Khao San, our new dog

At one of the supermarkets Mos and I regularly use, Little C, as we like to call it. It’s a BigC, but there is a bigger one further up the road. Anyway, unlike supermarkets in the UK the supermarkets here are normally all raised up, with a mixture of parking, stalls and shops under them. One of the shops at Little C is a pet shop, it’s always got a selection of puppies, hamsters, budgies and other furry friends in the window.

Anyway, one day we spotted a pair of Beagle puppies. I love Beagles they’re brilliant. These two females were for sale at 6,500 baht each (£130). I was expecting a fairly high price tag as we paid a fair amount for our Norwich terrier, Fudge, who is back in the UK. After some research I found out that the gene-pool of pedigree dogs in Thailand is very small, often only a handful of breeding pairs. As a result the dogs can often have health issues. And sadly, these are normally far more severe than the average vet is able to treat. As a result of this, and the price, we decided to stay clear of the pedigree dogs.

The next time we walked past the pet shop the Beagle puppies had gone. Mos and I were both a little bit disappointed. We’d already decided not to get them, but now we couldn’t even if we wanted to!

Later that day I started to search the internet for other options. I quickly came across Care for Dogs, a dog rescue centre about half an hours drive from our house. From looking at their website they had plenty of dogs available and also did some great work in rescuing vulnerable, injured and abused dogs from the streets and pet markets.

Rescue centres in the UK have to deal with dogs that are unwanted, homeless and sometimes dogs that have been abused. The rescue centres here frequently rescue dogs from meat markets, breading centres, pet markets, abusive homes and of course the soi (street) dogs. It’s a whole different issue over here. I know in the UK it is standard practice to have your dog neutered or spayed. Have regular vet checks and to care for them like a member of the family. Here in Thailand the pet dogs are often treated like their wild relatives, the African painted dog (which I spent a lot of time chasing around the bush and filming last year). These dogs that are left to roam are often not neutered or spayed. They form gangs, get into fights, get hit by traffic, catch diseases and generally become more and more feral until they eventually get killed, eaten or rescued by an organisation like Care for Dogs.

We visited Care for Dogs and met with Hanna, one of the workers there. She showed us around and introduced us to some of the dogs and their stories. I walked around the main holding pen area where most of the dogs are kept. There are dog houses, platforms to jump on and run under and of course, loads of dogs. Some had been bred for the illegal meat trade with Laos. They would have been kept in horrific conditions and I’m sure they would have seen other dogs die from the conditions or killed in front of them. Some of the dogs were bought as puppies and then dumped when they grew up. Others were simply ditched onto the street. Some had been abandoned at kennels. And some had been bred for the pet markets that churn out animals like a factory. The animals are born and put into a wire cage, given the water and food they need to survive each day, but apart from that left completely alone. They can’t interact with people or other dogs. They can’t exercise, play or socialise. These dogs grow up without any of the life skills you might expect. It’s one of these dogs that we rescued.

Hanna had shown us a few dogs and I’d had a walk around the enclosure. If we could we would have adopted ten or more. There are so many characters there. But, we sat back down and Hanna said she had one more dog. “She’s very shy and nervous” Hanna explained and then went to get her. She spent most of her time hiding under one of the desks in the office. She sat on Hanna’s lap for a few minutes whilst she told us her life story. Her name is ‘Khao San’, which means ‘rice’ in Thai. She had been rescued from a pet market where she had spent her whole life in a small cage. They estimated that she was between one to two years old and probably fully grown. It’s impossible to tell with these dogs as you don’t know the parents.

As Hanna talked to us with Khao San on her lap, it was clear she was very nervous and jumpy. Even when Mos when to stroke her she panicked and tried to run. Hanna put her back in the office and we looked at a few more dogs before leaving.

Over the next 24 hours Mos and I talked about all of the dogs and made a shortlist. But we both knew that we wanted Khao San. Mos had even started referring to her as Foxy, as she looks very much like a fox. We wanted to pick her up and get her home but we’d already planned a week visiting out family in Bueng Kan (North East Thailand). So we phoned Care for Dogs and told them that we really want to adopted Khao San into our family, and would pick her up the following weekend.

