Friday, 10 April 2015

Sophie Travels - Elephant Village, Luang Prabang

When travelling through Laos, one of our first stops was the beautiful town of Luang Prabang. I was super excited about stopping here for a number of reasons; the waterfalls, the buffalo burgers, and most importantly, the Elephants. Both Bex and I love Elephants, in fact we're volunterring on an Elephant sanctuary for two weeks at the end of our trip (cannot wait!). You really have to love them to be willing to clean up after them for two weeks in 30 degree heat! I'd been wanting to do some sort of Elephant experience though before then, and was wary about doing so in Thailand given the rather unethical treatment of the Elephants. I'd been told that the treatment was much better in Laos and to go see them there instead. When we got to Luang Prabang, our guide recommended visiting Elephant Village, and we leapt at the opportunity!

We were picked up about 9am and taken about half an hour out of the city and up to a gorgeous little resort. It turns out Elephant Village also has a hotel where you can stay and do a few days with the Elephants. It's probably for the best that we didn't know this beforehand as we would have struggled to resist staying, even with the hefty price. The "village" consisted of a big green courtyard with a feeding station, a small raised wooden deck and a hut with free coffee (which I absolutely took advantage of). There was an Elephant at the feeding station, completely at ease, eating it's way through a pile of sugar cane. As soon as our welcome talk was over I pretty much ran to the Elephant to give it some love and attention. She was so calm and friendly, I couldn't stop beaming!

While we fussed over the Elephant, a member of staff told us about the Elephants they kept there; all female and all rescued. Apparantly females are a lot easier to look after than males! I learnt about how they can communicate through vibrations in the ground, how Asian and African Elephants differ, how they are one of the few animals that appear to be self-aware, how they bond with their children, mourn the loss of fellow elephants, and really feel emotion.  As we recieved our talk, the Elephants came back from their morning walk. It was rather impressive to see a line of ten or so Elephants wander through the courtyard! The staff prepared them for riding and we climbed up to the raised deck, ready to board our Elephant.

It was a bit disconcerting to be told to stand on the Elephants back in order to get into the chair. I was so worried I was going to hurt it, which the Mahout (driver) found incredibly amusing as he told me she could handle it. They seem so gentle, you forget how strong they really are! We sat in the little chair at the back and the Mahout sat on the neck and lead our Elephant down to the river. Going down the steep slope to the river was a little terrifying as we felt like we were literally going to be thrown out of the chair, but we survived and the Elephant walked through the river and to a sandbank further ahead. 

On the sandbank, our Mahout jumped off and told us we could have a go leading the Elephants by sitting on the neck. It was a pretty scary prospect, given how unstable we felt just in the chair, but we gave it a go! It was an amazing experience! After the awkward climb down to the neck, you realise you have absolutely nothing to hold on to. But it only took a couple of minutes to get used to the movement, and to stop feeling like you're about to slide off sideways. We practiced the commands for "stop" and "go" with mixed results, they could clearly tell we were new to this. When we reached the end of the sandbank, the Mahout jumped back on, but into the chair rather than on the neck and let me continue to steer the Elephant through the river and back to the village! I like to think it's because I was an excellent mahout, and will happily ignore any suggestion that it's something they do it with every tourist!

When we got back to the courtyard they lead the Elephants round to the feeding station where we got to feed them bunches of bananas. We got ridiculously excited by this and ended up buying extra to give to our Elephant. She was so beautiful, we never wanted to leave! But eventually they were led back to the river where they had baths before being taken across to the shelter they live in on the other side. The staff said they never work beyond 1pm, and will only do a maximum of two rides on a morning - just enough to earn the money to keep the rescuse centre running. I was so pleased to see the Elephants were treated decently. We'd heard such horror stories about places in Thailand, but they never once hit them or harmed them or even shouted here. They just spoke to them and walked with them. It was such a wonderful day and made me even more excited to work at the Elephant sanctuary in June! Have you ever worked with Elephants before?


Thursday, 2 April 2015

Spring Haul

Left to right: New Look, Urban Outfitters, H&M
I recently went back to Leicester to see my remaining friends at university for a night out and a catch up, which obviously led to a shopping spree! I've been clearing out my wardrobe lately and noticed a severe lack of spring/summer clothes. Literally everything I wear in summer is just black winter clothes without tights.. It was time for a wardrobe update! 

Dungarees: H&M
These dungarees were a sale bargain, i've been after some full length dungaree's for months and these are perfect!

Underwear set: New Look 

Shift Dress: New Look, Smock Dress: H&M

Necklace: H&M, Earring Set: Topshop
Whilst in Leicester I got my tragus pierced! I've been wanting to have it done for over a year now and finally took the plunge, I absolutely love it! This has already made me want to step up my earring game, this set from Topshop is perfect!

Pillows and Duvet Set: Primark

Can't resist a wardrobe refresh at this time of year - any excuse!


Friday, 27 March 2015

Sophie Travels - The Grand Palace, Bangkok

It's hard to believe i've been travelling for almost 6 weeks now! The time is flying by! I thought I'd do a few posts with some updates of what I've been up to. So, first things first; Bangkok. This was the first stop on our trip and man was it a bit of a shock. I met my friend at the airport, and we were thrown into the deep end - dropped off at Koh San Road and left to find our hostel. It took us a good half hour of walking through little side alleys until we managed to find it! Wandering round in the heat, with massive backpacks, completely lost was not the perfect start to the trip I can assure you! We only had a few days in Bangkok, but we managed to get plenty of sightseeing done in that time. My favourite place that we saw was without a doubt the Grand Palace. The place was huge and surrounded by high white walls. It took us ages to actually find the entrance. Once inside, you start to get a feel of just how expansive the place is.

 We made our way round to the main courtyard and were blown away by how ornate everything was. In the centre of the courtyard was the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which was stunning; decorated with masses of colourful glass and so so so much gold. Inside was a tower of golden ornaments an on the top sat the Emerald Buddha, which was a hell of a lot smaller than I expected given the size of the temple housing it! Our tour guide told us that the statue is actually made of Jade, but was hidden for years and when it was finally rediscovered the people saw it was green and assumed it was made of emerald. I guess the name just stuck! There were 3 more big temples in the courtyard, all lined up - the golden bell shape, a cambodian style building, and a more traditional thai style structure. All of them ridiculously ornate.

There were so many tiny statues lining the walls of temples, I loved how colourful they were. So many vibrant reds and blued and greens! It was all just so different from the churches you see in Europe. I have to admit though, my favourite statues were the much less colourful elephant figures. The detail was just amazing - I couldn't get over how realistic the skin looked.

This building was by far my favourite. The colours weren't as vibrant as some of the other temples, but the decorations lining the walls and roof were all made from beautifully coloured china which the builders had obtained by smashing china teacups! 

I think what I most enjoyed about the Grand Palace was how different it was to the rest of the city. There was so much greenery and all the colours were so rich, it was such a nice change to get away from the crazy roads and buildings stacked on top of one another. Although I have to admit, I was pretty desperate for an air conditioned room by the time we had done. I'm so pleased I got the chance to visit the palace, and if you ever go to Bangkok I absolutely recommend it!