A Bucket List Day With Elephants – The Story of Patara Elephant Farm

There is something about an elephant. These large, imposing creatures with sad eyes seemingly asking for help, tug at my heart every time I have the pleasure of gazing into those eyes.

Close up of Elephant eye

Why I feel drawn to elephants may go back to my childhood when a circus came to our town when I was about 5 or 6 years old. I was invited to visit and sit up on top of one the elephants. I can still recall the course, hairy skin, how tall it was and of course those eyes. Sadly I now know that the circus elephant was likely mistreated as are so many elephants.

The Asian elephants in Thailand have historically been mistreated. They have been used for hundreds of years by royalty for armies and for status. The logging industry, in Thailand specifically teak, was also responsible for the mistreatment of thousands of elephants.

3 Elephants at Patara Elephant Farm

When the teak logging industry was banned in 1989 the elephants were no longer needed, leaving many to be taken by the tourist industry where the mistreatment continued.

With the forests so depleted there was no way the elephants could be released into the wild and therein lay the problem. How could the elephants be saved and cared for?

There have been many rescue parks set up in Thailand. Most of them are reputable, and work hard for the elephants, along with providing programs for tourists.

Heidi with two elephants

Patara Elephant Farm is a rescue and breeding facility  founded in 2001 with an excellent education and Elephant Caregiver for a Day program which helps to raise money to care for their rescues and new born elephants.

The programs that Patara offer are unique in that you are paired one on one with your own elephant for the day. Your day starts with an interesting educational talk where you learn all about how to care for, how to check for signs of good health, what to watch for that may indicate problems for your elephant.

There are almost always baby elephants at Patara due to the fact that they are a breeding facility. With medical care given with the support of Chiang Mai University they have had a very successful program with an average of 3 babies born each year, one year they had 5 newborn elephants join the herd.

Lunch at Patara Elephant Farm

The day at Patara includes the learning component, a wonderful jungle hike, a lunch prepared by the local Karin Tribe women, served by the river.

Heidi in the river with her Elephant Boun Dee

If you choose to you can swim with your elephant as a wonderful wrap up to your day.

 

 

 

The experience is heartwarming, interesting and a little bit sad at the same time, and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.

I have had the opportunity to visit Patara 3 times, and twice had the same elephant. I like to think she remembered me.

 

My Dragonfly Experience in Bali

Excerpt from a previous Wanderlust Scarves Post.

Bali has long been on our travel destination list. In January of 2019 we finally made the journey. Bali is an island and province of Indonesia. The island of Bali is home to the majority of the Hindu population of Indonesia, with about 84% of the population being Hindu. Bali is a popular destination for travellers looking for tranquility, beaches and yoga. However, I think most people will be surprised by the hustle and bustle of the main city of Denpasar and the crazy busy atmosphere. Of course once you are off the beaten path you will find tranquility, beaches and yoga, but we loved the friendly people, the shopping and the beautiful moss covered temples.

We flew in to the main city of Denpasar, and were immediately hit by the hot, humid air when we stepped off the plane.

Flying in to Denpasar Bali

For the first half of our trip we were spending almost a week in Ubud. We had arranged pick up at the airport through my hotel, (We are past figuring out buses and public transport after a flight) and were whisked away to the wonderful town of Ubud. Located inland about 30 miles from the airport, Ubud is the cultural centre of Bali. Ubud is a shoppers paradise, so of course we loved it. On this visit Heidi was on the hunt for scarves and sarongs, but all of the handicrafts, jewelry, and artwork are incredible.

The market is jam packed with goods and in front every other booth is a burning offering to the gods for luck, giving the market an overwhelming smell of incense.  The choice of goods was amazing! Heidi had to pull herself away from the jewelry vendors to start the scarf search. Much fun was had choosing the sarongs and negotiating with the lovely ladies at the market.

Bargaining is always a part of the market experience and something worth working on improving. You want to be nice but you also don’t want to get taken advantage of either.

Owl Carvings at the Ubud Art Market

A smile and eye contact goes a long way, as does keeping in mind that the vendors are making a living and a dollar or two makes more difference to their lives than to ours.

The favourite scarves we brought home from Bali are definitely the cotton Batik. We came upon the shop one day and fell in love with the beautiful, indigo blue scarves. Handmade locally in the traditional Balinese way. Hearing the store owner, Kadek talk about what it means to keep the traditions alive, what it means to the local economy and the villages. It means a lot when I find scarves with a story.

