Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Siam Elephant Encounter made me Smile

I admit. I just didn’t smile. I also laugh, amazed and exclaimed wow! Then, I thunderously clapped my hands many times after. These are my reactions after watching the elephant show at Samphran Elephant Ground and Zoo in Nakhon Pathom province. A chance to get close to these gentle animals after the show was an elephant encounter that made me smile in amazingness I will never forget.

Traveling for two hours to Samphran, Nakhon Pathom province is the only way to get up close and personal with these Siam elephants. Samphran Elephant Ground and Zoo is a popular sightseeing destination for both adults and children alike in Nakhon Pathom. Aside from the exciting offer of The Elephant Theme Show, it also offers a Magic Show and The Crocodile Wrestling Show to delight its visitors. Visitors can also check-out the tropical garden and waterfalls while riding on the elephant’s back, visit their Orchid Garden and sample various cuisines at the Erawan Restaurant.

Siam elephant encounter will make you SMILE.
The Magic Show.
It was lunch time already when we arrive at Samphran Elephant Ground and Zoo. I and my travel mates were treated to a buffet lunch at Erawan Restaurant. Most of the dishes served were categorized as Oriental, Western and Indian cuisines for various visitors of different nationalities. I did not focus much on the food so as soon as we finished our lunch, we immediately proceeded to an open-air theatre where the Magic Show has already started. A lot of the spectators were amused and enjoyed the magic show. The magic show is just icing on the cake at the open-air theatre. Anyone who has watched a magic show will be familiar with it already. I am more excited the main show of the day – the elephant show.

Welcoming the audience in style!

The place to be Nakhon Pathom.
The elephants in their royal robes.
When the Magic Show ended, I and my travel mates anticipated the exciting main event. I was in complete awe along with the audience when the elephants took the centerstage to greet the spectators with a welcome banner while donning various positions. The first segment of The Elephant Show was a presentation and narration of how to catch elephants in the wild. While the show is on-going, there’s a voice-over narrating the history of elephants in Thailand and how it became part of the royal army of the kingdom as well as how it became a symbol to the country. While narrating, the elephants plays the demonstration of how they were catch in the wild by the kingdom personnel and how they are being tamed to be docile to people. The good and strength characteristics of the animal were also narrated by the voice-over.

It's time for the next presentation...
The next segment of the show was dubbed as the “Elephant World Cup Thailand”.  In this presentation the elephants return to the stage wearing a jersey like sport uniforms like those worn by soccer players in a real World Cup event - complete with athlete number and country name represented! The elephants play soccer this time with the wild cheer of the audience. There was so much cheer when the elephant wearing the Thailand jersey hit a kick but I was in a wilder cheer with the watchers when the elephant in Argentina jersey score a goal to the net! After the soccer event, they proceeded to demonstrate different tricks and play like rolling hoops on their trunk and doing a sprint race.  The audience responded a thunderous applause after all these presentations signifying their satisfaction to the show.

It's time for the Elephant World Cup Thailand!
Go for the goal, Thailand!
It's elephant playtime!
The finale of the Elephant Show was the dramatization of a great royal battle scene – “Yutha Hathi”.  The presentation opened with a real blast of canon and fires. The scenes were acted with actors riding an elephant engaged in battle between kingdoms. Though, there was a narrator over what is happening, my attention focuses more on the amazing stunts and tricks that these elephants were showing.  They were really amazing and I hope the zoo really treat them well because they make money out of them. It was a great entertainment for visitors of the country. The finale received a thunderous applause again from the spectators. After this, all of the elephants showed at the centerstage to thank all the watchers along with their trick masters and actors in the presentation. It was a perfect time for visitors to have a close encounter with the elephants as it is free to touch them and had a souvenir shot with these gentle elephants.

The Yutha Hathi dramatization.
The finale of the Elephant Show was the most spectacular part of the show.
The Crocodile Wrestling Show was the next event in our itinerary at the zoo. Here a master crocodile catcher performs breathtaking stunts with crocodiles to the audience’s delight. One of the most thrilling stunts that I will never forget in the show is the suspense inducing of putting the mater catcher’s head inside the open mouth of the crocodile! It was dared act for me. The crocodiles were scary because though there are slow moving they are quick in using the long snout with sharp teeth to bite! Around the zoo were also large pens of crocodiles where I saw various sizes of these animals – small, medium to the biggest size croc!

