Wednesday, February 12, 2020

So... Thailand (part 5) ENP and final thoughts

A Penance for Species
Why would I travel 16,600 miles (roundtrip) to spend a vacation picking up elephant poo?
It's a fair question. Maybe it's not for everyone... but maybe you should do it anyway.

Firstly, if you are interested in Elephant Nature Park and you haven't seen "Love & Bananas", that's gonna be required viewing.

It's tough to watch in parts. It has an important message and ultimately, a positive message.
It's shows why we unfortunately have to have to have a place like Elephant Nature Park, and why what Lek has accomplished is all the more important. You'll learn what a crush box is. You'll learn about logging, street begging, why it's bad to ride an elephant, and why elephants don't paint.  You'll learn how elephants are blinded and what a bull hook is. You'll have a better understanding of what most of these 80 or so Elephants have been through, and have endured with for more years than you've probably been alive. And when you actually get to ENP you'll see more stuff that wasn't in "Love and Bananas." Just fair warning. Personally I didn't watch. They didn't need to convince me further. I already flew halfway around the world to be there. But you have to go in knowing this to appreciate the giant, noble souls that await you there.

Elephants are phenomenal creatures (African or Asian flavored). They are incredibly intelligent, self aware, emotional; they mourn their dead, and travel in multi-generational families; they play, and they form strong emotional bonds. They remember. And there really is nothing cuter than a baby elephant.
If you want to measure the cruelty of man, look no further than how we've treated the elephant. If you want to measure the kindness of a woman, look no further than Elephant Nature Park.
Got to meet Lek- it was an honor. Truly an amazing woman.

What's it like to volunteer? If you want to see more about what it's like to volunteer for a week at Elephant Nature Park, I made a video of my time there that sort of cover all the details:

In short it was an amazing opportunity to get to work along side these magnificent animals. Worth the weight in poo. Humans being jerks to other humans is one thing. I'd argue that we bring that upon ourselves, so we deserve what we get and what we ultimately end up doing about it as a society is our own thing. Being jerks to each other is all on us. Not cool is when we are jerks to the other species that share the planet along side us. There are a lot of narratives going on at ENP.  Elephant sanctuary and rescue is the obvious one, also dog and other animal rescue and adoption, is another. Education and awareness. Animal rights, sustainability, and veganism are strong narratives as well. I'm not vegan, but I'm sympathetic to those ideals.
Humans are jerks to other species. So I went; sort of in a way to apologize for my species. "Sorry elephants for us humans who were being jerks. Let me pick up your poo for you and here's some watermelons to eat." Let me support Elephant Nature Park and give them some money and a bit of my time. Humans are jerks to other animals here at home.. so why not give my time and money to a local dog shelter?  I have. And maybe it's hard to we don't have wild elephants in the United States. Elephants are not domesticated. And humans have really been jerks to elephants.

There's more to this trip than just temples and elephant poo.
There's nothing wrong with taking a relaxing vacation that involves swim up pool bars, cruise ships or a giant mouse. I've done plenty of those, I will still do those. But allow me to compare for a sec, because I see a difference. Swim up pool bars and beach cabanas are fun.. and "safe". It's familiar. The difference I've noticed is... There's no feeling of accomplishment, I don't mean accomplishment by navigating through the pool and getting that fourth drink at the swim up pool bar. 

So, I just did a solo trip to a totally foreign country on the other side of the world.  There's probably many people out there that have done stuff like this and more., however, I've never done anything like it before. 20 hours on a plane, navigating through airports and cities. Figuring stuff out on the fly. Wandered around street markets and temples. Met amazing people from all over the world. I ate food that to be honest, I don't know what it was, but it was amazing. I researched it all and put it together on my own. I relied only on myself while I was there. I got the hell out of my comfort zone and I figured this shit out, I went and did it. And here's the thing... I think it's easy to read that and say that I'm bragging. I'm not... I am listing accomplishments. It grows you as a person. You level up. It's another piece or two to the puzzle of the life you spend a lifetime trying to figure out. I'm not talking the kind of growth you measure by how many pounds you gained eating on cruise. I'm talking the kind of growth your soul does when you come back a different person than when you left. Where you can say I've done that, and no one can take that away from me. It's one thing to say "I've stood online at the midnight all you can eat cruise buffet." or "I've been on the It's a Small World ride at Disney." It's another thing to say "I've stared down a great white shark while cage diving in Mexico", or "I've walked along side Elephants in Thailand" or "I learned to ride a horse across the Scottish highlands". There's a difference in experiences, but also in what those experiences do to you as a person. That's what's missing from the swim up pool bar type of vacation. Doing that sort of a work trip, and doing it solo can give you a greater sense of confidence and even a better understanding of yourself; that you accomplish much more that you think you can. Added to that is a sort of volunteer thing... i.e. shoveling elephant poo; you become part of a greater communal effort. The accommodations are not luxury and neither is the work you'll do.. but from that you'll gain a sense of humility. You'll grow. The work you do when you are there, begins to mean a bit more- you are giving rather than just taking. It's rewarding.
No matter what life throws at you afterwards, you'll always have that experience, that sense of accomplishment. No matter what happens, no one can take that from you.
Look, I'm not saying I'm better than anyone because I've done this stuff.  All I'm saying is because I stepped out of my comfort zone and I have done these things...I am better than the "me" I used to be. I like that much more than just continuously doing the safe vacation thing.

