Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Totally Tourist Day

Note: Pictures from today can be found in the album to the right called “Thailand: A Tourist Day in Chiang Mai.”

Today I played the complete tourist. If you recall, back in Bangkok Jeff and I met two Australian dudes who were going to be in Chiang Mai around the same time as me. Well, Stan, one of those guys, and I had exchanged e-mails, and Stan informed me a few days later that his hotel offered a day trip out of Chiang Mai at an elephant camp, and would I like to join him?

Well, I said yes, and so today I got up extra early so that I could shower, pack, walk up the road to a 7-11 to pick up some water for the day, and then caught a seongtow to the opposite side of the city center from where I’m staying. From there I walked for about ten minutes and eventually found breakfast in the form of a healthy shake, and several minutes after that I found Stan’s hotel. Having only met Stan once, I didn’t go direct to his room (he’d e-mailed me the number) but instead waited in the lobby, drinking my shake. Just five minutes after I’d arrived, a sleepy Stan called to me from one floor above, welcoming me to come up while he got ready for the day.

Half an hour later, we were on our way in a minivan with seven other people, a driver and a tour guide. We had an hour’s drive to the elephant camp, during which Stan and I got reacquainted and talked about a variety of things, including the difference between the Australian and American military in regards to homosexuals. How do I get into these conversations, anyway?!

IMG_0876We arrived at the elephant camp amidst milling elephants, crowds of tourists and beautiful weather. I promptly bought a bundle of bananas and a bundle of sugarcane stalks to feed to the elephants. Don’t ask me why, I but really like feeding the animals! A few minutes  later, we were ushered down to the river, where we climbed onto bamboo rafts and floated down the river for about thirty minutes. It was actually quite a pretty and quiet ride. The weather was cool and the sun was shining: perfect! We each got a turn at steering, too, which consisted of standing at the front of the raft and using a long bamboo pole to guide us along the river bottom. It felt a lot fast standing up front!

When we disembarked from the rafts, we caught a IMG_0900 minivan back to the main camp, where we saw an elephant show. The show started by first bathing some of the elephants. This consisted of their trainers (called mahouts) riding them down into the river, having them lie down broadside, and scrubbing them with their hands. Then the mahouts turned the tables on the large crowd of tourists that had gathered to watch and photograph: soon the elephants were spraying us!

After their bath, the elephants were marched back up to their arena and the show started. We saw how well trained they were, got a look at their odd mouths, shaped like nothing I’ve ever seen, and applauded for each trick. The mahouts showed how they could mount and dismount, with the help of trunk or foreleg. The elephants showed how they could kick a soccer ball with accuracy, paint, play instruments, dance and twirl a hula hoop. While very orchestrated and a bit cheesy, it was still fun and amazing to watch. At the end of the show, the elephants came up to the railing and tourists could give them money if they so desired. At one point, an elephant took a man’s hat, and then replaced it and patted it into place several times!

After the show it was time for our elephant ride. This was what I was most excited for, but it turned out to be a really bumpy, swervy, swingy ride! The platform we sat on was secure, but it was thrown forward and back and the ride was anything but smooth. As we watched other people, we realized it wasn’t just us… everyone felt the same jerkiness! Not that it wasn’t cool, but when you’re trying to hold on for dear life and not kick the elephant, it can become a tough ride! We walked through the jungle camp for about forty-five minutes, getting to see some pretty great views. The mahout on the elephant behind ours sang: Holy Night, Joy to the World, Happy Birthday, you name it! Our mahout talked on his cell phone.

Ah, well, I guess youth today, everywhere in the world, can’t unplug!

IMG_0939 After the elephant ride came the oxcart ride, which was bumpy in it’s own way but kind’ve interesting to think about past uses of the same vehicle. Once we got back to the elephant camp, we had a buffet lunch along with the other tourists, which wasn’t bad. Then we were driven off to the orchid farm, which was about half an hour away. On the way, our tour guide informed us of optional additional tours: a snake show, a monkey show or a tiger sanctuary. Stan hadn’t seen tigers yet, so we went there, and it was much better than the tiger temple I’d gone to outside of Bangkok. It was prettier, the tigers were free to run around in their gated areas, unchained, and we got to go into the penned areas to pet and watch the tigers.

IMG_0980 Next up was the orchid farm, which was pretty but unexciting. Finally, it was time to head home. It had been a full and exhausting day, but a great one! Once back in the city center, Stan and I parted ways, he going back to his hotel and me catching a seongtow back to Lucy’s house. After relaxing and chatting with the other surfers for a bit, I headed out to the main road for some street food, which was noodles tonight. Quite yummy although not the best I’ve had so far. I also picked up a coconut milk dessert and a “rotee,” or pancake thing, with banana and raisin cooked inside. Yum!

Time for bed now. Tomorrow I explore the city center and eat lunch with Stan and Jason, who will be feeding me from their morning cooking class!

--Z

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