War, death, elephants and sedated tigers....

Trip Start Oct 02, 2008
Trip End Oct 12, 2008

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Louis picked Alan and I up at our hotel and we went for our death and wildlife tour.

Japanese museum
We first stopped at a small museum, built out of bamboo and rain stained, that featured an exhibit with paintings done by a former POW who was forced to build the railroad to Burma during the Second World War. There were wild dogs running around, and some were "making new dogs" in the museum, I had to avert my eyes from the spectacle every so often. Alan wanted to take a photo, but I had to remind him we weren't allowed to take pictures inside. I found the sinks outside to be interesting. I was also intrigued by the various implements, bomb remnants, and railroad-making equipment on display near the exit.

War cemetery
There is a cemetery nearby which holds the bodies of foreign soldiers who died in WWII. This includes soldiers of British and Dutch origin. It's a peaceful place to come for a brief moment of reflection in a busy world. On our way out, Louis bought us some fried banana. MMMmmmmm sooooooo good, they are made from finger bananas so they are extra tasty and delicious. These are one of those things that you feel like you could eat forever and ever. But then you realize your co-traveler has snagged the last one without informing you, and then you don't have to worry about eating too many anymore.

Hellfire Pass
Next up, a trip to Hellfire Pass, an especially deadly section of the Burma-Thailand railroad. They say that one person died per "sleeper", this means one person per wooden piece, used to put the track together. There was a brand new museum at this location, built by the Australian government. It was beautiful and also extremely moving. A movie plays on loop, featuring footage taken from the POW camps during WWII. Some of these captured soldiers were Australian, forced to work under completely inhumane conditions, many died from cholera, dysentery and other terrible, awful things. After their original uniforms began to rot and decay, they were forced to wear loincloths made from the shredded remnants of their original clothes. Sometimes they would steal food sacks and use those for their clothing. The Australians have built a beautiful nature walk, with teak wood boardwalk amidst the mountains. It reminds me of Mexico and Cuernavaca, probably because we are at a similar latitude in Thailand.

Elephant Ride
Louis took us to an elephant camp for a ride through the jungle. We sat on a little metal seat behind a 15 year old boy who directed the elephant by using his feet, kicking the elephant under his ear lobes depending on the direction he wanted the giant beast to go. He listens to an iPod and talks on his cell phone while taking us on our jungle tour. Our first destination with the elephant was the river, we descended down a muddy embankment, slipping quite a few times through the muck. Alan laughing his head off while I scream and freak out every time. The elephant takes a drink and then heads over to the trail. We cross the road, can you imagine? An elephant crossing the road? Traffic stopped because an elephant had to get to the other side? Incredible. Anyway, we ramble through the forest, winding our way past extremely primitive huts (the homes of the elephant drivers usually) and their children. A group of the kids run after us yelling "Hello, goodbye, hello, goodbye" at us, most likely looking for a handout of some sort from the rich white people. The forest is just a mess of vegetation, vines and lush, fertile flora twist and entwine themselves all over, creating an atmosphere of utter chaos and confusion, I can't help empathizing with the trees, feeling a little chaotic and confused myself in this faraway country. As our elephant ride comes to an end, the driver takes our cameras and then takes a million photos. Finally Alan waves his arms and just says "Enough! No more photos" "You give me big tip now?" "Yes, yes big tip". We get off the elephant and sit down for a little show. It's not too humiliating of an ordeal for the animals, but for me, I still find it annoying enough. They dance around and some people lay down on the ground for an "elephant massage". Alan volunteers to go and gets his testicles gently prodded by an elephant's foot, to much laughter from the crowd of course. Animal humour to me, is the equivalent of fart jokes. I find they insult the intelligence of the viewer and hardly ever do I find this an enjoyable experience.

On the way to lunch, I wanted to take a picture of the monkey x-ing sign, I found that hilarious. Just down the street, true to the sign's word, there it was, a whole herd? of monkeys, hanging out and waiting for banana handouts from people getting off of tour buses.

Awful lunch
Next, we are ushered into a buffet style lunch, serving what else? Spaghetti and barbecue chicken? Wow, this is western food, once again. The spaghetti is bland, the satay is pretty good and yes, we have some more fried banana. I chow down on the banana and we hit the road for the tiger temple. Alan and I are feeling a little confined by the whole experience already, and we are struck by the blandness and routine nature of the tour. It will only get worse as the day goes on. On the way out, I notice a bunch of tour guides actually eating Thai food in a little cluster at the back of the venue.

