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The second leg of our Adveture - Leaving the Safari

sunny 40 °C

So that is it. After 5 months, dozens of new scars from tiger bites and leopard scratches, blood, sweat and the occasional tear, countless bottles of whiskey and beer, and many many new friends, we have left the safari. Although we are ready it was very hard to leave, we have been treated like family by the boss Joe and the Thai staff, everyone was upset to see us go, all they asked was ‘When are you coming back?’, ‘You travel quickly now an come back’.

Our last two weeks there were a definite mixed bag. When we arrived back from our break in Chiang Mai, the first thing we did was inform every one of our decision to leave. This was taken better by some people than others. Our first few days back were difficult to say the least, but thankfully certain people left and took the bad atmosphere with them. Our last ten days have been a total contrast, for a couple of days we were alone with B, a vet from Brazil who become our new drinking friend and then we were joined by two new volunteers Sean and Carris. We had a lot of laughs and the fun of volunteering at the safari returned. It was perfect for our last week. We got a lot of things done and put lots of things in place with the boss and the Thai staff to ensure the project will continue even if there are no volunteers. Chelsea wrote to-do lists for the staff and a rota so that any volunteers can experience all aspects of the safari even if they just come for a week. One of the highlights was taking Latte, the baby leopard we helped raise onto the safari. She is now almost seven months old and is ready. Chelsea has been weaning her off milk and Monday walked her round and handed her over to Mr Num, the leopard keeper. She was afraid and managed to climb into the roof which we had to deal with but once she gets used to it she will have a great life in the huge safari enclosure. The cherry on the cake, as far as we are concerned, is that for the last two days we had the lion cub to take care of. She is incredible, very cute, very grumpy and so big for only two months old. We spent the majority of our last days playing with her and laughing at how grumpy she is. On our last afternoon Sanapong took us in to the safari where we got to walk and hand feed all the animals, deer, giraffe, flamingos and zebra. We got to see the lions and tigers up close on the safari and it was a really fun, perfect way to end. On our last night Sean and Carris presented a bottle of rum and beers which we had fun finishing, playing games and talking.

We left on Tuesday morning; we exchanged a few good bye gifts, a lot of tears and took one of the safari buses into Kanchanaburi. It was hard saying goodbye to YaYa our seven and a half month old tiger but she will soon be on the safari and have a fantastic life. Tuesday was a long and hot day. We took a minibus to Bangkok after breakfast and this took an hour longer than normal. Liam was seated next to an American man who lives in Thailand and right from the word go he was talking to Liam and did not stop until we got off in Bangkok. Chelsea slept for most of the journey, although Liam is fairly sure she was pretending for half of it. In Bangkok we were just waiting for our train. It did not depart until 8pm so passed the time with a bit of retail therapy and then a couple of beers while researching our new destination. When it turned late afternoon we made our way to the train station, bought our ticket, ate dinner and washed it down with a couple more beers.

We are very excited to be travelling again, the last time was in Myanmar, and although we have had fun little trips whilst at safari we always knew we were going back, or we were spending days getting visa’s. To not have any plans again, and no time restraint is great. Our first stop is Vang Vieng, Laos. Apparently it has changed recently from a bit of a party mecca to a more relaxed vibe so we are looking forward to it. Having been to Vientiane for the visa a couple of month back Vang Vieng is the next stop on the map at this particular border crossing. Same as Vientiane we caught the night train to Nong Khai which is really easy to do and costs around 700 baht, and then catch a smaller train across the border to Thanaleng for 20 baht each.

The border crossing was quick and simple and in no time we were in a taxi on route to the bus station. All was going well but then the taxi driver pulled over to tell us that the bus to Vang Vieng was expensive and we should get a minivan. After a short debate where it looked like he wasn’t going to take no for an answer ‘Ok’ we said; ‘take us to the bus station anyway’. We are used to people trying to rip us off. The bus station was usual south east Asian chaos, no signs, people everywhere, no clue as to where we were supposed to be. On top of this people kept approaching us to sell us things we did not want. Welcome back to life on the road. We eventually managed to get a minivan to our hotel of choice in Vang Vieng for only £1 more than the public bus, this would also save us having to pay for a taxi from the bus station once we arrived, and is quicker. The public bus costs 40,000 kip and the minivan cost us 50,000 kip. Our train into Nong Khai was late and by the time we had sorted all this out, and grabbed a quick lunch it was nearly 1pm.

