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…)
These elephants I am about to show you, my dear reader, are in fact not single elephants but two groups of elephants found in temples to the south of Mawlamyine that we visited on a day trip. We enjoyed our stay in Mawlamyine, not just because of its slow pace, glittering golden stupas, and stunning sunsets over the river, but because it made a great base for such day trips. Burma is full of weird and wonderful things – another sight visited on such a day trip was a temple based around a series of rocks balanced precariously on top of each, painted gold. But onto the elephants… (more…)
We are now approaching the end of our three weeks in Burma (also known as Myanmar – there’s some controversy over which name to use). It’s an interesting country to visit, especially at this time when it’s in the process of opening up: Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party have just won a landslide victory and it looks like there could be a smooth transition of power in 2016. That looked impossible until just a few years ago. The general mood of the people we’ve met is one of optimism – although there is great poverty here, not to mention civil war and endemic corruption issues. But most people seem to think that Burma’s fortunes are on the rise. Even two or three years ago it was apparently dangerous to speak your mind about politics and tourists were warned to avoid mentioning any sensitive subjects that might get the local Burmese into trouble. But now people openly express admiration for “The Lady” (in a weird parallel to You-Know-Who in Harry Potter it used to be dangerous to speak of her openly) and dissatisfaction with the military regime. (more…)