Saying Bye to the Elephants – Emily

I just took my first hot shower since I left home two weeks ago. That is partially my own fault, considering I did not realize that the showers in the Lub D could have hot water if I turned the knob the other way….but while in the Elephant Nature Park, there was no hot water. Only cold water in a shower with muddy floors and lots of bugs. It is nice to finally feel clean again.

Our group left last week for Chiang Mai. After the 11 hour train ride through the night, and a night in another hostel-like guest house, we left for Elephant Nature Park. Upon arriving at the park, I immediately knew I was going to enjoy it much more than Bangkok. The transition from skyscrapers and dirty streets to mountains and dirt roads was appealing to me; I was sick of the busy traffic and gross smelling areas of Bangkok. Negative thoughts about Thailand were beginning to form in my head. Chiang Mai was a nice change because it was still a city, but also a bit more traditional and much less crowded. When the van of Westtown students left Chiang Mai and headed for rural Thailand, I was not sure what to expect.

The landscapes of forested mountains were beautiful and different from anything I had seen before. As we approached the park, all I saw was jungle covered mountains surrounding an area of flat land that included tropical looking trees and a small river. As we turned down the dirt driveway of the park, I saw elephants in a field to the left. My negativity disappeared, and I couldn’t wait to begin the week.

The week at Elephant Nature Park was one of the most amazing weeks of my life. I ate a lot of Thai food, and a lot of pineapple. We fed and bathed the elephants, and learned a lot about how the park was created. We went tubing down a Thai river while local children threw mud at us. We spend our first morning cutting down corn stalks with machetes in the hot sun, and then rode back to the park sitting on top of the corn in the back of the truck eating watermelon. Draining the mud pit for the elephants turned into a giant mud fight (totally worth the ruined clothes and mud in my ears), and later that day we had to cut our Elephant Walk short… in order to help the workers fight a forest fire that had traveled onto the park’s property. Climbing up a hill in the hot sun with a bucket of water to throw on the burning plants, while walking on burning leaves and thorns that gave me many scrapes and cuts was something I never imagined my Senior Project would involve, but I am thankful for the unforgettable experience.

As lame as it sounds, I really am having trouble putting my experience at Elephant Nature Park into words. We washed and fed elephants, prepared their food, and did a good amount of manual labor. But for me, it never felt like a “service project”.  I looked forward to the morning jobs and feeding the elephants, I really loved every moment of it. We hiked up mountains with elephants and slept in a shack in the middle of the woods for a night. We walked around in the dark jungle helping the mahouts find the elephants. I spent a week with 35 elephants and 70 dogs, and had the time of my life. I realize that I am still in the “learning stage” with my project. I’m supposed to think my project was so fun, and then in a week I am expected to come to some sort of realization about the life lessons it taught me. In reality, I am still halfway around the world from home, and I know that my project has had a huge impact on me. I know that I still have a lot to learn and experience in life. My week away from internet and the usual luxuries (such as hot water or a full-length mirror) truly allowed me to truly immerse myself in the experience. I learned that I don’t need to worry about everything right now. I’m 17 years old and have many many years ahead of me. Up until the day of my project, I had so much on my mind that at times I forgot I was even going to Thailand. My time in Thailand has allowed me to take a step back, and stop freaking out about things that seem so important right now, but in reality, could change in a few years, or even months. Spending time with people whose lives are so different from mine (for example, a guy who lives in a shack in rural Thailand and follows around a baby elephant 365 days a year) has been an incredibly positive experience for me. It is still hard to put into words how Thailand has impacted me, and my blog post has probably become very confusing. Basically, Thailand was just what I needed before I head into my final months at Westtown. It was a breath of fresh air, and my project put many things in perspective for me. I’m ready to go home.

We are leaving Bangkok tonight, our flight departs at 4:30am. After the 12 hour train ride last night, I am dreading the flights back, but looking forward to seeing my family and being home again.

-Emily 🙂

So long Bangkok…for now

Emily here –

The other students who have been blogging about Thailand have been much better about updating and writing posts. There is some time before we have to meet to go out for our last Bangkok excursion before Chiang Mai, so I decided to stop procrastinating and write.

The past few days have been an amazing experience. We went to see the temples and the reclining Buddha on Thursday. I was thankful for my World Religions experience at school because I had some knowledge about the religions of Hinduism and Buddhism. We’ve eaten many types of food, including Indian, Chinese, and Thai (and Pizza Hut…but that can be considered half Thai maybe? There were very unique pizzas on the menu).

We also have done a good amount of shopping. The street vendors have many cheap items to buy, from Thailand t-shirts to fake designer watches and Ray Ban sunglasses. Being a lover of shopping, it is difficult to refrain from buying another suitcase worth of clothes (relax Mom, I’m not going to….) 🙂

Yesterday we went to a snake farm (one of the only 2 in the world). We watched a presentation about the snakes that included a man taunting a King Cobra to attack him, and then the man would move just as the snake was striking. It seemed a little unsafe, but no one was hurt so it was entertaining. At the end of the show all of the Westtown students volunteered to put the snakes around our necks and we all took pictures.

