cats

Elephant Nature Park: A Day You’ll Never Forget

Feed and bathe the residents of this elephant sanctuary outside of Chiang Mai.

Water buffalo coexist with the elephants at the park, one of the highest-rated sanctuaries in Northern Thailand

Water buffalo coexist with the elephants at the park, one of the highest-rated sanctuaries in Northern Thailand

Before we did a bit of research, we didn’t know any better. We thought the idea of riding an elephant would be fun. But the more we read in preparation for our trip to Chiang Mai, the more we realized we didn’t want to be a part of perpetuating the ill treatment of elephants and that we wanted instead to visit a sanctuary, a place where elephants were rescued and not exploited.

It’s heartbreaking to think how much these elephants suffered before their idyllic life in the sanctuary

It’s heartbreaking to think how much these elephants suffered before their idyllic life in the sanctuary

The Elephant Nature Park outside of Chiang Mai had great reviews, so we booked a half-day visit with them. A van came to pick us up at our hotel, stopping in town to gather other travelers. The ride takes over an hour, and be warned: You’ll have to sit through a horrific video detailing the barbaric practices of “training” elephants.



The sad fact is that en route to the park, while you’re learning about the cruel practices trainers use to break one of these creatures, you’ll pass tourist operations where people are riding elephants. Which means they’re guilty of the atrocities you’re watching on the small screen at the front of the van.

Spend a day at the Elephant Nature Park to feed, bathe and get to know rescued elephants

Spend a day at the Elephant Nature Park to feed, bathe and get to know rescued elephants

The Elephant Nature Park’s mission is to rescue elephants who have been retired from the logging trade, have been abused by the tourism circuit or have suffered in some other way.
Elephants live about as long as humans do

Elephants live about as long as humans do

The Elephant Nature Park was founded by Lek Chailert. Her mission is to rescue elephants who have been retired from the logging trade, have been abused by the tourism circuit (trekking, street begging, circuses) or have suffered in some other way.

Little Yindee is one of seven baby elephants to have been born in the park

Little Yindee is one of seven baby elephants to have been born in the park

The park purchases elephants for about 2 to 3 million baht and offers them a 500-acre sanctuary to roam freely. There are currently over 30. A lot of them have medical problems from their ill treatment in the past, and here they receive excellent medical care and the proper diet.

Elephants at the park get fed corn, rice, watermelon and squash — but they seem to prefer bananas

Elephants at the park get fed corn, rice, watermelon and squash — but they seem to prefer bananas

Insider Tip: You’ll do a lot of walking, so we don’t recommend wearing flip-flops as a lot of the other guests did. But you also don’t want to wear shoes you can’t get wet — at the end of the tour, you have the chance to go into the river to bathe an elephant, and we had to go barefoot. The best footwear would be walking sandals that can go in the water.

Wally and Duke had a fun day at the Elephant Nature Park while visiting Chiang Mai

Wally and Duke had a fun day at the Elephant Nature Park while visiting Chiang Mai

Please Do Feed the Animals

At the Elephant Nature Park, you get divided into smaller groups of 12 or so, and you make the rounds seeing the elephants as they go about their day. Our first stop was to feed Kham Moon. She’s 55 years old (elephants have the same life expectancy as humans!). She was involved in logging until she broke her leg and was deemed useless for those purposes. Now she’s a sweet, if spoiled, resident of the park.

There are baskets of food you’re allowed to feed the elephants. We fed her pumpkins at first, but after a while she spotted the bananas and only had eyes for them. These big beasts sure love to eat — they consume at least 10 percent of their body weight every day! Our guide, Nieo, told us that elephants eat for 20 hours a day and sleep only three to four.

Many of the elephants at the park show signs of their previously abusive lives

Many of the elephants at the park show signs of their previously abusive lives

An elephant's trunk is its most versatile tool. It’s used for breathing, smelling, trumpeting, touching, grasping for leaves, sucking up and sometimes spraying out water. This useful bit of equipment has 40,000 muscles (compared to the human body which has just 639 muscles), Nieo explained.

You don’t really realize how wise and sweet these animals are until you get up close and personal with them

You don’t really realize how wise and sweet these animals are until you get up close and personal with them

It’s really quite freaky but amazing watching elephants eat. The end of their snouts are able to grab food, moving like fingers. I’d hold out a banana, then quickly move my hand away as the snout pulsated, squealing like a little girl.

An elephant’s trunk is an amazingly useful appendage

An elephant’s trunk is an amazingly useful appendage

When near an elephant, always stand where it can see you — they don’t have peripheral vision. You also shouldn’t stand directly in front or behind an elephant, Nieo told us.