The journey to Vang Vieng was not great. The road conditions in Laos are poor, you practically bounce up and down in your seat the whole way. Most of the journey is in the hills, which although makes great scenery, the road is forever meandering. It was all too much for one woman at the front who started to vomit, first into her coat, and then into a plastic bag. It took longer than expected but we arrived around 4pm in Vang Vieng. We managed to book into our guesthouse, Nam Song Garden, a nice, cheap and clean little place on the Nam Song River that runs through the town for 40,000 kip a night.


Our first impressions of Vang Vieng are good. It is very quiet, being low season, which we like and the surroundings are beautiful, large green mountains and jungle sit opposite the river. The town is small but is definitely catered to western tourists. There does not seem to be much authentic Laos remaining but it is very beautiful and it seems a great place to spend a few days relaxing and figuring out where we want to go during our time in Laos.


Posted by Chelsandliam 21:18 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand laos volunteering vang vieng Comments (2)

Photoblog, last two weeks at Safari Park

all seasons in one day 35 °C

Since our last blog entry there have been several dramas at the Safari Park. This has concluded with people leaving that we were sad to see go. On top of this there have been a few short term volunteers that have left after becoming good friends. The hardest part of been here long term is having to say goodbye to so many good people.

As we have not entered a blog for a while, and so much has happened outside the usual running of things we have decided to just upload lots of photos of the things we have been up to. Our work has been again mainly with the cubs, outside of work we have been having far too many parties and have consumed far too many bottles of whisky.

After Liam last time, the latest staff party karaoke was all about Chelsea, here she is singing Take That with another volunteer Gwen.


On cubs Chelsea has been doing great with the Training.


And there has been improvements has we have now hooked up a 50 metre line between two trees that the cubs are attached to with there lead that gives them so much more room to run around.


Enrichment for the cubs has been a big priority and they both love to destroy watermelons


Our lion cub is growing at an alarming rate, she is a month old and bigger than leopards twice her age.


On a day when a hangover was too much to work with some of us went to another local zoo. It was awful and the animals were in terrible conditions, just showed to us the importance of the work we do. The plus side was there was a awesome baby gibbon that was allowed out of its cage. Chelsea did not go as she was on cubs, she was very jealous afterwards......


This weekend the boss Joe took us to a local school's 65th anniversary party. It was lots of fun, we had a great seven course meal (that included fish guts soup) the obligatory bottle of whiskey and there were carnival games.


Finally here is a belated photo of us during the amazing Songkran festival back in April, we have only just got the photos as we did not take our camera due to the water


We now take ten days off from the safari as Liam's dad is coming to see us. We are very excited, and looking forward to enjoying a few days sightseeing and relaxing together. We are sneaking in a lazy pool day tomorrow so we can be totally refreshed for when he arrives.

Posted by Chelsandliam 00:18 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand volunteering kanchanaburi Comments (1)

Last Days in Vientiane and back to Safari

sunny 41 °C

Our last two days in Vientiane were more or less the same as the first two. We had to pick up our Thai visa, which thankfully was an easier process than applying for it, but this was not until after 13.30. We decided to walk to the embassy, see some sights on the way and stop off at any nice café we spotted. Once we had had breakfast we set off and it soon became apparent we had made a mistake. It was incredibly hot, far too hot to walk in and as we jumped from shade to shade we also realised there were no cafe's in this section of the city either. We did manage to see a sight, a large monument based on the Arc D'Triumphe in Paris. It was a huge concrete square, hollow inside with an arched entrance on each side. From a distance it looks impressive but once you are underneath it is a bit disappointing. It has been took over by locals who run a few small shops inside. At least it provided plenty of shade and we had a drink before setting back off to the embassy.

