One week in Bangkok (and the world’s your oyster)

To be honest, arriving in Bangkok was a little jarring after our last six weeks winding our way slowly through Laos and northern Thailand.  We hadn’t been in a big city since Ho Chi Minh, and it was more of a slap in the face than we were expecting.  Bangkok is a busy, sprawling city and it definitely took us a couple of days to get our game faces back on and really get into it.  Here’s our rundown on a week in the big smoke.

The good, the bad, and the ugly:

Malls – Our neighbourhood, Sukhumvit, was host to an amazing array of malls ranging from sleek upmarket set-ups housing all of the worlds best designers, to local malls selling knock-off iPhones and cosmetics.  Some of the malls had aquariums, ice rinks, zoos and food courts with everything from terrible plastic looking meat skewers to Michelin-starred dumplings.  Everything is air-conditioned, there are nice smells pumped through the air vents and an excellent selection of elevator music being played.  I found the experience a bit more enjoyable than Singapore, where I always seem to walk into one mall only to emerge five hours later dazed and confused, and in a totally different neighbourhood from where I set off.  You could burn some serious plastic on a shopping holiday in Bangkok.

Siriraj Medical Museum – We decided to branch out a little bit and take a break from the standard tourist attractions, so took ourselves up to Siriraj Hopsital and the Siriraj Medical Museum.  We knew what we were getting ourselves in for (this is not a family attraction!), but were still pretty gobsmacked when we walked into the first exhibition and were confronted with dozens of babies and fetuses floating in jars.  Most of the babies had some form of birth defect (insides on the outside, issues with brain development) and there were also a couple of sets of Siamese twins.  The next exhibit upped the ante even more with displays of incredibly graphic autopsy photos and then jars full of limbs and vital organs demonstrating crush injuries, stab wounds, gunshot wounds etc.  But, of all the things we saw, the things that will haunt me the longest were the picture from the parasitic display of a person with intestinal worms pouring out of their bum like spaghetti, and the display case housing the preserved scrotum of the man inflicted with elephantiasis.  You weren’t allowed to take photos in the Museum, otherwise you’d be looking at that scrotum right now.  The Museum would certainly not be everybody’s cup of tea, but if you’ve got the stomach for it it’s a really interesting experience.

Khao San Road – Khao San Road is a little road with a big reputation.  It’s the infamous backpacker hub of Bangkok made particularly famous by the very chaotic and seedy opening scenes of the movie, The Beach.  We were staying quite far away from the area, but took the obligatory trip in to see it in all of its glory.  It’s been almost ten years since I was last in Bangkok, but from what I could tell very little has changed on Khao San Road – there’s still plenty of cheap backpacker hostels and guesthouses, street carts serving up nasty Pad Thai, market stalls selling an array of tie dyed and elephant printed baggy pants and dozens of tourists wearing Singha and Full Moon Party singlets and looking a bit done in.  It’s a little world all of its own, which is fun for an afternoon, but wouldn’t be my choice for any longer term stay in the city.

p1090036

Getting around – Getting around in Bangkok can be an exercise in frustration.  While half the city is well-connected with the sky train and metro system, the other half (including the tourist hub of Khao San Road) is serviced by river boats, public buses and not much else.  It can make for a bloody long day of commuting trying to move across the city.  One particularly trying day involved us catching two sky trains, two boats, one bus, one tuk tuk and one metro.  Add to that impromptu thunder storms and rush hour madness, and some days you just want to stay local.  There is, of course, the option to take a taxi, but Bangkok traffic is legendary and a two hour journey across town is more awkward silence/conversation than we could endure.

p1090012

Chatuchak Market – The original plan was to visit Chatuchak Market on my Birthday – the logic being that I’d need to leverage the “it’s my Birthday card” when Campbell started to lose the plot.  Chatuchak is massive (35 acres to be precise) and I knew that Campbell would have limited tolerance for the sweaty heaving labyrinth that would greet us when we arrived.  In the end, the weather meant we had to defer until Sunday.  The market was just as I remembered – huge, confusing, but heaps of fun.  You can find almost anything there.  The only downside to the whole experience was stumbling across the exotic animal section, which I’d really been hoping to avoid.  There is an element of fascination to the whole thing (you certainly can’t walk into Animates and see albino snakes and ant eaters), but I found it really upsetting to see puppies, kittens, rabbits and mice crammed into cages with no room to move, and tropical fish, snakes and turtles sitting in plastic bags in the baking hot sun.  Once I’d escaped that section, I spent ages poring through the aisles of antiques, handicrafts and original artworks (Campbell had already left to get a haircut and escape the madness).  Campbell’s parting shot of “before you buy anything just think about where you’re going to put it at home” managed to snuff out any major shopping ambitions (good one, killjoy!), but it was still a great morning of mooching about.

