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Romantic Journeys
Moo Ban Chang’s elephant treks take in Thai culture

France’s Cathedrals: Fortresses of Faith and Glory

by Chalerm Raksanti

France’s most famous Cathedral, Notre Dame, rose on the Ile de la Cite, the island in the Seine where Paris was founded. That island, in turn, stood at the heart of the Ile de-France, a runtish territory held under the direct control of the French Monarchy.

When the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris was begun in 1163, King Louis VII was consolidating his power at the expense of feudal lords and vassals. In the next decades the territory of the monarch would expand, through to the cathedral’s consecration in 1189, the death of its founding bishop, Maurice de Sully, in 1196, the completion of the west front in 1240, and the towers in 1250.

The most colossal church of its generation, the Notre Dame was the first to employ flying buttresses as part of its original plan. This magnificent structure was the first cathedral to make use of full Gothic vocabulary; flying buttresses, rose and other windows of stained glass, pointed arches, and rib vaulting. Notre Dame anchored a style both distinctively French and truly novel. From the hub of the Ile de France the Gothic manner rapidly spread across Europe to become the characteristic architecture of the Middle Ages. French builders first dared to fashion Heaven’s image in soaring monuments of stone. Entrance to this poetic sanctuary was through portals worthy of paradise. Its interior was charged with light pressed through glass tapestries radiant with faith. As for the cathedral itself, its simple but stately ground plan was soon altered. Other revisions, additions, and desecration (especially during the French Revolution), took place through the centuries.

When walls became glass, and building heights mounted ever upward, how could Gothic cathedrals (each new one more daring than the preceding one), still be supported? Unlike our modern architects of today who solve that problem with internal steel beams, 800 years ago, Gothic builders put much of their stone framework on the outside. The flying buttress was born. The function of the buttress was to absorb thrust from the main body of the church, which would have been under threat from high winds. In time, buttresses evolved into different structural designs, less massive, more fanciful. At the Cathedral of Saint Julien in Le Mans, they were designed in clusters of three, and interlocked in a Y shape at the apex of the ceiling. This allowed the great tapestries of stained glass which is exemplified at Chartes.

The tallest nave in a French Gothic cathedral, the vaults of Amiens rise 139 feet. Started in 1220 by Robert de Luzarches, the nave took 16 years to complete. The biblical marriage at Cana is deeply carved on a wooden choir at Notre Dame in Amiens. The west facade and portals embody the French high-Gothic style of the early 13th century. The city of Amiens was once a commune, a status conveying municipal independence under the feudal system. By definition, the seat of a bishop, cathedrals were built with funds often donated by nobles and merchants.

The Gothic architectural revolution’s building boom reflected an era of growing power for the French monarchy, the cities, and the bourgeoisie. The many cathedrals which were built expressed civic pride fully as much as religious piety. Whatever the reasons, the legacy of these breathtaking edifices is a celebration of life and a tribute to the glory of France’s rich history of ecclesiastical glory.

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Moo Ban Chang’s elephant treks take in Thai culture

Moo Ban Chang was the first established tourist attraction in the area that offered elephants as entertainment in their natural environment. The owner, Pairat Chaiyakham, said when starting the business some 30 years ago the roads leading to Moo Ban Chang had not yet been improved and travel was inconvenient. But today it’s an easy journey just outside the city limits.

Waterways are no obstacle to these beautiful beasts - in fact, they like it

Visitors come from all over the world, and Pairat said that part of the attraction is that Moo Ban Chang offers a glimpse into Thai culture as well as introducing tourists to the everyday life of the mahout and his elephant. “Tourist safety is first and foremost,” Pairat says, “as well as the welfare of the 30 elephants employed.”

The area around Moo Ban Chang has a network of trails winding through the countryside where tourists can appreciate the clean air and natural beauty of the surroundings, observing the agricultural lifestyle of local residents and the various types of vegetation in the countryside.

Alas, a bit too deep for our pachyderm friends; instead it’s a relaxing ferry ride across the pond for the tourists

Sombat Pridsana, a likeable man who takes pride in his work, has the enviable task of welcoming the excited tourists to Moo Ban Chang. After refreshments are served, he provides a safety briefing on elephant behavior and what to expect during the trek. The visitors then wait in anticipation at the mounting platforms as the magnificent elephants appear, led by a large bull elephant with ivory tusks over one meter long. A short training session then begins to acquaint the newcomers to the wobbly ride ahead.

Emerging from the thick of the jungle

The trek through the countryside is a refreshing experience, as visitors take in the natural environment, complete with the sounds of birds and sights unfamiliar to new travelers in Thailand.

Prior to completing the journey the elephants stop for water and feed on the vegetation, during which time the visitors dismount and are led by Sombat to a forested area where medicinal plants are grown.

Ox carts take tourists through more beautiful scenery on their way back to the elephant farm

Moo Ban Chang maintains the exotic plants to research their various medicinal uses for elephants and mankind. Each of the plants is identified for the visitors, who then are given an explanation of each one’s different medicinal uses.

Mounting up and getting ready for the ride of their life

The visitors trek is not yet over as they are then taken on an ox cart ride after a ferry trip across the water. These carts, called “kwian” in Thai, were once a common mode of travel 100 years ago and can still be seen in use in some remote areas, sometimes driven by cows and sometimes by water buffalo. The cart ride is about 30 minutes long and returns the group back to Moo Ban Chang.

Moo Ban Chang treks through the countryside are a unique way to see the natural environment whilst at the same time preserving it.

Moo Ban Chang is located east of Sukhumvit Road off Soi Nern Plab Wan. A few other roads in the area also lead to the site, and many have posted signs to show the way.

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