Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Pattaya, Kerry and the Tamar Center

Pattaya - the Thai city of sin?
Today we caught up with our friend Kerry (who is one of our regular commentators on this blog). Kerry is on a 6 month sabbatical to Pattaya to work with the Tamar center. Before we talk about this project we need to explain a little bit more about Pattaya. Pattaya is a tourist developed town but the tone for this development was set by the near by  US navy base. Sailors on shore leave came to Pattaya to drink and sleep with girls. The whole tourist development is geared up around the commercial sex industry. The navy base is still here with regular influxes of sailors but Pattaya has grown to such a point that it doesn’t need sailors to find enough men looking for sex. Men come from England, America, Europe, Russia and increasingly Arab states primarily for sex.
Prostitutes waiting for business in a bar

In the lonely planet guide is starts it description of the city like this

 “Synonymous with prostitution, Pattaya is unapologetic about its bread-and-butter industry.” 

 The Tamar center reaches out to help the women and children who find themselves working in the tourist sex industry. The center runs a number of projects including doing outreach to the girls based in the bars and the girls working from the main beach front. A regular service they provide is free English language courses.

Kerry and Namwaan the team training leader

IT skills base

Coffee shop kitchen

The lovely coffee shop - VERY good pancakes!

They run training and employment to help the women earn money outside of prostitution. This work includes card making, hairdressing, bakery, restaurant skills, IT skills and life skills. The cards are fantastic and you can buy them online here. The coffee shop they run is excellent. I would recommend the cheesecake.

Amazing hand made cards for sale

The Card making hub

Some of the girls in the training 

Everything is centered on helping girls find dignity hope and a future.

The project runs a hair salon on a major bar street and many of the working girls come to get their hair styled. The salon provides a very gentle introduction to the team and is staffed by women who used to work as prostitutes but have gone through the training Tamer provides.
The hair salon in the outreach centre
Some of the outreach team
Dozens of bars line the streets with thousands of girls in the city ready to sell their body to foreigners

Kerry took us on a little tour of the town and we were both shocked with how blatant the prostitution was. Even though prostitution is illegal in Thailand there is no attempt to hide the work. It is everywhere in the city; from bars, clubs, massage parlors and girls on the street. It creates a very odd atmosphere and not a pleasant one. Whilst it has been nice to visit the local Starbucks, enjoy some home comforts (Kerry took us to a cafe for a British fry up!!!!) and it has been great to visit Kerry, we are glad that it is a short trip as we would not want to holiday here. 

Michelle and Kerry relaxing in the counselling room used to help girls start dealing with some of their issues.

We have only told you a tiny amount. The team is also involved in preventative work in the poorer villages that most of the girls come from.  The team also helps girls who want to return to their villages. Kerry and the team are doing an amazing job in this city and greater things are yet to come! 

Also in Pattaya we had the opportunity to go with Kerry and her very funny friend Gemma out of the city and on a boat trip to some local islands, we will get some pictures of that fun trip up later. We are now heading down to the south of Thailand to learn to dive and relax before heading home in a few weeks. We are going to Phuket via a flight to Kuala Lumpa. As we need to extend of Visa and it is easier to fly in and out of the country than to deal with the Visa authorities. 

Monday, 25 June 2012

Elephant Sanctuary

After visiting the Tiger breeding centre we followed up the next day by going to the Chiang Mai elephant rescue park. This centre provides a safe environment for elephants who have suffered abuse or been abandoned by humans to live. we spent the day learning about these amazing animals, feeding them, bathing them and feeding them again (they love to eat)

They live in a beautiful valley

Elephant wearing yellow boots to prevent him spreading an infection

Grabbing as much corn as she can
This is the kitchen, the 34 elephants eat a LOT of fruit

100 years ago their was around 100,000 Asian elephants living in Thailand. Now their is only about 5,00, half of these live in the wild and half are classified as domestic animals. Up until the 1980 elephants were used extensively in the logging industry. Moving heavy logs and trekking through dense rain forest. Then to save what rainforest they had left the government banned logging. Which was good for the rainforest but left thousands of domestic elephants with no way to make a living. Some where abandoned to the wild but growing up amongst humans meant they did not avoid human habitations and sometimes became pests eating crops. Some were illegally sold to the Burmese logging industry. Lots ended up in the tourism industry.

This elephant sadly is blind so has to feel for the food on the ground with her trunk. She also uses her trunk as a guide stick.

Sadly the strains of many tourist jobs damaged the health of elephants. Abuse and neglect of elephants is still wide spread. Domestic elephants (unlike their wild cousins) have no rights as they are treated as cattle. All across Thailand elephants are being dangerously exploited. Sometimes maliciously, like blinding an elephant for not obeying, but more often out of ignorance for the damage they are doing.

You cant see clearly but these elephants are running full speed. They found something exciting!


The Elephant park exists as safe refuge for mistreated elephants. Starting with just 4 elephants they park has grown to now housing 34 elephants. From young elephants months old right up to old matrons over 70 years old. It was fantastic to spend the day going around the centre. Meeting different elephants, hearing their stories and how the centre is caring for them now. Feeding them, we found ourselves feeding the elephants all the time. They love to eat. After lunch a particular highlight for us was going down to the river and helping wash the elephants.
Afternoon bath time

Lending a hand with buckets

Getting behind the ears

Some like to lay down it is just more relaxing!

All clean

We had great fun getting up close and personal with this gentle giants. Towering over us they proved to be very friendly and curious. Their huge size was very intimidating at first but we soon relaxed around them and even got an Elephant kiss off one of the cheekier young elephants.
Nice gentle kiss on the check
Big wet kiss on the nose

Chiang Mai has been a great change of pace from temples and projects. We have loved meeting animals we would never normally get to be close with. We have been very careful about searching up high quality organisations that put the animals welfare first. It has been great to support their work.

Scratching an itch


Thursday, 21 June 2012

Tiger Tiger Tiger

Today we went to a place called Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai. This is a tiger breeding centre that runs on the money generated by tourist paying to spend time in tiger cages with semi-tame tigers. Now they may look like over sized cats but they are not domestic animals. They have been around humans their whole life and are very relaxed with them but they are not completely safe and must be supervised. They would not bite someone for food but might nip them in playing. Apart from the smallest 2 month old tigers you will see us usually sitting behind the tigers and avoiding the head. This is both for our safety and because the care staff don't want the tigers to catch anything from us by their mouth getting too close to us. Visitors can only interact with adolescent tigers under 2 years old. After that they can be less playful and more grumpy. So the tigers retire across the country with other breeding centre and reserves. All the tigers we saw looked very happy and healthy. We went late morning when many of the tigers where settling down for a mid day snooze. 

Smallest (2-3 months old)

All this playing around is tiring work!

Small 5-7 months old

Gareth had a little sleep with this 5 month old beauty



Not everyone was asleep and lots of fun was had playing in the water.

"yeah, yeah just a little lower, yeah that's the spot"

Medium 8-10 months


Getting a bit bigger now, we have to start being more careful but still can give them hugs

Even big cats like their tummy scratched

Big 10-20 months

This was the oldest tiger we meet at 20 months he is about to retire from modelling and enjoy the good life on a reserve. Very dignified and professional. 

It's just a yawn but look at those teeth!

This has been one of the most unique experiences of our lives. 
To be so close with this amazing animals is unforgettable.