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Melissa & Dave - Adventures at Sea

Day 7 – Every possible cheesy touristy thing

We started out early today, alarm set for 5:30 for a 6am departure for our hike to the big buddha.  We hopped in the taxi and were dropped off at the base of the hill.  The grade was at least 7% at the bottom. It would flatten out for brief periods, but was pretty much uphill all the way.  Others had warned us "you will feel like crawling up the hill".  The yoga teacher told us that we could do it in 40 minutes.  Not so much.  Though admittedly after you start to get warmed up it does get a little easier.

All over Thailand there are wild dogs.  They seem well fed and friendly for the most part.  Though we were told not to wander off the road because they can get aggressive if you wander into what they consider their turf.

We hit stretches where there were little restaurants overlooking the view.  Had they been open we might have stopped and given up.

Only in Thailand will you see a sign like this one.

Though we were saddened when we saw elephants being kept in small areas - chained up and later brought out with saddles for people to ride on.  Elephants belong in the wild.  They are such beautiful and intelligent creatures.  There used to be 200,000 in Thailand, now only a few thousand.

After a mere hour and forty minutes, we are nearly there!

We had been passed by numerous runners getting their exercise by jogging up the hill.  Many were at the top to cheer us across the finish line - despite being the snails by comparison.

Then at last the big buddha!  It is still under construction underneath, but the exterior is spectacular.

And the view from the top of the hill was worth all the pain!

Everywhere there are wishes or notes written on durable metallic like paper.

In a tent structure beside the buddha the monks are praying.  I asked before taking this picture (most didn't).  And the smiley guy on the right nodded yes.  I then bowed in the traditional Thai greeting and they bowed back.  I figure that must be good luck.

As they are still working on the construction, you can purchase a tile ($10 USD) and write on it and it will end up in the facility somewhere.

After that we hopped back in the taxi (who had now been hanging out for three hours) and rode back to Action Point for breakfast.  We decided since there were no activities on Sunday we should go do the tourist stuff and see what there was to see.  So I texted the taxi driver and asked if he was available to take us around all afternoon.  He quoted us a price of $400 BHT per hour ($13 USD).  Along the way he told us he would charge us a maximum of 5 hours no matter how long we were out.  But we told him no, he had quoted us a price and we agreed to it.  So in the end, we were out for 7 hours, so we paid him $110 USD with tip.  He was nearly embarrassed to keep it - having already made $40 taking us to the hike this morning.  Thai people here typically live on $500 USD per month.  So in one day he made more than a week's pay.  But as you will see - he totally did right taking us to numerous fun places.

Our first stop was the elephant sanctuary.  The taxi driver had never been to this particular one - but after a few wrong turns and a drive past the cock fighting ring (bleck) we found it.  For $88 USD each (most expensive touristy thing we did) we got to play with a baby elephant and two full grown ones.  They told us that the baby boy was 5 years old and his dad was killed by hunters for the ivory.  The two full grown females had been rescued from "slavery" - you could see the scars on their legs where they had been chained.  At this facility they are rehabilitated and returned to the wild.  Whether this is a tall tale for tourists remains unknown.  But we like to think its true.

When we arrived there was a group of tourists but they were on their way out - so we essentially got an hour with the elephants all to ourselves.

The baby elephant "kissed" us.  This tickled and was hilarious.  The trunk is strong and can create suction - I'm surprised we didn't have hickies.

We got to feed the baby elephant.  He would go pick up a bottle of soy milk, and bring it to you, and then open wide so you could dump it down his throat.

They then took a hose and filled his trunk with water.  A full grown elephant can hold nearly three gallons of water.  The baby elephant would then spray us with the water.

After doing all his tricks, the baby elephant was allowed to play in the mud.  Apparently they love mud - much like pigs.  It protects them from insects and sunburn.  And then he got his bath in the water.  And then it was time to feed the big ones their lunch - bananas.

