Monday, March 29, 2010

Travels: Chiang Mai

We rolled into Chiang Mai early on Sunday morning after a cramped and uncomfortable 12 hours on a sleeper bus.

The entire bus load of people was taken directly to a guesthouse, given coffee and forced to listen to a pitch from the tour company that ran out of that guesthouse. As soon as it finished we left to find other accommodations, but probably should have stayed at the first place, as it had a swimming pool! I think we'll check back in tomorrow and spend the day lounging by the pool.

We found a room for about $7/night and after catching up on some sleep decided to check out the Sunday market and the Sunday market street. We bought a few things but had to walk away from some really cool stuff. You could spend a lot of money in Chiang Mai!

In the evening we walked a few kms to the Night Market to see the goods. We also discovered a Subway restaurant ... I might have to go there before we leave for Laos.

We also went to the office of Elephant Nature Park to book our visits. Unfortunately they are very busy so we aren't able to visit the park until Wednesday, meaning more time here than we'd initially planned. However this is something we'd both been dreaming of since university, so well worth the wait! We'll be going for an overnight visit on Wednesday.
Today, with time to spare we decided to visit Tiger Kingdom. Like Tiger Temple near Bangkok there is controversy surrounding the park, because it seems unbelievable that tigers would allow people to touch them, lay on them etc. We were torn between our desire to see tigers, and our ethical concerns. After visiting the park I feel a bit better. The tigers that you can visit have all been bred in captivity, and are used to handling by humans from birth. They are mostly uninterested, and just lay there, panting because it is so hot. Whether they are drugged or not, I can't say, however, as we walked around and saw all of the tigers who were not "visiting" that day, we saw the majority asleep anyways. Also, the tigers we were in the cage with proceeded to get up and change positions while we were there, and to go for a dip in their pool shortly after we left. Either way, I believe that although captivity isn't ideal for any animal, that it's the lesser of 2 evils. Tigers are still hunted illegally in Thailand, and here they are safe, healthy, and able to reproduce. So although its sad to see them caged, they are not chained, have large, clean enclosures, lots of shade, pools, and staff that seems to enjoy working with them. We spent 15 minutes with the newborns (2 months) and 15 minutes with the adults (1.5 years) and then were free to walk around the park and look at all of the other tigers. Overall I was happy with the experience, and was glad to see that the park was large, clean, and that the tigers appeared to be very healthy and well cared for!

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