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Udon Thani ~ Ban Chiang 10k 2018

11 Mar

Our visit to Udon Thani for the long weekend of Chinese New Year was perfectly in keeping with my pattern of signing up to run races specifically so that I have an excuse to visit somewhere random. Following my half marathon in December, I registered for another race to keep my motivation levels up. Unique Running, the company that organizes the Ayutthaya and Khao Yai races that I have participated in, added another event to their annual repertoire. All of their race venues are World Heritage Sites, and the new race led around the archaeological park in Ban Chiang. Udon Thani/Ban Chiang seemed perfect for both racing and obscure adventure, so off we went!

Udon Thani is the largest city in the northeastern Isan region of Thailand. Udon Thani was the location of a Royal Thai Air Force base during the Vietnam War; the city grew up around the base, and is currently home to Thailand’s largest Vietnamese community. Today, the local economy is based on mining, commerce, and tourism from people visiting Ban Chiang, the tiny town that lies a forty-five minute drive to the east. Ban Chiang was a sleepy village until 1966, when valuable archaeological items were discovered. Supposedly, an anthropology student was walking through the countryside on his way to interview the locals when he tripped over a kapok root and fell on top of some pots, which turned out to be ancient pottery. The oldest graves and relics date from 2100 BCE, and the most recent to around 200 BCE. Items of interest include bronze weapons and artifacts, which were originally not thought to have been present in the area at that time, and a red-painted pottery type that is unique to the site. Also of note are the remains of a 3,000-year-old dog, who was named Thong Boran by the former king (thong means “gold”, unsure what boran translates to in English). Thong Boran was the official race mascot.

Aside from the archaeological site and adjacent museum, one of the other main attractions near Udon Thani is Talay Bua Dang, aka the Red Lotus Sea (tally ~ sea, bua ~ lotus, daeng ~ red [I knew that one from ordering wine!]). Technically, it is a lake and the lotus flowers are pink, but it is still most impressive. The flowers are at their peak bloom before the sun gets too hot, so we arose bright and early Saturday morning. We made the short drive south to the lake through some gorgeous countryside, and chartered a small boat (hooray boats!). The first few minutes of our ride were unremarkable; cool breeze, pleasant views, but nothing special. And then… flowers! Millions of bright pink flowers spread across the lake’s surface in a vibrant carpet that stretched as far as the eye could see. The blossoms perched atop green stalks, hovering a foot or so above the shallow water. Certain boat routes were well-traveled, and their bare paths resembled roads winding through the flowers. At various points, our driver floated our pontoon boat to a stop and we spent some time drifting, completely surrounded by lotuses. I went a little crazy with the photography ~ it was hard not to! Oliver also enjoyed the boat ride; he seems to have taken after his mama and makes enthusiastic noises when taking odd forms of transportation (he loves a good golf cart or tuk tuk journey). We spent two hours motoring around the lake before heading back to shore for a cheap and tasty breakfast from the stalls that were set up around the dock. I have read that the lotus blooms are at their prime during cool season, November to February, so we visited just in time!

The following morning, I was up shockingly early (before my child) for the drive out to Ban Chiang. The 10k began at 6am sharp. After our late start in the half marathon, I made a point of being punctual. In Ayutthaya, the race organizers are clearly expecting many farang to participate; signs and announcements take place in both English and Thai. This was not the case in Ban Chiang. I was the one of only five foreigners I saw running, and the only female. At the starting line, the announcer led the crowd in cheers exclusively in Thai. I followed along by raising my arms and yelling when everyone else did, until they began counting down from ten. Sip, gao, baat, jet… Numbers are part of my Thai vocabulary, so I knew to get ready! The race route was delightful. The area around Ban Chiang is very rural, and the course wound past rice paddies and fruit orchards. A fair number of people came out to wave and smile at the runners, and sometimes take photos. At one point, I heard someone holler in English, and looked around to see an older farang gentleman waving at me from inside the gate of a small home. I think he and I were both surprised to see one another!