Soi Cowboy – Soi Cowboy is an infamous red light area in Bangkok.  It was just round the corner from where we had my Birthday dinner, so we decided to take a quick stroll through on our way home to satisfy our curiosity.  Soi Cowboy would be 200 metres (at most), but every spare space is taken up with a go-go bar, or strip club of some description.  The whole street is lit up with pink and red neon lights and beautiful girls loiter outside each bar teetering around on ice pick heels trying to entice men to come inside.  It’s pretty grubby and you know damn well that the stuff happening on the street is tame compared to some of the stuff going on inside.  One blog I read said that for your own safety you should assume that everything you touch in Soi Cowboy is covered in bodily fluids of some description.  Great.  Overall, it wasn’t really our bag.  Campbell didn’t enjoy being eyed up like a walking pay cheque, and I’m just way too prudish to really enjoy that kind of scene.

p1090042

Birthday dinner – We decided to take a break from Thai and splurge out on a nice bistro meal for my Birthday.  Don’t get me wrong, the food here is awesome, but the thought of fancy meat and three veg was pretty appealing too.  When my meal came out with a massive side of mashed potato I was in absolute heaven.  This confirms my strongly held view that the humble spud is one of life’s greatest creations.  Campbell didn’t fare so well with his risotto, but a couple of these beers seemed to take the edge off.

p1090039

There were some notable omissions from our sight-seeing checklist – the Grand Palace, Wot Pho and Wot Arun probably being the obvious “must sees” on most travellers lists.  I had visited most of these places before and Campbell’s enthusiasm for mores temples etc was at rock bottom.  We decided to give them a miss, which left a fair amount of time to spend doing this:

p1090048

We left Bangkok yesterday headed for Kanchanaburi.  It was an interesting week, which saw us enjoy the city the longer we spent, but the more we restricted ourselves to exploring our own neighbourhood.  If the last couple of months have taught us anything it’s that spending more time doing less seems to be a winner for enjoyable travel.

A&C

XX

Sukhothai and Ayutthaya: Wat Wat (in the butt)*

It was just shy of a million degrees when we woke up on our first morning in Sukhothai, and we quickly canned our big idea of cycling around the ruins at the Historical Park. We reverted to Plan B and picked up a scooter instead.  It’s a bit of a hike to the Park from Sukhothai itself, but it’s well worth the trip.  The Park covers a total of 70 square kilometres, broken up into 4 distinct zones and is home to 193 different ruins.  We were expecting the Park to be hot, dusty and barren (I think we had in mind some of the historical sites we visited in Europe), but it was beautiful and leafy with wide roads, lots of shelter  and beautiful lakes.  There was a touch of regret that we’d bailed on the bikes, but it was still bloody hot and the scooter meant we could see more things in what was already a pretty full-on day.

p1080889

We made our way around all of the major Wats (the name for this blog became unavoidable pretty quickly – “what Wat are we going to next? what Wat is this? what Wat did you like the most?”) and then struck out on the bike to see some of the less-visited, but equally interesting ruins.  We’d read stories about the Park being over-run with tourists all scrambling for a great photo, but we saw the same 30 or so people over the course of the day and there were times when it felt like we had the place to ourselves.  This was even more surprising since admission to the Park (and a number of other national attractions) is free at the moment, because of the King’s death.  We’d highly recommend a visit – it’s an enjoyable way to spend the day, and you don’t need to be a history buff or have any background knowledge to be seriously impressed by the ruins on display.

