Sunday, 26 December 2010

Elephant Trekking

Sunday 26th December 2010

MP3 track of the day: Nelly the Elephant -

Weather: Again blue skies, fluffy white clouds and its really quite hot.

7:15am is the earliest that I've rolled out of bed in a week however, as I was getting picked up at 8:20am, it had to be. I got ready with my usual care of making sure that I had exactly ten minutes spare to wait for my pick up. However my driver also seemed to have the same 'being early' gene and he too was ten minutes early. As I was walking down the stairs to the front of the building my driver was walking up the driveway.

He seemed like a nice chap and I got onto his 'converted pick-up truck thing' and off we went with me riding army style. It didn't take long to get to the Elephant Nature Reserve, which looked like it was still in the process of being built. As I walked in I saw a noticed stating 'Elephant trekking 1,000 baht' which made me smile. I thought I might have ten minutes to look at the elephants – which were held in a large barn with no walls and a concrete floor -, apply suncream / bug spray and generally take a few photos … no. My elephant and elephant rider were waiting for me and so off I went.

I was worried about actually getting on the elephant … would it sit down or would I have to climb aboard? The answer was a lot easier than both of those options; in front of me was a staircase to a small roofed platform where the elephant stands inline so I can just walk on. I was the only one going on this elephant and so I had the seat to myself. The elephant driver got off for a moment to tie a rope around my waist. I wasn't sure what good it would do however I suppose Thailand's health and safety requirements were well and truly ticked. The driver hopped back on and within ten minutes of arriving at the elephant reserve we were off into the jungle.

Now when you see elephants on nature programmes like Planet Earth the elephant seems quite steady and almost smooth as he puts one foot carefully in front of the other … this however did not feel like that. Once on board I felt as if I had purchase a ticket to ride the 'oblivion' at Alton Towers, I gripped for all my might on the hand rails to either side of me as the elephant was directed up a steep, muddy, uneven track. The driver sat just behind the elephants head, looking so comfortable that he could have been mistaken for watching the football whilst lying on a sofa. He looking like a professional where as I looked like I was riding a 'bucking bronco'.

The driver occasionally chatted to me about the jungle that we passed through, wildlife and this and that. I however wasn't in much of a talkative mood, my tongue was out and I was concentrating on gripping onto the rails and not falling to my death. Very quickly applying suncream, bug spray or even taking photos whilst enjoying a relaxing trek into the jungle went right out of the window. I did manage to ask the name of the elephant and whether it was a boy or a girl; 'Dobby' was the answer to the name and it was a girl … maybe if I gave it a sock it might become free.

I watched the driver as we went left and right up the hill; it appears that to steer an elephant you have to gently kick the ear for the direction you want it to go … all seemed simple. The path eventually leveled out and Dobby was a little hungry … so we stopped. The driver tried to call the elephant to move on but she was having none of it. After eating Dobby's backside was itching and so she reversed into a tree and started to have a good old scratch by moving her bottom from left to right … lovely. The driver eventually had enough and hit Dobby on the head with a stick … I didn't like that.

We were off again and I was gripping on for dear life once more. The scenery was beautiful and, due to the time of day, it was cool and shadowy … no need for sun cream. We made it to this clearing where the driver stopped, got off the elephant and asked if I wanted my photo taken … sure, I said as I passed him my camera. A regular photographer, the guy took about fifteen shots and on some of them I don't look terrified (though my white legs really show). He got back on and we went to complete the circle, but not before Dobby had a massive call of nature.

As we traveled on a huge swarm of flies were now buzzing around Dobby, the driver and I. I couldn't apply bug spray, I couldn't even waft the flies away due to my brain coming to the conclusion that falling of Dobby would hurt a lot more that a few bites … I gripped onto the rails harder and puffed at the flies whilst moving my legs sideways. Now having started with a huge climb up a hill I knew that we had to go back down it, the thought hadn't really crossed my mind previously as my brain was too occupied with the present dangers. As we started to decent I soon found out that going down is much worse than going up … I gripped on tighter.

One hour later we were back at the landing platform where I removed my fingers from the imprints that I had left on the metal bars and jumped off, a little 'light legged', and proceeded down the stairs to take some photos of Dobby and her driver. The experience had been nerve racking, I wouldn't recommend elephant commuting for work purposes, however it had been an experience. After a few photos I was then shown to a counter with bananas in boxes. I was told that I could have one of these boxes and feed Dobby … and so I did, which was pretty cool. Dobby raised her trunk and I put the banana in there before Dobby but her trunk into her mouth.

“... 20 baht!...” I herd the lady cry when I returned the empty tray to the counter. She was pointing at a sign that read “twenty baht to feed elephant banana” … I'm sure the sign wasn't there previously, I was a little annoyed with the extra payment however Dobby deserved the banana's for her hard work and she sure liked them.

I was then shown to a table where a carton of water and a big slice of pineapple was waiting for me. Whilst eating this guy brought over a python and asked if I wanted to hold it. No Thai translation was needed for the look of horror on my face and so he just put the snake on the table so I could photograph it. Once I'd finished my fruit I gave the pineapple skin to Dobby, which she also liked, and then I was given a bit of space to view some monkeys in cages; the monkeys in cages I didn't like however the space I did. I could finally get some bug spray onto my white, and all ready bittern, legs.

