If Los Angeles is Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “Under the Bridge (Downtown),” then Bangkok is Los Angeles screaming down the road high on meth riding a motorbike one-handed while waving to a friend. In the rain. With a broken headlight.
As a “fresh meat” tourist in frenetic Bangkok, I was ripped off at least six ways to Sunday within an hour. I knew it was happening, but they were so skillful at it, and I was so green, that it was easiest to go along with it. When I stopped spending money, though, the “tuk-tuk” driver stopped smiling, and I ended up unceremoniously dumped at my hostel within five minutes of saying “no” for the first time. Life lesson learned.
As part of the above, I ordered some clothing tailored, and had a fitting later that day. I bargained reasonably well, but I’m sure I still paid too much... but it’s hard to say no when they’re offering a service I need. How many times a day/week do I whine that I can’t find clothing in my size? The quality was clearly good. Am I getting screwed over, or a valuable service from an honorable merchant? I’m not sure, but in any case I’ll have some well-fitted clothing to show for the credit card bill, so it’s not a total loss.
What's With All The Wats?
My favorite Wat had a walkway with dozens upon dozens of Buddhist proverbs in Thai and English. I love that kind of stuff, and snapped photos of over half of the sayings, and have included a few here.
I Can Say More To Thai Elephants Than To Thai People
I requested a camp that treated the elephants well, so rather than a long ride, we got to learn to work with the elephants, feed them, and bathe them. We did ride them, too, but it was only about 30 minutes. It was absolutely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
On the downside, even at this “elephant-friendly” camp, I was not impressed with their treatment. One of the mahouts (elephant trainer) was highly skilled, and controlled his elephant almost entirely with voice commands. Other mahouts were not so skilled, and frequently used the barbed hooks.
The Thai people treated the elephants about like Americans treat horses. Some were respectful and loving, and had a good relationship, and others were mean or even brutal. I was conflicted about going in the first place, and my experience confirmed my fears. Despite the incredible experience, if I had the choice to make over, I would not go to the elephant camp.
You Went In The Tiger Cage?!?
The experience was indeed incredible. I went in the cages with the “small” tigers (think golden retriever size) and the “big cats” (nearly full size, 18-30 month old adolescents), and had a photographer follow me in the “small” tigers’ cage. I also looked in from outside the cages of the “smallest” (babies!) tigers, including ones that were born just a couple weeks ago. I loved being close to the tigers, and didn’t feel afraid, except once when a tiger I was laying my head on decided to suddenly leap up and start running around. I flinched pretty hard then, that’s for sure!
The trainers clearly loved the tigers, and treated them with utmost respect. The tigers did not appear drugged, sick, hurt or maliciously mistreated in any way. But... the whole thing felt wrong. There were thousands of people, and the tigers were constantly poked and prodded by the trainers to do what the tourists and photographers wanted so they could get the best pictures.
I feel honored that I got to be that close to these majestic creatures, but I must admit again that if I could go back in time, I would not go to the Tiger Kingdom. I just don’t feel right about it, and that makes it hard to be excited about and even write about the experience. Another lesson learned.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
I connected with a couple of Turks on the minibus ride up the mountain, and explored Doi Suthep with them. Actually, our minibus held ten people, from: Korea (x2), USA (x1), Holland (x3), Turkey (x2) and Thailand (x2).
An interesting linguistic switch about being in Thailand is that instead of everyone around me trying to understand me speaking Japanese, now everyone around me is trying to speak English so I understand them. I have come across a few Spaniards, but otherwise I am speaking 100% English. It feels weird!
Chiang Mai Zoo
The trees and bushes and grasses both inside and outside the animal enclosures were stunning, though the monorail completely broke the mood wherever it was present. They painted it dark green so it wouldn’t stand out too bad, but come on... a monorail? Overall a positive experience, and I am glad I went.
Goodbye, Chiang Mai (But Not Forever)
Right now I am on the overnight sleeper train back to Bangkok... next stop, Penang, Malaysia.