Checking if the crocodile has a nice pair of teeth...
Crocodile's lounge at the zoo grounds.
I felt that my close encounters with the elephants earlier at the show were a bit cliffhanger because I was hesitant in getting nearer or touching them.  I was only quick in touching them and take souvenir photos. Maybe I’m torn in hesitating and excitement as it was my first time to watch an elephant show and my first time get a close encounter with the elephants. Luckily at the ground zoo, there were two elephants which were free to have a close encounter with along with their baby elephants! I did not miss the chance to get a close encounter with them so I quickly went to them. I felt hesitant in touching a mother elephant at first because their trunk is quick moving and acts like their hand. Things might go unpredictable and I might be hit by the elephant’s trunk. But the elephant master instructs the animal to behave so I can calmly touch it and then have a souvenir photo after. Actually the elephant is really behaving well but her trunk is playful. The elephant master maybe sees my hesitancy because of its playfulness so he instructs the elephant to be calm in playing and moving. The elephant’s skin is rough, hard and sparsely hairy. It felt like rubber or plastic with a texture of a straightened crumpled paper. The baby elephant is churlish because I when try to touch it, it spread soil on its back via trunk. Bad baby elephant!
Trying to touch the gentle animal...
Mother and... bad baby elephant!
Taming of a playful trunk...
Elephant encounters: up close and personal.
I was glad with the elephant encounter experience so I bought a cluster of banana to feed these elephants. I told my mom to feed a piece of banana only so we can have more time spent in feeding the elephants. But she gave a whole bunch of banana to the elephants that grab it and ate it whole! I was angry at her first but it turns out she gave it all because we are running out of time and our ride back to Bangkok is already waiting for us. Oh well, I’m still happy and all smiles after my whole afternoon encounter with the Siam elephants. They were all docile, intelligent and friendly to human interaction.  I am amazed with their learned tricks and stunts. They are truly, one of the intelligent animals around. My elephant encounters made my great day in my last itinerary destination outside the outskirts of Bangkok. And while riding on the van, I thought of my whole elephant encounter - it made me smile until we reach Bangkok.

Siam Elephant Encounter made me Smile is part of my Thailand's Amazing Smiles series where I share my wonderful trip to the land of amazing smiles last October 25-28, 2011. For a helpful trip to Bangkok visit Bangkok for Visitors website for more information. You might also like the other parts of the series:  
Samphran Elephant Ground and Zoo
Petkasem Road K.m. 30, Samphran District, 
Nakhon Pathom Province, 73110, Thailand 
Entrance fee including all shows: Adult - 600THB, Child below 130 cms. - 350THB. 
Open daily from 08.30 - 17.30
Learn more about Samphran Elephant Ground and Zoo at their website - click here.
This is not a paid article.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Roaming through Beijing

I initially thought that being a first-time visitor in Beijing will be a dreadful experience. This is mainly because of language barrier as most Chinese are speaking Mandarin (the official language of China). Moreover, street signage are mostly in Chinese characters which is difficult to learn overnight especially for those travellers who get used to standard alphabets. So I thought roaming around Beijing will be difficult and a challenging travel experience. But when I arrived in the city, it was already revolutionized with a very tourist-friendly mass transportation system. Now, roaming in Beijing is never a problem as it is easy as counting 1-2-3!

If you know Mandarin, it will be an advantage when roaming around Beijing. But if not, you will really find it difficult to converse with the local people as they are mostly not fluent in English-speaking. But do not fret, if you have a printed pinyin translation of the place you want to see just show it to a Chinese and they help you find the direction. When talking to a Chinese, do not be afraid when most of the time their tone of voice seems strong and high. That is just their way of speaking but they are kind and will help you find your way in the city. This kind of asking direction is extremely helpful when you are using taxi as a mode of transportation to go to a specific place in Beijing like locating the hotel you want to stay. Just show the translation to the cab driver and he will bring you to the place.