I didn't stay much longer at the elephant reserve and soon I was back in the van with my driver. Next up was a waterfall with a bridge; the driver directed me to the waterfall but said don't use the bridge as it was unsafe (and a good job he said that as, even though there were a few holes in the wooden planked floor, I've crossed worse). I walked down some stone steps to take a few photos of the waterfall, which wasn't that impressive as it was only four foot high. Then a Thai guy came with a razor, shaving foam and some other bits and bobs; it was funny to see a guy dive into a river with a waterfall and wash naturally … before applying 'Pantene Pro-V all in one shampoo and conditioner'. I left him to his morning wash.

The driver, speaking very little English, then made an action like we were next going to see some birds. I hopped back in the van and we drove off for quite a while. I wasn't quite expecting that our next stop would start with an armed blockade where the driver had to show some papers. It turns out that we had entered a navy military base and on this base was a turtle conservation project. Turtles, and not birds, was my next attraction with lots of tanks of water with turtles in. As the turtles got bigger the tanks enlarged until I saw these huge turtles in this massive tank. I wasn't massively impressed as I don't like caged animals; I was even less impressed when I saw, on a desk, a small 'prism-shaped' glass specimen container containing a 2-headed turtle that, due to the lack of room, wasn't able to move … I didn't even know if it was alive or not … I left shortly after this and that was the end of my trip.

It had only been gone two hours; I had enjoyed my morning of activities however at the beginning of the day it did feel a little rushed and why for the early morning start … why couldn't we start at say 10am. Then again it was quite nice and cool at 9am when I went elephant trekking.

I went up into my room and started to look at a few things on the internet; firstly my Laos and Cambodia visas. The Laos visa is simple as I can get that at the boarder, the Cambodia one is a little more difficult. Cambodia's land boarders are notorious for officials scamming tourist out of their money for charges that don't exist; now the amount usually charged isn't that much however I don't like getting scammed no matter the cost therefore I'm thinking of flying from Laos into Cambodia, probably to Siem Reap where Angkor Wat is. I can apply for a Cambodia tourist visa online which costs $5.00 more ($25.00 in total) than at the boarder, or at an embassy, however it removes a lot of hassle and means I don't have to be in Bangkok for long if I don't want to. However I need to make sure that me entering Cambodia on a tourist visa is okay for my project work; what's more I can only get a one month visa and as I'm planning on spending a week at Siem Reap, plus a week at Phnom Penh, before my three week project then I will need to apply for a visa extension some time in the middle of my project work.

I needed to email 'i-to-i' (who my project is with) just to confirm the above is okay, which I did so. Whilst searching through my emails I found that a group of English people, who will be doing their projects at the same time as I in Phnom Penh, have been trying to contact me. I replied to their emails and it seems like there should be a good group of us, which will make a nice change from here. Speaking of which I still haven't decided what my next move will be; I haven't herd back from my friends (surprise, surprise) about meeting up on Ko Phan Ngan in two days time. I am a little bored here but I keep looking at a map of Thailand and it doesn't help. My next stop is Bangkok but do I really want to be there for the new year? Do I have a choice? I'm out of here on the 28th Dec so I may just move to a dorm five buildings down for a night or two and then … I dunno, hopefully I'll hear from my friends in the nick of time.

After being on the internet for an age I went out for a late lunch before, once again, heading to the beach to read more of my book. The sun was beating down and yet again I couldn't get comfortable on the hot sand. Added to this was the fact that I was starting to nod off and so I decided that the only place I would feel really comfortable reading my book would be my back in my guesthouse room. Once back I sat down to read my book and it didn't take long until I actually nodded off.

How long I was asleep for, I did not know. The clock said it was 6:30pm when I eventually got up; I decided to head out for an early tea. As I walked to my favorite restaurant in town I went through my 'next move predicament' once more. I still hadn't herd from the others and tomorrow is my last day at this lovely guesthouse; I could stay in Khao Lak another night or two – waiting for a message - but I'm loosing the will to live (though it would mean that I should finish my book); I could head back to Krabi but what would be the point in going south when I need to head north? I could head to Ko Pha Ngan in the vain hope of finding someone that I knew or, more than likely I could just head up to Bangkok. As I don't need to do a visa run in Thailand's capital I could limit my time there to the minimum and head north to Chang Mai asap. That's settled then, tomorrow I shall inquire about a bus (hopefully not a mini-van as they are pretty crowded and expensive, whereas the buses have massive chairs and are really nice) to Bangkok and if I don't hear anything about Ko Pha Ngan by the afternoon I'll head north to the capital … sorted.

After a good meal, which again came with free fruit, I headed back to my guesthouse for a bit of TV and to look at hostels in Bangkok. Sure enough the prices were quite high - as it's the new year holidays - but at least there was accommodation. I scoured for a few places that looked okay and made a mental note for tomorrow. I hate waiting for people to get back to me, it's never as quick as I think it should be, or I want it to be, and this is why I travel alone … so much less stress.

Toodle Pip!

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