p1080902

p1080898

p1080912

We tackled another Sukhothai “must see” in the evening when we paid a visit to Poo Restaurant.  I’ll be the first to admit that the food was a bit of flop (we had some awesome Sukhothai noodles during our stay, but not from here), but you don’t come all this way and then not go to a restaurant called “Poo”.  We sniggered our way through the meal and threatened to make a real spectacle of ourselves when Campbell declared that he couldn’t understand why the restaurant was ranked number one on Tripadvisor, when number two was clearly more appropriate.  It just goes to show that my Grandad was right, you are never too old for a bit of good old-fashioned toilet humour (even if it did get him into trouble with Nana from time to time).

p1080935

Saturday saw us back on the bus on our way to Ayutthaya, another serious player on the Thai history scene.  We arrived far too late in the day to do any serious sightseeing, so took a stroll down to the night market for some dinner.  The night market turned out to be a real winner – there was no shopping as such, but a seriously impressive array of food and a nice set-up that meant you could actually park up and eat in peace, rather than having to shove spring rolls in your face while getting manhandled by the crowd around you.  We hit the jackpot with the BBQ pork and mussel omelette frittery thing we ordered, but were not so keen on our chicken kebabs, which turned out to be comprised entirely of chicken necks.  We spent the rest of the night at a small jazz bar next to our guesthouse, where we joined an awesome group of fellow travellers and made our way through a fair few Changs while listening to Mr Miyagi sings the blues.

p1080942

We decided to make a start on some sight-seeing on Sunday, and signed up for a late afternoon long-tail boat trip to see some of the outlying temples – Wat Phutthaisawan, Wat Chaiwatthanaram and Wat Phanan Choeng.  It was a great two hour trip and a nice way to see the city from a different perspective.  The temples themselves were beautiful and ranged from the super blingy – everything must be covered in gold – variety, to a very kitsch set-up complete with garden ornaments and the Thai equivalent of little Hawaiian hula dancing figurines, to crumbling stones ruins more similar to what we had seen in Sukhothai.

p1080969

p1080994

I confess that, by the end of the tour, there was a little bit of temple fatigue creeping in and we found ourselves getting a bit distracted by other things, like this dog with drawn on eyebrows.  We’d seen a dog like this in Luang Prabang and I was devastated that I never got to take its photo, so there was no way I was missing out this time around.  We also spent a good amount of time watching the locals feed the enormous catfish who live in the river.  They were absolutely massive, and people were throwing entire loaves of bread into the water, which made them writhe about and flop all over the place and poke their disgusting whiskery faces out of the water asking for more.  It reminded me a little bit of the Christmas Campbell and I spent in Samoa, where we spent an embarrassing amount of time throwing cheeseballs into the water from our balcony, so that we could watch the fish fight it out.

p1080949

p1080956

Today was our last day in Ayutthaya, and we finally got our act together and hired some bikes to ride around the temples.  The temples here are mainly scattered in amongst the city itself, so a lot of the riding is on busy roads rather than through any kind of park.  Ayutthaya lived up to its reputation and, by the time we hit the road, the key sites were crawling with tourists and busloads of day-trippers from Bangkok.  Overall, we didn’t love the experience.  If you only had a day and wanted to get your fix of history, then by all means a day trip to Ayutthaya from Bangkok makes sense, but if you have a bit more time up your sleeve and want to explore independently in a much more peaceful setting, then the Wilsilands seal of approval goes to Sukhothai.

Tomorrow we’re off to the big lights of Bangkok for a week.  We’re not entirely sure what to expect (my memories of Bangkok are fuzzy given I visited a long time ago, and post-full moon party), but are looking forward to a bit of city time and staying put for a while.

A&C

XX

* This blog is named after the viral video “What what (in the butt)”.  It is a truly horrendous song with a disturbing video and it will haunt you from this point on.  Might pay to check it out at home or, if you really can’t wait, put some headphones on for the sake of your colleagues/your professional reputation.

Chiang Mai: Spirit in the Sky

This whole ‘flying by the seat of our pants’, ‘leave it to the last-minute and hope for the best’ travel strategy is really starting to pay off for us.  Again, it was by better luck than management that we discovered we could line up our plans to be in Chiang Mai for the annual Yi Peng festival.  We rode back into town from Pai in time for the opening ceremony on Sunday, and stayed for the entire four nights of the festival.  It was a crazy, busy, sometimes infuriating, but overall amazing, time to be in Chiang Mai.  One major bucket list item well and truly ticked off.

