi went surprisingly smooth. Well, almost. Remember those apartment keys I lost? But that’s a different story… The following day, my super nice landlord, Tip, once again turned my day around 180 by taking me out to buy a new phone. All is well.

 

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