The day began with glorious sunshine and clock watching. Every 5 minutes, or so it seemed, Moo was asking me ‘is it 1 o’clock yet mummy’?. Considering she woke at 8.00 this became a little wearing, but I could forgive her excitement, because today was ‘elephant’day. Since I’d had the idea of coming to Thailand elephant riding was number one on the agenda, and since we arrived every day the question has been ‘is it elephant day yet?’
Well today was the day and 1pm was the time our tour pick-up was due to arrive. Excitement was running high, and not just from Moo. Ever since I have been small the idea of riding on one of these magnificent beasts has enthralled me, and at last I was going to do that very thing.
We were the first on the bus and had a leisurly drive around Karon to Pick up another 2 day trippers, then it was on to Patong to pick up some more.
I have resisted going to Patong so far as it has been described to me by a few people in most unflattering terms, and as we crested the hill I can absolutely see why. The words ‘Thailand’s Torremolinos’ came into sharp focus as the bus crawled through the packed streets full of garishly coloured hotels, bars and tourists alike.
I should state for the record here that I have never actually been to Torremolinos so the only picture I have of the place is an 1980’s sit-com setting full of half built hotels, ‘Brits on the p**s’ and pushy street hawkers selling over priced donkeys in sombrero’s to seriously sunburned union jack wearing tourists on their way to look for an eatery that seves up food ‘just like home’ with none of this ‘foreign muck’. This picture may be entirely wrong and it may well be a beautiful place, but swap the sombrero clad donkeys for sarong wearing monkeys and it’s welcome to Patong.
The crowds on the narrow beach, every inch of which was covered in loungers and umbrellas made me shudder to think how packed it would be in ‘high season’. I vowed that this particular place would remain off my list, but that vow was quickly put under threat when Moo spotted a McDonalds and did a small dance of joy at the thought of her first happy meal in 2 weeks…do they lace those kids meals with some highly addictive substance that we don’t know about?… and she did not rest until she had extracted a solemn promise that we would return soon to visit the home of the happy meal. Still at least it’s next door to a Starbucks and of course thats not addicitve, no siree….
After a very long wait outside one particular hotel with the driver yammering away on his phone to what I assume was head office and pacing the hotel lobby, the latecomers finally were located in the hotel bar nursing bottles of Chang beer having ‘lost track of time’. With beers still in hand they boarded the bus and the driver set about making up for lost time and inventing overtaking lanes in inadvisable places to ensure we arrived in time. The guests on board had trouble holding on to thier bottles as we were flung round corners and used speed bumps and pot holes as miniature take off ramps, but they made a darned good attempt.
The foursome went by the names of Eadie, Mandy,Glenda and Wanda and with the upmost respect to my Aussie mates and my lack of the correct local terminology I would describe these ladies as fair dinkum sheila’s, with maybe a few kangaroos loose in the top paddock and a fondness for grog. ( http://www.koalanet.com.au/australian-slang.html ). For the rest of the journey we listened to the exploits of these 4, not particularly young, women and I had to wonder why on earth they kept drinking as it seemed to do nothing more than make them ‘chunder’ on the beach. Delightful. Drunken middle aged sheila’s aside, the journey was relatively swift to the Khao Phra national park and the start of our ‘safari’ tour.
First up was a gentle canoe trip to see some walking fish. I was excused paddling duties as I had a small person to hang on to, and we were taken out to the middle of a mangrove swamp to a small muddy island where the fish did indeed walk onto the land. Mental. After a little research back at the hotel I discovered these odd little creatures are called ‘mudskippers’ and they are fascinating. Their breating pattern is much like that of scuba diver, and in humid conditions they can survive on land for days at a time.
The Aussie contingent had skipped the canoeing in preference to the ‘dry’ land of the bus drivers bar and seemed in fine spirits when we headed off for our next stop and a ride on an ox cart.
The ox was big, the cart was rickety and the ground was rutted and muddy. As we were thrown around in the back Moo squealed with delight as we were catupulted off our seats with almost every step and I squealed in pain as my back got battered and bruised whilst tyring to stop Moo being catupulted off her seat with every step. The traditional tour guide greeting at the end of this ride is to ask if anyone wants to go round again, of course everybody replies in the negative, but she hadn’t counted on Moo. Thankfully there was a perfect distraction to counterpoint the dissapointment of no more ox cart torture.