The format of the festival had been changed a bit this year in recognition of the King’s death, so the opening ceremony was quite a sombre occasion with several speeches, traditional dance performances and other dedications to the King.  The most striking thing was the thousands of candles used to spell out “We Love the King” in the courtyard in front of Tha Phae gate.  We called it a night pretty early – we’d had a long day travelling back from Pai, and trawling up and down the Sunday Walking Street (this was a solo mission; Campbell chose to hang out at the hotel and do laundry, which pretty much sums up his enthusiam for shopping generally), and wanted to save ourselves for Monday night, which was when the festivities really ramped up.

p1080750

Monday night was the night of the full moon (and a ‘super’ moon at that), which is when the people converge on the banks of the Ping River and send thousands and thousands of lanterns into the air, and set floral offerings adrift on the River.  The offerings are supposed to bring good luck, but also carry away the sins and grievances of the offeror and allow them to start anew.  It’s an incredibly beautiful occasion, and unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.  There probably wouldn’t be a single night in Wellington when conditions were conducive to send thousands of burning lanterns into the air!  The crowds were intense and it was super hot and sweaty, but everybody was in such good spirits that it really didn’t matter.  Eventually, we found a quiet spot to set off a couple of lanterns and cleanse ourselves of all of our bad behaviour (when will we learn?!).  We parked up for another hour with a couple of beers and watched the lanterns go up, laughed at the ones that fell in the river, and generally had an awesome time.

p1080817

p1080824

Tuesday night was very similar, although the main attraction was a float parade through town.  This is the part of the festival when a local beauty pageant typically takes place, but it had been cancelled this year due to the King’s death.  We opted to flag the crowds and instead parked up on the opposite side of the River and enjoyed a few drinks while watching things from afar.  We were joined later in the night by a lovely woman (Maria) from Barcelona and her friend (whose name we never did get to the bottom of) from Japan.  What started as a few quiet drinks quickly spiralled into a whole lot more, and while Maria and I discussed plans for our home renovations (she’s an architect), Campbell and her “unnamed friend” had a blokey conversation conducted entirely through the Google translate app.  It was a really great night ending with a quick spin past Macca’s, which is how all good nights should finish.

p1080835

p1080804

The crowds in Chiang Mai over the festival were unreal, so we found every opportunity to spend our days away from the touristic hub of the Old City.  First excursion was to Huay Tung Tao, a manmade lake a short drive out of the city.  Apparently this place is a favourite of Chiang Mai locals looking to escape the summer heat, but it was fairly quiet when we visited on Monday.  The lake is surrounded by dozens of little huts that you can park up in, while you order drinks and food from one of the nearby restaurants.  It’s a really cool concept and a very nice way to spend a day.    In the end we opted out of having a swim – the water was brown and quite muddy and there were some sizeable catfish flopping around in the shallows.

p1080776

p1080774

On the same day we paid a visit to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, an enormous temple perched atop a mountain 15 km out of Chiang Mai.  The temple itself was stunning, but the crowds were ridiculous and we couldn’t handle the jandal.  We got out as soon as possible and enjoyed the scooter ride back down the steep and very windy road that leads to the temple.

p1080765

Our last day in Chiang Mai was a day of chores – we rented a scooter and took care of our laundry, sorted onwards bus tickets and sussed out currency exchange.  In amongst all of that admin, the highlight would have to have been finding a proper, Moore Wilson-esque supermarket.  I love supermarket shopping at home and was like a kid in a candy shop being let loose in one after such a long time.  We wandered around for ages and did creepy things like stroking the bags of Milo and trying to smell the New Zealand cheese through the plastic.  It’s funny the things you miss from home – the other day we wandered past a resort with the most lush green lawns, and Campbell turned to me and in his most sincere and serious voice said “I want to mow it”.  I’m pretty confident the novelty will wear off pretty shortly after we get back home but, for now, we have fairly romanticised memories of some of the old mundane household chores.

p1080646

Today we left Chiang Mai and spent a solid six hours on the loser cruise to Sukhothai.  I can’t actually fault the bus trip though – it was super comfortable and I slept for most of it.  Tomorrow we’re off to cycle around Sukhothai Historical Park, which includes the ruins of the Kingdom of Sukhothai from the 13th century.  It is really hot here, so it’s guaranteed to be a bit of a sweat-fest, but we’ll be grateful for all that exercise given our other “must do” thing while we’re here is to binge on Sukhothai Noodles.