Our family in Bueng Kan have two dogs that are also fairly foxy in appearance. So the week we spent with them only got us more excited about picking up Khao San. And after destroying the suspension on our Honda Jazz hire car we were more than ready for the 18 hour drive home.

We phoned ahead and told Care for Dogs that we were on the way. Hanna said she’d get the paper work ready. We headed off  in our limping Honda Jazz, which thankfully I’d managed to spray and scrape most of the mud and dirt off. We arrived early and waited outside the gate for Hanna to come and get us. It’s crazy in the mornings, they organise the pick-ups of rescues dogs coordinate the rescue of others and all sorts of other things. So we waited patiently. After about ten minutes we spotted Khao San come out of the office to see what was happening. Clearly still nervous, but much better than she had been. We completed the paperwork, gave a generous donation and took her home. We very nearly also took a small dog call ‘Sweat Pea’ too, as Hanna told us they had become friends.

We got home, locked the gate and let her go. She had a nervous look around the front garden and eventually settled in a well sheltered and protected spot under one of our trees. She sat there for the rest of the day.

Over the next few days she began to relax, became more confident and generally got to know Mos and I. She walked on grass, which would have been a first for her. She also played with me for a few minutes. She was clearly not used to playing with me or with dog toys.

Now, a week after we adopted her she spends most of her time on the sofa or in her newly delivered custom made dog house, with designer pillow (made by Modern Pets). She is eating properly and will happily sit on our laps whilst we groom her. She is still far from fully recovered though, she is still very nervous around strangers, she won’t let us walk her on a lead, she is still very jumpy when there is a loud noise. But, every day is a big step in the right direction. And we couldn’t be happier with our decision to adopt her into the family.

Huay Tung Tao Lake

We’ve now met all of our neighbours, bar one, but they never seem to come outside. Our immediate neighbours are a mother (Inn) and daughter (Daisy, 1) decided to head out to Chiang Mai ‘beach’. Those of you that have been to Chiang Mai, or know that it’s located in Northern Thailand right up in the mountains might be thinking… ‘beach, what?’.

The place is actually called Huay Tung Tao Lake. It lies at the base of Doi Suthep (‘Doi’ means mountain in Thai). It takes about half an hour to drive there from our house, we headed off in a convoy of Inn’s car and a pick-up truck. Mos and I were in the back of the pick-up truck. The lake is part of a private park. So it’s in the middle of a large forested area.

As we pulled into the entrance gates and paid our ฿40 entry we started to see a couple of small stalls selling inflatables for the children to play with. Then we got a glimpse of the lake. It’s huge. And the beaches that run around the perimeter are lined with little open bamboo huts. Each served by one main, but pretty small restaurant. We parked the car and walked over to an empty hut, we’d packed some whiskey, coke and a few Thai dishes to bring with us. But one the girls (I was the only man of the eight people there) spotted the menu we had fish dishes, rice dishes and a variety of other very tasty looking offerings arriving at our hut.

I went off for a paddle with Daisy. She is one, and completely obsessed with me.  She calls for me through the metal fence that separates our gardens, she cries when I go out to get groceries and she constantly tries to bring me food. Anyway, we went for a paddle. She found it hilarious.

On the other side of the lake I could just about make out a paddle boat rental company. But to get there would have taken about an hours walk. And they were shaped like swans. So decided to head back to help tackle some of this mountain of food that was amassing in our hut.

As we came to the end of our food, and more importantly, our whiskey. The sky suddenly got noticeably darker and we got pelted with wind and light rain. The temporary looking shelter on the beach that we’d considered sitting under was now sheltering three scooters from the light rain. But not for long. After the wind and rain increased dramatically the shelter collapsed knocking over the scooters and burying them in the beach. Again, Daisy found this hysterical. She laughed for the whole time the owners of the bikes tried to remove the shelter and dig out the bikes to wheel them to safety whilst still being pelted by the wind flying off the surface of the lake.

