Koh Lanta part 2 – Elephants etc.

Whew, the last weeks have been crazy: moving house, new school and neighborhood, overnight shifts at work… So, where did we leave off?

After the first couple of days in our villa, we decided to book a tour down the south of island. What seems like the number one thing to do in Thailand? Ride an elephant! We found a local travel agent and booked an afternoon trip to an elephant park, followed by a few hours to while away in the national park beach.

When we arrived at the elephant park…. well, we shouldn’t have been surprised at this, but it was a bit underwhelming. As it turned out, our “exotic elephant ride through the jungle” was about a 30-minute wander through a rubber plantation next to the highway. And we rode on benches strapped to the elephants’ shoulders rather than having direct body contact. It also would have been a nicer time if our guides hadn’t chattered away at each other in Thai the whole way. Anyway, it was a pretty obvious tourist trap, but the kids were totally oblivious to it – they thought it was fantastic, and I suppose that was the point!

After the ride, we got to feed the elephants some pineapples – tops and all.

Then the tour guide brought us to a secluded beach on the south tip of the island, where we we had the run of the place. There were barely any other people, the water was clear and calm, the sand was soft and clean. It was a perfect afternoon!

As it turned out, it was lucky we did the tour when we did, because the rest of our trip was rained out. We spent the last three days holed up in our villa, eating weird snacks from the 7-11 and watching our way through the DVDs in the house. We ventured out a couple of times, taking a quick trip “downtown” to go shopping: that was a bust, since downtown was just a strip of closed restaurants and a handful of souvenir shops, and an overgrown driving range. One night we found an English-style pub and enjoyed a few beers and baked potatoes. B found a store selling tiny NHL mugs from 1994 and couldn’t have been happier. So our only souvenir from Thailand is a 20-year-old Ottawa Senators shot glass mug. We also managed a final afternoon on the local beach, playing with hermit crabs and finding pretty shells to bring home.

Too soon it was time to head home – We had a house to move and all sorts of crazy things to sort out. More on that next time!


Sri Lanka part 2 – the safari

After our beach experience, we were picked up by our fantastic travel guide, Sanjaya, and we headed around the bottom of the island. On the way, we saw plenty more beautiful beaches and stopped at the Galle fort – an old colonial army base. It was brutally hot, so we left rather quickly, but we got a few nice pics of a lovely ocean lookout.

Our final destination was a city called Tissamaharama – not because we wanted to visit it, but because it was the perfect base for exploring Yala national park, best known for its leopards.

We left early in the morning and arrived home after dark. It was a long, fantastic ride through the park. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any leopards, but we saw hundreds of other animals.

The ride was rough but really great. Because we were in a real 4×4, we were able to do a lot of off-roading that other safari tours could not do. We definitely saw more animals because of it.

One of those animals was a “tusker” elephant – known to Sanjaya as being a bit aggressive. We came across him in the road and we gave him lots of space as he chased us backwards the way we came. No harm done, and he gave us lots of great photo opportunities – but he has attacked trucks in the past. Luckily he went his way and us ours without any problems.

At sunset, we said goodbye to the park and returned to the hotel. The next day, we visited an elephant orphanage during “feeding time” – the babies were given milk through funnels and tubes followed by some tasty greens. Our kids were not so into it, but that could have been because of the hordes of local schoolkids lining up to see the show as well.

Afterwards, we spent a few hours touring Udawalawe national park. This one is known for its elephant herds, and it most certainly delivered. We saw over 100 elephants that afternoon, and many of them were right up close in the road or beside us. We had a picnic lunch in the jeep right next to a herd of at least 10 elephants, including one baby that was no more than a few days old. That evening we drove north into the mountains for a visit to Ella.

For extra credit, here is our (mostly complete) list of animal sightings:

White-breasted kingfisher
Jacana (water hen)
Water buffalo
Land monitor
Termite mounds
Grey tit
Wild boar
Painted stork
Large egret
Spot-billed pelican
Spoonbill stork
Black wing stilt
Great thick knee (plover)
Green bee-eater
Mugger crocodile
Sri Lankan Elephant
Spotted deer
White sea eagle
White ibis
Crested hawk eagle
Chestnut bee-eater
Ruddy Mongoose
Grey heron
Grey headed fish eagle
Tufted Gray Langur
Pied hornbill
Jungle fowl
Purple heron
Toque Macaque
Black-necked stork
Open bill stork
King mongoose
Jaguar (tracks only)
Fishing Cat (tracks only)