Lions & Tigers and Elephants Oh My!

Trip Start Jan 22, 2009
Trip End Dec 22, 2009

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Where I stayed
The Secret Garden

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

After a choppy, rollercoaster of a flight to Chiang Mai Clint and I went directly to "The Secret Garden" guesthouse where we were to meet my Dad (Jim) and Patty.  They had reserved online a two story, two bedroom house for us to share for 4 nights in a beautiful, garden setting.  When we got there we were pleasantly surprised to see a lush, green paradise with a wonderfully comfortable room,  much better than our previous budget accommodations.  We awoke the jet-lagged napping travelers when we arrived and exchanged long hugs and stories of family and travels.  It was so great to be with family in person as opposed to just seeing them on a computer screen via Skype.  The days spent at the Secret Garden were very relaxing!  It was the perfect place for Jim and Patty to catch up on sleep and recover from their jetlag.  We all swam in the pool, ate amazing meals together, photographed the flower and art filled gardens, chatted with the very friendly owners, and planned our future weeks together.  Our third day we ventured out and went to the Tiger Kingdom and Elephant Park.  At the Tiger Kingdom we chose what size/age tiger we wanted to "visit". The larger the Tiger the cheaper the cost but none of us felt confident enough to chose the larger option. Patty and I chose the 3-5 month old and Jim and Clint chose the 5-7 month old tigers.  Even given the younger ages, it was still intimidating to enter into a Tiger's cage and then proceed to pet them, lay on them and pose with them for photos.  We all survived and were glad we went through with it considering it may very well be the first and last time we would ever be that close to a Tiger.  Next we went to the Elephant Park.  This was one of our highlights of our trip!  Jim and Patty went on an elephant ride while Clint and I secured good seats for the elephant show.  We had already been on an elephant ride in Laos so that's why we skipped it this time around.  The elephant show was a riot!  We all laughed out loud as we watched elephants playing harmonicas and instruments while dancing and whipping their trunks around in circles, painting beautiful pictures, playing soccer, playing darts, and bowing to the crowd. After the show we fed them bananas and pet them.  It really did appear that the elephants were having a good time (unless they were just good actors) and seemed to be well taken care of by their trainers.  Each appeared to have their own unique personality making it so fun to watch them.  The photos and videos we've attached explain it all! 
The Secret Garden was in the town of Bo Sang, a little distance from Chiang Mai city, so we learned how to take the local bus into the city to go exploring.  We visited several Wats, wandered the hot streets, and enjoyed the popular Sunday evening market.  Patty and I treated ourselves to a fabulous $15.00 1   hour Thai massage that left us feeling lighter on our feet and more energized than ever.  It was lovely! We all walked through the Sunday market, tasting local dishes, browsing through local handicraft and art stalls, and people watching.  After hours of walking we stopped at the market street food area where I thoroughly embarrassed myself in front of dozens of people. Clint pulled a plastic stool from a stack and gave it to me to sit on, failing to tell me that he noticed it was cracked in several places.  I, exhausted from walking around all day, plopped down with all my weight on the stool, the legs of the stool literally flattened and I landed on my butt on the hard ground.  I instinctively let out a scream and then heard gasps and people speaking in fast Thai all around me.  The loud cracking of the plastic and my scream attracted everyone's attention to my pitiful fall. Luckily Clint wasn't too far away and could help me laugh it off.  I was beat red with embarrassment and he was beat red from uncontrollable laughter. The owner of the table came over, shook his head and put the broken stool back on the stack with the other 2 stools.  Apparently, the stack was not to be separated.
After 5 great days in Bo Sang and Chiang Mai we headed  North to a small, chill town called Pai.  The 3 hour mini-bus ride there sharply winded through lush, green mountains.  The scenery was beautiful but for me, who is prone to getting car sick, it was a rough ride!  We all enjoyed the quaint town of Pai very much.   We didn't do much sight seeing here but enjoyed strolling the streets of the town, checking out the street vendors and listening to live music at night.  We signed up for an all day Thai cooking class and started with a morning trip to the market where our Thai instructor, Dao, explained each ingredient she purchased.  We tried to chose all different meals so we all could taste each others creations.  We learned how to make 4 different kinds of curries from scratch, fried rice, pad thai, 2 thai soups, 2 thai salads, stirfrys, spring rolls, and  sticky rice with mango. Most everything was delicious except for maybe the papaya and cucumber salad that my Dad and I made.  When  Dao had put out the ingredients for the salads we were wondering why there was an entire stinky, dead crab in the mix. We soon were directed to put the entire crab, shell and all, into the stone grinder and crush it into the salad. It may have been a decent salad had it not been for the stinky crab flavor and chunks of crab shell.  At the end of the day we all received certificates and cookbooks to take home with us. It was a very fun experience that left our bellies very full and made us excited to test our skills at home.  Given the timeframe we had with my Dad and Patty we needed to head south if we wanted to see all that we wanted to see.  We boarded another mini-van to head back to Chaing Mai which turned out to be a hell ride for not only me this time.  