While deciding how to spend last summer, I stumbled upon a Facebook ad. It was advertising a summer with elephants in Thailand! Clearly a little suspicious, my family sent out an email to the Program Director, Jane Cassie , right away. I was applying pretty close to the deadline, so I was worried that I would have to make a rushed decision. Jane responded in no time at all, answering all my questions and providing me with helpful information in the decision making process.
Having never spent time overseas from my family, I was a bit nervous. Once I was accepted into the program, I was blown away at how organized everything was. My worries were quickly washed away as I was provided all the details I could possible want for the trip of a lifetime with Loop! As the time until my program passed by, Jane kept us updated with flight plans our group. Jane's well worded emails from Thailand continued to build up my excitement for the adventure.
Our group and the college group met up at the airport in New York, and led by Kelly, we got on the plane. The plane ride to Thailand is pretty long ( about 20 hours I believe), but time flew by--ahh, airplane puns?!-- as we got to know each other, played games, watched movies and caught up on our summer reading. We transferred flights in China, and before we knew it, we had touched down in Chiang Mai.
When we arrived, Addam, the Executive Director, welcomed us and helped us get our cash exchanged at the Airport. We headed over to the three person tuk tuks and began our journey to the B2 Green, a local hotel where we stayed for the night. When we arrived, Jane greeted us warmly and gave us time to go to our rooms to freshen up. We stayed in rooms with 2 twin beds, electricity and warm running water. On our beds were welcome bags, filled with essentials, such as a Loop Abroad shirt, a day by day schedule, and a rain poncho (trust me, it IS important-- or you can bring a raincoat!).
Once we had gotten cleaned up, we met Jane and the other staff in the lobby for dinner. We were heading over to the market to dive into the Thai culture. Jane and Addam gave us the run down on the cell phone and group policy, giving each of us ample cash for our meals and a cell phone for each group. Although the market was quite busy, even in the pouring rain, I felt safe. We were given about two hours to explore the stalls and dine on whatever we wanted. The options were endless: Pad Thai, calamari, fresh fruit smoothies, and of course, my favorite-- mango sticky rice with coconut milk.
With our bellies and shopping bags full, we headed back to the hotel for a good night's sleep.
Our first week was spent at the Elephant Nature Park. The Park was a bit of a drive from Chiang Mai, but once we got there, it was definitely worth it. Tucked away into the lush forest, the Park is home to all sorts of elephants, old and young, that have been rescued or are recovering from injuries.
Now let's be real-- the Park really is tucked away into the jungle. You aren't going to find luxury accommodations or hot baths waiting for you. Accommodations are simple. Rooms are shared with one or two other people and beds are covered with mosquito nets. You share a fan and a lamp... that's the decoration! The ENP is pretty humid. Once something gets wet, it stays damp for a while. Bathrooms have mostly cold showers and toilets that can't take toilet paper... but that's pretty common. ( I'd recommend bring bug spray, long pants and a raincoat.)
You can't really predict what any specific day is going to be like at the ENP. One day you may find yourself scooping elephant poop in the morning and washing elephants in the afternoon. The next day you may be visiting a nearby school or maybe floating down the river in inner tubes. You might even go into the field to collect food for the elephants! One of my favorite ENP days consisted of sorting watermelons out of the back of a truck in the morning and preparing a snack for the elephants in the afternoon consisting of mashed up bananas. Another ENP highlight was elephant bathing. I don't know who got more of a bath, me or the elephants!
There was always something happening at the Park. One night we had a Thai language lesson, and another we had a movie night. You can always get a Thai massage in the evenings for incredibly cheap! If you get sick of the elephants, which I doubt you will, you can hang out with any of the 100 cats or about 400 dogs. The ENP is the place to be if you love animals! If you feel tired, you can always take a nap, as Loop Abroad gave us plenty of down time to relax if we wanted to.
The food at the park will always fill you up after a long day. Breakfasts are pretty normal with juice, toasts and fruits. Lunch was always my favorite. The assortment of noodles is crazy! Even if you are a picky eater, you can always find something to eat. Dinner always had a wide range of choices. On special evenings, we had Thai specific cuisine.
Our time at the ENP went by fast, but we all came out feeling rich with experience. We headed back into the city and settled in at our home for the next week--The Spicy Thai Hostel.
The Spicy Thai will most likely be your home base for the week you spend in the city of Chiang Mai. Hot showers, along with WiFi and computers, are welcoming. You stay in bunk rooms with the rest of the Loop participants. There are about eight beds in each room, with air conditioning!!
Just like the week at the ENP, it's pretty hard to tell what a day is going to look like in the city.
You may being visiting the market once more shopping for some Thai pants. Or, you may be going zip lining through the jungle canopy. You'll certainly visit several temples, and have the chance to talk with Monks. You'll have the chance to stroll through markets and try mysterious fruits with Noom, and put your cooking skills to the test at a cooking school. You'll leave stuffed, AND with a recipe book so you can showcase your new skills for your family and friends. You may find yourself in a cave with bats looming above, or you may find yourself standing in an orchid garden. With Loop Abroad, the possibilities are endless.
If you are a fan of well organized and adventure filled programs, I highly encourage you to apply for THIS program. I was blown away at how smooth my journey was. Loop Abroad is one of the most well run programs I have ever been a part of! Even if you are just curious, I recommend reaching out to Jane or Addam who are some of the kindest people I have ever met. By traveling with Loop, I feel like I have so much knowledge to share with all of my peers. I made great friends in a short two weeks, and have such a strong urge to travel even more than I did before. It would be such a great opportunity to have the chance to return to Thailand and relive the amazing memories I made last summer. Thank you so much, Loop Abroad!