Monday, October 1, 2012


There's a new family member. And it's not a cat this time. Conner Qol (blame his dad for that one) was born Friday, September 21st. 

He was 8.5 lbs and his older brother, Anderson, is still adjusting to his presence.

Uncle Matt has now called him his "hairy little bear."

We're glad to have him in our lives, even if he's not quite sure what to think of us.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Elephant Nature Park

We're back home, and this post is long overdue, but I still need to finish blogging about our vacation to Thailand. After Koh Ngai, which is almost at the southern tip of Thailand, we flew to the northern city of Chiang Mai. After an exhausting day of traveling we checked into our hotel, went shopping (I was obsessed with the markets-so much more laid back than Bangkok), and slept for 10 hours. The next day was incredible and requires a long post in order to show how magnificent these animals are as well as the park efforts. 

I knew I wanted to see elephants and learn more about them, but I also knew I wanted to go somewhere where our money would be used well and where the animals were treated humanely. I found several positive reviews for Elephant Nature Park, about an hour and a half outside of Chiang Mai. I reserved two spots and an incredible, educational, and bittersweet day was our reward.

A very nice Toyota tourist van (you see them all over) picked us up around 8:30 where we got in the 12 seater van, which had two guides up front (obviously one a driver), a single lady, and one other couple. We proceded to pick up two other couples and headed out of Chiang Mai. Our guide spoke English very well but with a thick accent. Casey could catch what he was saying, but I missed words here and there. He gave us a summary of the park and elephants in Thailand and then showed us a documentary on the built-in screen while we headed into the mountains.

A century ago there were 100,000 elephants in Thailand. As a sacred and revered animal (think Buddhism), elephants have an important but contradictory part in Thai culture. Elephants are everywhere in Thailand, from tourists figurines to the statues in wats. All life is sacred, especially elephants, and euthanization is not generally practiced. However, elephants are also a vital work force (or were) to the Thais. They used them for logging (as Myanmar, Laos, and other areas still do) but loss their jobs in 1989 with the logging ban. After a severe flood Thailand realized deforestation increased the floods as well as severity and banned the practice. However, not only did wild jungle elephants have a drastically depleted habitat, but 30,000 elephants were also out of jobs. Many were left in the camps to starve, having loss the ability to forage for food (being born in captivity). Others were taken into over-sensitizing cities to be used as tourist traps, having to beg for their food each nights. Even more were adopted in the riding camps-some in good areas while others neglected. Because Thailand places elephants in the same category as livestock (ironic considering their supposed reverence) there are little laws to protect them. This is where Lek comes in. (Lek is in the blue shirt. The crazy Australian lady that adopted Casey and I as her family is in the black.)

Lek, born in a northern hill-tribe, was introduced to elephants at an early life. She founded Elephant Nature Park in the mid 1990s and has rescued dozens of elephants as well helped introduce new life to the park.  She's constantly striving to change laws and has since helped gained awareness for elephants' plights. To give an example of recent changes consider the tourist elephants in the cities. While Casey was on his mission from 2006-2008 he saw countless elephants in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Today, 4 years later, we saw none in either city This is one result of Lek's increasing spread of information on the world. (Below is a picture of Casey talking to Lek.)

Not all of these elephants have had a happy life, though. Many of the elephants we saw had to be rescued as they had been abused and blinded, hit by cars and left with badly healed broken backs or legs, or incapable of trusting humans. Lek has nourished and gained the love of every elephant at the park (35 while we were there!) She's rescued day-old orphans and made friends with the matriarchs. Keep in mind that elephants have the same life-span as humans (as well as behavior appropriate their age) and taking in an elephant isn't exactly the same as a cat. Lek knows many of these elephants will outlive her but has provided a great foundation for them for a better future. For instance, below is one elephant who is blind and another who had her back leg and pelvis broken when she was younger.

While many of them have a life to live out at the park a couple of the elephants have been "borrowed" from their owners to heal and rehabilitate. The park tries to buy these elephants from these owners who use them for tourism or work but often the owners refuse to sell. There are several incredible stories of people raising or donating money in order to buy these elephants and give them a home to rest for the rest of their lives. For instance, a young boy from the U.S. recently raised $20,000 for an elephant to be able to stay at Elephant Nature Park. Despite the great stories of a few elephants there are still thousands more not only in Thailand but Myanmar, Cambodia, and other countries of SE Asia who need homes free from worry. 

We learned most of these facts from our guide at the park and talking to Lek or other volunteers. We spent the day feeding the elephants, bathing them in the river, and watching them walk around or interact with each other. And now for a bunch of pictures. 

They love their mud baths. One of the babies rolled around in it for about 20 minutes and couldn't get up. Mom or aunt or someone finally put her leg out and pushed her up. It was incredible watching them help each other.

The end. Literally.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Hiking an Island

Our backs are baked but we're determined to see more of the island. We decided to go on a hike that takes us from our side to the other side (considering the island is one mountain that you have to go up and over it's more difficult than it sounds).

The above map is kind of big but I want to be able to describe where we hiked. We were at CoCo Cottage Resort. We walked down the beach about 3/4 of a mile past Fantasy Resort where we turned off and started going through the jungle. We came out at Koh Ngai Resort and Spa then went around the little point at the middle, bottom of the island to the larger point on the left. 

We were nervous for a little while because of the isolation and knowing that if something were to happen medical assistance would be hours, if not a day, away. We were uneasy with the unfamiliar flora but comforted ourselves with the fact that there wouldn't be any large predators (besides the dogs) on an island. After hiking for half an hour we came out to this beautiful yet hot plain of grasses, with towering palms and piles of coconuts. 

