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Riding an Elephant in Thailand

October 7, 2010 by  
Filed under Destinations, Features

Chiang Mai, Thailand is the answer. Where to ride an elephant, how to ride an elephant, and where to hug and kiss a baby elephant are the musings. The voyage began with a serene 8-mile bike ride from the rustic Lisu Lodge to the elephant camp. Despite the excitement surrounding the elephant riding, the natural beauty of the Chiang Mai countryside still manages to capture your attention.

On arrival, several gentle giants standing near the river met our group of travel writers. Among the elephants was a pregnant female who managed to carry two of us along the mountainous jungle scenery down the river. The secret to riding this particular elephant was to ensure that she was fed plenty of bananas. Be sure to put aside enough bananas for the entire trip, as her trunk will be jumping back to collect a reward every few steps.
riding-elephants-thailand angela-dollar-feeding-elephants Elephant reaching for Gennaro’s feet + Angela Dollar feeding an elephant © Gennaro Salamone

Behind the pregnant giant was a 3-year old baby elephant that followed along for the journey sans passenger. He spent most of the trip using his trunk to throw dirt over his shoulder ensuring protection against the sun and insects. While the ride along the river was wonderful, the highlight of the day was bonding with the baby elephant at the end. I walked over to the receptive animal and proceeded to hug and kiss him. It’s not every day that you can connect with one of the largest land mammals.
gennaro-salamone-hugging-elephants kissing-baby-elephant Hugging and kissing a baby elephant © Gennaro Salamone

There are several options that allow for a similar experience. Elephant Nature Park is one of the better choices with over thirty rescued elephants from infants to old-timers. They have everything from day trips to three-week long volunteer stays.

This trip to Thailand was courtesy of the Tourism Authority of Thailand. The content and opinions in the article are those of the author.
gennaro-salamone-photo.jpgGennaro Salamone is the founder and editor of Enduring Wanderlust. Feel free to contact him with questions, comments, or inquiries with reference to contributing an article or photograph for publication.


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Rice Farmers of Thailand Through the Lens

September 14, 2010 by  
Filed under Features, Photography

Chiang Mai is the largest city in northern Thailand. A combination of natural beauty and countless cultural activities makes the area a popular tourist stop. Travelers have the opportunity to visit local hill tribes, sample delectable local cuisine, and raft along the Ping River. On this day, a local guide led our small group of travel writers on a tour of Lanna or the “land of a million rice fields.”

Follow this photographic journey featuring the Akha hill tribe transplanting rice:

khum-lanna rice-paddies-thailand Khum Lanna + Chiang Mai Rice Paddies © Gennaro Salamone

We were set for a sunrise biking tour along the rural country road from San Kwang village to Phrao to visit the local markets. Leaving the charming Khum Lanna, we were met by steady rains that prevented a view of the sunrise. Despite that, the early showers on the emerald-green rice paddies provided a tranquil atmosphere for the sojourn.

traditional-thai-people thai-women-working Akha Hill Tribe Transplanting Rice © Gennaro Salamone

We visited the local markets, stopping for tea and an interesting traditional drink that consisted mainly of raw eggs, before heading off to the area of the rice paddies where the Akha tribe was transplanting rice. Working in the rice paddies appeared to be labor intensive, but smiles were common among the inhabitants. This work is essential to the economic success of Thailand, which is the world’s biggest rice exporter according to the Bangkok Post.

thai-man gennaro-salamone-rice Local Farmer © Gennaro Salamone + Overzealous Travel Writer (Taken by Ted Beatie)

The highlight of the morning was an opportunity to join the Akha in the rice paddies for some hands-on learning. It’s one thing to observe the nature of the labor, but having your legs ankle deep in mud while bending to stick rice plants into the ground gives a new level of understanding. We were fortunate to have a guide who had relationships with the community. Sometimes, it’s worthwhile to forgo complete independence while traveling.

I was joined on the trip by travel writers: Angela Dollar, Ted Beatie, and Carlo Alcos. Visit and bookmark their websites. After that, view Lake Titicaca photos featuring the Uros people.

This trip to Thailand was courtesy of the Tourism Authority of Thailand. The content and opinions in the article are those of the author.
gennaro-salamone-photo.jpgGennaro Salamone is the founder and editor of Enduring Wanderlust. Feel free to contact him with questions, comments, or inquiries with reference to contributing an article or photograph for publication.


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Uganda: Next Kenya or Tanzania?

March 31, 2010 by  
Filed under Destinations, Features

When you hear Uganda, if you’ve never been there, the first thing that comes to mind is Idi Amin and perhaps the more recent civil unrest in the north. Well, I certainly associated Uganda with these things, but when I visited the country last month, it painted a different story altogether. Now, when I think about Uganda, I think of lush green hills, white water rafting (apparently, the second best rapids in the world), gorilla safaris, which I wished I’d done, and the very friendly people.

