Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Happy Christmas

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas. Hope you have a lovely day.

We had a great time posing in front of the Christmas displays in Hong Kong and Macau. Some were more tasteful than others.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Elephant Nature Park

We gave ourselves a very nice Christmas present - a little early - and went for a day visit to the Elephant Nature Park. It's a sanctuary for 35 Asian elephants rescued from neglect and/or abuse at the hands of loggers, elephant trekking operations and people who use them for begging on the streets of Bangkok. The youngest one is a 7-month old male calf that was born in the park.

We did quite a bit of research into the elephant parks around Chiang Mai and came to the conclusion that Elephant Nature Park seemed to be the only park that doens't do elephant shows. In the shows, elephants are shown painting and doing all sorts of tricks. What the audience doens't know is that all these elephants have gone through an extremely painful and traumatising training that is designed to break its spirit completely. We saw a video of the training, and it was very distressing.

Luckily the elephants in the sanctuary are now happily roaming free within the confines of the park. We got to feed them sweetcorn, bananas and pumpkin. It was messy! We also helped give some of the gentle giants a bath and a scrub in the river. It was exhilarating seeing these majestic creatures go belly up and floating down the stream with smiles on their faces. A cheeky juvenile sprayed a couple of the park visitors and gave everyone brave enough to take it a very wet and slubbery kiss.

The scars on the elephants' bodies undoubtedly act as a reminder of the sad fates of many Asian elephants in Thailand. These individuals are the lucky ones who have found respite in this wonderful park. We felt very privileged to spend time with the herd and loved every minute of it!

Monday, 22 December 2008

Masterchef goes Thai

At last a chance to use phrases such as "This competition just keeps on getting tougher" and "well seasoned" in a real culinary environment. First off, we had a trip to the market to buy our fresh ingredients. We learnt all about Dragon Fruits, different types of ginger and green vegetables. Our instructor Tom held his morning glory in his hands (it's a leafy green vegetable by the way).

Next, the cooking started in earnest. Andy doused his stir fry in water at the very end, ruining the dish. Oops. Steaming off the excess just over-cooked the prawns (which only needed 30 seconds to start off with).

In Jen's class, one Irish gentleman was cutting chillies but needed the toilet. Unfortunately he forgot to wash his hands beforehand. This resulted in a nasty burning sensation and serious pain where you wouldn't want it. First Aid required the application of ice cubes to the affected area (which worked a treat). Contrary to popular belief, coconut milk, salt or sugar doesn't help.

We ate what we cooked which meant we were absolutely stuffed for most of the day. The food tasted great though. Thais use sugar like we use salt. Instead of salt, they use fish sauce. Chillies, lemon grass and ginger also feature prominently. Jen's favourite dishes were the green curry and sticky rice with mango. Andy liked everything.

Baan Thai Cookery School

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, in Northern Thailand, is the place to spend time and relax. However, it's a little bit too relaxed at the moment and there seems to have been a slump in tourist numbers. We've busied ourselves with a bit of planning - Thai cooking class tomorrow followed by a day at an elephant sanctuary - and some sightseeing.

The food markets are as good as ever in Chiang Mai. We'll be visiting them again as part of our cooking course, stocking up on fresh ingredients.

Chiang Mia local market

Yesterday's temple - Wat Phra Singh - was short and sweet. The temple is said to be an excellent example of Lanna architecture. Jen says it was different from other temples, although this was lost a bit on Andy. Even some of the dogs seemed to be suffering from temple fatigue.

Around Doi Suthep Inside Wat Phra Singh temple

Dogs with temple fatigue

Today was a trip up the mountain (1,600m) to Doi Suthep, home to a(nother) Buddhist temple. The great views of Chiang Mai were unfortunately obscured by the pollution. The Chedi was also undergoing some repairs, hence the gold scaffolding. (Junior Reader's competition - can you spot Jen in one of the photos below?).

The bellsDonations

Doi Suthep temple

The weekly Sunday Night Market is a very popular event. The streets are gridlocked with shoppers looking for a bargain - and there are many to be had. Jen got a pair of shorts (2 GBP) and a bag (1.20 GBP). Instead of shopping, Andy donated to the local hospital and got to pose with these two 'lovely ladies'.

More donationsSunday Night Market in Chiang Mai

Thanks to Jens and Alexandr for sending us some photos. We've added them to the following pages:

Ascent of Island Peak (6,189m)

Dhaulagiri Icefall