We have been thinking a lot about everybody at home with the shaking, raining and flooding that’s been going on.  We’re very pleased that everybody got through safe and well.  Take care out there!

A&C

XX

 

 

 

 

 

Live and let Pai

It took two full days in Chiang Mai, and plenty of long hot showers before I was satisfied that I no longer smelt like dog wees after our week at Elephant Nature Park.  Sadly, to fully resolve the issue I had to part with my favourite, super spongey and comfortable jandals.  Turns out that they were more like an actual sponge than I had contemplated and, after a full week of soaking up dogs wees, they absolutely reeked – whenever I took a step, or moved my feet about, a distinct puff of eau de wee wee would be released.  They had to go.    We caught up on a few zzzzzs over those couple of days as well, and started to hatch a plan for making our way down to Bangkok and onwards to the beach.

Before heading south we wanted to explore a little more of northern Thailand.  We especially wanted to get up to the town of Pai, which we’d heard a lot about.  Our original plan was to hire bikes and tackle infamous Highway 1095 and all of its 762 corners to get to Pai, but that plan was scrapped when we woke up on Wednesday morning to torrential rain, and a seriously average forecast.  We ‘ummmed’ and we ‘ahhhhed’ all morning about whether we should just throw caution to the wind and hit the road.  In the end, we sought guidance from a much higher power and asked ourselves “what would Jesus Mum do?”.  That decided it, we bought ourselves tickets for the minivan and joined the rest of the tourist flock making the 4 hour, vomit-inducing, trip over the hill.

p1080732

Pai is famous for its laid-back, bohemian atmosphere.  It is a favourite spot for hippies, yogis and backpackers.  It is very low-key, with not a great deal to do other than putt about on a scooter, drink coffee and eat cake at one of the many amazing cafes, get a massage, shop for souvenirs and sample the street food on the evening walking street.  Pai has well and truly capitalised on its popularity, and the local shops do a roaring trade in Pai branded t.shirts, coffee mugs, postcards, magnets and key rings.  We happily spent a couple of days enjoying the town (especially the breakfast cafe with the homemade hash browns), but were still super keen to get back on some scooters.  We’d read about a really cool set of caves in the town of Soppong (about 50km from Pai), so hit the road on Friday to check them out.  We also managed to find a scooter rental company that would let us drop our bikes back in Chiang Mai, which meant that, if the weather came right, we could at least ride back to Chiang Mai and avoid another minivan trip

p1080651

The road to Soppong gave us a very good taste of what to expect when we made the trip back to Chiang Mai – endless hills and corners, potholes, loose gravel and roaming animals.  Luckily, the particularly scary corners were laid with a red grippy covering, so you knew exactly when to start bricking it.  Our bikes weren’t quite the mean machines we’d had in Chiang Rai – mine started to rattle and whine whenever the speedo went over 40 km, and Campbell’s helmet smelt like rotten cheeseballs.  Neither of our helmets had a visor, so we copped an absolute face full of nature during the ride, all the while looking like Atom Ant.  On the plus side, no visor meant I didn’t have to worry about a repeat performance of the time I sneezed inside my helmet and coated the visor with goo.

p1080717

It was a really fun drive and we were so pleased to be on the road again.  The trip took us about an hour and a half, and we were rewarded with an amazing view from the halfway point lookout, before flying down the other side and into Soppong.

p1080720

We made it to Soppong in time for a late breakfast, and were straight back on the road headed for Tham Lot Cave.  The Cave is enormous, and is made up of three different chambers full of stalactites and stalagmites.  You have to pay for a local village guide to escort you round the cave, and they light the way with a gas lantern while pointing out rock formations that look like crocodiles, teeth, eagles etc.  Our guide found it particularly hilarious when we reached the stalagmite that looked like a “boobie”.  We paid a bit extra to take a bamboo raft ride to see deeper into the Cave where there are very old rock paintings and teak coffins, which are supposedly thousands of years old.  The Cave is also home to a huge number of bats that you can see, hear and smell (they smelt like the seals at Red Rocks) as you make your way through the different chambers.