After shopping the village we were always a hot mess, Bali is hot and humid. Our routine was to go back to the hotel for a lovely swim in the gorgeous pool overlooking the jungle. The pool was an infinity pool, complete with statues and little fountains. It was heavenly.

One day Heidi was languishing in the cool water and  pulled herself up to glance over the edge of the pool

Overlooking the Jungle from the pool at the Kayon Resort

and down in to the jungle (always looking for monkeys), imagine her surprise when a huge cloud of dragonflies rose up and filled the air right there in front of her!! It was like a scene from a Julia Roberts movie.

We took it as a sign that we were in the right place at the moment, that we were where we were meant to be, doing what we were meant to be doing.

We can’t wait to start planning the Tonbo Luxury Tour adventure to Bali! Sign up for our newsletter to be sure to be in the loop for all our upcoming adventures.

 

What Living Through A Pandemic Taught Me About Travel

What Living Through A Pandemic Taught Me About Travel

Nobody saw this coming. We were all living our lives, traveling, going to the gym, eating in restaurants, when the unthinkable happened, the world was hit with a super virus sending us all into lockdown.

We were all caught between knowing what was best for the world and mourning the loss of our beloved vacations. Regret comes in to play as we sit at home not making plans. Time is spent talking about how you should have gone on that long awaited trip to your dream destination.

Red Dao Woman and child

Travel not only give you the opportunity to relax and unwind, it shows you how other cultures live, what is important to them, how they eat, raise their families and how they too relax and unwind.

Yes your travel will look different when once again we all begin to move around the world. You will need more patience, more care but you’ll also feel more gratitude. I believe when you do travel again you’ll appreciate it more. You’ll will cherish that sunset,

Sunset

Glowing sunset over the ocean

the amazing local Pad Thai, and the leisurely day spent with your toes warmed in the sand.

Most of us have the tendency to put things off until we retire, have more money, have more time, have less work what ever the case may be. How often have you said to yourself “sometime I’d like to ….” or “One day we will…” ? Then when you decide yes, you can’t due to who would have thought, a pandemic,

Now as I have the time to reflect, I have learned to get out and take that walk, make that special meal or read the book that has been sitting on my desk, and most importantly plan our trips for as soon it is safe to do so.

Travel has been a priority for me for years now, but now I want to make sure when it is safe to do so you don’t put off that dream trip. Get out and see the world. You will be changed, educated and fulfilled.

A Moment in Bangkok

A Moment in Bangkok

Bangkok is a huge city. When I travel here I look for the little moments and the tucked away locations that make me want to share this incredible city with others.

view of Bangkok from the Mahanakon building

Sunset view of Bangkok from Mahanakon

On our recent trip to Thailand we took our group on a local food tour. We have done food tours with our guide Nutt before and we were all looking forward to it. This tour was specifically billed as one to taste very local foods, many of which you would not find at most restaurants in Bangkok.

Thai man pointing at a map in Bangkok

Our wonderful guide Nutt

We met Nutt and started our day on a Klong boat on one of the canals in downtown Bangkok. These canals are very efficient for getting around the city. At one time many of what are now streets in downtown Bangkok, were canals. There are a few remaining in the city east of the Chao Phraya river and many still in use on the west side in historic Thonburi.

Before we boarded the Klong boat Nutt introduced us to a common snack for the locals made from sticky rice, coconut and sugar, wrapped in banana leaves and

Snack of rice and coconut wrapped in banana leaves on a fire grill

Banana leaf wrapped sticky rice and coconut

grilled on an open fire. Very delicious and convenient.

We headed off down the canal, giving us a view behind the scenes of the city. Although not the most picturesque views, it certainly gives you a sense of how many of the locals live. The stops are very quick as the locals hop on and off with ease while on their way to work.

Arriving at our stop we carefully exited the rocking boat, with a hand from the local dock man. Winding our way through a bustling wholesale market where you can buy 10 t-shirts or the ubiquitous “elephant” pants for about twenty Canadian dollars. Nutt guides us through the maze and our next stop is for the most delicious fried bananas, two styles crunchy and creamy. I don’t usually eat bananas but these were incredible!!

We eat our way through this quiet neighbourhood that feels friendly, clean and welcoming. Tucked away off the street is a lovely local market with many stalls making delicious food. Nutt chooses our next items for the food tour tastings and we settle in for more eating.

people sitting around a table in a market eating

Enjoying lunch at the Nang Loeng Market

This is when we meet Thom for the first time. A smiling lady doing a little dance comes up to Nutt to say hi. They chat for a minute, we say hello and share a smile, then she dances off down the aisle. Nutt tells us a little of Thom’s story.