I finished the 10k at a speedier pace than I had mentally planned on, so I was quite pleased with myself. As I stretched and hydrated around the finish line, a Thai fellow approached me and introduced himself as “an important cardiologist”. He and his team of nurses had participated in the racing, and he called them all over to meet me. I ended up in their group photo; I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t request a copy on my phone! I did find a photo of the cardiologist in the official race pics. I ended up in several other selfies as well. We’re fairly used to getting stared at now that we live in Asia, but the gawking was particularly intense over the course of the weekend. The internet seems to think there are many expats living around Udon Thani, but it certainly felt like foreigners are still considered a novelty. I loved the countryside around Ban Chiang, and told Orestes we should return another time to relax in one of the available homestays. We’ll see if he agrees. 😉


Canal Boat & Bikes

25 Feb

The last time my mom visited, we took a fabulous bike tour of Sukhothai. She has spoken of it glowingly, so on this visit I suggested another biking adventure. I’ve become quite the fan of the Grasshopper bike tour company; I’m also a huge boating enthusiast, so when I saw that Grasshopper offered a tour combining bikes and khlong boats, I was sold. Mom readily agreed and off we went! Our tour group was small: mom and I, a French couple, and our guide (I believe his name was Tob). We departed from the bike shop near Khao San Road early in the morning, and followed a series of narrow, twisting alleyways until we reached the bank of the Chao Phraya River. A large portion of Old Bangkok lies on the west side of the river, across from most of the modern city. One of the sections of Old Bangkok is the former Portuguese settlement of Santa Cruz. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to formally recognize the Kingdom of Siam, and Santa Cruz was established by Portuguese traders. As our ferry crossed the river, we could see the Church of Santa Cruz, the first stop on our tour. The church was constructed in 1769, and was originally made of wood, but it has been reconstructed several times. The current brick-and-mortar church is cream-colored with pink trim. The main dome is also intensely pink, making the church quite visible from the river.

The area around the church is called Kudeejeen, which roughly translates as “Chinese Shrine”. The first Chinese Buddhist Shrine in Bangkok is located not far from Santa Cruz, and the area is an eclectic mix of traditions. Kudeejeen is known for some Portuguese culinary treats, specifically kana farang kudeejeen, or “Chinese Monk Candy” (kanom = dessert, farang = Western foreigners, jeen = Chinese). The treats are a Portuguese cupcake recipe with Chinese toppings, and supposedly are the first kind of cake made in Thailand. We stopped at the Thanusingha Bakery House, one of the oldest in Bangkok, and sampled some of the cupcakes along with Thai tea. I wasn’t that enamored of the cupcakes, but the building that houses the bakery was charming. The houses in the area are the traditional Asian shophouses (shop downstairs, living space upstairs). For preservation purposes and protection from floods, many of these shophouses now have concrete walls on the first floor, but retain the older teak boarding on the upper floors. The teak is beautiful, and is elaborately decorated with carvings on many of the houses.

After our midmorning snack, we cycled along the back lanes to Wat Kalayanamit. The temple has strong Chinese influences, and houses the largest seated Buddha in Bangkok. The statue nearly fills the prayer hall, and is most impressive. Outside the main hall there is a giant bell. Ringing it is thought to bring good luck, so we did! Our second temple stop was Wat Hong Rattanaram. Inside the temple is a sacred pool; legend said there was an ancient rock containing scripture lying at the bottom. The rock was recently found and is on display nearby. Taksin the Great, a famous king from the 18th century, used the temple as a staging point for his armies. Before heading off to battle, King Taksin would march his armies past the temple. Priests stood on platforms and sprinkled holy water as they passed below, ensuring good fortune. It must have worked because King Taksin successfully liberated Siam from the Burmese.