The back and forth, winding roads were made even worse with the very fast driver at the wheel. When we arrived at the rest stop, about an hour and half into our trip, my poor Dad exited the van with his shirt unbuttoned all the way, wet with sweat, and white as a ghost. I had never seen him that pale!  I was also feeling horribly sick so the two of us commiserated with each other as we sipped on soda in an attempt to calm our queasy tummies. We reluctantly reentered the van with barf bags close if we needed them but luckily after the rest stop it only got better and we were back in Chiang Mai in no time. After waiting a few hours at the bus station we hopped on a large overnight bus to Bangkok.  This was to be a 12 + hour bus ride and so we paid extra money to get the "VIP-first class" overnight bus. Besides the smiley stewardess that brought us handfuls of beverages and a bun with weird, sticky, brown stuff in the middle (still never found out what it was) we really do not know what made this a "VIP" bus. The seats were uncomfortable, the toilet stunk up the entire bus horribly, and the AC blew very musty, moldy air that made Patty, who has bad asthma, cough all night. The blankets we were given during the ride also gave me bed bug bites all over my legs.  They also played a movie that Jim and Patty were especially thrilled American Jet Li movie dubbed over in Thai that was nothing but non stop killing and bloody violence.  It made the start of the bus ride very relaxing.  Ha!    None of us slept very well, if at all, but we arrived in Bangkok safe. 
Before arriving to Bangkok we had been told by several people that it's a big, dirty city that isn't worth more than a day or 2 stay.  We all ended up loving it and wished we had more time to spend there.  It was a clean city full of character and culture. We stayed in a fun, lively part of town near Khaosan Road surrounded by cheap and very tasty street food stalls, vendors selling art, jewelry and clothes, and funky bars and restaurants. Walking down Khaosan Road was something else.  I got a kick out of the many stalls where you could get your hair braided, or better yet, get extension braids or dreadlocks!  We saw several people in the span of a few days getting long extension dreadlocks.  What!?!  Wannabes turned "Hippy" in only a few hours time.   I told Clint he should get them so we could fit in better with some of the backpacker crowd.  He wasn't having it.  During our walks down Khaosan road we were often asked if we wanted random things; tattoos, braids, tailor-made suits, tuk-tuks, bugs to eat, and Ping Pong shows. We knew before we came that the sex tourism here in Bangkok is a big problem so to be asked about the ping pong shows was not a surprise but still disturbing nonetheless. Every half block we were approached with the questions; Tuk-Tuk? Massage? Tattoo? Ping-Pong?  Blah! Other than hanging around the fun and interesting area near our hotel the four of us visited the National Museum, the National Art Gallery, and several Wats.  In one Wat we entered we sat and respectfully listened to the methodic chant of Monks.  This was a very beautiful experience. 
Another morning, Clint and I took a trip to see the famous floating market while Jim and Patty stayed back to ride the local water taxi on the river and visit the flower market in Bangkok. They said they enjoyed this very much.  The floating market was interesting for us to see but it has turned into such a huge, chaotic tourist attraction that it is clearly functioning as such and not as an actual market like it once was. Clint and I rode in a long, wooden row boat through the market which was a bit of a joke. The small canals were so packed with other like tour boats that traffic was at a stand still for over half the time. After this thrilling boat ride we simply walked around the water canals, which was much more enjoyable, ordering rice noodle soups for lunch and buying fruits from the boat vendors.  In the city the four of us also visited Lumpini Park, a park known as the "fitness park" of the city.  We came a little too late to see the groups of locals that supposedly come in the morning to do their Tai Chi  but we did see others running, biking, and working out throughout the beautiful, well-groomed park.  This park was free to the public, had a weight "room" outside and was scattered with many, colorful exercise machines, which we all tried out for ourselves.  If only MN had a park like this it would make going to the "gym" so much easier and more enjoyable. We also ate at the park's outdoor food court and tried a variety of tasty Thai dishes and treats that we never had before. A Thai woman was extremely friendly and helped us order food and introduced us to her friends. We bought special health shakes from her called "Nutri-life" or something like that. They tasted awful and when we left she wrote down her "Nutri-life" ID number and said we can use it anywhere in Thailand as well as many areas throughout the world, for "Nutri-life" discounts.  If only they were good enough to buy again.   We noticed that even people who are not trying to sell you something are very friendly, helpful and smiley here in Thailand.  Even some of the Tuk-Tuk drivers stop to help you with directions with nothing expected in return.  We were only able to see a fraction of the large city of Bangkok because we were there during a rainy week and every afternoon it would pour rain, making it difficult to venture out.  Still, what we did see and experience was great and left us wanting to someday return to Bangkok to explore more.   Our next trip is to the South to soak up the sun on the infamous beaches and islands of Southern Thailand.

Our next blog to come soon...
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meshach on

I'm glad to see you posted something. I guess the email notification got lost as I never knew it was here. Looks like you had a blast!

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