That evening we decided to have a bit of a luxury night and after our canapés and buy one get one free beer at I-Beam bar we set off to the river. We walked along the Mekong river at sunset, it was a stunning sight, and there are a few higher class bars. The whole place seems to either newly, or soon to be, renovated. We stopped off at a nice bar and had a cocktail while the sun went down. After we walked back up river, through a night market and tried to find somewhere to eat. We settled on a little French restaurant called Le Provence. We ordered two pizzas and they were delicious. Super thin and crispy base with anchovies, salami and mozzarella. The best pizza we have had in Asia.

On our last day before catching the night train, we took advantage of our last lay in and spent the rest of the time in a café drinking chocolate milkshake and chatting before going to the train station. We just missed the first connecting train to Nong Kai in Thailand to where the over night train starts. We had to wait until 5pm for the next one so passed the time drinking beers at tiny shop at the end of the platform. The night train itself was not as good as before, mainly due to the air con being too high and Chelsea did not sleep as she was too cold. We arrived in Bangkok at around 7am and after a quick breakfast, jumped in a minivan that took us to Kanchanaburi.

We arrived back at the safari on Saturday afternoon, unfortunately we did not come back to very good news as one of the puppies, George, had died that morning. Needless to say the whole team was devastated and no one was really working, We decided to get together that night on the river and have a few drinks to cheer everyone up. George has been buried by the river too, with a little cross which has his dog collar rapped around.

Sunday everyone was still a bit down but we had to get back to work. Us two got to go on cubs again. Chelsea was a little annoyed as Tat the tiger was not as responsive as when she left. Probably because the other people looking after her have not been doing it the same way. Liam was with Latte and was determined to get through the whole day without a scratch or bite, that lasted around 30 seconds when she jumped out of he night enclosure and scratched him on the hand. Latte is relentless at trying to bite. and jump at you, she will listen when you tell her off but she seems to forget after 2 minutes and will come straight back at you. Luckily it is just playing so the bites don't do any damage.

Yesterday Chelsea went back on cubs and has got Tat back to how she was before she left, Liam worked on Coffee the leopards cage. It is a double cage that we are planning to use half of for Tat when she is two big for her current one. The first job was to put up a visual barrier so Coffee and Tat would not be able to see each other as this would make Tat uncontrollable. So some of the team spent the day cable tying bamboo that had been split lengthwise to the mesh of the cage. It was very time consuming work but we managed to get in done.

In the evening we had been invited to 'staff meeting' by Joe the boss. The meeting was actually a party and Joe bought in drinks and food for both his Thai staff and us. It was a great night and we all drank way too much whisky and beer. We also got to try Thai white whisky, which is a horrible. Joe was making us shot it every so often and each time is was hard to keep down. Thai people love Karaoke so there was a karaoke machine set up and the Thai's were on it from the word go. It took several drinks before any of the volunteers had the courage to go up and by the end of the night we were all up there killing song after song. After we run out of ideas for songs to sing we sang them twice. It must have been awful for the Thai staff listening to us but it was a little bit of revenge.

Today has been a right off. We have all had serious hang overs. We have looked after the cubs, well Liam has looked after the cubs, Chelsea has laid asleep on the floor all day outside the cub enclosure. Thankfully we have had no customers and the cubs have been amazing, they just both laid in their doorways next to us all day as we recovered so it was not too much of a hassle. It is fair to say tonight is going to be an early one to catch up from last night.

Posted by Chelsandliam 05:06 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand volunteering kanchanaburi Comments (3)

All in a weeks work at the Safari

sunny 45 °C

This last week has been a very good week, we (the volunteers) have had one of our biggest achievements since the programme was set up and we have also attended the evening party of a Thai wedding…

Chelsea has spent the whole week working with the cubs. Tat the tiger has improved tenfold due to the work Chelsea has done and the fact she has been consistently with her every day. We are pushing to improve the enclosures, both night time, and day time as they are currently way too small. We have also for the first time in a long time being able to out a big log in with Tat to give her something to play with. We are winning little battles like this every day. It does become slightly frustrating that simple things take a while to be achieved but it is always worth it. The training is incredible, Chelsea can now give two commands; ‘calm,’ Tat will lay down and wait for a treat, and ‘come here’ Tat will approach her at a safe pace for a treat. This has just been achieved in the last few days and we now need to decide where to take the training. She is extremely tame with Chelsea, Chelsea can lay with her head on her belly, she can get prints of her paw and quite often when Chelsea sits in the cage she will get up and lay next to her. Spending time with her everyday has made a big difference to her behaviour. She really enjoys company and wants to please which is nice. Chelsea today even took new volunteers inside and she was fine with been stroked by them which is a massive deal as she is very afraid of new people.