It’s true that elephants are scared of mice, our guide added. “They don’t like small things — including children. They move too fast.” Keep that in mind if you’re bringing little ones along.

Our next stop was feeding Sook Jai, an 82-year-old elephant. She’s blind and has no teeth, so we had to peel bananas before giving them to her.

Another elephant fun fact: They’re natural born farmers. They only digest 40 percent of their food, so whatever they eat grows out of their poop.

The elephants cool off in the water and use their trunks to spray themselves

The elephants cool off in the water and use their trunks to spray themselves

Bath Time

Our group moved through the hot sun over to the watering hole, watching the elephants cool off, spewing the brown water onto their backs. We learned that one of the elephants in the group had been rescued after stepping on a landmine.

A baby elephant named Yindee splashed in the water with her cohorts. She’s one of seven elephants to have been born in the park.

Duke thinks this elephant could use some good moisturizer

Duke thinks this elephant could use some good moisturizer

Wally makes a new friend

Wally makes a new friend

Some of the mahouts splashed one of the elephants who has bad legs and can’t lie down in the water. While we watched these giant creatures cool off, the operation across the river had people riding elephants right by guys recklessly driving off-road ATVs. Our group all disparaged them, and I suggested throwing elephant dung at them.

Our guide was informative and had a great sense of humor

Our guide was informative and had a great sense of humor

By the river, we fed an elephant named Jandee. That means “Kind Heart,” Nieo told us. It’s ironic, though because this 66-year-old is a bit feisty and would fight if she was near other elephants.

She doesn’t have any teeth, either, so we fed her rice balls.

I pretended like I was going to throw one. “Snowball fight!” I joked, giving Jandee her treat.

She swung her trunk around with the rice ball before eating it. “She likes to play with her food,” I pointed out.

Jandee is the second largest elephant at the camp. She’s from a photo studio on the island of Ko Tao, where people could take wedding photos with her. But the operator didn’t have license, and she was purchased and brought to the Elephant Nature Park.

You’ll also see a lot of elephants using their trunks to toss mud and dirt onto their backs. It acts as a natural sunscreen to protect their skin and keep them cool.

The park is also a rescue center for cats (as well as dogs)

The park is also a rescue center for cats (as well as dogs)

Midway through the morning, we break for lunch so we could actually feed ourselves and not just the elephants. We had heard that the buffet was delicious, and the online reviews didn’t lie. There are numerous local dishes to choose from, and many of them are vegetarian.

After we were done eating, Duke and I wandered behind the kitchen to the Cat Kingdom. In addition to rescuing elephants, the park also saves water buffalo, dogs (avoid the ones with red bandanas around their necks, as they’re not good around people) and cats. The feline contingency has its own domain, which we explored.

When you join the elephants in the river, be advised that the muddy water can stain your clothes

When you join the elephants in the river, be advised that the muddy water can stain your clothes

The final stop of the day is watering elephants. In addition to not recommending you go barefoot (one of the girls with us stepped on something and cut her foot pretty badly), you also shouldn’t wear anything you won’t mind getting stained. The water is brown, and I got drenched when a young woman on the opposite side of the elephant overshot, and the bucketful of water landed right on me. The mud in the water must have some intense pigmentation because my shorts and shirt never got fully clean afterward.

The Elephant Nature Park has a noble goal, and it’s great to see these intelligent creatures up close and personal. If you’re spending five or so days in Chiang Mai, this is a day trip you should definitely put on your list (along with ziplining at Flight of the Gibbon and the colorful tour of temples in Chiang Rai, starting with the White Temple).

There were some Brits in our group who decided to skip the after-lunch activities and just sat in the pavilion getting wasted. We had to listen to them drunkenly shout and whine that they needed the loo the entire ride home.

That aside, a day at the Elephant Nature Park will make you better understand (and even fall in love with) elephants. They never forget, and neither will you. –Wally

We’re putting our foot down — go to an elephant sanctuary and don’t perpetuate the abuse of these amazing creatures

We’re putting our foot down — go to an elephant sanctuary and don’t perpetuate the abuse of these amazing creatures

Elephant Nature Park
209/2 Sridom Chai Road
Tambon Kuet Chang
Amphoe Mae Taen
Chang Wat
Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand

Catmosphere Cat Cafe

Good mews! Chiang Mai has a pet cafe where you can get your cat crazies on.

If you love cats, stop in Catmosphere for a caffeine and feline fix

It’s one of the great debates of the ages: They say you’re either a cat person or you’re a dog person. Growing up, my family had both, and I don't claim to be biased towards one or the other. Oh, who am I kidding? I get dewy, giant-pupiled anime eyes when I see a basket full of kittens, and when it comes to having a pet at home, I prefer the company of a cat.

