NB: this post was actually written in December 2015 as the last elephant on my South East Asia trip. However it has evaded publication up til this point!
The highlight of our day trip from Bangkok to Ayutthaya was certainly the discovery of this elephant centre. Ayutthaya is the ancient capital of Thailand, and Christine and I visited it on one of our final days in Thailand, just before I flew home. The ruins were also interesting but unfortunately very much still in ruins after having been razed by the Burmese in 1767. In its day it had been one of the foremost cities of the world, but it was quite hard to imagine the place in all its former glory, especially as it was a baking hot day and we were perspiring greatly as we biked around the various temples (before finding an amazing smoothie-juice bar).
We decided not to take a ride on the elephants as I’m never quite sure about the ethics of elephant rides for tourists, but we did buy a basket of food, and had a great time feeding (or having food stolen by) several of the elephants. For an interesting discussion about elephants and tourism, do check out this post. Though the author of that blog decided to give the Ayutthaya elephants a ride, I think it’s an issue that it’s very important to be aware of as a tourist visiting a country that has elephants, so if you do decide to do it, at least you know what you’re doing. I got a bit of a behind-the-scenes insight of the elephant industry in my time in Rajasthan in India in 2011, and after having been appalled by what was going on (exploitation of both elephants and humans by one very selfish man in search of huge profits), I decided not to ride any more elephants unless I could be quite sure of the situation. That’s probably enough elephant-preaching from me for one post…
Two elephants from our stay in Bangkok – one old, one new.
Elephant No. 35 – Jim Thompson House
This beautiful old wooden elephant comes from the Jim Thompson house in Bangkok, the lovingly preserved abode of an American silk trader who made Bangkok his home in the middle of the 20th century. I was interested to see the house having already encountered the myth of Jim Thompson when we stayed in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia way back in September. This was the last place he was seen alive in 1967 before he vanished off the face of the planet after going for a walk here and was never seen again. Nobody knows what happened to him – no body has ever been found – but some suspect CIA involvement as he was becoming vocally anti-American. In any case it’s probably a clue as to how little there is to do in the Cameron Highlands that major attractions included “the last house Jim Thompson stayed in”, “the last bar Jim Thompson went to” and so forth. But it made me extra keen to visit his house in Bangkok and find out a little more about him. (more…)
What do you do when the country you are visiting is unexpectedly clothed in a thick cloud of smog? Before visiting Malaysia, “haze” was not a common word in my vocabulary, but it has become one I have had to use far too often in the past couple of weeks, as most conversations with Malaysians – when not discussing the corruption of Najib – have revolved around this horrible, horrible haze. I have been to cities before with bad air pollution (cough, cough Beijing) but had never experienced this quantity of smog ever before. In KL, we bought tickets to go up the tall Menara tower, for views over the city – but could not see past the nearest skyscraper: everything else just blended into a brown dusty mist. When we went out into the countryside to the Cameron Highlands, the haze followed: walks through the mossy forest were interrupted by coughing fits and shortness of breath, while the vistas over the rolling hills of tea plantations were ruined by the fact you couldn’t see further than a few metres. It wasn’t until we reached Georgetown in Penang that our patience finally ran out: the news was filled with stories of how many Malaysian schools had been closed because of the haze, and citizens were advised to stay indoors as much as possible. Nice as our heritage-style guesthouse was, having to stay inside for the remainder of our Malaysian trip did not much appeal. Alex had been away for a week and a half and had yet to see the sun – when we looked up, there was no blue, no cloud, just an unending expanse of grey – and I was getting tired of constantly feeling like we were walking behind a car exhaust. (more…)