Tiger temple
The tiger temple was one of those things I did NOT want to do. If I was here on my own, I wouldn't have gone at all, but since it was being offered to me, I reluctantly followed along. I had read countless TravelPod blogs on the tiger temple in the past, saw the cheesy pictures of people caressing what look like drugged up animals and taking pictures. We walk through the grounds and see some peacocks, water buffalo and baby tigers, gently pawing at tourists, drinking milk from bottles and playing with each other. I think this is the cutest aspect of the tourist attraction. We walk down to the tiger canyon, where the large cats are lounging around in awkward positions, tolerating smiling tourists, who squat next to them, placing one hand on their backs, or for the bravest, placing their heads in their laps. They are lead away (by the hand) by workers in bright yellow shirts. I can't bring myself to partake in this display of foolish voyeurism and exploitation. The elephant ride is one thing, but to me, the tigers look sedated (wihtout their consent of course) and that's just not right. Right now, the temple is under construction, and I can see the pieces of a plastic tiger oasis gradually coming together. The temple is nowhere near wheelchair accessible, but I'm sure that it will be soon. Louis says that he doesn't agree with the business practices of these monks. They are working with a large comapany to create an entertainment complex out of their sacred space. It doesn't strike me as moral or ethical either.

Ride home
On the ride home, we stop at a gas station and Louis buys us chocolate ice cream, yum. I try to go to the squat down toilets. It's got about a couple of milimetres of water on the floor and there's a scoop full of yellow coloured liquid sitting beside the "toilet". I am so nervous about not toppling over into the mystery liquid, that I suddenly can't convince my bladder to "go" anymore. With a heavy heart, I leave the washrooms, once again missing out on an authentic Thai experience, urinating while squatting in a filthy porcelain dish.

Throughout the day, we would engage Louis in conversation about the current political unrest and protest situation. This morning, about 100 protesters were sent to the hospital, some with fatal injuries from being shot at with tear gas cannisters from riot police. What we didn't know at this point, was that at 3:45 p.m., a car bomb went off and killed two people.

I don't know if this is registering in your news source right now or not, but there are giant protests (over 5,000 people) in Bangkok every night. This has been going on for a while, and the gatherings keep getting bigger as time goes by and as the government in power continues to exercise its power. I didn't have a chance to go down to the parliament buildings until tonight to see it for myself. Two people died in a car bomb incident this morning and there was lots of tear gas distributed throughout the day. I went down there with Toronto Sun reporter Alan Parker, it was just incredible.

We were welcomed with open arms (we were the only white people there, does that mean I'm smart or dumb? I don't know) We were given food, drink and prime spots at the speeches and concerts, even though we couldn't understand a word. I got shivers watching all the people together, doing what they believe to be the right thing for their country. I'm still not sure which side I stand on, but I'm pretty sure that this many people, camping out in the streets for weeks on end, because they believe so strongly in a single cause, can't be wrong. Everyone there was incredibly encouraged to see someone from the "outside" interested in what they had to say. Whether or not we could fully understand was not of their concern.

Two highly influential members of the political party challenging the current government's leadership were arrrested and the violence will probably be escalating in the coming days. You'll be glad to know that I probably won't end up back in Bangkok at the parliament buildings for the rest of my trip. So I just wanted you to know that I'm safe, and that the assemblies here aren't as violent as they may (or may not) seem to be on the news.

Here's an article from CNN:

Probably the most moving part of the event, was when a man got up to speak and after 30 seconds, half of the crowd was in tears. Their eyes shimmering under the harsh fluorescent lighting, some gently wiping away the remnants of sadness from their cheeks. After this speech, the rest of the crowd all sang together the King's Song. Later I was told that the words were similar to God Save the Queen.

Tuk tuk rip off
Alan and I walked straight to the protest from our hotel, about 5 km. We were hot and tired, so we hopped a tuk tuk to our hotel. We told him the name of it, and he seemed to understand. We paid 200 baht, a freaking fortune for such a short ride, and got off where I instinctually thought was the wrong place. Alan seemed to believe this was the place, but we quickly found out that it wasn't. We asked people how to get to the skytrain, and looked at the map, we were really about halfway home. *sigh* We bitched and moaned the whole walk home, sweaty and miserable. On the way inside the hotel, we heard a really bad Thai cover band doing songs like Stupid Cupid and Oyo Como Va. So we sat down for a well deserved Singha, buy two get one free, but the bottles cost twice as much as one jug on Khao San Rd. Oh well, I was too exhausted to care.
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mmbcross on

Loved the outside urinals. Let the fresh air in! Were the ladies' on the other side? Nice that you got to ride an elephant and participate in a political rally. Good for you!

starlagurl on

Re: Urinals
The ladies were indeed on the other side, but they were inside, and done in the squat style.

travelmonster on

Tiger Temple
I really couldn't go to the Tiger Temple, I can totally understand what you were saying - you must have felt awful there.

starlagurl on

Re: Tiger Temple
Yep, it was totally gross and plasticky, yuck! Pew!

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