The street at Dongcheng District - the start of our roam in Beijing.
Though there are few taxi scams in Beijing, just be sure that the meter is on. Just beware on taxis that have no meter. It is not a scam or it could be one but those taxis are engage in contracted fares which is expensive than metered taxis. It is also important to know that taxis in Beijing had a compulsory 2RMB fuel surcharge require to pay if the journey is over 3 kilometers aside from the metered rate. You will know these taxis when you see a sticker of 2 sign stick around the vehicle. But I wouldn’t mind giving extra 2RMB in taxis as most of the taxi drivers I encounter in during my entire trip to Beijing were kind and fast-drivers. Beijing taxi flag fall rate is 10RMB for the first three kilometres.

Beijing Taxi - one of the modes of public transportation in Beijing.
On my second day in Beijing, I tried riding their subway train with my travel companions. I think subway is the “real friend” of tourists when wandering around city. Fare is cheap. For just 2RMB fare, it is valid on all subway line stations as long as you don’t exit especially in transfer stations. Most of their subway train stations are also near the places of interests and tourist sites around Beijing. All you need is a subway map and printed information for the correct exits to the place you want to see in Beijing.  The printed map I had was so helpful during my entire trip around the city! It was handy along with the printed information about the correct exits in subway stations so we weren’t lost during our roam in the city. But there are times that we go out on the wrong exit. Like when we are in Wangfujing, were take the wrong exit that we thought is near to our hotel but end up exiting to The Malls at Oriental Plaza where we had to take a long distance walk to reach our hotel. So having a printed map and subway exit information was really helpful in using Beijing’s subway transportation system!

Ticket booth to Beijing's tourist-friendly mass transportation 
system - Beijing Subway.
In addition, station names and signage in Beijing subways have English names and directions. Plus each station has a map of a particular subway line where the train goes. Inside the train, aside from the route map of the train and track where it is going, there is an English announcement about the station location of the train and the next station stop of the train. Beijing’s subways are numbered and color coded on a specific line number. This makes it easier to identify the specific train line to ride on and destination station where to get off as well as transfer stations to get to the next line of subway. So, tourists and visitors who go on do-it-yourself tour of Beijing won’t have a problem in roaming around as the subways are tourist-friendly, cheap and easy to use.

The subway is probably the most popular mass transport system in Beijing that’s why locals and visitors are frequently riding it. As much as possible although it can be avoided is to ride subways during rush hours between 7am to 8am and between 5pm to 7pm. During these times, subway lines are very much crowded. Be aware that during this period pushing in to get inside the train and crowded train cabin in every corner is common and normal. Don’t be afraid if you’re pushed while entering inside the train doors and marches in high volume of crowded people inside the premises of the subway stations. Those scenarios are just common in Beijing subways at rush hours.

Searching for a space inside the subway?
Airport Express at Beijing Capital Airport Terminal 3 Station.
 Be ready to take long walks and taking long stairs up and down in the subways. Some underground subways take long walks to reach the platforms. Especially in stations with line transfers, it is easy to follow the next lines’ location by following the signage and arrow directions but it takes long walks to reach the next line’s platform like in Dongzhimen Station going to Airport Express line. Some stations like Beigongmen and Dengshikou Stations have long stairs up and down to reach the ticket booth and train platform. Now this is a caution for those traveling with kids, senior citizen and anyone who has weakness in long walks. This will be definitely a dreadful experience for them. I myself at times felt tired with all these stairs up and down and going on every corner of the subway to catch the next train. I also had muscle pains in my legs after long and fast walks just to reach my intended destination aside from walking through the place that I visited in Beijing. But with patience and a mind-set that everything is for the sake of discovering Beijing, I survived the challenge of roaming around the big city!