Zoey graced us with her presence, sleeping on our table for most of our visit

Wally and I have two cats with decidedly different personalities: an antisocial but beautiful calico named Caribou and a sweet gray and white one who is perpetually hungry by the name of Bowzer. If we didn't live in the city, we would probably (definitely) have more.

Our café is a tribute to all those brave cats who have dedicated their lives to space exploration.
— Ben, owner of Catmosphere

As we knew we’d be missing our beloved animal companions, Catmosphere Cat Café pawed its way onto our list of things to see and do while in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I mean, where else can you can sit and enjoy a coffee, and at the same time play with or stroke some cats?!

The latte art was enough to make us regret our decision to go with iced

The Catmosphere we visited is located on Huay Kaew Road, but it’s situated in a plaza of shops that sit a short distance from the road. We might have walked right past it had I not spotted the sign. When we got closer, we admired the fun marquee lights above the entrance.

Before entering, we were asked to wash our hands and remove our sandals. There’s a rack to stash your footwear, and they provide colorful quilted slippers to wear inside. 

This rapscallion is named Eve. She darts about the café, causing a ruckus, looking adorable all the while

The “Catstronauts,” as the space-themed café refers to its residents, are living their nine lives in style. There is pinstriped seating on the floor, low wood tables and coordinating toss cushions, for patrons and felines alike. Playful sci-fi elements, such as a retro-inspired mural with cats in space, featuring a black cat whizzing around in a rocketship wearing a bubble-style space helmet, while another kitty sticks an orange flag into a lunar surface. (As an interesting aside, on October 18, 1963, the French, eager to stake their claim in the space race, sent a black and white female cat named Félicette 130 feet into the air on a non-orbital rocket flight. She was recovered safely after the capsule parachuted to Earth.)

Wally named this one the Duchess — but later found out his name was Luke

The Cat’s Pajamas

Choosing a time to visit the café can be a gamble, as cats are unpredictable, and in those few hours each day when they aren’t sleeping, can be bundles of spastic energy. According to the Catmosphere website, it’s best to visit either early in the morning when they first open, or in the evening. After all, cats are nocturnal creatures.

On our evening visit, some slept, some were curious, and some chose to observe from afar. One of the most playful resident cats, Eve, skittered across the room in pursuit of something we couldn’t see.

Wally nicknamed a docile Scottish fold sitting on a cushion across from us “the Duchess,” who after a particularly thorough grooming session fell fast asleep, half sitting up. We found out later from one of the owners that she is actually a he named Luke.

A modern cat tower featuring different levels of rectangular white boxes faces the café window and is the perfect place for the kitties to hide, climb, take a catnap, or perch and observe the world beyond.

Elsa rules over her domain, a wall of cubby holes 

For those felines looking for a quick escape route, a tri-level wall mounted variation of the tower functions as the perfect getaway. A white cat named Elsa decided to commandeer this as her lookout point, and when another cat joined her, she chased the interloper away.

 

Coffee and Kitties

How’s the coffee, you ask? Catmosphere serves a full range of coffee drinks and desserts. Wally ordered an iced latte, which was 95 baht, or about $2.75, and I ordered a Thai iced tea (80 baht or $2.35) — I’m a cheap date and will always go for a mix of black tea, spices, sugar, sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk.

As long as you order something from their menu, entry is to the café is free. If you’re simply craving a feline fix, a fee of 100 baht (or $3 at the exchange rate at the time) per hour will be charged. All proceeds benefit the care of the resident Catstronauts.

 

Catiquette

I read the laminated list of rules sitting atop our table. One suggested keeping an eye on your food and drink. A young woman who had ordered a delicious-looking slice of cheesecake left her table to photograph a few of the cats. It was then that I noticed one of the cats balanced on the table’s edge, licking the blueberry glaze off said slice of cheesecake, until one of the young female employees noticed and shooed them away.

The café sells an assortment of souvenir items including tote bags and T-shirts. We purchased a tote with an illustrated portrait six of the resident cats.

The experience was truly unique and we met a menagerie of cats, including Apollo, Athena, Blue, Cooper, Eve, Letty, Luke and Yoda.

Nhoon and Ben, the owners of Catmosphere in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Q&A With the Owner of Catmosphere

We reached out to Ben, one of the owners of Catmosphere in Chiang Mai, to ask him some questions about the coffeeshop. Curiosity killed the cat, they say, but it hasn’t harmed Wally or me yet.

When did this location open?
In June 2014.

How did the concept come about?
Well, for one not many people know that cats have actually been to space! The credit always goes to dogs and monkeys, which is clearly unfair. Our café is a tribute to all those brave cats who have dedicated their lives to space exploration.

