January 4, 2014
Wow, today was quite the day! The morning began with a scenic bus ride into the forests of Chiang Mai to the Maetaeng Elephant Park. This was one of the most beautiful spots that I have been to so far in Thailand. There were mountains surrounding the park with bright green trees everywhere. A clear river wrapped around the trails where the elephants walked. There were dogs, roosters, elephants, oxen, motorcycles, and tuk-tuks all zooming around the park making for quite a unique experience. Khadija and I rode together on our elephant named SidiQuan. It was such a bumpy, fun experience! It was a gorgeous route, and we even rode our elephant through the river! After the elephant ride, we saw an elephant show. The most amazing and impressive act that I saw at this show was an elephant painting. The elephant painted a picture of an elephant walking with trees and flowers surrounding…it was better than any painting that I could ever do! And the elephant even signed his name on the painting!!
After the elephants, we went bamboo-rafting through the river. This has been one of my favorite adventures because I was able to sit and just enjoy this beautiful country. The ride was so peaceful and serene as we paddled around the bends. It was also so fun being in nature. And to top off the day, I hung out with some tigers! Never in my life did I think that I would be petting, laying on, and taking pictures with a tiger. At one point the tiger looked me right in the eye, and he reminded me in that moment of the tiger, Richard Parker, from the movie Life of Pi.
After spending a lot of time in the city and busy marketplaces, it was so nice to spend a day in nature and with animals. I also reflected on the nature of Thai people and how everywhere I have been people are friendly, kind, gentle, and welcoming. Many people seem to hold the values and beliefs behind mindfulness, giving to others, and helping others that Buddhism teaches. For example, I was walking with the group along the busy sidewalks of Bangkok. We were lost, and a Thai woman approached us to help us find our way. She spent 15 minutes helping us with directions, asking us where we are from, explaining about the New Year traditions, and pointing us in the way of where to buy some cute purses. Now we are in the north in Chiang Mai, and people are the same way. A few days ago, a few of us were walking to a nearby coffee shop. When we got to the coffee place, it was closed. But as soon as the employers there saw us, they motioned for us to come in. They were more than happy to bring us coffee, give us the password for wifi, and welcome us in to sit down. In the United States, people walk and look straight ahead. Rarely will I look around and smile at the people walking by me. In Thailand, it is part of the culture to smile at the people around you and bow your head to say Sawadekah. Excited for our upcoming adventures in Chiang Rai!