Day 7

Today we went to a big inland, freshwater lake where three groups of people, Vietnamese, Cambodians and Muslims, live in separate enclaves on the waters as 'boat people'. This inland lake is probably similar to the Sea of Galilee, in that you can't see the other side of the lake due to the curvature of the earth (only 12 miles of visibility). Our guide told us that it is about 50 miles across. Also, this Cambodian Sea of Galilee is also primarily used by the people for the fishing trade, just like Peter, James and John. We rented a boat, with a guide, to take us to the Vietnamese floating village.

Our guide explained to us that the lake is twice its size during the rainy season and shrinks during the dry season. We are now in the dry season and the lake is half its size. Our guide explained that the boat people move their villages around depending upon the condition of the sea at the time. At the height of the rainy season, when monsoons batter the seas, the people move to dry land. I really don't recall what they do with their floating houses when they abandon them during this time.

We accessed the sea through a river tributary. All along the river, people of all kinds were fishing waist deep with hand-thrown round nets. Garbage was all along the shores. I think that Cambodia, as well as Thailand, need to initiate a campaign to clean up their countries! It is a serious issue.

When I was young, America had a national campaign on T.V. with the slogan 'Keep America Beautiful'. At the time, it was nothing for us to throw paper wrappers, empty cups, etc. out the window when we didn't need them. Everybody did it! America was so large that the refuse would disintegrate and it wasn't much of a problem. But, as America's population increased over the next 10 years (Baby Boomer age), America started to look like present day Thailand and Cambodia.

The 'Keep America Beautiful' campaign really struck American hearts and everybody started carrying 'Don't be a Litterbug' plastic bags in their cars to collect garbage. Also, a frequent T.V. commercial was shown with an American Indian looking at garbage blowing across a beautiful green meadow. As the Indian witnessed the mess we made, he turned to the camera and a solitary tear rolled down his face , followed by the words 'Keep America Beautiful'. It was an excellent campaign! Many a child got their butts whipped for throwing paper on the ground, instead of in the trash!

Thailand and Cambodia need to do something like that. There is just trash everywhere! And, guess what? Men and boys urinate wherever they feel like it, even in public! All along busy stretches of highways are males peeing against things like dogs do. The place just really smells of urine. Even at the ruins of Ankor Wat, you smell urine everywhere.

Back to the boat people……As we neared the Vietnamese floating village, we were first greeted by a small boy in a large metal saucer, paddling away trying to catch up with us. Every so often, he would stop paddling and use a cup to bail out the water that entered from paddling. I asked the guide about this and he said that he was coming to us to beg for money. He advised us to not do it because, if they earn enough money per day, his parents will not send him to school. So, we turned him away and he paddled off without any grief.

Soon we were in the thick of the floating village. They had everything that a land village would have, even a school and churches! The only churches there were two floating Catholic churches;surprisingly there were no floating Buddist temples. The schools were very modern and enclosed in wire metal mesh so, I assume, the kids wouldn't fall off and into the water. The houses were a model of utmost poverty. Our guide told us that their occupation was fishing and that is why they lived on the water. He said that they could improve their lives, but they were lazy. He said that he, himself, was a product of a floating village but has earned enough money to go to school to be an English speaking guide for tourists. He said that they could improve their conditions, but they lack the desire to do so.

This day we also visited our last two temples of Ankor and one of the 'killing fields' memorialized by a Hollywood movie by the same title. When the Pol Pot regime was in power, he arrested people arbitrarily if there was any hint that they might oppose him. These people would be tortured, killed and then their heads were all thrown in a certain area ( the head is the most sacred part of the body, according to Buddhism). I don't know what they did with the rest of the bodies. The killing field site has now been turned into a museum out of respect for the dead and the building where they did all the killing is now a Buddhist temple.