Cheap fares via Airport Shuttle Bus going to Beijing city proper.
I also had a chance to try their buses when we used the Airport Bus Shuttle to return to the city from the airport to spend our idle time after missing our flight back. Commuting using buses going to Beijing proper is cheaper by almost 10RMB compared to Airport Express Line subway back to the city proper (25RMB per passenger per way). Airport Shuttle Bus has a standard fare of 16RMB per person and the standard fare for any bus stop destination (regardless near or farther stop) that the bus is routing. City Bus has a standard rate of 1RMB. My travelmates also used the bus system of the city going to Huairou County to see the Great Wall of China. Fare for this route is currently 12RMB since it is out of the city limits.

Beijing buses are also systematic like the subways. It is numbered for commuters to remember as this specific number has only a specific route as where the bus goes and stops. Information pamphlets about the bus and its routing can be found at the airport’s arrival halls. I also find it easy to use the bus as a mode of transportation in Beijing. Aside from cheap fares like their subways, it is also tourists-friendly with tracking route map, English announcements of bus stops and location and friendly and helpful driver and conductor that eases your travel throughout the city.

Walk if you must... just to explore Beijing.
Rickshaws are also ideal to roam around the city. The rickshaw is a traditional vehicle that was popular in Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai nearly a hundred years ago. Now, modern rickshaw travel is an excellent way to experience old Beijing culture by mostly catering to tourists in touring Hutongs (small alleyways with courtyards). The rickshaws in Beijing are painted a golden yellow color. Secure a good deal of price to pay with rickshaw drivers first before a hutong tour as some might be overcharging you or scams only. Their rates are often higher than taxi rates especially during holidays for the busy traffic of automobile cars.  Bargain for an exact price prior to climbing aboard. Some were pesky tout drivers but deal them away nicely. After paying an agreed fee, the rickshaw pullers will take you through the narrow lanes. Most of the rickshaw pullers can give their passengers detailed explanations on the history and culture of Hutongs, though not all can this in English. Rickshaws are found around some communication centers but they are mostly at travel hotspots.

Even if you don’t speak Mandarin, wandering in Beijing is now easy. With all these wide choices of mode of transportation in Beijing along its tourist-friendly locations and features, roaming around the city for the first-time is not a problem anymore! If you’re lost, ask a local they won’t hesitate to help you even if it means doing a charade to each other just to help you! Whether you choose a bus, a taxi or seeking your space inside a crowded subway train – going to hike the Great Wall, exploring the historical Forbidden Palace and Tiananmen Square, strolling the grounds of Summer Palace or shopping for a night market in Wangfujing is now not far from doing when visiting Beijing for the first time. So let’s hop on as all these must-see and must-do are all possible with Beijing’s very tourist-friendly mass transportation system!

Roaming through Beijing is part of my Beguiling Beijing.Captivating China series where I share my birthday trip adventures, travel stories and first-time experiences in Beijing, China last March 20-24, 2012. You might also like the other parts of the series:   

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Going 7 Super Shots

This is not easy but I am taking part in HostelBookers 7 Super Shots as I was tagged by Ca of Adventurous Feet to share the best 7 travel photos of mine coming from various categories.  Honestly, I feel mixed emotion in doing my 7 Super Shots. I’m glad to be tag along but I also feel pressure in selecting the best photo to represent a category as it is not easy to trim down hundreds of travel photos that I had for one selected photo for a category. Further, I am not a travel photographer with SLR camera so please do not expect a “photographer’s level” of super hi-resolution travel photography shots at its finest but expect awesome photos with wonderful stories behind it in every category.  

This is not really easy, but here’s my 7 Super Shots in random order…

“Winter Sonata in China”
Beihai Park, Beijing, China,
March 2012.

This winter photo is unexpectedly full of drama, emotion and romantic as well. The color of winter sky beautifully mixed with the shadowed surroundings of the park. It was so stunning! An awesome winter scenery that only captured in Beihai Park.  Many travel photos of mine are contenders for this category but this one really wins my heart. I did not expect that winter in Beijing could be this breath-taking!

A photo that MAKES ME DREAM
“Welcome to Paradise“
Waikiki Beach, Hawaii, USA
August 2010.