All of that said, my next couple of trips  this year are actually gonna be family cruises. Plenty of swim up pool bars and the like. It's gonna be time spent with parents and in-laws; those who are older and aren't able to travel to Thailand and shovel elephant poo.  It'll be fun of course, and these family trips are important for other reasons too. You'll hear about those trips on this blog also.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 10, 2020

So... Thailand ( Part 4.5: A video recap)

They say that despite all the writing... sometimes a picture is worth a 1,000 words.
And then what is 1,000 pictures worth? Oh, about 33.5 seconds of video at 29.97 fps.

I put together a video or two of my trip to Chiang Mai. When I do these trips it's important to prioritize the experience first. I'll never go somewhere with the express purpose of just filming or photographing without taking the time to appreciate. You'll never see me haul the big camera around and setup lighting and shots and wait hours for that perfect shot, not on my trips. Honestly it's not my primary focus (ha!). 
It does however run a very close second. I enjoy it, I'm pretty decent at putting a video together. And I have that mental wherewithal, that photographers and filmmakers have to see shots etc. Lately I've been enjoying capturing 360 video and photos and being able to share them after the fact on VR headsets like the Occulus Go gives people a chance to share a bit in my trips that they may never be able to do  themselves ( like diving with sharks, for example). 

Running around an airport or an elephant nature park means having to be pretty mobile and is not conducive to having a big DSLR camera and lens with you. I chose to leave the big expensive (and heavy), DSLR home. 

These videos were all created with the following cameras:

GoPro: These come with me all of the time. I am a big fan of GoPro! I love them they are small, powerful and versatile. I bring at least 2 gopros: a Hero 7 Black and a Hero 4 Black; and with a variety of accessories, depending on what the trip demands. I'll sometimes bring along my gopro session 5 as well.

Insta360 ONE X: I love this little camera!  It captures 360 4k video (5.7k too) and HDR photos AND can even do 360 timelapse. The software "stitches out" any support pole so you can get this drone like quality and really creative "impossible"  type shots. It has several cool accessories like a 3 meter extendable pole (for those hard to reach drone shots), even an underwater dive housing (for those hard to reach shark shots). I love  that after the fact  you  rotate your shot around in 360 space and find  and recompose any number of shots. and you extract them as a 360 photo or video or  a regular image. You can also keyframe panning to give camera movement to your  extracted video. All long after the fact! Find out more about it here!

Insta360 GO:  Not actually a 360 camera, but the company that makes the ONE X  also makes a little horse pill size camera called the GO. It's really no bigger than your thumb.   It only shoots 1080p and you can shoot for  15 sec, 30 secs or 60 sec at a time. it can do photos, and timelapse. It only has 8Gb of storage and it's has a multi-charge case similar to the an apple airpod.  It has a couple of differnt types of attachments , and it can attach magnetically... you can stick it on a metal pole or something or on a medallion type necklace that you wear. You record by tapping the thing. It seems weird, it's a little frustrating at times, not perfect, but amazingly handy in a hands-free sort of way. I end up using this a TON on my trip- it was just that useful! Find out more about it out here!

Light L16: When I don't or can't take a big DSLR and a bunch of lenses with me on  vacation, I have the L16 camera (not that I used it to make videos like the other cameras here, but many of the photos posted on my website including those taken on my Thailand trip were with the L16). The L16 is a discontinued camera, still an amazing piece of tech. Built in it has 16 lenses, including 28mm, 36mm, 50 mm 75 mm and 150mm. They all take the same picture at the same time.  All of that data is stored and when you access the photo, it draws from all of that data. it's the equivalent of  a 54 megapixel image. you can change the Depth of field ( background blur) after the fact, refocus on subjects, after the fact. and  with all of those lenses at play it shoots HDR within a single photo! Effectively 13 stops of tonal range. It has all the same controls you'd expect on a DSLR.  Exposure comp. shutter priority, white balance, ISO priority,  6 shot burst , timer etc.  it's perfect ofr travel because it's just a bit bigger than a large cell phone.And it shoots 1080 video.