It took our tuk-tuk driver all day to drive to these areas. That was the best part of the whole day! Elise and I got to get an open-air view of the countryside of Cambodia. Can I tell you the story about our tuk-tuk driver? We hired the same driver for all three days, which was a good thing for him. The country is teaming with tuk-tuk drivers and competition is stiff. So, he had steady pay for 3 days! Everyday, we invited him to lunch, which was unusual I learned. Nobody at the restaurants would give him a menu until I insisted. His name is Par Kong, but insisted to be called Kong….as in King Kong, he said. He was always smiling, even when he told us about land mines blowing up people everyday. He LOVED to try to speak English, even though we could hardly understand him because his vocabulary was limited. But, Elise and I were patient. Oftentimes we resorted to hand gestures and role playing to converse. Kong really appreciated it when we understood him. It gave him great joy and spurred him on to speak even more English. When we would say, " AHHHH!", to let him know we understood, his face would break out in huge smiles and he would talk even more. By the end, he had become our tour guide. He would say, " I have plan for you. Kong take care of things". So, two women from the U.S. were in his caring hands and he just LOVED it!"

Kong is 36 years old,went to school until he was 20 years old and then dropped out. I don't know if this number is quite right because he made it sound like he made a mistake in doing this. He had an opportunity to come to America with an uncle, but he refused because he would miss his village and family too much. His first job was working in a jewelry stand yelling to all the people walking by to come buy his merchandise. He confessed that the jewelry on the outside of the stall contained fake gems. BUT, they had a V.I.P. room that contained the real stuff in the back of the stall. A man in his village taught him how to repair slot machines, so he went to Thailand for 5 years to perform his craft. On the side he also boxed and earned money doing that. He said that the Hindu gods protected him and his opponent couldn't hurt him. He said that he didn't practice any religion now and said he was 'straight up', which I learned was neither Buddhist or Hindu. It took all my might not to tell him about Christianity. I knew Elise would get mad at me, so I made a mental note to write him and tell him all I know about that.

The slot machine business paid well but he was not given a raise, as promised, during the entire time. So, he quit and became a mercenary for Thailand. He saved quite a bit of money and wanted to start his own gaming business in Cambodia. He invested his money in starting his own business and, then, Cambodia ruled that no gaming businesses would be allowed in the country. So, he lost almost all his money. With the remainder, he bought a tuk-tuk and began rebuilding his life again. He married late in life and has 2 sons, ages 3 and 6. In his country, old people cannot find work. Since there is no such thing as welfare or social security, it was a grave concern of his as to how he would support his family once he aged. He said that is why he bought a tuk-tuk to rebuild his life. He said that, being self-employed, he would be guaranteed work.

But at some point, he would have to give up his tuk-tuk business because he would be too old to drive, or no one would hire him because of his old age looks. His dream is to start a restaurant business with his wife and have his sons help with the business. This plan, he said, would guarantee a steady stream of income for his family. His wife is now enrolled in cooking school. I told him that it was a good plan and he smiled with approval.

Day 8 and Day 9 and Day 10

These two days were designated as travel days for our transition to Chiang Mae, Thailand. Crossing the border was again a nightmare! The border is strewn with trash and smells of dead fish. You have to walk, with luggage in tow, to each checkpoint in the blazing heat. Farmers of all types are crossing the border too, with their two wheeled carts loaded with sacks of rice or dead pigs. It is really a sight! As usual, as soon as we stepped out of the taxi, we were swarmed with Cambodians trying to sell us something. I was also met by a young, dark barefoot boy who was covered with dust from head to toe. He had in his possession a wheelie and put my luggage on it without asking! My patience in the heat is not good, but I showed my displeasure and took it off and said I would do it. I guess I was tired of people always in my face trying to get me to buy something or just donate money outright.

