Thailand | Elephants and Gratongs

Waking up exhausted but excited, Katia and I wandered sleepily downstairs, having barely awoken. After a rather extended breakfast (we are, after all, on “Thai time” now), we headed off to Maesa, an elephant conservation center. While it was fun to experience riding an elephant in the forest, it is naturally a difficult sight to watch. Such is the predicament of the environmentalist, or conscious tourist; after all, you cannot simply release the elephants back in the wild, and they do need to be fed. However, this seems quite the place to be an elephant, if one must be confined. The signs even read, “Please feed the elephants a bunch of bananas and sugarcane.” A surprising treat: the close proximity of the elephants to humans. They could be touched and hugged, experienced from inches away with minimal guidance. I was pleased to see that everyone around seemed to exude love for the animals, treating them gently for the most part. The elephants are very talented, actually. They can paint, roll about, and do various kinds of acrobatics. I would recommend a careful examination of any camp you plan on visiting, as this type of treatment could easily go awry.

A trip to the main market in Chiang Mai was next on the agenda. The lively street was full of fried bugs, fresh fruits, live fish, and thousands of other unrecognizable foods. The inside section consisted of multiple floors, mazes of goods, including replica silks and clothing. Each level had a different smell, consistently strong and distinct. Masses of meats and flopping fish filled one corner, while candied treats and sticky rices would cover another. Just over a little footbridge, we all found ourselves reunited over tea and dinner, sharing our experiences. Chiang Mai was once again celebrating, and we separated once again on a miniature odyssey. Each river was covered in Gratongs, small decorated candle boats, some made of food, others of cork or wood. We set our own on fire and released it off a little dock, where it joined thousands in floating downstream. This is a true festival of light. A must-see is the night bazaar, where one can haggle until one’s feet give out. I even bought a silver hair pin among my other souvenirs. By accident, we discovered an indoor market where locals were singing along with the performers, and young hipsters were stocking up on foods and goods. Eventually, we hailed a rot-dang and headed home. I only caught on fire once today.

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