From Bangkok we took a 2nd class train down to Hua Hin. This took longer than we thought and we learnt that Thai trains will take at least a good hour longer than they say due to constantly stopping on the line and staying at least 10 minutes in every station we came across. Couple this with the heat and we were not happy backpackers by the time we got to Hua Hin! Lesson learnt and in future I will only use trains if I have time on my hands and enough money to at least get a cabin with air conditioning and not just a fan.
Our hostel was a little walk into the main town and was deserted. We were the only guest staying the first night and 3 out of 6 the second night. The hostel was also right on the edge of the small Red Light District of Hua Hin. It was easy to dodge though and once in the town there is a lovely night market that seems to go on for miles through the town! We spent both of our evenings here and enjoyed some authentic Thai food in the market and spent a lot of time going through each stall. Hua Hin is a small beach resort rarely visited by tourists and is more popular amongst the wealthy Bangkok people who come down for long weekends. Therefore we found the town to be the most authentic in terms of least westernised which was a nice experience since we were heading to the islands.
On the one day we spent in Hua Hin we headed out of town to Wildlife Friends Foundation Trust, a sanctuary for elephants, monkeys, gibbons, bears and numerous other animals. This was the main reason we has stopped in Hua Hin and it was so worth it.
After hearing and researching the cruelty that came with the popular tourist elephant treks and camps I wanted to make sure that we saw these animals in a cruelty free and sustainable way. We were picked up by the sanctuary and taken to the base outside of Hua Hin. We were then introduced to our guide who gave us a tour of the sanctuary and told us stories of the animals that had been rescued. I was amazed at how many gibbons and monkeys were in the sanctuary and how they were mistreated in the past. Many of the animals were 'racist' or 'sexist' in nature towards humans due to those who has tormented them in the past and one person in the group narrowly missed being peed on by a gibbon who had a hatred of men.
Many of the gibbons in the sanctuary had never learnt to sing their unique song and also didn't know how to swing like a wild gibbon. They had set up 'gibbon school' where teenagers were surrounded by adult gibbons in separate areas so they could watch and learn from the elders as to how to act like a gibbon. When they seemed to be doing well they then attempted to pair gibbons together as the species is a social one who usually co-exist in pairs in the wild. The love and care that the volunteers and staff obviously had for the animals was wonderful to see and although it was so sad to hear about the mistreatment of the past, it was lovely to see them in the better home. After a tour of the sanctuary we then sat down for lunch where we ate overlooking one of the elephants large enclosures.
In the afternoon it unfortunately started to rain heavily but not before we were able to take on of the elephants, Nellie on a walk. We were able to feed her whilst she walked and it was just amazing. They are such strong animals and you feel as if when they curl their trunk around the watermelon you gave them that they could easily take your hand with them!
In the rainstorm we headed for the other elephant enclosures and met a new addition to the sanctuary, a baby! She was with her mother and two adopted grandmothers and was very excited when we fed her some food. This was also the first time I heard elephants make their unique noise and the sound really does go through you. We then visited another new arrival who had just been rescued from a trekking company that week. They were attempting to acclimatise them to their new surroundings and were hoping to allow them to go into one of the enclosures very soon.
The day was over far too quickly and I was truly inspired by the work being done there. As sad as it is that trekking companies still make money and so many people are unaware of the a pain they are creating, it was lovely to see people counteracting this with something positive and making a difference to so many animals lives. It was a pleasure to visit and I would love to come back in the future and spend some time volunteering with the animals.
If you are travelling down to the islands from Bangkok I would urge you to pay these beautiful animals and people a visit. They are doing great work and the money that you pay for the day at the sanctuary helps to rescue more animals and make their lives in the sanctuary even better.
We left Hua Hin with happy hearts and amazing memories and a day that I will treasure forever.