This boy followed us to the first checkpoint and started yelling, "Whoooop! Whooooop!" and pointing in a direction. My face covered in sweat (even with a sweatband!), I looked in the direction of his finger as it pointed to a building across the street. I really didn't know what he was trying to do, so Elise and I continued our trek across the border, feeling like a bunch of pack animals joining the rest of the migration. When we reached the first checkpoint, the officials turned us away and pointed to the same building that the dusty boy did. I sighed, turned our caravan to the left and was met with the dusty boy smiling from ear to ear! Again he started saying, "Whoooop ! Whooop!" and pointing. I must confess, I really thought this boy was just trying his best to get a buck out of me, just like the rest. We saw where we needed to process out of Cambodia and waited nearly 1 ½ hours in line. When we finally made it over the border, THERE HE WAS! He was on the other side of the border to greet us! That dusty boy had so much persistence, I thought. He offered his wheelie again and I shook my head in the negative. I came upon a huge curb and tried to navigate it. All of a sudden, I felt my luggage lift and…….there he was….THAT DUSTY BOY! He helped me maneuver the luggage over the steep curbs and and gently laid it down. I looked at him deeply and gave him a deeply felt 'Thank you'. We looked at each other for a moment, very deeply, both smiling and I saw the eyes of Christ on that boy. I am not kidding.

We decided to experience taking a bus in Thailand and elected to return to Bankok by this means. We took a tuk-tuk to the bus station and, as the driver made a sharp turn, Elise's luggage fell out. It hit with a thud and we both started yelling. The driver, alarmed that it may have been a body, quickly looked back, immediately stopped and looked relieved to see it was not one of us.

The bus station was something to behold. I think it was more of an outpost than a station as they called it. At first I thought the tuk-tuk driver made a mistake. But, no, he assured us this was it. Again, it was strewn with garbage and scrufty, shirtless men sat around the area resting on their laurels in the shade. The outpost was part of a collection of other stalls. I was relieved to see a grouping of large busses and thought, this must be it. Elise got our tickets while I waited outside on a plastic chair guarding our luggage. To our delight, the bus arrived within 10 minutes.

It was a relatively modern bus. The trip was uneventful, except for the fact that a Buddhist monk was forced to sit near us due to lack of seats. If you recall, monks are not permitted to touch or talk to women. Everytime I talked or coughed, he would turn around and look at me. I guess female germs are on the 'cannot do' list too. A child, on his mother's lap, was seated in front of the monk. As the bus rolled from side to side, every once in a while we would all go airborne from hitting a bump. The child would laugh with glee everytime this would happen. Then, all of a sudden, the smile disappeared from his face and he looked like he was ready to cry. I pondered why the child had such a quick change in disposition. Then the child hurled a fountain of orange substance from his mouth directly at the Buddhist monk. Everyone yelled out as the mother tried to put her hand over the child's mouth to stop the fountain of liquid. Am I terrible to think that this was a little bit funny?

We spent the next day in Bangkok visiting the grand palace of Rama V. It was made of all teak and had collections of gifts given by visiting dignitaries of other countries. Of course, the palace exuded nothing but opulence. We took a sleeper train to Chaing Mae, which was a throw back to the 50's. It was neat to experience something that I've only seen in the movies……..Murder on the Orient Express……. Yikes!

Day 11

We arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand by train in the late morning. Again, we were greeted by hungry taxi and tuk-tuk drivers, who were anxious for new fares. I can't tell you how draining it is to have so many people in your face! We found an 'official' taxi driver, commissioned by Chiang Mai, with a local government tag dangling from his neck. Sensing a more trustful situation, we chose him. Taxi fare and tuk-tuk fare, believe it or not, are about the same cost. When given the choice, we always chose a taxi driver in order to avoid losing our luggage at sharp bends in the road.

As soon as we entered the taxi, he presented us with letters of recommendations from former customers who hired him for their entire stay. All were printed by hand and used the stationary from one hotel or another. It smelled fishy from the start. He was nothing like Kong. He was very bossy and said he would 'take care of us' and 'save us money'. He would say in broken English, " Tonight you will do this, tomorrow I drive you to the elephants. Then we will see the Long Neck People". Huh? The Long Neck People? Elise and I were so exhausted from the train and lugging our overpacked luggage all over Thailand that we just agreed for the evening he planned.