We had lunch alongside the Bang Luang canal. I learned recently that luang means “royal” ~ apparently the royal family used to take boats to and from the palace along this canal route. Tob went to purchase our lunch, and returned with giant plastic bags filled with what appeared to be rainbow-colored cheese puffs. It turned out to be fish food; huge Mekong catfish inhabit the canal, and people pose for photo ops while feeding them. The fish were voracious! (see video below) After ensuring that both the fish and the humans were well-fed, we crossed the khlong to the Artists’ House, aka Baan Silapin, a teak building over 200 years old that is part art gallery, part theatre. Local artists perform traditional Thai puppet shows daily, working to keep the ancient craft alive. The puppeteers dress entirely in black, and dance along with the puppets. The show was a mixture of Thai, English, and visual comedy that needed no translation. After the show, we posed with the puppets.

The final portion of our boat and bike tour was the boating! From Baan Silapin, we loaded our bikes onto a private long tail boat, and set off along the khlongs. I’ve mentioned before that Bangkok is known as the “Venice of the East“. The canals are quite similar to streets; there are intersections with signs, and doorsteps leading down to the water’s edge. Tons of trees and flowering bushes overhang the canals, and many of the houses have small gardens that back up to the khlong. Mom and I were both ready to relax, and it was nice to sit back and enjoy the scenery. Tob had sharp eyes, and spotted several enormous monitor lizards sunbathing on various perches near the water. I had been wanting a good monitor photo and I was psyched that Mom got to see them. Eventually, we exited a side canal into the Chao Phraya, crossed back to the east bank, and cycled back to the shop. Our boat/bike tour was a lovely way to spend one of Mom’s last days in Thailand!


Ayutthaya Half Marathon 2017

22 Jan

One of the things I love about living in Thailand are the many opportunities for running races in awesome places at a low cost. While I was preggo, a friend recommended setting a post-baby running goal to motivate myself back into shape. The annual Ayutthaya half marathon was perfectly timed to take place almost exactly ten months after munchkin man was born. I figured ten months preggo, ten months to train, and so I optimistically registered.

Since I am a bit of a Type A, I enjoy a good schedule (bonus points if it’s color-coded). I downloaded and meticulously adhered to a Couch to 10k plan, and followed that up with my favorite half training plan. Twenty-eight weeks later… race time! The race date this year was December 10th, which is a delightful time of year in Thailand; cool season has begun and the humidity has dropped. The race begins at 5:30am, so you’re half finished before the sun even rises. A whole bunch of fun people in our Ramkhamhaeng Runners group came up to Ayutthaya to participate in the various races, but my friend Caroline and I were the only ones running the half distance.

We arrived at the race location on time, but in a series of fun events managed to miss the starting bell. We crossed the starting line thirteen minutes into the race, and headed off into the pre-dawn darkness. Caroline is one speedy lady, and she promptly took off like a gazelle, leaving me to contentedly plod along. There were occasional street lights, and helpful signs pointing out the route of the 21k, but other than that I was completely alone. The beginning of races are often a big kerfuffle with herds of runners sorting themselves out, so setting out solo was a very relaxing way to begin the run. The race route leads around several of Ayutthaya’s temples, and through some residential neighborhoods. I passed an elderly gentleman runner around the 2k mark, and a monk beginning his alms rounds. I was bopping along, thoroughly enjoying myself, until I rounded a darkened corner and was confronted by a large pack of soi dogs! Suddenly I remembered why it’s nice to run with a large group of my fellow humans. I paused, the dogs paused, and then they slowly sauntered into the shadows of a nearby temple. I breathed a sigh of relief, and continued on my way. Around 4k I caught up to the race stragglers, and from there on out I was with the herd.