Thom has 11 children.

She is homeless.

She is still smiling.

My first thought is why are none of her children helping her but Nutt explains they are struggling themselves. I ask if I can give Nutt some money for him to give to her. Nutt wants me to give it to her, saying that it will mean so much more coming from a tourist. We have to search for her. She is not begging.

Elderly Thai woman in a yellow shirt

Thom

Honestly, I think I am giving her the money to make myself feel better, but when we finally find her and I give a small amount of cash to her she bursts in to tears. Hugs ensue and I am choking back tears myself.

Thom escorts us out of the market to where we are meeting our driver. She heads out on to the street to stop traffic for us so we can cross. Seriously, she does this. This quiet little market is her home, the neighbours her family. The cars stop for her.

This is why I travel. This is why I want to get off the busy main streets in to the not always beautiful back roads. Because this is where the beautiful moments happen.

What I Learned When I Travelled to Italy And Why It Is Great News For You

What I Learned When I Travelled to Italy And Why It Is Great News For You

Recently I travelled to Italy with friends to celebrate a milestone birthday. It was an incredible experience for a couple of reasons.

The first, traveling with friends and experiencing another culture is one of the main things in life that I absolutely love to do. In this case we had three days on our own in Rome and then we stayed at an incredible villa where we were completely taken care of, including meals, wine, tours and comfy accommodations.

View from my room at Villa D'Abruzzo

View from my room at Villa D’Abruzzo

This second part of our journey showed me just how much a personal touch can enhance your travel experience. I learned so much from the staff and owners of this villa about how I want Tonbo Luxury Tours to operate.

I have found that as we head in to our 50’s and beyond, many of the travellers I speak with feel safer with a guide but have no interest in huge tour busses and large groups that you can never really connect with.

Tonbo Luxury Tours provides an experience for small groups who want to wander and explore yet relax in luxury at the end of the day, who want guidance and confidence to experience the local scene. Guests who enjoy chatting over a glass of wine, getting to know each other. Guests who want to show up at the airport at the destination and be taken care of from that moment on with luxury accommodation, meals, transportation, tours.

“I want you, our guest to go home with a story to tell and a strong desire to travel with Tonbo Luxury Tours for another adventure.”

Elephant Day

A day with my elephant, Bun Dee and her baby, at Patara Elephant Park

Everyone has different expectations from their travel experience. I encourage you to find the one that speaks to you, but I also encourage you to explore the whole package. You need to know when you are planning your adventure, how you want to feel when you are at your destination, how you want to relax and explore. Are you comfortable figuring out the transportation systems, finding your way alone and dealing with the foreign currency, knowing the best area to stay in?

“The feelings that I am looking for when I travel are security, luxury and connection.”

I was lucky enough when I started exploring Asia that I had my son, who lived in Shanghai at the time, and my daughter in law when we traveled to Japan, both be our personal guides. I learned many insider tips, gained confidence and fell in love with the area.

Show Japan Trip

Heidi and Marc at Shinto Shrine at Miyajima

Since our first trip to Japan over 10 years ago we have traveled to Asia many times, each time learning and falling more in love with the exhilarating, exotic and beautiful cultures.

I want you to have the opportunity to experience the joy of travel as I have. Ensuring you feel safe, pampered and most of all like you have been changed by the experience of travel.

Did you miss out on travel when you were younger?

Did you miss out on travel when you were younger?

When you were young did you dream of taking off and exploring the world? Then life happened? Work, kids, caring for elderly parents?

I totally understand. Same thing happened to me! But once I started traveling I knew I had found my

Heidi and Marc in Sapa

calling. I knew that I had to find a way to help others experience the world as I have, while feeling safe, confident and pampered.

The Sukhothai Hotel

Gone are the days of hostels and backpacking, what you need now is a luxury hotel at the end of the day with a great meal and a glass of wine.

The challenge for many travellers who are new to travel outside of the “usual” locations, is organizing the adventure. Traveling to Asia is incredible but to get the most out of it you need to be well organized, know what to see, how to get there, not to mention figuring out the currency. Our superpower is knowing how to plan and execute so you get the most enjoyment out of the destination. We have the connections for the hotels, the tour guides and the drivers. We take the fear and worry out of travel so you can relax and enjoy.

HoiAn Artist

An important point to keep in mind when traveling to Asia, particularly Thailand, Vietnam, and Bali, is that the most rewarding experiences come when you get out among the locals, eat their food, see their markets and wander their streets and alleys. Sitting on a bus driving through a city does not provide you with any kind of local vibe, except for maybe a traffic headache!

