From Sukhothai we ventured via bus to Lampang. Near Lampang is the elephant conservation center and hospital where more than 50 elephants are available for a show as well as rides. All of our group did both. The ride was an interesting sensation. It started with a walk through a small pond and then up the side of a Thai mountain. While each beast had a handler that was 'guiding' us up the paths, the animals had a mind of their own and each took their own varying paths up the side of the mountain stopping at regular intervals for a snack, much to the dismay of the handlers. Eventually we all met up on the other side and were brought past the week old baby elephant. At the conclusion of our ride we were able to view the show which was both a display of the massive power that these animals have by tossing full sized trees around like they were match sticks, as well as a demonstration of their agility while balancing on a log or beating a drum using their trunk, even painting.
Our group had perfect timing. The second day in Lampang was Elephant Day. An annual event where Thailand's favorite animal gets to kick back, have a day off, and pig out on all their favorites. The conservation center setup elephant sized table after table filled with bamboo sticks, watermelon, pineapples, oranges and bananas. We had a front row seat as these monsters gorged themselves. Actually…..when I say front row seat, what I really mean is that we were able to walk within the elephants as they fed. This would have NEVER happened in America or else where for that matter, but we were literally walking between them making sure that a small side step by one of these behemoths didn't end up crushing a foot or worse. Constantly looking from side to side and behind I ran through snapping picture after picture until all the food was gone. It was exciting just to be in their presence and fortunately for me they were much more interested in their food then the silly human running around them with a camera.
Our next stop was at the hospital where we saw one with an infected leg and a baby that had stepped on a landmine and lost a good part of one leg. One detraction from the trip however was the smog. On our way to Chiang Mai, the government declared it a disaster area with the smog level reaching 250. It was oppressive. I've never experience smog like that, even in LA. Half of the locals were riding around with masks like there was a bad SARS epidemic afoot. The entire group was looking for AC and something to do indoors, but when presented with the option to hop on a bamboo raft and head down a river, we all jumped on board and took to the challenge. I think the guides had more fun than we did as they stepped on each others rafts trying to dump the other and his passengers off. It wasn't all bad considering how hot it was. All in all our trip to the north was a great way to see Thailand and the true culture. After a 13 hour night train to Bangkok I was off again to Phuket to see what the south and the beaches had to offer.
Talking about spending a week on the beaches with my friend Erica from Brisbane, she just couldn't resist the temptation and hopped a cheap flight to Phuket so the two of us could run around and see what trouble we could get into. Being a flight attendant had it's privileges. Staying in the Tsunami safe Hilltop Hotel, we had a great view of the town and the bay at Patong Beach on the west coast. Being a bit crowded we ran up and down the coast checking out other little villages and much less crowded, nicer beaches on our scooter.
A few weeks ago I had swapped a few e-mails with Dennis, an old co-worker who spent 2 years or so living in Thailand and has now relocated to Shanghai. When mentioning to him that I was running around like crazy on a scooter he replied back….'Watch out for those things! I've had 4 accidents in 2 years….fortunately nothing serious.' I chuckled as I read it see how that was easily possible even for the best rider as people here are crazy on these things. Well…..you can add me to that statistic, and fortunately for me and Erica, it was only minor leaving me with more bruises on my pride than anything else. I'm just glad that I took the brunt of the ground and not my passenger. Riding away from it with nothing wrong with the bike and a few scrapes that could be tended to with some Neosporin and a band-aid……I started riding a lot slower and giving more room to the kamikaze Thai and worse….the visiting tourist like myself who 'hit the gas and go!'
All in all Thailand is a wonderful place and cheap if you want it to be. I bought a custom tailored suit, 3 tailored shirts and a tie for $115. Not bad…..and all made in 2 days. I'm sure if I bargained a little more I could have gotten it for $100…..but I'm ok with splurging a little.
Next stop…..Katmandu an then Delhi Should start to get interesting from here folks!!!!! BTW….I'm still looking for someone to join me on my venture from Beijing to Moscow via Mongolia. Any takers? It's only 2 weeks in April……..you know you want to!!!