I was pleasantly surprised by how the race felt. Getting back into running shape after pregnancy is quite the process, a process that is ongoing even as I type. I was mentally prepared for the half marathon to feel like death (she said without a hint of drama). However, it felt great! At 11k, I realized I was halfway done, and got a huge burst of energy. I was so pepped up that I had to remind myself to slow down, as there were nearly six miles left to go. I kept up a steady pace the whole race, and finished several minutes under my 2:30 goal. I wasn’t as speedy as pre-preggo, but it was my fastest effort at a long run since the munchkin man arrived, so I was pretty proud of myself. I was so psyched that I promptly signed up for another race! Tales of my February 10k will be sure to appear. 🙂


9 Jun

Since the tiny gentleman joined us, I’ve tried to make it a habit to take evening stroller walks around our neighborhood. The munchkin gets some fresh air and sometimes a relaxing snooze, and I get to stretch my legs. I have taken to ambling up one side street (yaek) of our ‘hood and down another, often making a bit of a loop. Occasionally I run errands while out and about, but normally I wander without a set plan. Prior to these walks, the majority of my moving throughout the neighborhood had been via motorbike; it has been highly enjoyable taking in the scenery at a significantly slower speed. Many of the yaeks were uncharted territory, and I’ve discovered all manner of intriguing sights over the past few months.

One of my favorite things has been admiring and photographing the abundant greenery. A large portion of Thailand is lush and green and fabulous, and our neighborhood is no exception. Every nook and cranny has something growing in it. Crack in the sidewalk? There’s a plant sprouting. Empty beer can? Makes a great repurposed planter. Leave your bike laying around a little too long? There’s a vine climbing all over it. The typical Thai home has dozens of pots and containers outside, some artistically arranged, some strewn about, and all have various plant life growing. Even in downtown Bangkok, one can find potted plants in parking lots, and vines contentedly flowering around corners. It is safe to say that the flora of Southeast Asia is doing quite well. Since I began my walks I’ve seen zillions of gorgeous flowers, and all manner of fruits and vegetables, including pomegranates, limes, chillies, and jackfruit (photo on the right). Recently I found and photographed the tiniest pineapple I have ever seen. I am fairly certain the Thais think I’m crazy when I pause and crouch to snap pictures of oranges and flowers, but that hasn’t stopped me.

Along with the amazing plant life comes some grade A people watching. As the sun begins to set and the temperature cools down, the Thais emerge like clockwork. Only the farang are silly enough to run around in the heat of the day; the Thais wait until sunset to enjoy some fresh air. In our neighborhood, people hang out on benches, take walks, and let the kids run about. Our neighbors across the street love to play a net-free version of badminton in the middle of the road with their pint-sized daughter. Kids race their bikes up and down the yaeks while the grownups chit chat in front of their homes. I have certain streets that I’ve taken a liking to for one reason or another, so I frequently see the same people engaged in their evening activities. One of my favorite walking loops has a trio of cute little kids who ride their bikes near the stroller so they can coo and giggle at Oliver. Another street has a gentleman who can often be found squatting near a small grill, cooking up dinner. Although I have taken many a plant-themed photo, I have mostly avoided taking pictures of our neighbors. It seems far more polite to simply smile and nod as we stroll past them. With that in mind, please enjoy this exceedingly floral photo collage (and also a random millipede – it was just huge).


Knocked Up Abroad

25 Apr

Get it? Hehe… Yes, I had entirely too much fun thinking of that title. Enjoy. 😉

Many people have asked me what it was like being pregnant and having a little munchkin while living overseas. I have been debating for months now whether or not to write a post about this topic, partly because I didn’t want to overshare, and partly because I’m not sure how to answer the question. Since I’ve never had a child while not living abroad, I have nothing to compare the experience to. That being said, I’ve had quite some time during my maternity leave to reflect on the past year. Without further ado, here is a brief overview of my experience being pregnant in Thailand. This is by no means representative of what having a child here would be like for anyone else, so please forgive any generalizations (blame it on my semi-tired new mama brain).