Exploring on foot around the cities, the countryside, shopping for fresh fruit or delicious snacks at the local markets, this is what gives you the true feel for a place. We start the morning at our fabulous hotel with a great breakfast, head out for the day where we eat what may just be the best food you’ll have, at a local vendor or small family run restaurant.

Khao Soi, Chiang Mai

You will feel like you have really absorbed the atmosphere of the destination. You’ll feel like that 20 something that dreamed of exploring the world. Your day will end in luxury with a great meal and luxurious sleep.

You will be so excited to share the stories of your adventures with your friends and family. You will definitely impress the younger generation when you show them your photos of your incredible trip.

Overlooking Hanoi at Night

Tegalalang Rice Terrace, Ubud, Bali

Heidi with her Mama & Baby Elephant

Red Dao Sapa Vietnam

Can you imagine no more lost luggage?

Can you imagine arriving at your destination and your luggage not dropping down on to the carousel? Even worse can you imagine that luggage never arriving? This exact scenario happened to a travel companion of mine on a recent trip!

Ready to go with my carry-on bag.

I have a love hate relationship with traveling carry on only. After my recent trip to Italy where one of my travel companions NEVER did receive her luggage in Italy, I am now even more determined to be a carryon girl. It was incredible the runaround that she got from the two airlines involved. I must tell you due to weather problems, our flights were canceled, rerouted, and then we missed the new connection, so rebooked again. None of us were surprised that the two checked bags did not show up the day we arrived. One of them did show up the next evening but due to many small errors along the way the other bag sat at the Rome airport for 9 days before eventually being sent back to Ottawa. Yes my travel companion will have her stuff but what a nuisance it was for her outfitting herself for the 10 days we were in Italy. Just imagine what it would be like trying to find clothing in more remote places or where the locals are all very small and the sizing is nothing like what you need! I start to panic just writing that!! We all want our stuff.

Photo by Freshh Connection on Unsplash

Checking your bag can feel freeing, but for me I love knowing I don’t have to worry about my luggage, and all my stuff, arriving at my destination. I actually enjoy planning out my wardrobe before I travel, so that when I am away it is so easy to get ready and out the door in the mornings. On my adventures, I usually pack my most comfortable and favourite pieces. I do not want to lose them.

It is so much easier if you only have a small suitcase while navigating the airport, trains, and even private vans when you arrive or are getting around at your destination.

“I feel like a rockstar when I show up with only one suitcase and a small backpack!”

The down side for me is having to handle it at the airport. Luckily I am almost always with someone who can watch it for me while I visit the bathroom, or pick up food etc. I also often feel a bit restrained with my shopping because I am always thinking about getting the purchases home. Packing an expandable tote solves the shopping problem, as does just shipping a parcel home. I often fly over carryon and check the bag coming home, using the packed tote for any overflow shopping.

Traveling carry on only is not as difficult as people think it is. In fact I often don’t even use everything that I bring! Some strategic planning with your clothing, being open to possibly needing to buy something like more sunscreen when you arrive at your destination. Many companies are now making solid sunscreen, shampoo and other toiletries that you may need. If you are not sensitive to products, consider using what is provided by the hotels. Many hotels use well known products or local brands that are very good.

Consider trying a trip with carry on only. Plan your wardrobe, be very specific so that you know what you’re going to wear day 1, day 2 etc. Keep in mind laundry is often a very affordable option. Also keep an open mind about wearing pieces more than once. I know you can do it!

Let me know if you give carry on only a try. Or if you have questions let me know and I will help you figure it out!

Why A Tonbo Luxury Tour Is The Best Tour!

Why A Tonbo Luxury Tour Is The Best Tour!

TukTuk ride in Bangkok

Our goal is to provide luxury tours to active travellers who are past the stage of hosteling and backpacking. Our tours include walking, taking public transit in large cities, climbing in and out of traditional boats and TukTuks. A certain level of physical fitness is required to make the most of our adventures, yet at days end you will be pampered at a luxury 5 star hotel.

Our mission is to find special hotels with character. Often the hotels we find are locally owned, which provide you with the vibe of the country in which we are staying. Do you know how sometimes you stay somewhere and the hotel room could be in any country? Well, we try and make sure that if you are traveling in Thailand your hotel gives you the feeling of

King Room at The Sukhothai Hotel

Thailand with it’s striking Thai decor and friendly Thai service.

