Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Wild Ride, part two

The next two days we again had some wild rides, but it wasn’t the result of crazy cabbies dodging motorbikes and pretending they were driving in the Indianapolis 500 (though perhaps the one Mario Andretti-wanna-be wanted to give us a taste of our home roots)

On Friday, we met our next tour guide, Pamela (her English name, which she told us she picked because she wanted big boobs like Pamela Anderson…I’m not kidding.  That should tell you a little bit about her fun-loving attitude, though.  She was darling).  Anyway, we drove out to the Rouk River for a 45-minute ride in a flat-bottomed long boat.  We passed fishermen and others who were trolling the bottom of the riverbed for colorful stones which they could sell to nurseries for people to use in their gardens – and that’s what they do every day, in the nice weather like we had, the rainy season, and the 100+-degree heat.

Our docking point was one of the truly amazing sights I’ve ever seen – an elephant camp along the banks of the river.  One of the local tribes, the Karen, run the camp and give elephant rides to tourists to make money for their village.  Our boat docked and we were immediately greeted by the wonderful smiles of the Karen people, but there was a catch.  They wanted us to take a photo with one of their beloved pets for 200 baht (about US $6).  I was intrigued, but nervous.  I am an animal lover to an extreme level, but even this pushed my limits a bit – it was a 99 lbs. 10 ft. python.  

I hate snakes.  And, when I say “hate” what I really mean is that they terrify me.  I get goosebumps at the thought of them.  Picture Indiana Jones freaking out at all the snakes in the pit in Raiders of the Lost Ark and you get the idea of how I’d react to a small, harmless garter snake.  But when else am I going to get to get a photo with a PYTHON in a controlled environment with three of her handlers close by in case she decided to have me for breakfast?  I was in.  Of course, I thought her handlers would hold her and I would just stand by one looking cute.  No, they hoisted her on to me, wrapping her around my waist and putting her neck in my hand.  I kept thinking her next move would be to bite my face off, but she was compliant.  Nick was much more wary as I think he may hate snakes more than me, but he too, conquered his fear and the two of us held her while shaking in our shoes and getting our picture taken.  If I weren’t such an animal advocate, I would’ve thought she would make an incredible purse and matching set of shoes…her patterns and coloring were gorgeous, and she wasn’t slimy or scaly at all.  Her skin was very supple and smooth.

OK, enough fear conquering, it was time to play with the elephants.  

We were first greeted by a darling youngster, Gypsy, who danced for us.  She charmed us so quickly that we ran and bought her bananas and sugar cane to eat.  Amazing to feed an elephant. They use their trunks to grab the food front your hand and put it in their mouths.  True vegetarians, they can eat whole watermelons, pineapple and even coconuts.

We were then escorted over to meet our mahout (elephant trainer and guide), and climbed up stairs to the area where we were to get on our elephant, Star.  Having Star as our guide, was very appropriate, as that was my horse’s name (disclaimer:  I didn’t name her) when I was young.  And, she and Star has similar stubborn personalities, too, so I felt like it was meant to be.  Getting our balance in the seat on her back took a minute or two, but then we were on our way for an hour-long trek through the jungle and down a river (that was a bit freaky, but Star was perfect).  It was truly an amazing experience riding an elephant down a dirt path and walking past the Karen tribe huts. The poverty is great, unlike anything you would ever seen in the Western world, but people genuinely seemed happy and their gentle smiles and waves greeted us as we made our way through their village.


After a brief shopping stint, buying some scarves, pillowcases and an amazing blanket from the local tribeswomen, who hand make their scarves and other things on looms, we met up with our driver and were on to the next destination – lunch in yet a more remote tribal village.

I can be pretty picky when it comes to food, particularly when I am in a third world country and they don’t always adhere to Health Department codes or regulations.  Throw all that out the window when you are hungry and don’t want to offend your hostess.

Pamela had assured Nick that we would be fine, as she takes weak-stomached Westerners to this village restaurant all the time.  After that, we were all in.

We had some incredibly spicy Tom Yum Gai soup – coconut milk, lemongrass and curry soup with mushrooms and chicken.  Mind you, this was preservative-free chicken, as told by the skinny, skinny thighs floating in the soup.  I passed on the chicken because I am sure that the poor fowl had been alive just a few hours before.

We also had some wonderful noodles and vegetables and a few cans of Thai beer, which is really cheap and really good.  I like it because it tastes more like water than lager.

I waited to see if our lunch was going to reek havoc on my digestive system, but all was clear.  Whew…

We then walked up a hill to a waterfall.  It was actually a little lame, but Nick and I got in to our waist anyway.  It was freezing, and I was a little nervous about what kind of parasitic creature or bacteria may be lurking in its depths, but we did it anyway.

On our way back to our hotel, we stopped in at another local village that was getting ready to celebrate the Lunar New Year (many years ago some Chinese settled in this part of Thailand and they still hold on to some of those traditions).  Pamela often takes her travelers to this Lahu village and they know her well, but it was quite difficult to see the extreme poverty.  They lived in huts that were built on stilts about 3 feet in the air.  Under the huts, they kept their mountain pigs and chickens.  Darling barefoot children roamed the dirt paths and smiled at us.  It was all I could do not to pluck one up and take him home with me.  It felt a little strange wandering through this village, so obviously out of place and trying to be very respectful of their life.

We were met by the leader of the tribe, a handsome young man, who invited us to spend the night with the tribe so that we could partake in their celebration.  We graciously declined, but we were amazed by their warmth to strangers. 

In preparation for their party, they were taking colorful ribbons and putting them into a huge stalk of bamboo and invited us to help them.


Some other photos from our short stint in Bangkok.

Scenes from our bike ride through Chiang Rai

1 comment:

  1. I cannot get over Nick's face in the picture with the python -- hilarious!!! I am totally living vicariously through you this week as we have been snowbound for days. Ugh!! Talk to you soon!