As of a week or so ago we also now have a lion cub at safari. The other day we were walking through the area that it is cared for in and Chelsea was allowed to feed it. Already it is bigger than leopard cubs that were born three weeks ago. It is incredibly cute and very fluffy. We have been told it is a female and we cannot wait to work with her.

Liam has had a more varied week. He has been odd job man and errand boy for the more skilled builders we currently have, this mainly involves carrying all the heavy stuff and trying not to get in anyone’s way, and he has had a few afternoons and a full day on cubs with Chelsea. He has spent more time with Latte than normal due to the excellent work Chelsea is doing. Liam has been playing with Latte and winding her up until she gets really hyper and Chelsea tells him off, he can’t help it though as she is so much fun. He has a few bites and scratches though so he is starting to learn his lesson.

The two of us have also had our first meeting with the boss of the safari park on behalf of the volunteers. As we are now staying for free we are given increased responsibilities and the meeting was great. The meeting went well and Joe, the boss, listened to our requests and we managed to get a few things cleared up.

The volunteers’ biggest achievement to date in our opinion is the story of Hang Heng. Hang Heng is a tiger that was chained to a table from around the age of 2 months. When the volunteer programme started in December last year he was 18 months old and still on the table. By this time he was sick and constantly pacing. He never got any attention because Blue was also on a table parallel to him and has he is so much bigger, therefore more popular, the Thai staff and customers always wanted Blue. We managed to get Hang Heng off the table, although a slight improvement this meant he was in a small night enclosure all day and occasionally replaced Blue when Blue was sick. This was not good enough so we asked for him to be moved to safari. This took a long time but around a month ago he was moved to safari. We thought at this point he was getting exercise and playing with other tigers on safari but we found out two weeks ago that he has never been out and has been kept in another small night enclosure. We have pushed like crazy to get him out, and the staff had several excuses but this week we finally got him out. He originally went out Monday and we saw him briefly through the fence, on Tuesday the boss took us all on safari to see him proper. It was so amazing to see him out in a large open enclosure, he was walking around covered in mud where he had been in the water sitting with the other tigers. When we appeared he approached the bus chuffing and looked really happy. It so good to know we have improved just one animals life so drastically, even if it has taken a lot longer than it should. It has given the whole team a real boost. Next stage is Blue.

For the last two weeks we have also been doing the English lessons on or own rather than with Danni and Adam as they have been away. We have loved it, and the kids must have too because the usual numbers of 1-4 kids since we came back from Myanmar, have increased to 14 which we had on Wednesday, We taught them the five senses and had different things for them to touch, taste and smell. At the end we blindfolded them and made them feel the objects and then say the appropriate sense. This was until Liam had a go and the kids went crazy, poking him and hitting him with the objects while he was blindfolded. Chelsea even joined in.

Friday night we attended the evening party of a Thai wedding, We know the guy has he rents us our bikes. It was a really strange party. It was quite traditional but very informal, there was a stage and there were several singers and a pair of comedians (we think they were comedians but we could not understand them). There was a free meal which consisted of 8 courses, and free drinks including whisky. It was great fun and the food was amazing although randomly the entertainment changed slightly towards the end of the night where a Thai girl just came on stage wearing less and less clothes for each song until the end she was just in her underwear, it must have been part of the act because the Thai guests did not seem to think anything was out of the ordinary. As with any Thai party it was open mic so there were several drunken attempts made to sing by locals. After the party we went back to Kanchanaburi and stayed out for a couple more drinks before collapsing into our £4 a night room to get some sleep before being up at six to drive 27km back to safari park.

This week has been a lot of fun and Hang Heng for us is by far the highlight of our whole time here. Our Thai visa runs out on May 17th so next week were are having off and going to Laos. We are only going to spend a few days there relaxing and getting a new visa then coming back to safari.

