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
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
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
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
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
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!
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.
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
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
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!
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!
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
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.
Travel day. Plane from Chiang Mai to Phuket, Thailand. Smooth
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
GOD BLESS AMERICA!!!!!