What a mistake!

We were suppose to visit manufacturing facilities for leather, jewelry, silk, etc. Instead, we were ushered first to the largest gem store in town. There were maybe a token 6 people working on gems and the rest of the complex held store case after store case of extremely expensive jewelry. Two Thai women flanked us on both sides, constantly offering jewelry from the case that was ONLY in the thousands of dollars. We spent a total of 20 minutes there and walked out with nothing. The next stop was a leather factory with no factory workers. It was a warehouse of leather goods that had costs FAR HIGHER than leather goods in the United States. Again we left after 10 minutes.

At the subsequent stops, I noticed that our taxi driver was signaling to the store greeters. The store attendants would rush towards us, look at him and walk away. I think the signal meant we were cheapskates. Elise didn't believe me at first until I advised her to watch what happens at the next stop. It was just hilarious! To say the least, the taxi driver, Elise and I parted with no regrets that day and no future plans were discussed.

Day 12

We arranged for the whole day to be spent visiting the elephant camps and riding elephants through the rain forests. Today, Thailand has about 6,000 elephants in captivity and 2,000 are living in the wild. These numbers are far below the number of elephants employed during the reign of the kings. I can't recall how many existed back then, but it may have been 10 times the amount. We also learned that there isn't much wildlife in Thailand anymore because of over-hunting. There are no more tigers, however the surrounding, less populated countries like Myanamar and Burma still do have tigers.

The elephants in Thailand are forbidden to do hard labor, as in the past when employed to build temples or used as battering rams in the never ending wars between tribes. The wild elephants that remain are tracked geographically with microchips in their ears. Elephants in captivity are trained and are treated with great care. Part of the fees to ride the elephants are used to maintain their habitat and protection. At least, that's what they told us!

The day began with an elephant feeding, where you could buy large bunches of bananas to feed them. When the elephants were released from some other area, the smallest one began running very fast towards us. You had to see it! If the small elephant could talk, he would be saying, " Must get bananas…..must get bananas !". The others meandered over at their usual pace……..SLOW. I didn't realize that elephants mouths were so ugly. I guess I have always been focused on the snout, when I used to feed peanuts to the elephants at the Cincinnati Zoo. That was back in the day when you could feed the animals……usually anything. An elephant's mouth looks like a squid; when opened, it is a mass of flesh that acts as a suction cup swallowing bunches of bananas whole.

The Thai handlers showed us how the elephants used to work during the kings' reign and how strong they really are. They are also very, very smart and can be trained to do anything. I guess that's why they made such good show material for circuses. Then, Elise and I were deposited on their backs, in a makeshift saddle that is more like a two -seat bench, and sent up into the rainforest for 1 ½ hours. The scenery was just beautiful! Wild orchids, that grow dangling from trees with roots that never reach soil, were everywhere. We crossed creeks and eventually travelled upstream in a shallow river. It reminded me so much of the Tarzan movies I used to love watching!

After the elephant ride, we rode down the same shallow river on bamboo rafts. The elephants roamed freely, however some of them were chained to a tree. I noticed that this river lacked the frequent sights of local people fishing in the waterways as we saw in Cambodia. In fact, I made a point to look for them and found very few. Chiang Mai is more affluent than Bangkok or Siem Reap, Cambodia. There are more cars and definitely more paved roads. Our guide that day explained to us that the town of Chiang Mai is very developed, but the surrounding mountains hold many villages that are inhabited by refugees from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Some are refugees from the wars in the countries and others just want to live in the democratic, more economically stable country of Thailand. Our guide explained that these villages are so remote that the Thailand government has no idea how many immigrants have come to Thailand.

