A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: DenOS.08

Elephant walk in Chiang Rai

Saddle sore on the gentlest of mammals

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There is no other image as identifiable of Thai culture than the elephant. This ancient beast has had a long and valuable impact on this country as a working companion and as a powerful attack force over the centuries. But these gentle creatures are in danger of neglect from unemployment and destruction by the still active illegal ivory poaching. Their once valuable contribution to farming and other heavy work related activities has diminished since the banning of logging in 1989, so it was without hesitation that I opted to go on an ‘elephant safari’ to keep one elephant and its mahout employed and fed for at least another day.

The Chiang Rai safari may not be as large as the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre in Lampang Province near Chiang Mai, but I’m not sure I wanted to go as far as seeing these regal creatures performing tricks, I just wanted to get close to them, to sense their temperament, to feel the texture of their skin, to understand more of their manner. So with my guide, Joy, we set off on an hour-long boat trip to reach the Karen village and our mount.

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It’s a sudden sight as we turn around a bend in the river to be confronted by a gaggle of elephants, saddled up and tethered along the riverbank, a mounting hut dominant and waiting our arrival.

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Before climbing into the saddle be sure to buy at least three bags of elephant food at 20 THB each or three for 50 THB. These consist of bananas and cut sugar cane and help the elephant’s food intake of up to 400 kg a day. The saddle is cramped for two people and one leg hangs over a square steel frame, but you’re too preoccupied at this stage to care as you mount and head off down the main street of the village towards the distant mountains. But, the first thing I learn about our elephant, apart from her name being ‘Rumpoon’, is that she doesn’t like the sound motorcars or motorbikes and starts to turn for home. The mahout gives out a shrill order and a rub behind the ears with his feet, she reluctantly obeys and continues in the right direction after the motorists have passed.

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The ‘safari’ I’m on is for two hours and Rumpoon’s slow, gentle stride takes us through farmland, hillside plantations and into the jungle high in the mountains. The trail followed gets thinner and at various times Rumpoon chooses the trickle of a watercourse to follow. The trail can be very steep and high up in the mountains the drop each side can be worrying, but the elephant is no fool and considers each step taken with great care. Her step is soft leaving little if any foot print in the ground as she shuffles slowly along, sometimes too slow for the mahout who can get a little impatient and gives out with a whack of a heavy chain, a disturbing action that makes my guide Joy issue a complaint.

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As food is thrown in front of Rumpoon regularly she’ll quicken her step to sniff out the offering, deftly curl her trunk around the sugarcane or bunch of bananas and lift to her mouth. After a time the mahout dismounts from Rumpoon and I’m offered his place. Sliding out of the saddle and onto her neck, I now have unencumbered contact as I rest my feet behind her ears and pat her coarse, hairy head, my level of emotion is lifted as I feel the power yet gentleness of this graceful 41-year-old lady. Then as if in protest at the mahout, who is now walking behind her, she aims a 2-gallon sneeze at him. What a wonderful gesture, I feel.

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At the end of the 2-hour trek and after I’d returned to the saddle, we reach our destination on the other side of the mountain. Saddle-sore we climb out, buy three more bags of food, which is devoured immediately and sadly bid farewell to our gentle friend.

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Posted by DenOS.08 22:05 Archived in Thailand Tagged animal Comments (2)

Bangkok in a flash

Filling in a few hours in the heart of the concrete jungle

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Flying into the new Suvarnabhumi International Airport from Budapest gives you the first hint of what’s to come in the vast metropolis of Bangkok. The airport is huge and its architecture as erratic and a little over the top as is downtown with its mega sized shopping complexes and the criss-cross of heavy concrete skyways and over passes that tend to knit together in one massive concrete jungle. The constant traffic snarls at ground level makes you realise that these elevated passageways are the only safest way get from one side of the broad, choked street to the other, forcing pedestrians to navigate on high in an atmosphere of thick pollution from the crawling, tooting traffic below. It’s almost as if airports reflect the good or bad growth of the city they service for the older Don Mueang Airport is far more simpler as probably Bangkok was years ago.


So, I arrive late afternoon and have a flight to catch early the next afternoon giving me an evening and a morning to experience what I can of Bangkok. Having done some research, I decided to stay overnight at a little cheap hostel called Wendy’s House. Basically for backpackers but as I’m starting to realise the 60-plusses are now having their second go at youthful travel, or maybe reliving their hippy days, and are a good percentage of inmates. Wendy’s is in a small street near the Siam Centre and the massive Central World Plaza and for about $30 a night with breakfast and friendly, helpful staff, it’s small but fine.

