Our travels from Krabi to Chiang Mai were rather uneventful. We took a taxi to the Krabi airport, checked in early, and I worked more on keying out my Nepal botany photos.
Since AirAsia will sell you plane tickets from Krabi to Bangkok and then Bangkok to Chiang Mai, but not from Krabi to Chiang Mai (who knows), we had to collect our luggage in Bangkok and go right back to the check in counter and do it all again. Sigh. But, some entertaining signs made it worth it:
Our Hotel – Imperial Mae Ping
We checked into our hotel, and behemoth building with 15 floors and two swimming pools. They asked us if we would be needing two beds? Clearly, I should be wearing my wedding ring. The hotel had lovely orchid and floral displays, much to my delight.
A quick trip to the hospital
As it was roughly dinner time we took to walking the town and the Chiang Mai square. We had also, after much debate, research, and fretting, decided that the monkey bite Griffin received on Monkey Beach on Koh Phi Phi, while small, had drawn blood and warranted a rabies shot, just in case. So, after a yummy meal of panang curry for Chez and again way too much food for Griff, we were off to find a hospital. We wanted to walk there since we have been getting no exercise, and after Nepal, we feel very lethargic. How people don’t get exercise, even if its just walking, everyday I don’t understand. (and yes, I am getting cabin fever from lack of intense endurance workouts and am becoming a handful at times. Good thing Dr G is patient.)
So we walked about 5 miles to and from a hospital that was actually very pleasant. Griff was a bit worried that it would be several hours in the ER, etc, but we were in and out in less than 35 minutes. He got a rabies shot and we can rest at ease not worrying. Although we will need to find 4 more hospitals on our trip, we take it as a challenge and an adventure to get to know some of these cities better.
We kept walking for another couple hours, exploring side alleys and finding bars that could have a hopping night scene, but for now, were overpopulated with Thai “companions for hire”, waiting to catch their next pray. We saw a couple guys who were walking past get grabbed and attempts at coaxing them inside were unsuccessful. As Griff had a lady on his arm, we were spared the harassment. It was rather sad, but at least most of the women seemed older.
Back at the hotel, it was now after midnight, the bellhop calls the elevator for us and a Thai woman, and all four of us get in. They get off at the floor below us, and the bellhop takes her to a room and knocks on the door. Clearly, someone on the 6th floor had hired a companion for the night and the bellhop, none the phased, knew exactly what was going on and made sure she got to the correct room. For us, it was bedtime on floor 7.
To the Tigers and Elephants
So everyone says Chiang Mai is a must visit, and its where you ride elephants and do outdoorsy things. True to the word, there were numerous outfitters recommending white water farting (okay that meant to be rafting but the typo is so funny I am going to leave it as such), rock climbing, waterfalls, “trekking”, zip lining, and camping. While all of this sounds fun, and had we not been to Nepal we probably would have jumped at these opportunities, we felt that it would feel like a let down after the trek around Annapurna. The treks around Chiang Mai were supposedly only a few hours long, and other adventures were overpriced, considering in Danakyu, Nepal we stayed in a guesthouse for $1/night overlooking a spectacular waterfall (and we got there for free as we used our own two legs).
So, we did what we came to Chiang Mai to do – ride the elephants and pet some tigers.
We hired a private driver for half a day as this would end up being cheaper and more convenient than trying to string together serveral cab rides to all over creation. Our first stop was the orchid farm. As I love plants this was really neat. Not sure Griff loved it as I did, but always the good sport he walked around with me, bought me some lovely orchid flower-lacquered necklaces, and even found the butterfly enclosure for me. For pictures of all the different orchid hybrids (mostly vandas and cattleyas), please see “Orchids of Thailand”.
Soon we were off to the elephant conservation camp. We paid about $30 for entrance and 30-mins of riding. Seemed like a lot but it was a good cause and by US standards its really not that much. We had time to ride before the show, so over we went to the arena. The elephants here had large saddles on their backs, and we were to ride together. This did not look comfortable for the poor animal but the experience needed to be felt before judging. We heard you could ride bareback, but that required lessons and was more expensive.
We got onto the seemingly unnecessary saddle and our elephant slowly started plodding its away along a designated path filled with mud easily 2’ deep. Every so often we would hear the suction as his hoof pulled out of the hole of mud. It was slow going, and at times the elephant did not want to cooperate – either it was not enjoyable at all for this animal to perform the tasks asked, or he was spunky and wanted to see what he could get away with. Either way, the ride was cool, but we’d rather be bareback and on a trail with better footing for the poor guy.
Next it was time for the elephant bath and then the show. After the snake show nonsense in Bangkok we were skeptical. But elephants are really smart so we were prepared to be surprised.
A few of them bathed for a while, and it was rather cute to see just how much they loved being scrubbed and watered down. A couple looked as if they were falling asleep while in the water, using their trunks as snorkels. At the end of the bathing one of the walked up to the crowd on the deck and blew water from his trunk all over everyone. Hehehe.
All the observers were corralled off to the show, and while we were prepared to be surprised, we had no idea it was going to be as cool as it turned out to be. The show began rather typically, with elephants walking around the big ring, bowing, making cute noises, lifting their rider on their large legs, and otherwise showing off.