In the evening, Elise and I went to the 'Sunday Market' in Chiang Mai. Many of the locals mentioned to us that we should go and that it is a big event in the town. At first, I really didn't want to go because I was afraid it was just a tourist trap. But, I learned differently! All the locals in the rainforest and surrounding areas bring their wares to sell at the market each week. It is huge! Not only were there many people that attended the market, but there were stalls and tables as far as the eye could see. Musicians played, hoping to catch a donation, as shoppers of all kinds examined the wares and haggled for a good price. I think I could have been content just to people watch all night. People of all nationalities and countries were there. So many languages were spoken! By the way, there are not many U.S. nationals here or in Cambodia. Most English speaking people were from Great Britain or Australia. I can count on one hand how many U.S. tourists we've run across! I have been on good behavior!

Day 13

You won't believe what we did today! Elise said that she really wanted to zip-line through the rainforest. She was even willing to pay for both our fares if I would agree to go. For those of you that don't know, zip-lining is a sport where you are suited up with a sturdy harness that has a clip attached. Strong steel cables are strung through the forest and you are attached to the cables and 'fly' through the forest like a gibbon. Some of these cables are hundreds of meters long and 100 ft above the ground.

Chiang Mai has the most famous zip-line experience in the world and Elise wanted to experience it. I am deathly afraid of heights and didn't want to do it. After Elise's constant cajoling, and willingness to pay my way, I agreed to go with her. I considered it an act of charity……I would do almost anything for my daughter (except skydiving or bungie jumping….I've already told her not to ask me). The morning we departed, Elise recommended that I bring one of my books to read in case I decided to bail. I thought, yes, this could be a good probability!

When we arrived high atop the rainforest mountain, the zip-line crew covered our hair with a yellow handkerchief. Two Australian college girls on holiday and a young couple from Malta were also in our group. Already we looked like someone on the T.V. show Survivor. We looked cool. Then we were fitted with harnesses, that I noticed were nearly brand new. That was a mental check in my mind for safety. Finally, we were outfitted with helmets (another check for safety!) and sent to a small platform to, I thought, was do some training or a small practice run. NO! My daughter went flying through the air with so many smiles on her face. Then it was my turn! I saw that the cable was about 30 ft off the ground. I started to whimper. Everyone in our group of 6 kept chiding me to go! I was so scared. In the past, I usually shut my eyes when high above the ground and this usually helps. So, I decided that I would do this the entire time.

It took forever for me to finally lift my feet to send me airborn. I heard the wheel on the attachment whirring, the wind rushing into my ears and my daughter yelling from the other side. All I could do was pray! They caught me on the other side and rested me on the wooden platform. Everyone was cheering. I must have looked a sight! Once all the zip-liners transcended the cable and were safely attached to the tree, our guides hooked us up again to the 2nd longest run in a series of 38 platforms. It crossed a valley that had a gorgeous view, the guides advised. Those that went ahead of me shrieked with delight as they sailed across the valley. When it was my turn, my eyes began to well up with tears because I was so scared. I whispered softly to one of the Thai guides that I was scared. And, he spoke so softly, " You will be O.K.". " What will happen if I get stuck in the middle?" I whimpered. He said to me consolingly, " We will send a helicopter to get you". He was very kind. I thought of going back to the campsite, but how in the heck was I going to get there? I was high above in the canopy of trees. I closed my eyes and he pushed me off the platform.

There were a total of 38 platforms and after the fourth run, I finally opened my eyes! Eventually, I began to have fun and then, the guides began to have fun with me. There were rope/cable bridges over deep ravines or creeks that we had to cross at times in order to trek to the next platform. I didn't mind this event because, at least, I had something beneath my feet. When I was in the middle of the first one, one of the guides entertained himself by rocking the bridge in a sine wave with his feet. My physics know-how began to come into play and I began to ask myself, " How am I stepping on the planks that are causing this bridge to go into a sine wave?????" I tried different ways to walk to stop the wave motion. Then the bridge began to rock side to side. Hanging on for dear life (although I was attached by a tether line) I saw one of the guides bouncing all over the bridge at the end, laughing his head off! When I got to the end, I told him that I was just BEGINNING to have fun and now he is making me scared again. And, I told him in slow English……"You are not nice". I could tell he felt very bad and never did it again.