Last night we went to a Thai boxing match. We bought tickets for front row seats, and the facility was extremely crowded with tons of standing people surrounding the ring, screaming and chanting for their favorite boxer. There were about 11 matches, but we left after the main match because many of us were hungry and tired. We got some good pictures posing next to Lynn sleeping 🙂 I bought some shorts that look like the ones the boxers wore…I plan on wearing them a lot when I get home. They look  a little ridiculous…in a good way I think.

Make sure you look at the pictures on Lynn’s blog! They show a little bit of what we’ve been doing. We are taking the night train to Chiang Mai tonight…10 hours of fun. Luckily, we have sleepers, so it won’t mess up our newly-acquired Thailand sleeping habits. I don’t know how much internet access we will all have in Chiang Mai, but we will try to blog when we can. I’m going to miss Bangkok, but I’m happy we will be back before going home!

Continue reading “So long Bangkok…for now”

Bangkok FINALLY

After many hours of traveling, we finally arrived in Bangkok last night.  The trip started off Monday night; we all arrived at Westtown at 7pm for departure to the airport. The original plan was to sleep in the airport until our 6am flight, but the flight was cancelled, so we all stayed in a hotel room.  Our flight was then delayed, but we finally departed Philadelphia at 9:45am.  Our plane landed in Tokyo late, and we were so close to missing our connecting flight. We all ran through the airport for what seemed like miles (even though it was probably only 20 terminals), and we ran to check in. We had no time to get food before the flight, so I spent the first hour of the flight starving. We were then served food and I was happy. Falling asleep on the 13 hour plane ride seemed like it was going to be easy, but the uncomfortable seats and constant daylight made it difficult.  I am not looking forward to the 13 hour plane ride back. We arrived in Tokyo, got some drinks for the plane, and boarded our final plane. It was weird to be in a store and not recognize any of the brands or foods. When we arrived in Bangkok, it was night. Stepping off of the plane, the humidity engulfed us and was probably and indicator of how it is going be for the next two weeks.  We went through the passport check and had 2 vans waiting for us to take us to the Lub D Silom hostel.

We drove through Bangkok to get to the hostel, and it was amazing to look out the windows. It was midnight on a Wednesday night, and there were hundreds of people outside shopping and talking in the streets. I noticed that the streets are crowded, and there are a lot of 7-elevens.  We got to the hostel and settled into our rooms. Natalie, Lynn, and I are staying in the girls dormitory, and there are about 7 other women in the room. They were all asleep, and we changed and went to get food with the group.

We walked down the street for awhile to get to the main stretch of people. There were hundreds of people in little booths cleaning up after selling stuff all day. There are so many things to buy, from bracelets and jewelry, to pirated DVDs and shirts with celebrities on them. We went to McDonald’s, and everyone sat and ate together. I guess that wasn’t the right thing to do, I should have tried authentic Thai food, but I was hungry for a cheeseburger and wanted a McFlurry. I paid in Baht, so maybe that counts for something? We walked back to the hostel, and there were a good number of people variously scattered sleeping on the streets. The one that struck me most was a little boy sleeping on the concrete alone.

We showered (finally!!!) and went to sleep. Right now it is 10am on Thursday, February 24th. Wei-Hao is taking us to the temple for a tour, and I’m pretty excited to experience daytime Bangkok.

Thailand and Elephants!

Hi! I’m Emily, and in less than three weeks I will be on my first international flight headed for Thailand.  I am both excited and nervous for the trip.  I’m starting to think about packing, how long the flight will be, and how I will manage to not lose my new passport (with its unflattering and awkward picture). 

My Senior Project to Thailand is full of firsts for me.  It will be my first time out of the country (besides to Niagara Falls in third grade…), and this also will be my first time completing 50 hours of service in one week.  Thailand will be the longest trip (in terms of days) I have ever been on, and my longest time spent on an airplane.  I’m excited to fully immerse myself in a new culture and meet new people, try new food, and see Bangkok and Chiang Mai, along with the Elephant Nature Park.  I am even excited that I will be in Japan for a few hours between flights.

Thailand will be my first time overseas, and I am ready for the experience.  I know it will be unlike anything I have ever encountered.  Most people take their first trip out of the country to Europe or even an island in the Caribbean, so going to Thailand is definitely exciting.  I am nervous about the food because I have never tried Thai food, and should probably be doing that within the next few weeks.  The weather will  be GREAT.  Getting away from all of the snow and 30 degree weather in February will be relieving.  The elephant and service part of the trip is where most of the group’s time will be spent . I am not familiar with elephants, but I did ride one at the Philadelphia Zoo in first grade. I am excited to work with the elephants, and completing 50 hours of service will be rewarding. 

 I am really looking forward to Thailand and counting down the days. I’m going overseas for the first time, spending 2 weeks with my friends, and hanging out with elephants…what’s not to love?

Here is a link to the park where we will be working!

http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/