Thursday, April 28, 2016

Songkran in Thailand

I wish there was some way to describe the absolute chaos that is Songkran.  I don't think that I ever could have prepared myself for what I was to see and experience.  It just might not even be possible.  I was doused in water more times than I can remember, covered in powder, drowned in bubbles, and saw just about every segment of humanity enjoy a few days of uncoordinated and unadulterated chaos.

I tried to videotape the insanity, and was quite grateful that I purchased a waterproof phone case for my phone.  I went into the experience thinking I would get hit with a squirt gun a few times, and came away with the knowledge that this is more of a war than a water fight.  

I saw people shooting hoses and pressure washers from buildings, the police were involved, hotel employees tackled each-other into pools.  No one was immune.  You just accepted your fate and realized that if you survived, you would come out a stronger and much damper person.  

Songkran is a celebration of the new year, and as it takes place during the hottest month in Thailand, it is a giant water fight.  Apparently it is defined as "throwing a sprinkling of water", but when I see the Thai fire department driving a truck down the street and using the hose, I would say it escalated just a tiny bit.

It was very hard to capture any real photos or video of the event, but if you ever find yourself in Thailand during Songkran, do yourself a favor and join it.  you are going to get soaked anyways, so you may as well arm up and join in the fight.

Hiking Wat Thom Suea

Let me start off this post by stating that no matter how much complaining I might do in the next few paragraphs, the hike was totally worth it.  I think that it was wise for me to wait until a few weeks had passed before writing this blog post as it allowed me to forget some of the pain and dizziness of hiking way too many stairs set straight up a mountain.

Also, I was able to fight a monkey.  More on this later.

Now, the hike up and the view from the top is beautiful.  Sadly, I did not listen to one of the locals that we knew and decided in my infinite wisdom that we should do the hike early in the morning.

The stairs are on the east facing side of the mountain.  Not a wise move I guess.

The thing about these stairs is that even the most sound person will have vertigo.  Mix that with the heat, and the sheer fact that there are more stairs than should ever be in one location, and you pretty much want to die by the time you are near the top.  

But again, it is totally worth it.  

Check out the view from the top:

Getting there is the real pain though.

This might have been the last photo that we were together and smiling.  Danielle was violently ill that day, and still made it to the top.  I am pretty sure that she thought about killing me multiple times though.

By the top, I mean way too many damn stairs.  Like, way too many.  

The hardest part is not just the stairs, but the fact that they number them all the way it.  It is like a conspiracy to remind you just how out-of-shape you are, and just how much more pain there is ahead of you. 

I mean, who does this?  Why? What purpose does it serve besides the obvious one of torture?

All that being said, the top is beautiful, and there are some very friendly dogs there as well.

Now, about the promised monkey fight.  We were walking up the stairs and heard some screams and a call for help.  We ran around the corner and saw a pack of monkeys attacking a couple and their little girl.  By attacking I don't just mean the usual monkey mischief, I mean they were scratching and trying to bite all of them.  Needless to say, we jumped into action.  We got the family back with us, and grabbed some sticks.  Without offending any of my local PETA members, we won the fight and the monkeys left the little girl alone.  

I am normally not one to condone violence, but when a group of monkeys is trying to bite a girl that is no bigger than they are, I have no problem with swinging a stick at all.

All-in-all, quite an awesome day, got to check two things off of my bucket list.
1. Hiking Wat Thom Suea.
2. Get into a fight with a monkey.  

On the water around Phuket and Krabi

Krabi and Phuket are beautiful to say the least.  Now before I start praising them, I have to admit that they are absolutely not my type of place to visit.  They are loud, full of tourists, and don't have that feel of Thailand that I have become accustomed to while living in Salaya.

Am I glad that I was able to make the journey once?  Yes, of course I am.  Would I go again?  Not willingly.  Now, the area is beyond beautiful, as you will soon see from the photos, but with the influx of tourism, it honestly just feels like any other tourist area.  

Sadly, that is just the way things go for destinations like this one.  

If you are a "Bro" who loves to drink and party, you will love Phuket and Krabi.  If you are more of a person who wants to see authentic Thailand, there is nothing for you down in this area.  

Please feel free to correct me if you know of somewhere in Phuket and Krabi that would be more authentic, but as far as I am concerned, I saw almost nothing.

Now, like I said, it is amazingly beautiful:

I was also able to continue with my lucky streak on finding random penis shrines.  Of course, the tourists were rudely climbing all over them.  Another reason why I really cannot stand the 20-something college tourists on break.

At the end of the experience though, we were able to enjoy some nice boat rides, go for a swim or two, and see a few different locations.  

Advice for any travelers who make there way down to Phuket and Krabi:

1. Sunscreen.  You may think you can get away with it, but the sun is more intense than you can comprehend.  
2. Bring towels.  They know they have the market cornered on towels.  Supply and demand.
3. Learn some Thai.  Everyone speaks English because these are just tourist destinations, but it will help you figure out if you are getting scammed.  
4. Use common sense - we had a boat captain try to scam us out of money by "paying in advance".  No one pays in advance for things.  Just be aware.
5. Don't be a douche bag.  This is the toughest one.  You might be on vacation, paying lots of money to visit this place, but it does not entitle you to anything.  Don't climb on shrines, don't run around drunk in public, and don't disrespect local customs.  
6. Buy a few waterproof bags and containers.  I got one for my cell phone.  A few hotels are only able to be reached by boat.  Needless to say this could mean wading through the surf with your bag, as they don't have piers.  You will get soaked just riding in one of the open top boats seen in the photo above.  Accept it or prepare for it.  Either way.

These places are beautiful, but just be aware they are mainly designed as tourist traps.  

Friday, April 22, 2016

Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai

There is something quite amazing about interacting with elephants.  I realize that elephant tourism and other large animal tourism is controversial at best, but in all honesty, I don't think I ever could have personally gotten such an appreciation for these animals without interacting with them.

The one feeling that I am always left with after seeing, touching, or being around elephants is just how intelligent, curious, and playful they are.  I mean these not in the sense that they are all "nice" or they are all at the same level of intelligence or somehow superior to other animals, but just how much they like to interact with other entities.  

I am always left with a feeling that elephants are just like VERY overgrown dogs.  Some of them are great, some will maul you, but they all have a level of intelligence behind their eyes that can change a person in a lasting manner.  No zoo or nature documentary has ever left me with this feeling.  Staring into their eyes from a few feet away while they use their trunk to figure out my purpose, (and if I have any snacks), leaves me feeling that I have just had an experience that is one that I will never forget.

If I could, I would do-away with those dumbass elephant shows.  

I have no desire to watch them paint a picture, or ride a tricycle.  

I like just watching them wander around and do "elephant" things.  You know, normal stuff.  

In that light, I am glad we found a place to go to that is much more down-to-earth and places more emphasis on feeding them and just being around them, rather than watching a show designed for photo-opportunities.

Yes, the dog was cute.  I like dogs... sue me.  I know it is a blog about elephants.  But, I mean, look how damn cute he is!?!