I hope to link a movie I made with my camera on my website so you can see exactly how high I really was. You probably have noticed that my website hasn't been too up-to-date! I attached too many pictures and it crashed. As time allows, I've been trying to correct it! Sorry!

Day 14

Today we decided to take a walking tour of Chiang Mai recommended by Lonely Planet. The tour mainly concentrated on visiting famous Buddhist temples, a big thing around Thailand. Two of the temples had encased bodies, sitting in lotus positions, of very holy Buddhist monks that died. Buddhist lay worshippers were prostrate in worship to the body.
Elise was scared to death to go into the temple with a dead body in it. However, I did approach the specimen very closely and gave a look. The old monk, who reached Nirvana I guess, had a burr haircut and the skin looked miraculously preserved. I recalled that some saints' bodies, when exhumed from their graves, had incorrupt bodies. So, keeping an open mind, I thought that possibly these men were actually saints too. However, I learned later from a caretaker of one of the temples that these bodies were not real, but wax figures. Wow! I was fooled. I also learned later in the day that Buddhists do not believe in God. So, maybe the sainthood hypothesis is null.
Guess what? Along the way, I saw a sign that said, 'Chat with a monk'. I was elated and wanted to ask just a million questions to see if there is some connection between all of our faiths. Elise was not crazy about the idea because she knows how provocative my questions can be! : But, she finally relented and reluctantly followed me to a group of monks hanging out near the sign, seated on concrete circular tables and benches. Being conscious that monks are not allowed to touch a woman, I slid into my seat very carefully. He was a young monk and happy to talk with us. He said that his purpose for participating in 'Chat with a Monk' is because he wanted to improve his English and had little opportunity to speak with English speaking tourists.

I learned that he came from a poor village and he joined the Buddhists monks in order to get an education. He said he had a real thirst for learning. At first, he was working with Catholic missionaries in the mountains. But, he was afraid that the missionaries would require him to convert to Catholicism in order to get an education in one of their schools. I told him that he was mistaken and that they would help him. He paused for a very long time and looked off into the distance thinking. I could tell that he was considering his options.
I asked him why I see so many monks traveling in tuk-tuks, walking the streets and sightseeing. I inquired, "Aren't monks suppose to try to be IN the world, but not PART of it?" "Or, are they trying to test their ability to resist temptation?" He said 'yes' to both questions, but added, " Following the ways of the Buddha is very hard, so some have to go very slow". As I mentioned earlier, they don't believe in God. I asked them where they go when they die? Since Buddhist believe in reincarnation ( a complete falsehood- my statement), he said that their Karma is reborn again as the same person, but in a different time. They keep being reborn until they reach Nirvana.
I asked many, many questions that were very lofty. As my questions became more dogmatic and controversial in nature, Elise began to kick me under the table. But, I think that the monk was sensing that I was trying to find truth and a commonality. I was never argumentive, but very inquisitive. We spent maybe ½ hour talking with him. It was the highlight of my day!

Day 15
Chiang Mai is located in a valley surrounded by mountainous rainforests. We decided to hike through the mountains to a peak and use mountain bikes to get back down. A company who rents biking equipment and pads had a great excursion that we decided to try.

Two blokes from England also joined us on the hike and mountain biking adventure. They were about 20 years old and skilled hikers and bikers. I really don't know why they put us together. Elise and I were totally outmatched! The hike was 3 hours long along winding dirt roads that the villagers used in the mountains. The hike was strenuous. The Biking company assured me the hike UP the mountain would be a 'soft' hike. I can walk all day and not get tired, but this hike was walking UPHILL all the way. By the time we reached the village at one of the peaks, I nearly killed a one liter bottle of water!