Yummy Spring Rolls in Chiang Mai

Your tummy will be satisfied with the best local food we can find, often times this means a small family run restaurant or even a street stall. We usually make our lunch at these authentic but more casual eateries, with dinners, while still casual dress, are more of a proper sit down meal. Rest assured you will not be hungry on our tours. And remember all meals are included! Our travellers have commented that it is so nice to not have to be pulling out their wallets all the time. Marc our organizational wizard when it comes to the money, looks after all of this for us.

Our Mahout at Patara Elephant Park

Of course you want to see the sights and we look after that too. We hire local guides to take you to the highlights and must sees, give you the intriguing stories behind the sights, and make sure to share the hidden gems too!

 

Luxurious Pool at The Sukhothai

We know you want to relax on your vacation as well, so you will have the opportunity to visit a beautiful spa for a massage or facial treatment, chill by the pool, or go for a walk and explore a local park.  We are definitely not the type of tour that spends one day in a city and moves on. Providing you with an extended time in a city is how we ensure that you will fall in love with our destinations just as we have. Bangkok for example is a huge, busy city. If we were to take you there for two nights and a day, I am pretty sure you would come away with a totally different impression than you will by spending 6 nights and five full days exploring. Linger longer and you will truly be able to say you explored, discovered and really let the destination change you.

Your time spent traveling with Tonbo will be incredible, changing you from a traveler to a storyteller.

See the world, change your life

See the world, change your life

I have a strong belief that everyone should travel.

Traveling the world opens your mind, it changes your perspective on how you see the world. When you come home from your travel experience, how you see your life will have changed.

When traveling recently in Vietnam, which was amazing by the way, I had a life changing experience. While struggling to climb up and down a beautiful, but muddy and slippery rice terrace, I was assisted by some local tribe women. These gorgeous, smiley women were dressed in their traditional clothing including very colourful headwear. Yet on their feet were cheap, rubber flip flops or slides, while I had on sturdy hiking shoes I had purchased specifically for this hike.

Heidi’s hiking partners.

These ladies held my hand so I wouldn’t slip, they protected me from the sun with an umbrella, and they chatted and made me laugh as they made there way along the trails with me. Keep in mind we hiked about 6km in 30+ degrees. As I struggled along they told me they did this every day, rain or shine, hot or hotter. They did it in cheap flip flops.

This was the first hint that I maybe was too focused on the material things I needed in order to do a “thing”.  Later that afternoon we made our way to one of the ladies’ homes. Tucked off the mountain road on the edge of the most spectacular scenery you could imagine, was a shack. That is what I would have called it had I come across it without knowing it was their home. It was cobbled together with old plywood, metal sheeting, cement blocks and some sort of roofing material, of which some was woven palm fronds.

When we entered the home, our lady, the home owner was beaming. She was proud and excited to share her home with us. We were all brought a little stool to sit on, provided water and given a short tour. The floor was cement, walls uninsulated, and the room quite dark. The kitchen was divided from the main room by a wooden wall, and had a fire pit for cooking, a small sink, and a few shelves. No table indoors for eating, and I suspect they sat on the little stools for meals.

Off to one side of the main room was a built in bed where her husband was curled up under some blankets having a nap. In the middle of the room was a small fire pit with a smouldering fire and a large tube of some sort sitting next to it. Shortly after we arrived the husband woke up and to my surprise picked up the tube, put something inside and lit it up!

Red Dao man with water pipe

I first thought it was a drug thing, but it was explained that it was a water pipe and how they smoke tobacco. Smoking is quite prevalent here, but expensive for them to buy cigarettes so they use bulk tobacco.

The couple’s pride was evident as they showed us their home, and the highlight for them was showing us the large framed photo of their daughter at her wedding. On the wall hung a large photo of their daughter and her husband. They were dressed in full western style wedding attire, long white dress and veil for the bride, and a dark suit for the groom.

It was then that I was struck by how much the same we really are at our core. The pride of homeownership, the love for our children, the struggles to provide for our family. Although our

Red Dao Woman and child

challenges may be different than theirs, they exist for us all.

As we headed off to hike back up the rice paddies to our five star luxury hotel, I felt a pang of guilt and regret at not being able to help them some how. I asked our guide and was given the okay to tip the couple but he explained that they were happy and well provided for in their community. It was my perspective on their situation that needed to change,

I carried that thought home with me. Had I not travelled to this beautiful region of Vietnam, met these amazing humans, and made a connection with them, I would not have been enlightened.

What we need in life to survive, is quite minimal, what we want on the other hand is where our thoughts need to change.

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