Visiting Hawaii was one of the best vacations I had in the past. It was a real welcome to paradise as this island don’t just have unspoiled natural beauty and beaches which most of us presumed in a place tagged “paradise” but also has a complete package that offers to any visitors – be it cultural, historical, shopping or extreme sports trips, Hawaii has them all.  And there is "Aloha Spirit" - traits of character that expresses charms, warmth and sincerity of Hawaii's people. This is also the reason why it is not difficult to mingle with the locals and to live in Hawaii as they are always welcoming everyone. No wonder I am one of those visitors who fall in love in Hawaii’s timeless charm. And it makes me dream to return their again and again.

A photo that MAKES ME THINK
“The Beauty of the Philippines”
Borcay Island, Aklan, Philippines
Summer 2008, April 2008.

This photo makes me think how beautiful our country is. And the best way to represent that beauty of our country in a travel photo is the undying stunning sunset from probably one of the travel destination island in our country – Boracay. This Boracay sunset photo is inspired from a Philippine Airline TV commercial in the 80’s entitled “The Beauty of the Philippines.” Beautiful isn’t it?

"Pure Shores of Alona"
Alona Beach, Panglao Island, Bohol
Summer 2011, March 2011.

This photo reminds me of a great Summer 2011 in Bohol where I first time celebrate my birthday on a trip and away from home. I had a great time in Bohol that which makes me smile everytime I remember that trip through this photo. But this photo also makes me laugh because I don’t know if it is beach-hunger or summer excitement, I forget the hot rays of the sun and played under it like theirs no tomorrow until I got sunburn all-over! I really became dark-skinned after this trip which made a subject of jokes with my work colleagues until its over.

“A bowl of Thailand”
Seafood Restaurant, Bangkok, Thailand
October 2011

The best Tom Yum Soup I’ve tasted so far… it was a mixed of sweetness and spiciness with a very tasty meat, crunchy veggies and the ginger played so well with the sweet soup even it is hot! It was like a bowl of whole Thailand cuisine in it! 

A photo that TELLS A STORY
“A view of Guam that you will never forget”
Two Lover’s Point, Guam, USA.
November 2008.

While this is a scenic view of cliff overlooking Tumon Bay and the rest of Hagatna – the capital of Guam, it was named Two Lover’s Point because of a legendary story of ill-fated lovers who jumped of the cliff because of their love for each other disapprove by their family so they can’t be separated forever. Though, there was a sad love story behind this cliff, it leave a legacy in the Guamanian culture by making the place ideal for wedding ceremonies or more aptly an ideal place to vow commitment and forever love because of the story behind the place.  This photo also tells another story - the long ties of Guam and Philippines. Approximately 3km from the ocean where the Two Lover’s Point and Tumon Bay facing is already Philippine Sea. The meeting of two ocean and proximity of two territories to each other resulted a very strong tie relation with each other since the Spanish Galleon times which is so evident until today with a 80% of Guam population is of Filipino heritage.  And behind these stories is a beautiful view of Guam that I will never forget.

A photo that I AM MOST PROUD OF (aka my worthy of National Geographic shot)
“Seeing one of the wonders of the world”
Great Wall of China - Mutianyu Section, Huarou County, China
March 2012.

Tell me if this qualifies for a NatGeo shot but I am most proud of this shot because I tried my best to capture the most dramatic shot possible of the Great Wall of China. It was hard to take photos of this world wonder as I am exposed under harsh condition of cold winter weather, low body temperature and quite becoming sickly in muscle pain and cold. Also, I am very proud of this photo because capturing the Great Wall under the lens is quite a “conquer” of seeing one of the wonders of the world. I never expect to land a feet and conquer the Great Wall of China – it’s still quite a dreamy state being there.  

As part of the HostelBookers 7 Super Shots’ playing mechanics, I am nominating 5 travel bloggers to do the same 7 Super Shots to share in their blogs.
1. Bino of Frameless World
4. Anton of Pusang Kalye

Don’t forget to tweet with hashtag #7SuperShots in your tweeter pages if you do the 7 Super Shots. Further mechanics of the game is in this link. And to end this post, which among my 7 Super Shots is the best travel photo and why? Please do share your thoughts. Thanks!
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