We quite rightly decided that it was time to go home.  The girls loaded up the car whilst I walked the grandmother (who speaks no English) to the toilets. Most of the path had washed away but the weather was starting to calm down. Whilst waiting for the grandmother, Mos, my wife, decided to dig up some of the plants from the flower beds surrounding the toilet… she said they would look great at our house in some nice pots. I agreed, so she took more.

Once we got home, we all scattered off to warm up and have showers. Overall, I think it was a successful day. I enjoyed it anyway.

Elephant Nature Park

As soon as I arrived back in Chiang Mai, from Bangkok, I got a phone call saying that I was going to be picked up at 07:00 in the morning. We were providing production services for Leopard Films in America to film their House Hunters International series. It’s an ongoing project that the company has worked on various times in the past.

This episode was following a guy from America who was looking for property in  Thailand. Chiang Mai to be exact. If you’re not familiar with the show, they follow a person or family as they look to move abroad. They normally view 3-4 properties and then at the end of the show they pick one. During the course of the show they talk about their new lifestyle in the country and participate in various activities, normally ones that highlight the area they are in. It’s a widely used format, I know that in the UK we have at least three shows that are almost identical.

It was nice to be on a small crew again. We had a crew of six. Pretty standard for a documentary style TV shoot. Once again I had the chance to meet some new crew. And again, they were great.

I joined the crew after they had completed the filming of the properties. As I joined, we had two days of ‘activity’ filming. On the first day we visited some temples, which was nice, because Mos and I had only managed to visit a handful so far. We also went to a few spots around town for eating and drinking.

Day two was the real highlight. We went filming at the Elephant Nature Park. There are many places up here in the mountains of Northern Thailand to see elephants. If you want to ride one or see them working (Thai’s use elephants much like we use work horses in the west), you can go to a handful of places. Some of these places are great and care for the elephants like members of their family. Some, beat the elephants unconscious as part of their training, chain the elephants to trees for days on end and generally abuse them. Sadly, for tourists, you won’t be able to know for sure until you get there. If you ask to see where the elephants sleep or how they are trained etc and the staff get defensive, you have almost certainly stumbled across a place that tortures elephants in the name of tourism. If they are open and happy for you to look around and the elephants seem happy, hopefully you’ve found a good one.

The Elephant Nature Park, is different. They rescue elephants from work camps, tourism facilities and zoos. Any elephant that is being used for financial gain is rescued. They bring the elephants to their park, give them medical assistance, get them healthy, then let them roam free around the expansive park. Visitors to the park are educated about the use (and abuse) of elephants and taught the story of each elephant at the park.

Each elephant at the park has a member of staff that looks after them. They feed them, walk them down to the river and bath them and generally build a friendship between them and the elephant.

We arrived to film the visitors feeding the elephants, or course we all had a go. My favourite was a blind elephant (I can’t remember the cause). She could hear you and would feel around with her trunk until she found you and then find your hand and then take the fruit.

After a few hours of feeding and filming interviews we walked around the park with the elephants occasionally coming over to see what we were up to then wandering off again. Some of the elephants were clearly still a bit nervous around people showing their previous lives of fear. Others just wanted to play or take the camera.

In the afternoon we walked with a few of the elephants down to the river, where volunteers can help bath the elephants. For most elephants this is a fun exercise. For some, this assistance from the volunteers is the only way that they can bathe. One elephant, called Medo, carried an extremely visible limp and disfigured hip from a life of abuse. Please read more about Medo by clicking her name (it’s a link). Here is a picture of Medo that I’ve pinched from the Elephant Nature Park website –

As you can see. She is severely disabled. But thanks to the park she is living freely, without abuse and in the company of other elephants. Medo is just one of the many stories at the park. If you want to help you can look at the Elephant Nature Park website here.  You can volunteer there, they will provide accommodation, food etc. Or you can just visit for the day. I would highly recommend a visit. Although you can’t ride an elephant as so many people seem to want to do. You are able to see happy and ‘free’ elephants playing, socialising and generally being elephants.