5 Elephant Sanctuaries to Visit in Thailand (instead of a Zoo!)

I have a confession to make: I’m taking up a masters course and I’ll also be moving out of the country by the end of the month, which explains why I haven’t been posting as much. I’ve been doing assignments and reports, as well as packing all my things before I say goodbye, to my little city, for good. IT’S BEEN A CRAZY MONTH, I tell you. 

 

Published first on Tripzilla on July 19, 2017

Elephants – this is what comes to mind when many of us hear “Thailand,” right next to temples and street food. I love elephants; they’re such intelligent and majestic creatures. Unfortunately, these extraordinary traits can’t save them from being used for the country’s entertainment and tourism purposes. Thankfully, there are many organisations in Thailand that have dedicated their full-time efforts to saving and nurturing these acclaimed creatures. And they let tourists help for a day!

These said organisations run their facilities in such a way that can help you get close with the animals without having to ride or see them perform.

“But riding elephants is kind of a-once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

I know how exciting it is to tell your friends that you’ve ridden an elephant. However, elephant sanctuaries bring a more fulfilling experience because, not only can you see the elephants act in their natural environment, you can trek with them and bathe them yourselves! So if you’d also like the option of going the more ethical animal-loving route, please continue on scrolling down.

 

1. Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

thailand elephant sanctuaries

Image credit: Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

On the very first page of their website, Elephant Jungle Sanctuary emphasises their no riding policy. Located about 60 km from Chiang Mai, this sanctuary is focused on taking care of formerly mistreated elephants. They currently have a little over 30 elephants on their watch. The place offers half day, full day, and overnight visits where you can feed the elephants, give them medicine, and witness their mud spa sessions.

Address: 119/10 Thapae Rd, Chang Klan, Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand

2. Elephant Nature Park

Elephant Nature Park

Image credit: Elephant Nature Park

Also located about 60 km from Chiang Mai, this sanctuary’s been operating as a rescue centre for elephants since the 1990’s. Alongside these elephants, many other rescued species are also taken care of. Elephant Nature Park also offers elephant feeding, bathing, and trekking in their day’s activities, which are suitable for all ages.

Address: 1 Ratmakka Road, Phra Sing, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand

3. Phuket Elephant Sanctuary

Phuket Elephant Sanctuary

Image credit: Phuket Elephant Sanctuary

For those of you who can’t go up North, Phuket actually has a couple of sanctuaries of its own. The Phuket Elephant Sanctuary calls their preserve as a retirement home for the sick and injured elephants. They work together with the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, in participating in ethical elephant tourism programs.

This sanctuary allows their guests to interact with their elephants for half the day. Bathing and trekking are part of the itinerary, however, people can only observe the animals from the distance, during these activities, since the sanctuary emphasises on “natural” socialisation.

Address: 111/116, Moo 8, Saunneramit 1, Thombol Paklok, Amphur Talang, Phuket, Thailand

4. Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand’s Wildlife Rescue Centre

Wildlife Friends Foundation not only focuses on rescuing elephants from exploitation, they help every kind of animal affected by deforestation, illegal trade, and pollution. WFFT is constantly looking for volunteers, but if you can’t stay for good, you can help out at their Wildlife Rescue Centre. There they’ll give you a guided tour, let you walk with the elephants, and inform you of their stories. You’ll come home much educated about Thailand’s efforts in saving their elephants.

Address: Moo 6,Tambon Thamairuak, Amphoe Thayang, 76130 Petchaburi, Thailand

5. Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary

But if you do have time to stay in Thailand and volunteer to help the elephants, BLES is the place to call. Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary welcomes guests for their homestay program. Not only will volunteers get to feed the elephants, but they’ll actually gather the food themselves. And aside from walking with the elephants, visitors are encouraged to camp with them in the middle of the jungle! Sounds like an enlightening experience to me.