After the last video clip – the other big elephant came over to share the bananas.  The first one would take a banana and eat it.  But you have to believe that for these giant beasts that a banana is pretty much like a gummy bear would be to us.  So the second one pretended to eat them, all the while storing up a big bunch in the curl of her trunk.  Once she had accumulated a big bunch of them, then she would toss them in her mouth and chow down on them.

At this point we would have been allowed to get in and bathe the elephants in the muddy water.  But as we had a long list of activities planned, we figured we would head out.  This caused a scurry of activity.  Oh no! You must not go!  You must eat first!  So they brought out some fresh cut pineapple - and despite fruit not being on our diets we didn't feel we could refuse.  Then the reason became clear - they had taken pictures of us with the elephants and put them in cheesy elephant frames for purchase.  $15 USD.  Yes, suckers that we are, we bought them.  Cuz all the money goes to the elephants.

Next stop was Tiger Kingdom.  While Melissa's favorite animal is elephants, Erica's favorite is Tigers.  Some years ago when in Bangkok, she visited a Tiger sanctuary run by monks.  This was much more touristy.  It was essentially a zoo where the tigers were kept in relatively small cages, and people would parade through the cages having their picture taken.  The handlers would often poke at the tigers to get them to pose for the pictures.

Ultimately probably not the best environment for an endangered species.   None the less, for $40 USD each, we got our 10 minutes with a couple of the smallest of the tigers.  Note that they mostly slept through the whole thing - clearly accustomed to the crowds.  Though one of the baby tigers tried to make his escape over the fence, but jumped back into his cage when yelled at by a handler.

Melissa with a tiger by the tail...

The taxi driver then suggested we stop by a jewelry store where there is an amusement park ride.  You get in what looks like a mining car and wind through "caves".  Each cave tells a different part of the gem journey from formation when the earth was young, to being mined and the different mining techniques, to being made into jewelry, and finally the history of gems through human history.  Its actually pretty well done.

Of course at the end you are each assigned a sales clerk to lead you through the giant jewelry store.  We wandered around looking at all the fancy jewelry and trying stuff on that we would never buy.

In the end they lead you to the "cheap" room - at least relatively speaking.  Erica bought a pair of earrings, and I bought a pearl necklace and two bracelets.  We each spent about $130 USD.  So seemingly cheap by US prices for real pearls.

By then we were starving!  It was 4pm and we hadn't eaten since breakfast, so we asked the taxi driver to take us to a place where the locals eat.  Diet is good and all at "fat camp" but we can't leave Thailand without eating one local meal!  I ordered green curry and crispy pork ribs.  Erica ordered another spicier curry and some "local leaves" with dip.  It was yummy.  The next day when I confessed to my trainer that we had a "cheat meal" he asked what I had eaten.  After telling him, he said, that's not cheating!  That's good healthy food - you even skipped the rice!

Then the driver dropped us at the local Sunday street market.  

We have a rule in our house – nothing can be purchased unless it has a specific place where it will live once we take it home.  This is what happens when you get old – you find yourself with too much stuff.  So everything you purchase has to be perishable like food, or has to replace something else that will be tossed out.  With this in mind, I choose my purchases in the market very carefully.  I bought:

  • Pajamas covered in elephants.  Cuz, who doesn’t need those?
  • An ankle bracelet with elephants and bells.  Erica says now she can hear me coming, so that’s a plus.
  • And don’t forget the elephant frame with the picture of me with the elephant.  Because the money went to the elephants.  (Anybody doubt that Melissa loves elephants?)
  • A pair of earrings – because, well, I thought they were cute.  And we girls can always use more earrings.
  • A new sarong that is in a lovely batik fabric that matches my swimsuit.
  • A new hat because.  Well, um, because I’m pretty sure I need a new hat.
  • A present for Dave.

All totaled I spent a whopping $55 USD.  I love Thailand.

Then we hung out and visited the local temple while awaiting the taxi driver to pick us up and take us back to Action Point.  Exhausted but feeling like we had done all the cheesy touristy stuff there was to do!

Once back, we had dinner and then our massage.  Time to pack up and head home tomorrow.  Or so we thought.  <Insert gloomy foreshadowing music here.>

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