And of course, the ol' cell phone camera comes in handy too.

All that camera gear still fits really easy into a small day pack. In fact, most times when I was out with the elephants and doing stuff, I was wearing the GO on my shirt, and had a gopro on a "jaws" clamp and the 360 ONE X in my bag with a small tripod. And my cell phone. That's 4 cameras, infinite possibilities!

 Here's a video about my day in Chiang Mai!

NEXT: My Video and thoughts on Elephant Nature Park!

Saturday, February 8, 2020

So... Thailand (part 4) temples & night markets

WAT to do in Chiang Mai for a day? Lots!
(see more of my temple photos at

Sunday... i headed out to enjoy the city. I had no map, no agenda, just a full day to wander. As I mentioned in my other post.. I have very good direction sense, all I need is a few landmarks to get my bearings and I'm good. I think it's okay to get a little "lost" when exploring. So with cameras in hand, off I went.

The temples are amazing. And there are so many of them. the architecture and detail are amazing, the grounds are tranquil, once you step through the threshold from city street it's instant peace. There are some rules when visiting temples, so always be respectful. It's commonplace to take off one's shoes and leave them outside (in NYC they would probably get stolen.) and wear respectful clothing that covers shoulders and knees, being the most basic. I'm not a really religious person, but I am always respectful of other's religions. Whatever your religious beliefs are, these temples are truly beautiful.

Then by 4pm on Sunday... the streets start to get a little crowded as vendors begin to set up shop.

The same streets that I had walked that day, full of cars and trucks, scooters and tuk-tuks were filled with crowds of people later that night.

I loved these night markets!

 Hey look... elephants! A little foreshadowing for the week ahead. 
Even some of the temples would be open at night, allowing vendors to set up there as well. Mainly huge food courts.

The Three Kings Monument
Musicians would take up space in the streets to play.

These guys were rather creative about it.

All sorts of performances were going on!

This guy... this guy was awesome!

A didgeridoo band in Thailand? This is TUKU and they were so amazing I bought their CD on the spot!

More on TUKU here:

After wandering all day and night.. it was time to get ready, for the next day I would be among the elephants!

Coming next: a week volunteering at elephant nature park! 

Friday, February 7, 2020

So... Thailand (part 3) First Night in Chiang Mai

The First night in Chiang Mai

Y'all read about the hotel here, right? if not, catch up. I'll wait.

Okay, where was I? Right. So... Thailand.
I got into Chiang Mai around 5:30 pm local time Saturday. Got the hotel and after a quick unpacking (and a much welcomed shower) I was ready to do some exploring of the area that evening. Cathay Pacific had kept me well fed throughout my plane ride, so I wasn't even that hungry by the time I had landed.

I have a very good sense of direction. I can attribute this to playing video games for many years, games like DOOM, Duke Nuke 'em, Quake, and a myriad of dungeon crawlers. Plus a lifetime of tabletop Dungeons & Dragons. This has given me profound mental mapping skills. I'd even call it a superpower.

 I tend to keep quite a pace while on vacation. I'm not one to rest on my laurels for long. Still wet in some places from my shower, I excitedly set out to go see what I could see.
My ultimate goal was check out the Saturday night market. As I wandered about, I came across my very first Wat (temple). You never forget your first wat.

Wat Phan Tao

It was a surreal and magical start to my trip. I never got back to see this place in the daytime and I'm sort of okay with that.

It was wonderful walking around Old City at night. Unlike say...NYC. I felt very comfortable- it  was enjoyable to see all the people walking along the streets coming in and out of  the various cafes and open bars. It felt safe too. not any real traffic noise, no honking, no sirens, just the occasional pitter-patter of little tuk-tuks  and scooters zipping about  Here's some random street shots while on my quest to find the night market....

And then I found the Saturday night market. Wow. WOW.  Every Saturday and Sunday night a section (several city blocks) are shut down to traffic, and vendors setup shop in the street for the evening. It was like a festival but without all the questionable, over-priced carnival rides.  The streets are overflowing with people, artisans, crafts, souvenirs, bands, food and more people- for blocks... and blocks. It's massive. And it's awesome to behold (unless you have issues with being in large crowds of people, then this is probably not your scene). I loved it. It was incredible. I could wander around looking at... All. The. Things... for hours! This was just the Saturday night one. The Sunday night version is, I think even more expansive and it is set up in a different section of the city, though it's much of the same vendors and stuff as far as I could tell.

Then I made my way back to the hotel. It was getting late, I 'd need to get a decent night of sleep if I was going to spend the whole of Sunday exploring what else Chiang Mai had to offer.

So... Thailand (part 1)

I went to Thailand. (It was awesome !) I had always wanted an opportunity to get up close with elephants. Being on safari in ...