Address: 304 Mu 5, Baan Na Ton Jan, Tambon Baan Tuek, Si Satchanalai, Sukhothai 64130, Thailand

 

So, on your next Thailand getaway, STOP riding elephants and start taking care of them, will you?

What They Don’t Tell You About Solo Travel

I got published! Here’s another in-betweener before my third post on Thailand. 

First published on Tripzilla, on June 15, 2017.

 

We hear a hundred great things about solo travel. How it changes our perspective about life, that it helps us find ourselves, the stories of newly made friendships along the way – all of the things that make your eyes glisten with aspiration. These are, of course, true and essential especially for self-growth and development. However, sometimes we need to look at the reality that comes with solo travel. Here are a few things that you should ponder on to prepare yourself for that big trip:

It gets lonely

solo travel cons

There will be plenty of opportunities for you to talk to other travellers. Sometimes you will meet them at the airport even before you fly to your destination, and hit it off from there. You’ll immediately make plans to travel together, but at other times you’ll go your separate ways.

Loneliness hits particularly those people who choose not to associate with other travellers. This could be for a whole lot of different reasons. Eventually, they realise that those exotic meals, that two-hour bus ride, or those magnificent new views are just better shared with someone else.

The expenses can be a burden

Yes, even on a budget. A three to four-day trip is fine, but going for more than a week could break the bank. This is true most especially when transferring from city to city. Inexpensive lodging won’t always be available. If the moment comes when you have to book a hotel room, you won’t have anyone to share that expense with.

Planning it alone is a hassle

It’s exciting to think about not having to depend on other people. You can see the sites at your own pace! You can choose which places to prioritise, and which ones to pass when you end up getting tired halfway through the day. But prior to that, there’s still some planning involved. There’s the task of searching the how (to get there), the what (to ride), and the which (hostel is the best). You do not want to find yourself going in circles, just because you failed to map your day out. That entire load is on you and you have no one to divide the tasks with.

It can be embarrassing

For some people, it’s a challenge to eat in restaurants alone. It’s even more of a challenge when you want to document all of your meals. Yet, you don’t want to look like another millennial who just can’t stop sharing on social media.

The same goes for taking pictures of yourself, in front of a good spot. I’m not talking about the usual selfie. I’m talking about the whole shebang. As in, setting up a tripod and taking countless of photos, because the darn camera just won’t focus on you. Trust me; I’ve acquired quite a few laughs from doing this.

Safety and security become twice an effort

Being mindful of your belongings shouldn’t even be a question. For the duration of your travel, consider everything that’s inside your bags as your entire life. This becomes a struggle at times. Wanting to go to the toilet, but having no space in the cubicle for your large sized luggage, creates a dilemma. Getting distracted during a train ride while your bags just sit there, ready for the taking, could also create a setback. Basically, you’ll have no one to help you be mindful of your belongings.

There’s also the issue of looking out for yourself, especially for women. Doing so in your home city is one thing. It’s another thing when you’re in a city not knowing the language. You could potentially get lost and you know no one who can help you in times of trouble. If you’re really one of the more cautious, you’ll have to prepare emergency numbers, hospital addresses (possibly written in the local language), list down all the nearest police station, or keep your roaming data on the entire time – a few things I have actually done, myself. No shame.

That being said, the cons of solo travel should never hinder you from going out there. The pros of solo travel will always overweigh the cons. And if the latter does find itself to you, it can be something you can learn from to prepare yourself for your many future solo travels.

Things to do in Siargao, Other than Surfing

Apparently, I still have a few more posts in line for my Siargao Series 🙂

Dubbed as the Surfing Capital of the Philippines, Siargao must seem intimidating for the nonsurfers to visit. Quite surprisingly though, there are many interesting things to do other than ride the waves. Here are four activities I did during my visits to the island:

Eat Eat Eat

If you haven’t already figured out from my previous post, Siargao has some sophisticated food choices, considering that it is an island. They aren’t cheap too. I am reminded of Bali’s vibrant food scene whenever I think of the growing number of cafés and restaurants on General Luna, the island’s famous strip along the equally famous surfing spots.