Editor’s Note: This post was written by guest contributor Meera Ashish.

So, discovering how much Uganda has to offer, why then is Uganda not a tourist hot spot? Well, I definitely met tourists while traveling around here, but why isn’t Uganda on the tourist map as much as say Kenya or Tanzania? Of course, the quality of safaris that the latter two countries offer are unrivalled, but if you go to the right places in Uganda, you’ll certainly get to see the big five. When I visited Murchison Falls, I managed to see two lionesses and one majestic lion from up close on my very first day. When I say close, they were just steps away from our jeep: sitting, lazing, and yawning. One thing’s for sure, traveling by road to Murchison Falls or anywhere can be a little tiring, though simultaneously eye-opening, and if you want to take a plane anywhere, it might pinch your pockets. So it definitely doesn’t help that traveling within the country is either long or expensive.
sipi-falls-uganda.jpg kampala-sunset Sipi Falls + Kampala Sunset © Meera Ashish

But regardless of all this, I think the lack of tourism here is to do with the fact that there just hasn’t been enough of a push in media. Yes, Uganda may have its own problems, just like any other country, but it seems that the government here needs dedicate a team and invest some capital into marketing the country. No matter how much a country has to offer, if the average person living in any other city of the world doesn’t hear anything about it – well apart from watching Last King of Scotland and thinking that Uganda still hasn’t quite recovered from the despotic leader it had so many years ago – then how can that country expect to attract high numbers of tourists?

And it isn’t just the game parks, the gorillas and the Nile that can attract tourists. Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, is bustling with activity. It was a good place to start from, but also fascinating to understand the growth potential here, learning that Uganda had found barrels and barrels of oil. I wondered how different it would look in ten years, with all the oil money.

cycle-4-uganda.jpg Biking in Uganda © Meera Ashish

Apparently, they say that the land in Uganda is so fertile that anything you put in the soil will grow and bloom. Well, all the food I ate here certainly tasted extremely fresh and organic. The staple food here –a stodgy and mushy matoke mixed with groundnut soup and then a bean mixture (not quite sure what to call it) – might look bland and a little grubby, but it tastes pretty good. And some of the best dishes, you’ll find being cooked on the streets, from fresh and hot cassava to something called rolex – a rolled up fluffy egg chapati. I had this – without the egg – while quad biking through a village in Jinja. Nothing could have tasted better!

The quad biking route in fact overlooks the rafting in the Nile, but having never done rafting, I was a little apprehensive this time. Which means I have a lot left for next time. And the great thing is: I’m coming back at the end of this year for a bike ride from the famous Sipi Falls to Kampala, raising money for secondary schools in Uganda. Cycle4Uganda is hoping to attract a hundred people from around the world to participate in this 350km bike ride over the New Year period.

uganda-girls.jpg Girls from Uganda © Meera Ashish

The route will take in some of the most scenic spots in the region. Beginning at the imposing Tororo Rock, an ancient volcanic plug, the route takes us into the foothills of the magnificent extinct volcano, Mount Elgon, to view the spectacular Sipi Falls, a series of waterfalls with imposingly huge drops where much of the water from the mountain cascades off. Halfway through the ride there is an action packed ‘day-off’ in Jinja – so I’ll be rafting then. The route finishes with us leaving our bikes on the lakeshore and taking a small boat across Lake Victoria to a resort in Kampala, the capital city. We’ll be passing not only through the rural country, but also through several bustling towns. And of course, it’s going to be warm (apparently a warm climate all year round as it sits on the equator).

The bike ride is aiming to raise £150,000 or $230,000 to help secondary schools in Uganda. This will be done through an innovative program that has been devised by Mara Foundation, a charity based in Uganda. Rather than just spending money on a school and then going away, Mara Foundation partners with schools long-term to help them come up with new solutions for providing better education. The charity is quite unique – it recognizes the importance of good facilities, so raises money to develop them, but it also acknowledges that good facilities is only a small part of a quality education. The foundation has already partnered with two schools and hopes to scale the program up to ten schools in the coming year.

If you want to join the bike ride over the coming New Year, sign up on Cycle4Uganda.
meera-ashish.jpgMeera Ashish is a weekly travel columnist for Gulf News, Dubai and contributes to various publications including Bazaar, Conde Nast, Spa Secrets, Epoch Times, and Travel Plus. Her guide to Dubai was recently published in the UK, and while she was born and brought up in London, she now splits her time between Uganda and Dubai – well, that’s when she’s not journeying around the world.


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