Traveling to Kanchanburi Province
Located just two hours northwest of Bangkok is the Kanchanaburi Province of Thailand.Lush mountains and acres of sugar cane fields cover this rural province, and form a natural boundary along the bordering country of Myanmar. On Friday morning, coffee mug in hand, I boarded a $3 bus to Kanchanaburi from Bangkok. 😀When I finally arrived in Kanchanaburi, I had finished my coffee, and opted to use the bathroom at the local bus station.
Now I have seen many unusual public restrooms while living abroad, but this was the first time I have been asked to remove my shoes. 😕From the array of available bathroom sandals, I managed to find a sparkly silver pair, but it was a tight squeeze to say the least. Hah. 😛I felt like Cinderella’s stepsister trying to jam my foot into her glass slipper.To make matters more comical, there were no bathroom hooks and the squat toilet was set on a raised potty platform, literally sopping wet. There was also no flush handle, but a bucket full of water that must be poured down the drain using a kitchen bowl. Imagine this circus act as I shuffled my way onto the slippery platform, balancing all my baggage above my head. Ladies and Gentleman. 😀 Get ready for the big show!Absolute nonsense! Luckily, my last yoga class paid off, as it improved my balance and I managed to escape that near disaster without a splash! Hah. 😉
Accommodation in Kanchanaburi
Anyway, while in Kanchanaburi, I stayed one night at Bluestar Guesthouse. 😀
History of Kanchanaburi
Now you may have heard of the River Kwai from the famous war movie, The Bridge on the River Kwai.The movie is based on the true story of life in Kanchanaburi, post WWII. During this time, British POWs were forced by Japanese militants to build a bridge from Thailand to Burma, in hopes of building up their land base.The prisoners of war built the rail line under extreme heat, horrendous working conditions, and with an impossible timeline, such that over 13,000 men lost their lives. For this reason, the connecting bridge was appropriately named, the Death Railway. Segments of the line are still functioning today, and visitors have the opportunity to walk or ride the rail. Quite eerie.
As well, visitors can pay their respects by visiting the neighboring memorial cemetery.Although Kanchanaburi has a grim history, it’s barely visible today.
Along the river are many shops and hotels, with a surprisingly hopping nightlife along the river. 😀
Party boats blasting karaoke music. Relaxing in the town square.Although my visit to the war memorial was incredibly humbling, my main motive for visiting this province was to volunteer for a worthy cause. 😀Thailand is home to a diverse array of flora and fauna; however, their most famous native species is also one of their most endangered. 😦
Today there about 6,000 Asian elephants in Thailand, which is a decline from 100,000 elephants just a century ago. The wild elephant population declined mainly from poaching, deforestation, and domestication. Elephants were forced to work for logging companies, trekking camps, and as street entertainment. For nearly a century these domesticated elephants have suffered from being overworked and malnourished, in a less-than-ideal environment.
Luckily, things have been slowly improving. 😀
The logging industry has banned elephant labor, Thai laws have banned elephants from urban cities, and more non-profit organizations have created peaceful sanctuaries for these animals to live. 🙂
After searching internet reviews and personal recommendations, I finally found a good organization to support. 😀
Elephant World in Kanchanaburi Province was opened by a Thai veterinarian, in hopes of providing a natural retirement home for these domesticated elephants.
Early Saturday morning, I was picked up in Kanchanaburi by Elephant World. Twelve other volunteers and myself hopped into an open truck bed and began our road trip into the mountains. 😀Look, I packed bananas to make some new friends! 😉The sanctuary in Kanchanaburi currently has 20 elephants, which is a lot of mouths to feed, considering an elephant eats around 300 lbs of food each day.
They even care for water buffalo and other livestock.
When we first arrived, it was breakfast time, and we began by feeding baskets of fruit to the elephants from the feeding platform.
Observation bridge and feeding platform. We hand-fed each elephant a bushel of cucumber, melon, corn and bananas. 😀 In the afternoon, we prepared batches of sticky rice for the geriatric elephants. After 60 years of age, elephants lose their teeth and can no longer handle hard fruits. We prepared rice balls using rice grain, squash and moistened elephant pellets, all rolled into a calcium powder and fed to the older ladies. 😉Some of the animals suffer from physical and emotional damage from their lifelong abuse, while others are fortunate to have been rescued at an early age. 🙂
Other daily tasks at Elephant World include cutting bana grass, planting corn, and washing fruit to remove pesticides.
Munching on the sweet bana grass. 🙂 Most produce here is covered in pesticides, which need to be washed off, since elephants eat the whole fruit, including rind and peel.Preparing fruit baskets. The organization is trying to grow their own crops, but must buy a lot of their food with so many mouths to feed. Donations benefit mostly food purchases, but medical supplies and miscellaneous items as well.The volunteer retreat cared for the volunteers as well by providing a delicious vegetarian buffet of battered squash, mushroom curry, fried eggs, spicy coconut soup and rice.
Lunchroom lodge. Lunch guest. 😉
Most people volunteer for one day, but I chose to do an overnight program. 🙂
I had a lovely wooden cabana with attached bathroom, and a private deck overlooking the river.Jungle surroundings. 🙂 During my extended stay, I chose to focus solely on working with one elephant named To-me. 🙂To-me was born in 1964 and forced to work in both logging and trekking camps for years until she was rescued by the sanctuary. She is a grandmother, and also cares for the two youngest orphaned elephants in the herd.
Here she is caring for the young pups during play time in the mud. 😛
Testing out the waters. 😛
On my second day volunteering, I took To-me and her friend Gaina down to relax and play by the river.
To-me and Gaina stopped a lot along the way, to eat grass and scratch their butts on the trees. 😛Working and bonding with To-me was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 😀After feeding her a bushel of fruit, we were able to take the elephants into the river to bathe with each other and play around in the water. 😀
To-me playing with her best friend Gaina. Look how happy they are together! 😀
Although these vocalizations might sound intimidating, these roars and grumbles are actually displays of extreme excitement as these two friends are reunited. 😀
Now these mahouts, or caretakers spend many years working with the same elephant. For example, To-me’s mahout has been with her for over eight years.
Overall, the motto at Elephant Word is, “We work for the elephants. They don’t work for us.”
What a tranquil environment and a beautiful spot to enjoy a well-deserved retirement. Cheers! 😀After a long day, I walked with To-me and her caretaker back into the forest, where she stays during the night.
Elephants graze on food for 16 hours each day, and in the forest here, she can find lots of bamboo and grass to eat.
They say elephants never forget, and I sure know that I’ll never forget my experience with To-me either. ❤
Volunteering at the elephant sanctuary cost 120 USD for two days, including four meals and a cabana, plus roundtrip transportation. A fantastic organization to support, and a great way to educate everyone about the plight of this beautiful creature.
Back to School
Anyway, now I’m back to school and the main focus of my first lesson was introducing myself to each class. 😀
I had a fun activity planned as the students were placed in pairs, and half the kids were given a picture of “Miss Megan” on an adventure around the world. Their task was to describe that picture for their partner to draw.
Check out the silly captions! 😀
It helped the kids learn more about their teacher, and helped me learn a bit more about their level of English and the classroom dynamic. Successful activity and quite a creative bunch! 😀
Well, the weekend is right around the corner and I’ll be moving into my new condo, as well as, celebrating Halloween in this crazy city. Stay tuned to hear all about it! 😀