 

 

 

 

 

Hop the surrounding Islands

For a mere 1,500 pesos, a group of four to six people can already rent a boat for the entire day to visit the three main islands surrounding Siargao. Naked, Daku, and Guyam Islands, each appropriately named, have their own unique qualities, making all of them a must see.

For one, Naked Island, is simply that – a raw piece of land free of substantial vegetation. Daku, the Visayan term for “big,” is (as you’ve already guessed) the largest of all three and, in my opinion, has the palest white sands. While Guyam, meaning small (according to our guide) is the only island that has rocky shores similar to that of Siargao’s.

Things to do in Siargao
Naked Island with only a patch of grass close to the middle.
Things to do in Siargao
The grass up close
Island Hopping in Siargao
Daku Island

Things to do in Siargao

Things to do in Siargao
You can see the rocky area on each side of the island
Things to do on Siargao
Guyam Island is also the only island with all its coconut trees neatly gathered in the middle.

Visit the Magpupungko Tidal Flats and Pools

The Magpupungko Tidal Flats and Pools are truly a wonder to behold. On the other side of General Luna, is another beach with trenches that become natural pools during the low tide. Just a little farther towards the tip of the flats, there is even a greater sight. As monstrous waves slam into the rocks, the waters make it look like you’ve reached the edge of the world.

Party

Siargao is nowhere near as rowdy as Boracay Island, where the Philippine’s biggest beach parties happen. But neither is it dead at night. Not only does General Luna have events during the weekends, they have one every evening of the week! And because the area is relatively small, almost all the locals (and expats) know where these happenings will be. So if you ever feel like merrymaking, just ask around.

birthday weekend in siargao
Viento Del Mar’s event, an hour before it got crowded.

Siargao Solo Adventures: I celebrated my birthday with strangers! (PART TWO)

For part one, an introduction to my how i met these newfound friends, please click here.

The Party

In the afternoon, after our island hopping, the 6 of us (refresher: Matthias, Jonathan, Me, Rebecca, Marianne, and Gerard) stayed at the resort’s restaurant for some drinks. About 10 minutes in, a couple of Caucasian guys also joined us for a chat. We stayed there for about two hours or so, and talked about the countries that we’ve been to, how long we (well, they) have been travelling, and some other things that I can barely remember. The pomada, which is a cocktail mixed with gin and lime, at Bravo Beach Resort is strong. I kid, I kid. I wasn’t drunk, but it is strong.

Bravo-Beach-Resort-Siargao
Just look at that beauty.

Somewhere between our conversations, we made plans to go to the resort next door since that was where it was going to be poppin’ -according to our island hopping guide. And it was true. As it seems, every resort on the island have already established and agreed on their schedules as to when they can host parties. So Viento Del Mar, the resort just next door, it was.

Rebecca and I got there before 9 p.m., after we’ve showered and got ready, and ate dinner. Viento has really good food, btw. They put their own twist on the Filipino classic, chicken adobo. 

Food in Viento Beach Resort
That’s mashed potato underneath the chicken, red bell pepper, and onions.

Marianne and Gerard came to see us shortly after we finished eating. When 11 rolled around, that’s when the crowd kept coming in. People have started playing beerpong on one of the dining tables, and some have already gathered on the dance floor. There was actually a DJ (who knew)! I think he played something somewhere between EDM and Reggae. If those genres got married and had a baby, that would be it. Siargao’s cool like that.

By this time I’ve had my second drink, which makes it sound like this is going to be a wild story. It’s not. It’s just a replay of ordinary events. FOR THE BLOG!

partying-in-siargao
This margarita was 250 pesos. INSANE.

