Overnight at Elephant Nature Park: experiences, ethics, and, of course, elephants!

As you travel around Thailand on your scooter, one thing that is for certain is that you will see elephants along the roadside. On the edge of town, halfway up a mountain, just outside a temple, elephants, sometimes even baby elephants. But after your brain’s initial excitement (ELEPHANTS!!) the logical side of your mind will catch up to your childlike wonder and you’ll notice a sign advertising elephant rides, how thin and malnourished the animals look, chains or ropes around their ankles, scars indicating phajaan, or breaking the spirit. It’s hard to see and worse to notice the throngs of tourists eager to sit atop these majestic creatures without a care for their well-being. Equally as bad are the number of elephant parks that advertise themselves as “sanctuaries” to capitalise on another type of tourist’s desire for a more ethical experience, when their parks’ methods are no different than the abusive ones in the roadside attractions.

Still, I was hopeful that I could have a genuinely ethical trip to a real elephant sanctuary in Thailand, and so we went to the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai. As we went on the weekend of my birthday, Steve treated me to the overnight trip, two days and one night staying at the park, visiting the elephants, walking some of the hundreds of rescue dogs they also care for, and learning about Thailand’s animal tourism industry.

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Off the beaten path around Barley Lake

Most of the trails I hike on are fairly clearly marked, whether it’s the luxe wooden boardwalks of New Zealand’s Great Walks or the rough gravel of a well-trodden route up Carrauntoohil. But sometimes I think it’s fun to leave the comfort of a clear path and get your feet dirty, and luckily I have friends who feel the same way. When I originally moved to Ireland for grad school, Medb was one of my very first friends, and now after international moves and much travel on both of our parts, we are finally living in the same country again. She and her partner Callum are currently on a trip from Dublin to gorgeous West Cork, so yesterday Steve and I headed out to meet them. Medb suggested the Barley Lake walk, but there was conflicting info about it online so none of us really knew what to expect.

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Where we are now

On March 15 I was in a hotel in Hanoi, full of nervous energy and the fear that a staff member or another guest would exhibit symptoms of Coronavirus and the Vietnamese government would lock down the hotel until they could figure out the scope of the virus there, and Steve and I would miss our urgently-rescheduled flight back to the United States.

Of course, we had been monitoring the situation throughout our travels in Southeast Asia. The first cases of the virus had been reported in China shortly after we arrived in Indonesia, but it seemed unlikely to affect us. Apart from seeing a lot of locals wearing masks in Singapore and Thailand, something which is common practice in Asia anyway after the SARS outbreak, it was business as usual. We even went to a Lunar New Year in Bangkok’s Chinatown, and any fears of the virus were outnumbered by excitement for the holiday from both locals and tourists.

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On the Overland Track (6 to 11 November 2019)

I know that the weather in Tasmania, especially in its many wilderness areas, is famously unpredictable, but when I saw “snow” on the forecast for Steve and my recent hike on the Overland Track that runs between Cradle Mountain and Lake St. Clair in the island’s centre, I imagined we might be encountering a few flurries, maybe even walking through a dusting of settled snow along the path.

Well…

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… it was a bit more than a dusting.

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The best for last: Kyoto (Japan recommendations part IV)

Finally last post with recommendations for Japan! Thanks for sticking with me. If you’re planning a trip to Japan, I hope I’ve offered something useful. If you’re a Japan expert, I hope you’ll give me recommendations for my next trip that will definitely happen someday! Click here for my recommendations for Tokyo, Hakone, Nara, and Kobe, and Osaka, or read on about my favourite city of all:

Kyoto: 

I wasn’t sure what to make of Kyoto at first. As it was our last stop, I went in thinking I had seen all the temples I could handle, walked into all the little shops I could possibly walk into, eaten all the delicious things I could possibly eat. And then Kyoto proved me so very wrong. It became my favourite city we went to in Japan, and the number one I would recommend for anyone planning a trip. It has everything from the modern to the traditional, from the serious to the playful, and some of the best of every possible type of cultural aspect of the country.

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Foodie heaven and fun streets: Osaka (Japan recommendations part III)

Osaka: 

Osaka is such an interesting city. Significantly smaller than Tokyo (2.7m people compared to the bulging population of Tokyo’s 9.3m) but double the size of cities like Kobe and Kyoto, it doesn’t feature the high-tech, futuristic style of Tokyo or the classic look of Kyoto, with their modern and traditional areas separated carefully, but instead mashes up new and old into one. Although it got just edged out by Kyoto as my favourite city we went to in Japan, it was probably the one I was most excited to visit (and if you have any wonder why, just read my “What we ate” section below).

If you missed my posts on Tokyo and Hakone/Nara/Kobe, check them out! Otherwise continue on for my recommendations on Osaka:

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