The Thais love babies. LOVE babies. The moment my belly started showing in a way that was clearly maternal and not overweight farang, I became very popular. Everyone, and I mean everyone, felt the need to touch my stomach. My preggo belly was fair game for all, from the gentleman who works at my favorite massage place, to the students’ grandmothers. For the most part, this did not distress me since my stomach felt like it belonged to someone else entirely and was no longer part of my own body. The only times this became alarming were the surprise attacks; I would be walking down the hall at school and a student’s mom would pop up and reach for my belly, nearly tripping me. I didn’t mind the belly rubs, but I really didn’t want to fall on my stomach and squash the little one.

Along with the belly rubs came a wide variety of comments and questions. The combination of cultural differences and the language barrier resulted in some fascinating conversations about my preggo state of being. “One or two?” was a popular question, especially as I reached 30+ weeks and became decidedly large. Nothing makes a woman in her third trimester feel more awesome than being reminded of her size. The size remarks extended to my swollen feet from the ladies at the massage spa: “Feet so big!!”, and, awkwardly, my growing breasts. Our maid commented, “Oh, big you! Milk a lot, a lot!” Suddenly, conversation topics that were previously off-limits in polite society became fair game, and not just with the Thais. I found myself earnestly discussing nipple cream with a male coworker, being asked by a parent if I was peeing often, and casually chatting about placentas with near-strangers. Does this happen in the US?

My favorite pregnancy-related comments came from my students. Being preggo while teaching small people is awesome. They were endlessly fascinated and curious about my increasing state, and the variety of background knowledge each kid had about pregnancy ran the gamut from fully informed to adorably clueless. Questions included: When will it hatch? Is your belly big because there’s an egg in there? Is your belly getting bigger every time the baby gets bigger? Is he sleeping now? Can he watch TV? One of my little munchkins took to measuring how far her arms could go around my growing belly, and kissing it hello every morning. Another slyly suggested his own name for the baby. Several third grade girls, former students, brainstormed male names for me. Among their suggestions were Andrew, Robby, Michael (off the table for obvious reasons), and Liam. Their top choice was Leonardo, and they had thoroughly thought through their suggestion: “Leonardo after the painter and Leonardo DiCaprio, and you can call him Leo for short.” The picture on the left is the kindergarteners trying to listen to the baby and find out if he’s talking.

Finally, there was the hospital experience abroad. Bangkok has some world-class hospitals, and people come from all over to have surgery here for a fraction of the cost. I don’t know what my experience would have been in the US, but here in Thailand the prices of the birth were reasonable, and the care was excellent. I loved our doctor. She was tiny and Thai, flawlessly dressed, and perfectly coiffed with a random butterfly tattoo on her neck. I suspect she is over fifty, but some subtle tweaks have made her appear rather ageless. I kept calling her the Thai Dr.Ruth; she was both very proper and completely frank about everything. Even in the midst of my super painful, drug-induced contractions, a part of my mind was observing the classy, black lace dress she was sporting under her lab coat, and thinking how wildly unsuited for a baby delivery her ensemble was. Her complete calm and reassuring vibe made the whole process as fuss-free as possible.

And now… we have a munchkin! Mr.Oliver is officially eight weeks as I hit publish on this post. Tales of parenting in Thailand will be sure to follow. 🙂



Market Mania

24 Jun

One of the things I really enjoy about Thailand is the wide variety of outdoor markets one can find all around the country. Every market has a different vibe; some are huge and packed with tourists, some are tiny and filled with Thais buying food and produce, and some are of the floating variety, meaning they are on or near a body of water. Here are three of my favorite markets in Bangkok:

Chatuchak Market a.k.a. JJ Market

Orestes and I ended up in Chatuchak somewhat inadvertently during our first seventy-two hours in Thailand four years ago. In an effort to shake off the jet lag, we asked the concierge of the hotel what he recommended as a Sunday afternoon activity. He popped us into a taxi headed for Asia’s largest open-air market. Let’s just say we were rather unprepared. After an hour or so of wandering, we found ourselves lost in the pet section, sweating bullets, and dazed and confused. We must have passed the sign for farang (foreign, i.e. imported) fish and aquariums ten times. Strategic iced-coffees saved us from madness, but the experience was a tad overwhelming. Looking back, this memory is now hilarious.

