The dirt embedded under my nails is thick. Despite having been “clean.” I guess, after a week at Elephant Nature Park as a volunteer with elephants, “clean” is relative.
When the Elephant Nature Park van arrives to the Rachamankha Hotel, an elegant boutique hotel inside the old city of Chiang Mai, and I catch a look at the pristine property and white walls, I tuck my hands into the pockets of my black sweats, hoping none of the staff notices my layer of grime.
“Welcome to the Rachamankha,” says one of the well-dressed bellmen as he hauls my brown backpack from the back of the Park’s white van and into the hotel’s compound.
I walk through the main entrance to the sprawling oasis of calm, casting a final look back at the van filled with the volunteers from my time at the park, throwing a last wave and blowing kisses, then follow the man into the little reception room.
He gestures to a cushioned seat, and I place my backpack and bag on the chair next to me, wiping a thin coating of sweat off of my face and making sure I am not too dirty from hugging elephants to sit in the seat.
Then, I am given an ice-cold can of a lemongrass drink with a straw. As my reservation is pulled up, I suck down nearly the entire contents of the long, skinny can.
“This way please, miss,” the man checking me in says, handing me a key attached to a bulbous red key chain with a smattering of fringe, and then leading me out the door and into the courtyard of the hotel.
With my bags in tow, he quickly gives me an overview of the majestic property, pointing out the restaurant, library (a wall-less sitting area with couches, chairs and books), the pool … then, my room.
He swings open the double doors made of thick wood, places my bag on the stand, and then exits, leaving me to soak up my new surroundings.
I look around.
Crisp white sheets on the bed. Windows with glass. A bathroom en-suite with a huge shower head. Toiletries. An air-con unit.
This is a far cry from my primitive palace at Elephant Nature Park.
I sit softly on the bed, taking care not to crinkle the blanket just yet. And don’t move.
I don’t want to let myself get to into this moment yet. I’m not ready to let go of the past week of my life. Of the elephants. And, I’m afraid if I rush into this new chapter in Chiang Mai, everything will disappear … dissolve into thin air and memories too quickly.
Instead, I take a few deep breaths. Look around at my new, luxurious surroundings. I don’t feel right being here yet. After a week of being overheated, dirty, exhausted, emotional, I feel as if I am an imposter at the Rachamankha. That me and my backpack don’t belong under the roof of a place this nice.
After a few minutes, I let myself be brought into the moment, shedding my dirty clothes and putting them into a plastic bag to be washed. Then, I step into the shower and let the warm water wash over me, rinsing clean the dust and dirt from my body. I run soap through my white string bracelet given to me a week earlier when I was blessed by the shaman, and I recall a conversation I had with Adele, one of the volunteers, about her bracelet.
“This here, it’s got everything captured in it,” she had said, moving it back and forth on her wrist. “Banana balls, poo, dirt …”
I stop myself from giving it too good of a wash.
After all, there are some memories I’m not ready to wash away just yet.
Then, I quickly dress, apply some make-up for the first time in a week, then head back into the Chiang Mai evening. I’ve got a Sunday Night Market to conquer, and then a meet-up with some of the volunteers.
I turn off the air-con in my room, shut the huge wooden door, and exit into the darkness of the humid night, ready for the Chiang Mai experience. And still holding strong to the week with elephants.
Editorâ€™s Note: I was a guest of the Rachamankha Hotel, however all opinions are my own. If you have questions regarding this, please read myÂ disclosure policy.