The villagers, our guide explained, were mostly refugees from neighboring countries who had suffered occasional wars and fighting. They had their own gardens, groves of fruit trees terraced on the mountaintop and poultry to keep them going. They earned money by making handicrafts that they sold at markets in town. By U.S. standards, they were extremely poor. But, this is the only life they knew and they all seemed very happy.
After we recharged our batteries with a bowl of noodles and pork/fat balls, we were outfitted in our riding gear and practiced using the rented mountain bikes. This was serious stuff for our English friends. They had all the accessories, including mountain biking shirts that wicked away sweat. We were also provided protective gear, such as full length knee and elbow pads, as well as helmets. We all looked like hard core bikers….no doubt!

The ride began immediately with a sharp decline in the dirt road. We were advised that we would be using our brakes nearly 100% of the time. Well, that was an understatement! Our first rest-brake, Elise crashed into me because she couldn't stop fast enough! We both went down. No problem! The protective pads and my day pack did the job in protecting me!

Using the brakes constantly caused my hands to really hurt! But, if you didn't brake…….well, I may not be here to tell you about the rest. After about ½ hour, I really felt comfortable navigating the twists and turns and using the brakes. It brought back so many memories of when I was a kid riding dirt bikes in the woods. At one point, I felt like a kid again and decided to bank the bike as I cruised down the hill. I made a sharp turn and BANG! I hit the ground. Totally skidded out. The guide quickly came to my aid looking worried that the spill ended my day. Covered in dust, I got up. I hurt, but was thankful I didn't have a broken bone and missed the rocks in the road.

I told the guide that I was being 'cool' and paid a great price. He laughed very hard at that. Well, I went down two more times like that later on, without being 'cool'. After awhile I began to feel that riding mountain bikes, down a mountain, was not cool at all! After the 3rd fall, I told the guide that I was done with danger. Elise also went down several times, but just kind of fell to the side gently. When I crashed, it was ugly.

The English blokes went on some other trails that the guide suggested, since Elise and I were…..well, not in their league. We later learned at the bottom of the mountain that they also crashed, flipping over their bikes when they hit a log in the trail. "Those trails were awesome!", they exclaimed. "Yeah, the best we've ever experienced". They saw how beat up I was, covered in dust. Humbly, I told them how awful I was at mountain biking and showed them the chunks of flesh missing from my fingers and the bruises covering my legs and thumb. They did their best job to explain to me that 'this is normal'. They were so nice to encourage me that I really wasn't as big a loser at mountain biking as I thought. Well, I'm telling you now….I'm not doing that kind of mountain biking again! You should see my legs! It looks like my husband beat the crap out of me. What will I say to people on the beach? It looks very bad.

Day 16

Travel day. Plane from Chiang Mai to Phuket, Thailand. Smooth

Day 17

Yesterday, upon arriving at our hotel on the beach, we discovered that raw sewage was being dumped through a canal into the ocean when the tide was high. Being a former water treatment chemist, I was a little horrified but not surprised. Cambodia and Thailand have some major sewage treatment problems! Yet, I recalled to Elise that, when I was young, Cincinnati used to dump untreated raw sewage into the Ohio river. But,this is no longer the case.

Today we decided to rent a car and go to the northern beaches. I read in Lonely Planet that the far northern beaches were beautiful. Our hotel was in the north, but we went further north. We located a public park with pristine, white sandy beaches and hardly anyone there! The water was warm and the waves gentle. We had a great time!

We rounded out the daytime by travelling Phuket Island and visiting the various waterfalls. Along the way, we saw many rubber tree plantations. Historically, the island was mainly used for rubber production before the tourists discovered its beautiful beaches.
A little word on driving in Phuket. I am lucky to be alive right now and so are the motorcyclists that dominate the roadways. First, it was really hard getting used to driving on the other side of the road. Also, road signage is practically non-existent. I used the sun to help guide me to where I was going. Second, forget about asking directions because most of the locals are extremely helpful but cannot understand or speak English very well. Third, there is no order in the traffic. 'You snooze, you lose' is the law of the highways. Cars have no problem crossing double yellow lines and driving on the wrong side until they are forced over. Also, the motorcycles drive anywhere they can fit in traffic. One motorcyclist squeezed between our small compact car and a taxi and hit my car, wobbled a bit and then kept going. Whole families drive like this with small children in-between parents. Occasionally you'll see tourists with helmets, but they drive just as crazy!