By this time we were rather hot and miserable, unsure of which trail to take. We decided to go near the sea and see if there was an area we could swim at. And there was. I wore my swimsuit under my clothes and Casey hiked in swim trunks so we stripped off and dove in. Even that water was warm so we went further to try to cool off.

There was a rather dilapidated resort where we got some more water and asked for directions to the viewpoint we had heard about. A lady told us it would be about 15 minutes. We started off and kept getting distracted by beautiful scenes.

After an hour of steep climbs, beach combing (we love all the sea glass), avoiding fallen ants nests (terrified me!) we arrived at a beautiful viewpoint. I had quickly overheated even with the liter of water I'd had and sat down, deciding I'd risk the tree ants. The view was worth it. 

The picture above shows the last part of my irritated face while Casey was trying to take a picture. I just had to sit for a while.

Like I said, it was beautiful and worth the work. I can honestly say, however, that I have never sweated more in my life.

On our way back this guy...

and one of his friends decided to make the hike with us. We quickly realized these dogs go all over the island and use these trails probably more than people. The two dogs would dart off into the jungle and come up behind us so suddenly. One time I almost jumped up a tree and probably would have if I didn't suspect the tree to be more dangerous.

There was a reunion of dogs at that point, where Batdog wanted to tell the other three dogs that he had adopted us and the two hiking with us didn't like that, so we quickly got out of the way and let them discuss with growls and whines.

That evening we were seriously worn out. We took it easy, just sitting on the beach and having a leisurely dinner.

Above is the lounge/lobby/restaurant we spent plenty of time in relaxing. Below is our bungalow we loved, despite the scary poisonous millipede bug I had to dance around one night in the bathroom.

We left early the next morning and spent a tiring day traveling. 45 minutes by boat to the pier, another 45 in a van to Trang Airport, a little over an hour flight to Bangkok, a short layover where we had to recheck bags, another hour flight to Chiang Mai, and then a 20 minute drive to our hotel. We sat down for a while and then went out where I fell in love with Chiang Mai.

Some more of Koh Ngai

This is probably going to be longer than planned, followed by other posts.

On our second full day at the island we woke up for a few minutes to watch the sunrise. 

After sleeping in we rented a kayak and went up the edge of our island. We were told it takes about 2.5 hours to go all the way around the island. Let's bring up a few points before I go further. 1) We're from Utah where there are rivers (or streams, creeks, puddles, and one big lake). We like to float downstream. Oceans have big waves, which brings me to the second point. 2) We're wimps. And finally 3) We're on vacation and don't want to work, which includes strenuous paddling against waves and currents. Therefore we went maybe half a mile up the beach and found a little cove to pull off in. There we grabbed our snorkeling gear and fins and waded out to some beautiful coral and fish. 

There were big purple clams, little white fish that sucked up sand from a hole and spit it (I watched those for several minutes), the ones that Casey believed were going to eat him, angel fish, these sea urchins (which also terrified Casey), and many many more. After a while we went back to the beach, sat in the shade, reapplied sunscreen, and tried to avoid watching the old nude Swiss couple in their boat sneaking along. We got back in the kayak and decided to try to go up to the point of the island. We were almost there, fighting the current that was much stronger with all the rocks, and turned back-again running into the nudes. We got back and swam in the sea where we noticed we were getting rather crisp. During lunch a thunderstorm rolled in (incredible thunder!) and we ate lunch while watching it. It only lasted about 30 minutes.

It was beautiful and awe inspiring, with the waves going from a smooth glass sea to a furious monster in a matter of minutes. It cooled things off and we enjoyed the rest of the evening walking up to see the other resorts. When we got back from dinner, one of the island dogs (we named him Batdog) followed us back and slept on our bungalow porch while we read.

See the ears? Thus, Batdog. He'd sneak up on us in the dark as we were walking and scare us. The dogs are all friendly, just stealthy. The rest of our night was basically hell. Our backs had been severely sunburned from snorkeling (despite the copious amounts of sunscreen we applied) and it was difficult to sleep. Casey's back was worse than mine and is currently peeling. He's now known as Casey-snake. 

The next day, despite the discomfort (that's too benign of a word for it), we hiked around. Next post. :)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Koh Ngai and Snorkeling

After several hours of traveling we arrived at our island, Koh Ngai (which is redundant because "koh" means "island" in Thai). It's paradise, literally. The only thing better would be having family here with us. As I write this I'm looking over an ocean as smooth as glass with Jack Johnson singing from the bar behind me. Casey's under a umbrella reading (or looking at the sea because it's hard to look away from it), and I'm making friends with the bugs.

 The night we got in we were exhausted so we swam for a while, slept, ate dinner, walked around, and then slept for another 10 hours. This morning we got breakfast and then got ready to snorkel. Our first stop was at Koh Mook, a half hour ride by longtail boat. At Koh Mook is this, a beautiful hidden wonder known as the Emerald Cave or Tham Morakot. After swimming 80 meters or so through a dark cave with glowing green waters (emerald) you come into an amazing hidden beach that looks straight up and is completely isolated from the outside. Pirates use to hide their treasure here while there are rare and unique species taking refuge in this cove. 

Our next stop took us to a small island, where we dove in to see the wonderful and colorful fish. We went to three islands like this, the second being Koh Kradan where we stopped to eat lunch. The last island had a shallow cove that allowed for many more diverse fish (I think the shallowness protected them from predators). Most of the corral we saw was dead but it provided a contrasting backdrop for the vibrant, iridescent fish. I kept seeing one and calling it my favorite; then I'd see a new one and that would be my favorite! I still can't decide what one is my favorite because they're all so beautiful.

Enough talking. Here are some pictures. We didn't have a waterproof camera (I'm going to try to get some pictures from another women on the trip-there were 8 of us) but I have others!

Where we ate lunch, at Koh Kradan.