Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Eles on Parade

Kristie Kellahan examines the phenomenon of Elephant Parade, the most colourful way of bringing attention to the plight of the Asian Elephant.

Dutch national Mike Spits is on a mission to save the Asian elephant, and he’s doing it one brightly painted pachyderm at a time.

Spits and his father, Marc, launched Elephant Parade eight years ago to bring attention to and raise much-needed funds for elephant conservation. The project works like this: life-size fibreglass baby elephants are painted and decorated, exhibited around the world, then sold to the highest bidder. The funds go to The Asian Elephant Foundation, which distributes the money to various organisations dedicated to saving Asian elephants from extinction.

A little girl meets Rainbow Fish by Noppawan Nuansiri. Pic: Elephant Parade

Artists and celebrities are clamouring to be involved, with elephant statues already painted by famous faces including Katy Perry, Liz Hurley, Diane von Furstenberg and Formula One driver Felipe Massa. Thai and international artists have also taken part, adding their own personal stamp to the cleanskin sculptures. Swedish artist Jens Klelund went a step beyond the extraordinary: he sculpted a solid marble elephant from a block of Carrara marble. It weighed in at 2,300 kilograms!

Artist Chris Chun with Kiku. Pic: Elephant Parade
Navratna by Michael-Birch Pic: Elephant Parade

Once painted, the eles go on tour around the world, displayed so far in nine countries including the US, Hong Kong, Singapore and Belgium. Open-air art installations of the brightly painted elephants attract thousands of onlookers. The colourful statues can fetch a hefty price: the most expensive auctioned was by Jack Vettriano, selling for 155,000GBP at the Elephant Parade London auction.

Spits says he and his father first became concerned about the plight of Asian elephants during a holiday in Chiang Mai. They met baby Mosha, who had lost her leg after stepping on a landmine. With help from the foundation, Mosha received a prosthetic leg and continued support over the years.

Mosha, the inspiration behind Elephant Parade. Pic: Julie Miller

Chiang Mai is still central to the Elephant Parade story. The first flagship Elephant Parade House is there, with life-size statues on display and merchandise for sale. Visitors have the opportunity to paint their own mini replica elephant and learn more about the cause.

A basketful of mini-Kikus. Pic: Chris Chun

A day trip to the Friends of the Asian Elephant Hospital is also recommended, where it is possible to meet Mosha as well as other elephants who have been rescued from often appalling conditions, rehabilitated and loved back to wellbeing by dedicated Thai caretakers. For animal lovers from around the world, it is guaranteed to be an experience that will stick long after returning home.

Elephant Parade House is located at:
Colour Factory One
145-156 Charoenrajd Rd
Chiang Mai

For more information, visit elephantparade.com

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Beach Bliss in Thailand

Last weekend, I had my first Aussie beach break in ages, hanging out with friends at a Central Coast beachhouse. The company was great, the weather perfect and the location was beautiful, but I couldn't help but miss Thailand's sublime beaches and wish I was on one of them instead.

Here's why I prefer Thailand's beaches:

Can't do this at an Aussie beach!

Warm water: Oh, for water as warm as a bathtub, that you can walk straight into instead of inching your way in, screaming and cursing as the icy tendrils send electric currents through your system! In Thailand, the water is refreshing without the shock factor. My sort of swimming.

Hideous, isn't it??

Shady shores: Much as I love the direct sun, I can't stay out in it for that long. Last weekend I had to head back to the house to escape the fury of the sun. In Thailand you can find a shady palm tree on the fringe of the beach and set up camp under there. No need to leave when the going gets hot.

Park yourself in the sun or the shade!

Beach bars: Still feeling the heat? Then escape to the shade of a beach bar, which will inevitably just be a few steps away, if not on the sand itself. Crack open a Chang or sip on a fresh pineapple juice to the soothing accompaniment of Bob Marley, 24/7 - heaven on earth! And you don't have to lose the view by being indoors.

Drinks with a view

Beach restaurants: Ditto. Hungry? Just a few steps away from the water's edge - or even in the water itself (see pic below!) will be a great Thai restaurant, serving up all your favourite dishes as well as great seafood. What more could you ask for?

In Thailand, the food comes to you!

Great shopping: In Thailand, canny shop vendors set up shop just behind the beach, so if you feel like a stroll, there's always something to look at or buy.

Massage: Bored? Sore? In need of even more relaxation? Then have a beach massage under a thatched sala, ironing out all those chinks under the strong fingers and elbows of a Thai masseuse.

Day beds: This is a contentious issue ... most Aussies prefer beaches sans daybeds, particularly row upon row of resort-issue beds and umbrellas. But sometimes it's nice to lie back without sand blowing all over you, and have a friendly waiter bring you a freshly squeezed fruit juice.

Crowds, or lack thereof: It's all about choosing your beach wisely. Yes, some Thai beaches are horrendously overcrowded. So are some Aussie beaches. Do your homework and seek out a beach where the package tourist don't go. They do exist. And you won't be disappointed, I promise!

What crowds??