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…
Unfortunately, Kyrgyzstan turned out to be rather thin on elephants. This was an ornament I found in a homestay in Kyzyl Oi, a small village in the Suusamyr valley – I think it was the only elephant I spotted in the whole country! (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…)
I found both of these elephants in the Hindu temple compound of Prambanan, near Yogyakarta in Central Java. Prambanan was built in the 9th century AD, when Java was heavily influenced by India: both Hinduism and Buddhism arrived in the area in this period from India. Unfortunately the temples have been quite damaged by recent earthquakes, though reconstruction work is currently underway – but I very much enjoyed my visit there, following a trip to the amazing Buddhist temple of Borobudur that morning at dawn. At Prambanan, I was given an enthusiastic free tour around the temples by two 17 year old Indonesian school girls who were studying tourism at high school, part of which included a month’s stay in Prambanan, showing tourists around and practising their English. (more…)