In the evening, we went to a live performance show called Fantasea. I really didn't know what to expect, but the concierge urged us to go. Wow! I have never experienced anything like it! The theme of this event is elephants….everything elephants. Historically, Thailand and Cambodia relied heavily on elephants for everything, from transportation and building to warfare. Outside the huge theater that resembled the ruins of Siep Reap (had to be to house elephants) was a carnival like huge area that I could only equate with Disney World with an Asian flare. I wish we could have spent more time viewing all the displays and exotic eye candy I saw!
The show was a combination of storytelling with fictional characters of a prince and princess , along with cultural dancers, etc and, of course, elephants! What also impressed me was the people management process Fantasea had. There was literally no substantial wait time for anything, even though the show housed at least 600 guests or more!

Day 18

This day had to be the best day Elise and I had together! We went on an island hopping excursion that included swimming, snorkeling, lunch and visits to 6 different islands. One of the islands was used to film 'The Beach' starring Leonardo de Caprio that was just so scenic! Elise learned how to snorkel for the first time. We took it very slow, as she was experiencing a lot of anxiety not being able to breathe through her nose and swimming with fins. We started off in 2 ft. of water on one of the islands to get her confidence up that she wasn't going to drown. We ended up at the end of the day snorkeling in roughly 30 ft of water on a coral reef that had an explosion of tropical fish. There were so many fish that we were engulfed! Now, Elise wants to snorkel every chance she gets!
To get to the islands, the tour company provided a high speed boat that could hold maybe 20 people. We toured these islands with a Brazilian family, a group of Italians with their own interpreter, an Australian couple, a French couple and, finally, an older couple from America!!!! They were from Minnesota. We've run into only a handful of Americans during our nearly 3 weeks in Thailand/Cambodia. This couple said, in their opinion, that most Americans don't want to make the 20 hour plus flight to get here. Australians were always VERY happy to learn we were Americans and treated us like comrades. Or, maybe they just enjoyed the long conversations in English.

Day 19

Elise was ready to go on another all-day excursion snorkeling, but I was burnt to a crisp! Yesterday's constant sun exposure on my back turned me into a lobster woman! We decided to rent a car, go to Sunday Mass and tour the rest of the island. We never found the Catholic Church, only one of two on the island, because of poor road signage. After stopping a couple of times to ask directions, we gave up when we couldn't communicate where we needed to go to the local population. Most of them are Buddhist, so I think 'Catholic' and 'church' are not really in their vocabulary. I was sad about that.

Patong beach is the most popular place for night life for tourists. It is known for its many restaurants and bars. It is also an area known for prostitution and a 'lady-boy' hangout. Lady-boys are transvestites and, transvestites from all over the world are attracted to this place. I did not want to go there, but Elise wanted to see what it was all about. We passed through on our way home and, in my opinion, was the armpit of the world. The Australian boys that we mountain biked with in Chiang Mai told us it was a little 'seedy'. Now, if young 20 year olds think the place is seedy, what is someone like me going to think about it? But, I remembered my experience in the red light district of Amsterdam and thought, well, maybe this visit will add to my knowledge base. We stayed near a modern shopping mall for safety. Security police were everywhere! Elise kept pointing out all the older tourists that were walking the streets, trying to reassure me that this was a 'hot' sight to see. As the sun set and light was replaced by darkness, the prostitutes and lady boys came out. I was glad to get out of there, to say the least.

Day 20

Elise and I are preparing to go home; I'm going back to Morrow, Ohio and she's returning to China. We fly today to Bangkok and tomorrow I leave to return to the U.S.