IMG_2305These days, I hit up Chatuchak once a semester or so. The market is enormous; upon exiting the closest BTS station, one gets a bird’s-eye view of the sprawling metal roofs and stalls. It covers blocks, and extends almost as far as the eye can see. Despite our initial impression, there is a semi-logical system of organization to the place. Alleys have a letter and number designation, and the stalls tend to be in the same spots. The market is a great place to grab cheap clothing and accessories, as well as some more eclectic items. Knock-off Ray Bans? Got ’em. Giant gilded fire hydrants? Check. An ottoman shaped like a rhinoceros? Clearly. The merchandise runs the gamut from classy teak furniture to silkscreened glitter cat t-shirts with decorative fringe. There are also some great food stalls, and good spots to grab an ice-cold beer, which are very refreshing after several hours of wandering and shopping.


Train Market Srinakarin

The Train Market is a night market that used to sprawl along the abandoned train tracks behind Chatuchak ~ the Thai name, Talad Rot Fai, comes from the Thai for market (talad), and train (rot fai – rot is pronounced more like ‘loat’). Our second year in Thailand, the market was forced to move; these days, it occupies a huge space off Srinakarin Rd. I love the train market because it’s totally Thai hipster, IMG_2553and almost completely void of tourists. Srinakarin is a bit off the beaten path, so the only farang about are usually expats. It is the polar opposite of Chatuchak in that respect. More importantly, the market is filled with super eclectic merchandise and amazing street food. One can buy anything here: vintage Coca-Cola memorabilia, used car parts, leather jackets, antique furniture, and snazzy ballet flats woven in a northern hill tribe pattern (which I may or may not be wearing as I type this). When I decided, after much debate and careful research, to get a tattoo inspired by our time in Thailand, the train market was the venue I chose. The artist I selected came highly recommended, spoke excellent English, and was super hipster. In addition to the zillions of merchandise stalls, the train market is filled with food stands and bars with live music. It is a great place to grab a beer and people watch on a Friday night.


Kwan Riam Floating Market

The Kwan Riam market is great because it is near our house out in Minburi, directly across Ramkhamhaeng IMG_2223(the main road). An easy ten-minute walk brings you across a pedestrian bridge, through a decorative archway, and around a bend to the market. Most of us call Kwan Riam the 166 market because of its location opposite Ramkhamhaeng 166. The market qualifies as a floating market because it occupies space in and around Khlong San Saeb, the canal near us. There are barges with restaurants floating in the khlong, and wooden stalls set up on either side, as well as a snazzy bridge spanning the two banks. Being out in the suburbs, Kwan Riam doesn’t see many foreigners; it’s a very Thai market, and we are frequently stared at when we visit. The market has a Facebook page and a roving photographer ~ I’ve lost track of how many times he’s taken my picture.

Like many markets in Thailand, Kwan Riam offers an eccentric mix of products. Discount clothing, wallets, home decor items, and knick knacks are readily available. The market also has some good offerings when it comes to food. One stand that sells iced coffee is a particular favorite of mine as the coffee comes with a performance: IMG_5381a gentleman mixes the milk and coffee by pouring them dramatically back and forth between two silver frothing pitchers, twirling and flourishing as he does so. Aside from the shopping options, the market boasts several pens of animals: flamingoes, wallabies, and groundhogs are on display (none of these are native to Thailand). Children can take a ride on a miniature horse (although I’ve heard they bite), and adults can purchase turtles, fish, or birds to release to make merit (which are then promptly caught again to be sold to the next customer). My favorite animal is the large tortoise that roams the market with a folded shirt on its back; people slip baht into the shirt to donate to charity, and a market employee is paid to follow the tortoise around, ensuring he is safe and does not leave any *ahem* items behind. Overall, it’s good to know what when I’m craving tasty soup, cheap leather goods, and an interaction with a wallaby, all of these things can be found with minimal effort.