Posted by Chelsandliam 06:18 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand volunteering kanchanaburi Comments (0)

Cub training at the safari.

sunny 46 °C

As of yesterday we have been in Asia five months. It has gone extremely quickly and looking back and reading this blog we have done alot but there is still so much we want to do. Here at the safari park several volunteers are stil away so we are continuing to look after the big cats and cubs.

Wednesday and Thursday we were both on cub duty. The days started with the clean and Chelsea got to take one of our new volunteers to see the giraffes. No matter how many times she goes to the giraffes she still loves it. The leopard clean is so much easier than the monkey clean, and most mornings we are finish around 8.30. This gives us time to pay a quick visit to the leopard cat in the jungle to re supply food and water and then go to the night enclosures on safari. We have been doing this for a couple of weeks now just checking whether all the cats are getting equal turns on safari as they can not all be out at the same time due to fighting. It has soon become obvious thought that this is not happening. We have had a meeting with the boss and the keepers and they have provided solutions to give all the big cats enrichment and excerise time.

The cubs are continuing to improve, the training is coming along well and they are both getting calmer. The only problem we have now is just space. The leopard can jump out of her enclosure and the tiger is too big for hers, it is becoming dangerous to have two people and the tiger in there. Giving Tat the tiger a shower is always one of the highlights. She loves the water and she sits under the hose, playing with the water for ages. She lets you rub shampoo into her and wash it off and its so nice watching her enjoying herself. As she loves it so much we are classing it as a form of enrichment for her so we are not going to do it very often, just so she still enjoys it and it is still novelty for her.

On Thursday night we finally had the BBQ that had been postponed earlier in the week due to rain, The ckicken was the only thing that did not survive. We sat outside with the fire and cooked ribs and a huge catfish stuffed with lemon grass and spices. It was delcious severd up with the curry that was cooked for our dinner by the restaurant staff.

Friday we had a bit of a change. Chelsea took one of the new volunteers on cubs and Liam helped the rest of the guys building. Tat the tiger is so bored in her enclosure that she often just runs in circles. We sit in there all day with her but the only thing she has to play with is her wter bowlwhich she often smashes. Since the death of her brother the owners have been very reluctant to give her any toys or anything in her enclosure at all. We managaed to explain that she needs toys and natural materials in there so she is less bored. We have introduced enrichment and gave her a coconut in the morning to play with. She loved it and she chased it round for hours trying to bite it. When the novilty wore off and she became boisterous again we gave her a frozen ball of ice cubes. She had loads of fun smashing it all up and licking it.

We have decided to build a new enclosure in the jungle for our leopard cat and for any future possible releases we do. The current one was thrown up out of necessaity and is not really practical. We currently have a welder here so plan to get as much out of him as possible as he is the first welder to volunteer. We are planning to make the enclosure alot larger and fit a proper holding cage so we cat safely access it to clean. Liam realy enjoyed helping. it was very scrapheap challenge as we salvaged metal from old stock piles and rusted flat bed trucks. Liam just helped holding and carrying while all the metal cut up and grinded to size. Thailand is not a country for PPE so we had to make do with sunglasses for sparks and ear plugs made of tissue paper. Flip flops are also not really appropriate footwear...

The main incident we have had this week happened in the afternoon. We have a tour guide who often brings small groups of tourits just to have a photo with Blue on the table. These tourists do nothing else in the park, usually we just ignore the samll group but yesterday the tour guide brought a coach of 50 people. It is a massive step back for us if this tour guide can continually bring this number of people to have a photo with Blue. If Blue is making this money he would never come off the table. Tat tried to speak to the tour guide about alternative programs that the volunteers have set up in order to remove Blue from the table and the guy was not interested. He said he did not care, and things got heated quickly and Tat got upset. This has disheartened the whole team. It remains to be seen whether the guide can bring this number of customers consitently.

Last night was also a nightmare. One of our puppies George, got a prolapsed penis. Everything wsa out and inverted and twisted he was in a lot of pain. We made several attempts to push it back in while restraining George but the swelling some became too servere. We conntated a remote vet we have and he thankfully replied quickly. We had to give him anti inflamatory meds, wait for these to kick in then after a cold compress to further reduce the swelling force it back in while ignoring the screams of the puppy. It became drastic as the vet said the puppy could go into shock if it did not go back in and then die. It took us until 1 am but we managed to get it back in. We do not know however what the after care will be like and how long until the risk of it happening again has passed. We do not know how it occured this time.