The next thing I knew, the place was packed and loud! More and more people were standing around holding drinks (which was mostly either a beer or the 50 peso rum and coke in plastic cups – I just had to tell you how cheap it was), and greeting others that I’m sure they didn’t even know. Some were happy to be talking on the shore, while others were seated by the bar. Everyone seemed excited to have started conversations with these new people. It was a pretty sight, and it made me admire this island all the more. Tourists, locals, and expats didn’t create a bubble within themselves. Anyone was welcome to join their circle. There was no hierarchy; no judgment. 

We are constantly warned about the dangers of solo travel, that we forget that there are good things – and people- that come out of it.

As soon as the clock struck midnight, all my new friends greeted me a happy birthday with excitement that I didn’t know I could get from people I barely knew. It was as if I’d known them since forever. They bought me a mojito as a birthday gift which, at first, I declined out of habit. But when you meet new people who are just as excited for your birthday as your own mother, it’s hard for you to say no. Even the bartenders greeted me a happy birthday by drinking shots after I clinked my mojito glass with theirs. Matthias, whom I already said hi to earlier in the night, came to me to give me a hug and greet me a happy birthday. He was inebriated now, but I appreciated the gesture. He seemed truly happy. Thank goodness for alcohol, right?

Just kidding. To all the younger readers, if any, drink in moderation and only when you’re 21 or older. 

Siargao Beach Party

This moment really just made me realize how we can meet genuine people in our travels, especially on solo trips.  We are constantly warned about the dangers of solo travel, that we forget that there are good things – and people- that come out of it. I understand that we shouldn’t let our guards down, but I also believe that we should be open enough to enjoy the gifts of solo travel. It might even bring us relationships that will last lifetimes. And for the pessimists who say that I couldn’t possibly have seen my new friend’s true colors. I say this: I refuse to let that thought ruin my impression of them. I am not letting negativity soil that.

Siargao Solo Adventures: I celebrated my birthday with strangers! (PART ONE)

Okay, so I said in my previous post that I wanted to be alone for my birthday. Yeah that didn’t happen. But as you know, you meet people and plans change.

The Introduction

The first people I befriended were two brothers from the Netherlands. We rode on the same propeller plane. Matthias and Jonathan were seated together while I was in the same row, but at the other side of the aisle. Right after the captain turned off the seatbelt sign, Matthias stood up to get a jacket from the overhead bin, since this tiny aircraft was getting surprisingly cold. He had been wearing only a tank top and khaki shorts. This amused me, so I made a comment about the temperature. Our conversation started there and only stopped once we retreated to our respective resorts.

island hopping in siargao
This is what Matthias’ back looks like. lol. I unfortunately wasn’t able to take a pic of the brother

The second is a beautiful Irish lady, Rebecca, who also came as a solo traveler. She’s been traveling for two months, and will be done after her sixth. She was my roommate for the three nights I stayed in Siargao (did I forget to mention that I’m back in the city?). She was really nice to let me stick with her – from eating breakfast, to lazing under the sun, to napping on the beach sofas. For the outsider, it might have looked like we were bestfriends who came backpacking together from Ireland (or from Australia since that’s where Rebecca lived before travelling). Funnily enough, we also left Siargao on the same day!

IMG_3164

IMG_4586
Rebecca and I reading on the sofa-couch-bed

If only I didn’t look like such a local.

For other people, this would have been weird. But Rebecca seemed like such a sport about it; so did Marianne and Gerard, whom Rebecca and I met while we went island hopping. We were in a small pump boat that had 9 other people on it, including the local boatmen. And aside from those boatmen, Mariane, Gerard, and I were the only Filipinos there. We hit it off after I approaced them on the shore, telling them I wanted a way to take my bikini shots without feeling embarrassed. They were so nice to have offered to take my pictures. Gerard ended up instructing me how to pose, while taking my pictures.

Sunsets in Siargao
That’s Marianne taking a pic of Gerard. #FrienshipGoals

So nice of him!