So checked in, now what do I do as the sun is starting to go down and I’m getting hungry? I go across the concrete overpasses to the MBK complex. Here on the fifth floor is a more upmarket hawkers food bazaar called, naturally, the Fifth Floor Avenue Food Hall. You enter the pristine compound and given a smart card, unfortunately no photography allowed inside so I can’t show you the checkout, but it’s very much like the hawkers food stalls that are still spread across outer parts of the city and across Asia. The prices are a little higher but for around $10 you can still have a substantial meal and a beer from a pretty good variety of international cuisines. You make your choice of dishes from the snap-frozen displays, your card is swiped and you’re given a receipt. Your dish is freshly coked on the spot and when you’ve finished your meal you pay the total of you receipts as you exit. The large eating area that is extremely well managed and kept very clean.

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After a meal I was a bit tired so a stroll back across the bridge to the Siam Discovery Centre to watch a bit of skateboarding in the Centres atrium with thrills and spills aplenty.

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Next morning after an ample breakfast I longed for a Thai massage. This is what every visitor must have but be aware that there are varying degrees of those whose hands will be upon you as to their ability to give a good, strong massage. The parlour across opposite Wendy’s I can recommend.

With a new sense of wellbeing, I headed for the Jim Thompson Silk Museum in the next street. A 30-minute tour costs 100THB and is most interesting to hear of this American who reinvigorated the silk industry in Thailand last century and over this period managed to build a remarkable collection of rare and valuable art objects. He disappeared while on holidays in Malaysia in his 61st year (the age of his predicted death by his astrology reading) and no trace of his body has been found to this day.

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With only an hour left before heading back to the domestic airport, Don Mueang, and catching a flight up north, I thought, while I’m up here in the hovering world of the pedestrian, I’ll go for a ride in the Sky Train, the elevated train that shares one of the concrete corridors. For 35THB (just over a dollar) you can travel into five zones (13THB for one zone). The ride gives another aspect to Bangkok and you get a greater understanding of the growth of this city coming eye-to-eye with tall buildings as you weave you way through them.


Bangkok is huge and I only saw a minute example of what’s offered, but you can in a very short time get to feel the excitement and energy of this city and unfortunately breathe in its fumes at the same time!

Posted by DenOS.08 17:25 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Cesky Budejovice to Budapest by train

Sit back and enjoy the show

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My decision to train it to Budapest from the city of Cesky Budejovice, south of Prague, was made for two reasons. First, to rest my weary legs from walking non-stop around Amsterdam and Prague for two weeks, and second, to savor some of the countryside from ground level as opposed to glimpses between winter clouds.


I decided to choose the route via Wien (Vienna) that would take me through the Southern Bohemia Region, Austria and into Hungary with a change of trains in Linz, Austria This second leg train is reserved seating. The cost is about 67euro, a bit more expensive than the route through the Czech Republic via Brno and into Hungary. This train originates from Prague and passes through Cesky Budejovice.

The weather is a little un-seasonal as temperatures are around the 16 to 18 degrees for the last month of winter, so the fields are being prepared for the spring crops adding some beautiful patterns to the passing landscapes.

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The one thing that did interest and excite me was the large wind farms spreading across parts of Austria. If they can do it, one may ask? To me they add a sort of elegant and calming beauty knowing they help to address our world devastating past misuse.


The first leg from Cesky Budejovice to Linz takes two hours and the second leg to Budapest a longer five hours. The trains are smooth and comfortable and maybe it’s the time of the year, but I managed to have a compartment all to myself for most of the way. Station directions are easy to follow and the Linz station is quite large and modern.

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One thing about traveling by train through Europe and crossing three borders in one day, these days there's no borders and it's difficult to know what country you're in most of the time, so I only hope I've captioned these pictures with the correct location.

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Like all visitors stepping off any form of transport in any European or Asian city, you will be greeted enthusiastically by touts offering taxis, accommodation or any other form of traveller comforts and Budapest is no exception, but hesitate before accepting and read up on trusted and metered taxi companies to deal with or you could be parting with to much of your hard earned.


One last thing about the European stations I have entered or exited, be it Amsterdam, Prague and now Budapest, the scene that greets you is one of a construction site. Let’s hope that what’s finally constructed offers the visitor a friendlier and more attractive welcome.


Posted by DenOS.08 17:15 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged train_travel Comments (0)

Cesky Krumlov

Touristy or tourist attraction?