Elephant Polo

7 May

Elephant polo? Yes, you read that correctly. Elephant polo, as in the game of polo played on elephant-back. Back in March, one of the fancier hotels here in Bangkok, the Anantara, hosted the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament. The tournament is meant to be a fundraiser for the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation. We had mixed feelings about attending the polo matches; it seems odd to exploit elephants for tourists to raise money to rescue elephants from being exploited for tourists. On the other hand, any sort of elephant conservation is a good thing, and the tournament promised the polo-playing pachyderms were well treated, so off we went.

Kristi, Jen, and I made the long trek down to the Anantara Riverside via taxi, and then a much shorter journey to the polo fields via complimentary tuk tuk. Our tuk tuk driver had a grand old time with us, IMG_1720taking our picture and making vroom vroom noises as he drove. We were pleasantly surprised to find the polo grounds uncrowded. Tents were set up with food and beverage vendors, and the elephants had lovely shady spots reserved for them away from the field. The actual polo field wasn’t that large. Normal polo has four players a team, but since elephants are more sizable than ponies, they played three on three. The field was roped off, but one could stand directly next to the field and be up close to the action.

Elephant polo was highly entertaining to watch! Each elephant had a mahout (the elephant’s trainer and guide), and a farang polo player mounted on top. The mahouts were barefoot; they ride the elephants with their feet tucked behind the giant ears, using foot nudges and verbal commands to steer the elephants. The western polo players were completely strapped down and wearing traditional polo gear – they must have been broiling in the hot sun! It was obvious that the polo players were accustomed to horseback; the lumbering pace of the elephants clearly frustrated a few of them. There was one elephant however, who seemed to be IMG_6372truly enjoying the game. He/she ran laps around the other elephants, moving at a spritely pace for an animal so large. As a result, D2’s player scored the vast majority of the goals. I don’t want to naively put human emotions on to an animal, but either D2’s mahout was exceptionally organized, or the elephant was actually enjoying him/herself. The polo elephants are normally working elephants, so perhaps a weekend spent playing polo was a welcome change of pace. I heard later that they used to use soccer balls instead of real polo balls for the matches, but the elephants found it amusing to pop the balls and kept stepping on them on purpose. 🙂 Here is a little montage of the elephants in action!

Aside from watching the matches, we had a lovely time socializing and wandering about. An additional fundraiser involving artistic elephant statues (a.k.a. the Elephant Parade) was in progress, and some of the elephants were quite colorful and/or wacky. For a couple million baht we could have purchased our own Chang beer themed elephant statue! Jen found one that was color coordinated with IMG_4528her dress, and I found one painted with American landmarks. Attending a polo match calls for sundresses, fancy hats, and classy beverages, and many members of the crowd were quite dressed up. Unfortunately, none of us had fancy hats, so we made up for it with the beverages!

The final event of the day was a feast for the elephants. As the matches came to an end, a full fruit and veggie buffet was laid out on tablecloths for the elephants. With their mahouts aboard, the elephants lined up at the table and gobbled mangoes, string beans, corn, lettuce, and other tasty items. The spectators were allowed to stand on the other side of the table and hand nibbles to the elephants. I was tickled pink that I got to feed them! I found one that was partial to papaya and fed him/her about a zillion. I offered a red cabbage at one point; the elephant popped it into its mouth, then reached back in with its trunk and unceremoniously tossed it aside. Cabbage rejected ~ bring on more papaya! I still have mixed feelings about the treatment of the elephants, and the event overall, but I have to say I left the venue feeling fairly positive. Would elephants naturally be playing polo? Clearly not. Were they miserable? No, I don’t think they were. If the event raised funds to actually help some elephants, then I think it was a day well-spent.