p1080676

p1080678

p1080706

All in all it was a very cool way to spend a couple of hours; much cooler than the couple of hours that followed where we frantically made our way around town trying to find an ATM that would accept our NZ cards.  Not fun!  We spent a very relaxing night in Soppong and hit the road back to Pai on Saturday morning.  We made the most of our scooters and shot straight through town and out to Pai Canyon.  According to some of the Thai tourism websites, Pai Canyon is Thailand’s answer to the Grand Canyon.  That’s a seriously lofty claim, which Pai Canyon doesn’t have a hope in hell of backing up.  The Canyon was still worth the trip though – there’s some beautiful lookouts, and you can wander about taking in the views and scrambling up and down the rock faces at your leisure (no such thing as health and safety here!).

p1080731

p1080727

Today we finally got to take on Highway 1095.  We were up bright and early to hit the road and hopefully avoid some of the minivan convoy doing the trip from Chiang Mai to Pai and back again.  It was such a beautiful time to be on the road.  There was one point where we were driving through a forest that smelt like Christmas, had the sun on our faces and a crisp breeze to go with it, I had my best bud setting the pace upfront and was safe in the knowledge that there was a blueberry muffin in my backpack for breakfast, and I honestly felt like I was living the dream.  It was the absolute best.  As the morning wore on the traffic picked up, but the drive was still really pleasant.  Drivers here are a lot more tolerant of scooters and they just made their way around us (sometimes two or three abreast, as you do!).  We made it back to Chiang Mai safe and sound in three and a half hours – quicker than a minivan and a whole lot more fun.

p1080745

p1080656

We have made it back to Chiang Mai in time for the opening night of the Yi Peng festival.  There will be events on for the next few nights, including a massive release of paper lanterns into the sky to mark the occasion of the full moon.  The festivities will be a bit more subdued this year because of the King’s death (we’re particularly sad to be missing the traditional beauty pageant), but it will still be a great time to be in Chiang Mai.

A&C

XX

Elephant Nature Park: Who let the dogs out . . .

There are 450 dogs at the dog sanctuary at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, and we had signed up to take care of them for a week.  The dogs have come from a variety of places, although the majority were rescued by ENP following the Bangkok floods in 2011. We  joined eight other short-term volunteers and got straight into work last Sunday.  The focus for our volunteer group was the dogs in the medical clinic, who were there because they were unwell, awaiting surgery, or were otherwise unable to go into a big run with other dogs.  Campbell put his hand up to work in the main clinic area, and I volunteered to take care of the three puppies (although they were really more like teenagers) and one old-timer that called the clinic office home.

My pups

p1080472
Jackfruit – My absolute favourite!  An eating machine and a big marshmallow.  Starting to display some racist tendencies, which proved to be a bit awkward when a lovely Asian lady wanted to take him for a walk and we had to pretend that he wasn’t feeling well.
p1080560
Yoda – A beautiful, sassy girl with a hunchback and an underbite.  When she gets adopted it will be ultimate proof that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Boss – The furry little critter in the background.  A totally blind, poodle cross, who tolerates the puppies (just)
p1080436
Narzie – The baby of the group and the cutest thing ever! A pro at emotional blackmail and giving cuddles that make you forget the massive pile of diarrhoea that she’s just left you to clean up

It was a tough, but incredibly rewarding, week.  We were lucky to be part of a group of great volunteers, who all got stuck in and put in the hard yards.  Our time at ENP has been a highlight of the trip so far, although I suspect it will take a few more days before we feel properly clean again!

14591669_1494648177218017_6348385803426392500_n

A typical day at ENP went something like this:

6.30 am:  Alarm goes off.  Groan, curse your aching feet, get up, get changed, fight the dogs to get into the toilet, shuffle to the platform for breakfast.

7.00 am:  Make a pig of yourself at breakfast buffet and talk rubbish with the other volunteers.