Seriously though, we think that it is a fun concept. We are basing it on mid-20th century space exploration and science fiction themes. There’s a lot of creative potential in that, and it allows us to do fun, tongue-in-cheek stuff. It’s cheesy, but in a good way.

Are the cats adopted from shelters or are they purchased?
It’s a mix of both. In the beginning, we purchased cats, but since we opened we have chosen to adopt cats instead, because homeless kittens are available all the time in Chiang Mai.

Are apartments and condominiums pet friendly in Chiang Mai?
Pets are forbidden in most condos. I used to rent a condo before, and we always had to smuggle the cats in and out in boxes, hoping they wouldn’t meow at the reception.

The Catstronauts of Catmosphere. How many can you spot on your visit?

Any funny stories you could share about the cats’ personalities?
Each cat has their own personal quirks! Just a few examples:

  • Yoda waits for the first batch of customers in the morning to go on each person’s lap and give them a cat massage. But he never gives one to Nhoon or me.
  • Eve loves sneaking out to the street specifically to annoy us. She is incredibly good at it — she’ll wait far away at the side of the door and pretend to be busy, then once the door opens, escape efficiently and silently, in a straight line between the customer's legs. Sometimes, nobody notices that she’s gone until she’s at the door half an hour later.
  • Letty shows her love by gently biting people on the nose.
  • Every time a new plaything or other item arrives, Apollo takes first ownership of it, usually by lying on it or rubbing his cheek on it. After a day or so, it is then made available to the other cats.
  • Athena likes to randomly jump on customers’ tables from above and spill the coffee.

I could go on indefinitely.


You’ll just have to experience this quirky cat café for yourself. –Duke


Catmosphere
Huay Kaew Road
Thesaban Nakhon Chiang Mai
Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai
Chang Wat
Chiang Mai 50300 Thailand


The Cats of Fez — Les Chats de Fès

Cute kitties appear around every corner you turn in the medina of Fès

Cat lovers should definitely consider visiting Morocco. There are plenty of other things to do in Fès — but photographing stray cats was near the top.

Duke and I couldn’t help ourselves. Whenever we saw a cat in the medina of Fès, we had to stop to take a picture. Our guide for the first day, Abdul, was patient with us and would smile every time. 

Love of cats is a common trait amongst Muslims. Find out why — and see how the cats of Marrakech compare to those of Fès.

We had many more shots of the well-loved kitties of this ancient city. But I was able to narrow them down to 30. –Wally

The Cats of Marrakech

What to do in Marrakech? Try cat-watching! Cherchez les chats. Cats and Islam have a long history.

 

Morocco is a cat lover's delight. They're everywhere, and they're well taken care of. 

Every day we saw shopkeepers and ticket takers at monuments save bits of their meals to put out for a stray cat. 

A woman locked up a cat until the poor creature starved to death. For this, she was tortured and “had to get into Hell.”

We had tons more pics of the cats of Marrakesh, but a djinni corrupted our memory card. So these are all just from our last day and a half in the city.

Like we said, there are cats everywhere. And most of them were sweet as can be. Click through the photos above, though, and you'll see the one mean kitty in Marrakech. 

FIND OUT: Why We Believe in Genies

 

Cats and Islam

Most people trace Muslims' fondness for felines back to the Prophet Mohammed. He had a cat named Muezza, who’s the star of a well-known story.

The call to prayer sounded, and Mohammed wanted to wear a particular robe — but Muezza was curled up asleep on one of its sleeves. Instead of disturbing the cat, the prophet cut the sleeve off of the robe.

Duke and I can certainly relate. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve stayed on the couch longer than we planned, just so we don’t have to budge Bowzer. So far no clothing has had to be sacrificed.

The Prophet Mohammed stroked Muezza three times  — and ever since then, all cats have nine lives and the ability to always land on their feet.

“Islam teaches Muslims to treat cats well and that the cat is a creature to be cherished and loved. Mistreating a cat is regarded as a severe sin in Islam,” according to the Islamic Information Portal.

The hadith (a story shared orally before being written down) titled The Book of Virtue, Good Manners and Joining of the Ties of Relationship explains how important it is not to mistreat a cat.

In the story, a woman locks up a cat until the poor creature starves to death. For this, she was tortured and “had to get into Hell.”

Cats are loved, not only for their beauty, cleanliness and elegance, but for their practical purposes as well. Muslim scholars wrote odes to their cats because they protected their precious books from mice, according to the website Muslim Heritage.

As an added bonus, “it is believed that you will suffer no harm if you drink from the cat’s water, provided no impurities are seen in the cat’s mouth,” the Islamic Information Portal states. Bottoms up! –Wally