Today we were all a little tired after last nights drama. The clean passed in a bit of a blur. Then we got more bad news, the flat bed truck we had taken apart yesterday for the leopard cat enclosure was not scrap and has to be put back together. This despite it being in terrible condition. We spent the morning welding back together all that we had cut up yesterday. Again Liam is no welder so he was on holding duty. Chelseas was on cubs again. The cubs are making real progress after working with us so closley. We are trying really hard with them and we think you can tell in their behaviour. Latte the leopard cub used to jump up to play and bite but now she is very calm and if she tries to jump you just show her your index finger as a telling off and she walks away. Wehave started to take customers back inside with no milk safely with her and she enjoys all the attention and affection. Someone is sat in her enclosure all day so she gets used to people ebing in there and does not react when we bring in a customer. She walks on a lead really easily and will even let you lay next to her and stroke her.

Tat, the tiger cub is more difficult than Latte but is doing really really well. In the mornngs she walks on the lead nice, even though she is quite strong. She just needs patience as she likes to have a sit down and a play. This is understandable as she has been in a metre by metre box all night so she is excited when she comes out but Toy does not have the patience and hts her bum with a stick until she moves. This causes her to be unpredictable and jump around as she is afraid and is really annoying when you are walking her. Her training is going excelent. We train her inside the cage now. We show her the clicker and say the command 'calm' and show her the palm of our and and she lays down. We then click and feed her while she is being calm. If she gets up we wait until she lays down again and then click her. This means she recognises getting a reward for being calm. Today Chelsea brought in a brand new volunteer into the enclosure half way through the training. Usually she would be up, trying to test them and dominate them but she stood up and went over to him and when Chelsea said calm she laid back down and stayed there. This is a massive step and it is obvious that she enjoys the training and wants to please us. During the day she had a mad half an hour where she wouldnt settle down and was bouncing off all the walls. Chelsea went in with some food and the clicker and she calmed straight down. She even eats meat from your hand. We are really pleased with the progress she is making and hopefully it will mean that she can learn several commands and we can safely take in customers when she is a really big cat. We dont hit her apart from an occational flick on the nose when she tries to bite as we are finding that having mutual respect between ourselves and the cats is working much more effectively. The only problem is Toy, Blues keeper. She regularly enters Tats enclosure to 'play' with her. This invloves revving her up so much that she is dangerous, hitting her and then leaving the cage becasu she is too 'crazy'. it is annoying as it is really detromental to our training as she is getting mixed signals. We always insist that any volunteers that go inside dont play with her as we are trying to encourage her to be calm, especially with our hands as when she is older this can be very dangerous. Also hitting her and dominating her is so different to the approach we are doing with her that it can cause her to be unsure how to act with humans. We called a meeting with the boss today to express our fears about Toy and her behavoiur with Tat as it really upset Chelsea. After all our hard work we dont want it to be jeperdised by someones urge to dominte and humiliate a tiger. We feel like if we dont get the training with Tat right we wont be given another chance to show the boss we can do it. Not only this but it is hard to watch someone really hit a cub that you have looked after for months.

In the afternoon we had a meeting with Joe the boss, we addressed what happened the day before and also that fact that Tat the tger is too big for her current enclosure. We proposed moving her temporarily to a empty cage by the monkeys until our big project of Big Cat World is complete. This would give Tat at least three times the space she has now. Joe said he would think about it but it sounded promising.

There has been a big step back with the tour group and the team is a bit shaken. The last thing we needed at this point when we are so close the getting Blue of the table 50 people turnng up to pose with him. We hope it is a one off, and we also hope it does not mean the Thai staff decide to leave him there. We need to come uo with a new strategy and try and bring more people in to do our ethical programs and making people think about what they are actually paying for when they take a photo with Blue.

Posted by Chelsandliam 07:45 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand volunteering kanchanaburi Comments (1)

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