8.00 am:  Start work at the dog clinic – feeding the dogs, cleaning out enclosures, sweeping and mopping floors, taking dogs for a walk and a toilet run.

9.00 am(ish):  Once the clinic dogs and pups have been taken care of, get to work walking the runs of other dogs, moving dogs from one run to another, cleaning out empty enclosures, socialising with dog packs etc etc.

11.00 am:  Break for lunch.  Make a pig of yourself at the lunch buffet and talk rubbish with the other volunteers.  Shuffle back to the house to reapply sunscreen and insect repellent.  Maybe lie down for 20 mins, but only if you’re confident you’ll be able to get back up.

12.30 pm:  Repeat morning routine – feed and walk clinic dogs, clean enclosures.

1.30 pm:  Continue dog walking and socialising.

3.30 pm:  Evening pack down – feed and walk clinic dogs, clean enclosures, do meds and get everyone settled for the night.

4.30 pm:  Sit at the volunteer house eating chips and drinking Chang, discussing how terrible you smell and waiting patiently to use the one functioning shower.

6.00 pm:  Make a pig of yourself at the dinner buffet.  Drink beers and chat with the volunteers about the crazy things that happened that day and what tomorrow has in store.

9.00 pm(ish):  Bedtime

2.00 am(ish), 3.ooam(ish), 4.00am(ish):  Wake up to hundreds of dogs howling in unison.  We weren’t entirely sure what set them off, but at various stages through the night the dogs would perform a howling Mexican wave, which seemed to start at the clinic and roll its way down all the runs until finally reaching our house, where our own soul sister would waddle to the front gate and represent on behalf of our pack.

In amongst the routine, there were some stand-out moments from our time at ENP.

Mass dog adoption: On our first evening we were all pretty stuffed and just about ready for bed when we were asked if we would like to help with preparation to send 14 dogs on the truck to catch a flight to Colorado. The same number had previously been sent a few days earlier in a mass adoption that had taken a lot of work to get across the line.  The dogs will be fostered in Colorado before hopefully being adopted.  Although we had to get up at 4am to walk the dogs (in the hope they’d poo and wee on the grass, rather than in their travelling crates), it was awesome to see so many dogs begin the journey to their new lives.  It was also really heart-warming that the agency in Colorado had selected a really diverse mix of dogs (young, old, healthy, sick), rather than just cherry-picking the most adoptable dogs.

The Volunteer House:  The majority of our group of volunteers stayed in the dog volunteer house – a basic, three bedroom house, which sat in the middle of a large dog run.  We shared the house with a pack of nine dogs.  It was clear from the day we arrived that the house belonged to the dogs, and they were very kindly letting us borrow it.  Their generosity didn’t extend to the outdoor furniture, so in the evenings we either had to sit on the floor and watch the dogs lounge all over the outdoor chairs, or try to squish in around the dogs to get a seat.  The big boss of the pack was a dog named Duang.  Duang was rescued from the streets of Bangkok where she had been trained as a hustler who stole money and wallets from tourists.  Duang still has the attitude she acquired on the mean streets, and more than one of us got the pleasure of one of her “love nips” during our stay.

p1080431

p1080572

p1080484
Duang – the original gangster

Operation DV2:  After a few nights staying at the dog volunteer house we realised that there was a run of dogs next to us who never seemed to get walked, or taken out of their pen – DV2.  We had a bit of a snoop around and realised that DV2 could be accessed two ways, but each way involved walking through another run, and another pack of very territorial dogs.  The upshot was that in order to walk DV2, we would need enough people to move the dogs in the adjacent run, so that we could safely walk the DV2 dogs through that run and onto the street.  We needed 20 people.  All week we talked about how much we wanted to give the DV2 dogs a run, and on our last night Operation DV2 was formulated.  We talked strategy, logistics and personnel and, with the help of some of the elephant project volunteers, we pulled it off.  The plan did involve shutting Duang in the shower, so we owe an apology to the next round of dog volunteers who, as a result, will likely receive a higher number of “love nips” than normal.