Take the 533 highway out of Prague for about two hours heading to the South Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic, turn off at Cesky Budejovice for another thirty minutes and you come across the little town of Cesky Krumlov. This historic town, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is divided into three parts by the swirling Vlatva River that does a sort of S-shape around some of the most beautiful, quaint, attractive – you name it – houses and alleyways you can find, constantly dominated by the towering Krumlov Castle.

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The town and castle’s creation started in the late 13th century and was owned by the House of Rosenberg (hence the rose on the town shield). The town went through several owners until becoming part of the Austrian Empire in 1806. During WWII it was annexed by Nazis Germany as part of the Sudentenland then after the war the German-speaking population were expelled and restored back to Czechoslovakia for a short time until the communist control until the Velvet Revolution in 1989. In that period the town, like many in Czechoslovakia, fell into disrepair. The town is still in the process of restoration but it has now regained much of the original architecture, style, character, culture and beauty.

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But some may say it is too quaint, too fairy-tale picturesque, too touristy! Be that as it may, it is not the fault of the town, for that is how it is. Yes it is touristy in that it is one of the main tourist attractions to the Czech Republic and the town derives most of its income from tourists, but so has many similar places around the world and it’s a sign of the times that gothic, medieval, baroque and many other traditional styles have fallen into the guise of Disneyland-ish!

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My advise is to visit these places in the off season to have the room to move freely and the space to take in the true beauty that was once the normal town of yesteryear.

I stayed at the Hotel Rose, a very comfortable hotel across the river from the old town. The view from my upstairs room makes me believe it’s worthwhile not to stay within the old town but just outside so you can wake to a visa that takes your imagination back seven centuries.

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By the way, the hotel is up for sale and if you have a spare 4 million dollars handy???

Posted by DenOS.08 20:43 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (1)

A quick snapshot of Prague

A city that has paid its ransom

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How a city can regain its status as one of the most beautiful and cultural in Europe after being through so much despair, brutality and turmoil in less than a century is a credit to the strength of its inheritance.

Since WWI, Prague has been the punching bag and stepping stone of Communism, then the ravaging inhumanity of the Nazis occupation in WWII only to be thrown back into the depressed state of communist disrepair and cultural insensitivity.

But it has, and in the relatively short period since the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and the formation of the Czech Republic, the attention to detail that originally created such a wealth of architectural wonder has begun to shine through. There is still much to be done, but the signs of its abuse linger as a reminder, a vast monument of human against humanity, that itself remains its own form of culture.

The following is a small sample of Prague as it is today, a minute picture of life getting back to mundane normality, but in anything but a mundane environment.

Tourism is the predominant industry in the old centre of Town. But some lessons could be learnt in smiling, friendly, service and how to make a decent, drinkable coffee. The food is rich, fatty but rather tasty, roast pork, dumplings (ask for the potato ones rather than bread) and red and white sauerkraut is the local speciality and goes well with the great beers to choose from. Just like Amsterdam, smoking is part of the eating scene and dogs are welcome to sit with their owners while they dine, getting stood on occasionally with a sharp yelp and then dropping their load in the street at any time, which makes wandering the streets looking up at the marvelous buildings and spires a step, possible, in the wrong direction!

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Prague Castle dominates the inner city and is one of the few castles that actually continue to perform official residential duties.


The broad Vlatava River that winds around the old town is reason for the beautiful bridges, the Charles Bridge being the most recognised, photographed and walked over and a sunny Saturday stroll across is accompanied by bands, performers, cartoonists, craft and souvenir stalls as the parade of imposing statutes perform a guard of honour.

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Walking is the recommended form of transport within the older centre of town. A 2 to 4 hour walking tour will take you past most sights and attractions for you to revisit for a closer look later. There’s an extensive network of Metro, tram and bus services that criss-cross the city but the amount of walking in the Metro between platforms and staggering depth of the escalators just to get to or between trains may make you wonder if in fact you’re saving time or leg-power.

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Terezin is the site of the Nazis prison camp and there ‘Final Solution’ were many Jews were interned under some of the worst brutality and conditions to ultimately vanished. The Smaller Fortress, while distressing, cannot fully reveal the horrors endured there and the irony is that on a cold, frosty morning the place takes on a rather elegant disguise.

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The nearby Terezin Ghetto shows the signs of progressive disrepair and retains a sense of morbidity that still prevents many from living there, but there are people and a life among the hovering memories.

There is a lot more to learn about Prague and a lot more walking to be done.

Posted by DenOS.08 02:38 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (1)

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