In the corner of the field was the most beautiful creature I have ever seen, an 18 month old elephant cub. We were taken over and allowed to watch him splash around and cover himself in cool clear water. I was very jealous of his cold shower as it was extremely hot, but most generously he included us and his soft as velvet trunk brushed against us as he sprayed. Magical moments.
All to soon it was off for the next part of our tour and we headed off into the depths of the park and up towards the Bang Pae waterfall. 2 of the 4 sheilas opted out of the climb when they spotted the beer stall at the bottom, but the other 2 decided to get their money’s worth from the tour and just took the beer with them. It was a long and steep trek up to the waterfall and I was, not for the first time, beginning to rue the decision to wear my leather flip flops, which were rapidly becoming slip flops, but onwards and upwards we went. When we reached the falls what little breath I had left was taken clean away. Not the most spectacular, and by no means the biggest or fastest waterfall in the world but utterly stunning none the less. We threw our useless shoes to one side and waded into the cool clear water in the pool. Utter bliss. I then decided it was time for another first. I took off my shorts, secretly thanking the Lord that although I may have made the wrong chioce of shoes this morning the choice of sensible big pants was spot on, and clambered up to the primary pool and swam straight into the waterfall. The pounding of the water on my back and the thunderous roar in my ears made me feel like the only person in the world at that very moment. It’s so hard to describe the sensations I was feeling for those brief moments, but despite the noise and the pressure of the water falling on me I felt at peace.
When I returned to the secondary pool it was to find that Moo, once more the darling of the tour guide, had followed my lead and abandoned her shorts and was showing of her newly learned swimming skills to anyone who would care to watch and splashing anyone who didn’t. All too soon it was time to head back to the bus and I would have been full of regret at leaving had we not been heading for the main event.
Even the Sheilas seemed excited about this part of the tour, although Wanda looked most put out when she was told there wasn’t a bar.
It is now time for one of the most obvious statements I will probably make in my life, but here goes. Elephants are really big! Of course I have seen elephants before and I know they are big, but when you are standing right next to a fully grown male and you are not even as tall as a leg they just seem so much … bigger.
With our shoes tossed aside once more we mounted the seat with some trepidation and we were off. The first thing that struck me, (aside from the keen and insightful obsevation regarding their size), was how soft his skin was. I was expecting it to be rough and very hard but the sensation that my feet was sending to my brain defied those expectations as the warm velvety smoothness rubbed against my soles. We plodded along the well worn route and even though hundreds of thousands of people had gone before us it mattered not, it was wonderful special and unique.
We headed down to the stream and the sheer grace of the beast as he negotiated what looked to me like a treacherous bank was a joy to behold and whilst the angle of descent had us gripping the sides of our chair there was barely a jolt as he quite literally took it all in his stride. We stopped a few times along the way for him to have a drink and a ‘nibble’ or two and Moo was enchanted as the enormous ears swung back and tickled her feet. After the stream we headed through the rubber tree plantation and rubbed up against the sticky latex oozing from the freshly scored bark and dripping slowly into the collection pots tacked to the bottom of the trunks.
As we came to a small clearing our ‘driver’ got off and whipped my camera from my hand and started snapping away from the ground. The invitation to come off the seat and sit on the head was rejected by Moo in an instant and taken up by me almost as quickly. With my legs clamped firmly behind his ears I sat in awe stroking his gigantic forehead and forgetting all else. Until he decided to go off for a wander that is, with his head suddenly down he performed a u-turn that would wipe the floor with a London taxi and lumbered off in search of some tastier foliage. Clinging on for dear life as those massive shoulders undulated beneath me and listening to the gales of laughter coming from my ever supportive daughter until a few seconds later (although it felt like longer), the driver regained control and with a hearty guffaw handed me back my camera. The requested price for the photogrphic service was 50baht (around a pound), but I was more than happy to hand over 100 to have what I was sure would be photographs that capture moments that I never want to forget. It also explains why the cost of the traditional ‘collect at the end of the tour photo’ was extracted before we set off. I dont care, it was worth every penny.
I clambered back onto my seat and it was time to head back to base. At this point modern technology came to the fore and I was able to text hubby form my lofty position and share the moment. It would have been much nicer if he was sitting next to me of course, but as Mick Jagger so aptly put, ‘You can’t always get what you want’, but all things considered I think we did pretty well today.