Seeing the DV2 dogs finally get out of their pen and enjoy a few hours of freedom was one of the absolute highlights of our week.

p1080580

Sleepover with Ma-rew:  Ma-Rew is a beautiful, young dog who was hit by a scooter as a pup.  He is recovering from a series of spinal operations, but currently does not have full function of his back legs, bladder or bowel.  Early in the week it was decided that Ma-Rew should be moved out of his small enclosure in the clinic and given the chance to stay in the office and hang out with my little puppy troop.  Ma-Rew only stayed in the office one night, but that night will be forever imprinted in my mind, and my nostrils.  The morning after the sleepover, I arrived at the office to a scene straight out of the apocalypse – there was literally poo and wee in every corner of the office.  We’re not talking nice discrete piles of poo and wee either, but great big skids marks and clumps all over the place.  Because Ma-Rew is unable to lift his hind quarters, he is effectively the canine equivalent of a snow plough, so that when he moves about he traps and drags muck wherever he goes.  It took two hours, six buckets of detergent and bleach, and countless bouts of dry-retching to get the office cleaned up.

Ma-Rew moved out that day, and joined the other disabled pups (Steel, Scully and Bao Bao) in their custom-built enclosure, which (importantly) can be hosed out every morning.  When we left ENP, he was making real strides in his wheel chair and everybody hopes that he might get some mobility back.

p1080430

img_1143

Arrival of the Puppies:  Late on Thursday afternoon, the clinic received a phone call to say that we would be receiving 21 dogs (17 puppies and 4 adult dogs) in an hour’s time.  It was panic stations as we tried to rush through the evening pack down, so that we would be ready when the dogs were dropped off.  When they arrived, we realised that we had three separate litters of differing ages, and a massive tick infestation on our hands.  It was all hands to the pump, as we washed and deticked each little pup.  The ticks were absolutely horrendous; when you looked inside the pups’ ears it was like looking at brown cauliflower – the ticks were so dense that you couldn’t even see inside the ear canal.  The ticks on the feet were so thick that the puppies toes were splayed open to accommodate them.  We sat on the floor racing against the fading sun to detick each pup, all the while hoping we hadn’t dropped any ticks on ourselves.  My skin was crawling by the time we finished, and all I wanted was a long, hot shower before bed.

p1080502

p1080492

p1080494

All of the pups made it through that first night and were full of beans when we left them yesterday.

p1080616

Bathtime:  Thursday at the dog clinic is bath day.  We worked our way through a list of dogs that, for one reason or another (mainly skin conditions), require regular baths.  As luck would have it, the majority of those dogs had the canine equivalent of short man syndrome – small, fluffy, excessively angry dog syndrome.  Not to be deterred, we partnered up and captured, wrangled, muzzled, washed and blow-dried every dog on the list.

Chicken run for Silver:  Silver is a very old dog who lives at ENP and is in the process of seeing out her last days.  When we arrived at ENP Silver was refusing to eat dog food, but one of the other volunteers (Patricia) discovered that Silver was quite partial to the BBQ chicken from the store up the road.  A routine developed where most afternoons Campbell would wander up to the shop (he was going anyway to buy post-work beers) and pick up Silver’s regular chicken order.  On the last night, Campbell finally caved and added a chicken leg for himself to the order and hid outside the park walls before finishing and discarding the evidence.  Turns out that a week of eating vegetarian was just too big an ask.

Elephants:  As well as being surrounded by dogs, we spent our week at ENP surrounded by beautiful elephants.  ENP has 71 elephants (although not all of them are at the park at any one time) and we got to see them roaming around throughout the day – we saw them on our way to breakfast, from the deck of the volunteer house, bathing in the river and crashing through the jungle as we walked the dogs.  There were also a couple who liked to frequent the smoking area for a bit of a passive nicotine hit.  The elephants at ENP have been rescued from the logging industry, tourist trade and from other hardship.  There are a number that bear permanent scars (physical and mental) from their former lives, but at ENP they are given a safe place to see out their days.  It’s a beautiful place.

img_1136

p1080386

p1080381

We are now back in Chiang Mai for a bit of R&R and to plan the next leg of our trip.  We will miss our furry friends, but have our fingers crossed that they will be adopted and be winging their way to their forever homes soon.

A&C

XX

p1080641