And then the show got wild
Just when we thought we were in for a cool, but somewhat typical (think Big Apple Circus in NYC) show, the elephants really turned it up a notch.
For starters, there was the dancing and hula-hooping. The elephants came out with harmonicas in their trunks and were actually making music, which augmented the drums and other music playing loudly in the arena. They were wildly swinging their trunks in circles, and one had a hula-hoop on its trunk and was rolling it round and round.
Then there was soccer. And I don’t mean just playing with a large soccer ball. I mean these elephants were being tossed balls and were kicking them really far – attempting to make it into a soccer goal net. One was even able to take the ball in his trunk, bend down, and drop kick the ball! And he was good enough to score too!
Next came elephant painting. Sounds silly, but it was really, really impressive. And the elephants carrying their own paint boxes was soooo adorable. After the show we visited the art gallery (and yes, I bought one because it was too cute to resist), where they had on display a huge, and beautiful, half of a painting done in 2007, which won a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, and was sold for $37,000. Pretty cool.
Throwing darts at balloon targets came next, and an elephant competed against a man from the audience. They tied.
After the show we fed the elephants treats and got nuzzled. One just went nuts over Griffin’s hair (don’t all the ladies? Or is that just me?).
Once we finished at the elephant camp it was off to the tiger kingdom! Here, for again, what seemed like a lot of money, we were allowed into the cages with the tigers. We chose the tiger cubs first – 3 months old, and went for the big ones second. As you’ll see below, one of the babies really had it out for Griffin. At first it would act as if he wasn’t even there, and then it would lock its gaze on him and walk straight for him, and try to bite – good thing the keepers were quicker. The uncoordinated actions of these little guys is all that kept them from being really scary; they still had big claws, strong jaws, and an undomesticated instinctual “this is edible” look. On the contrary, they seemed to love my lap and I couldn’t get the off me half the time. As cute as they were, they weighed about 35lbs, and having an animal that heavy just playing on your lap, knowing it really could hurt you, is somewhat unnerving
Unfortunately, my camera battery had died, so we paid a photographer to come into the cage with us. Due to the high cost we chose for him to come only into the baby cages, so no pics from the big guys. But for those who like to read the description is below.
The big guys
The big cage was scary, but for different reasons. The little ones were too young to understand the idea of being submissive and docile. When they would misbehave or bit they got smacked on the nose with a bamboo stick, and had their face shoved into the ground by the keepers. They would growl and get pissed, and then 2 mins later had forgotten anything ever happened. They could hurt someone only because they were rambunctious enough to not know what they were doing, or because they would test their limits.
The adult tigers were very mellow. We went into the big cage and one was about 6’ long (not including tail) and weighed 265lbs, and it was only 18 months old. Griffin sat behind him and began petting him. The tiger at first didn’t even move, and then, once Griff started rubbing the belly, he just loved it. He splayed his paws, and rolled more to expose more belly area. With domesticated animals, this is a sign of trust.
What was scary about these big cats was not that they would suddenly turn on you and see food (although that was also a thought in the back of our heads) the way the cubs did, but rather that they were so big, just one movement from them, even a non-malicious one, could result in serious injury. Also of concern is that now this tiger really seemed to like Griffin, and who knows what that means in tiger world. The tiger at one point rolled back to his feet and turned his head back to look at Griff, and his inner eyelids were half open (again, a sign of intimate happiness). While adorable, it was frightful at the same time.
The big tiger was so happy and sprawling that his back leg twitched, almost as if he kicked out, and this was so powerful it was frightening. Then, there was some chaos in the other cage next to us as two adults started playing, and the three tigers in our cage, including the one we were petting, also took an interest. When the one we were petting got up to walk over to join the others, it somewhat brushed against us and it was powerful enough to make me lose my balance a bit; the tiger didn’t even notice. That is a powerful animal.
Now three tigers were spooning, slowly licking and bitting each other, and just like our cats, one had its tongue and face so deep inside the other’s ear we heard sucking noises. Their play biting would have punctured a human thigh muscle in less than a second. And this was only play time. Yea, kinda scary.
After the tigers we went back to our hotel and walked the night market. As I mentioned the battery in my camera was dead, so i was unable to take photographs. But the market was huge. First, the street sidewalks were lined with vendors, two rows of them facing each other, so that as you walk the sidewalk you have countless things to look at on your left and right. From the street, you can only see the backsides of the vendors booths – i.e., lifeless wooden facades. The market itself was more like 10 by 6 rows of just everything, trinkets, crap, mango wood bowls, hair clips, ties, pressed flowers and insects (the insects were almost certainly collected illegally and as much as a pressing of butterflies would have been amazing at those prices, I could not support that), silk ties and shawls, tea cups, bed linens, beads and necklaces, and so on. The night scene was so happening we walked around for hours.
For dinner, I asked the waiter if they had mango smoothies, and he replied, “no, sorry sir, not here”. It reminded me of our boat tour where “lady and gentlemens” were asked to please take their seats. The confusion of when to pluralize with an “s” or not, as well as the humor of one misplaced or missing letter, is a never-ending humorous event for us.
Sometime past midnight we made it back to the hotel, and sans company in the elevator, made it to bed.