I enjoyed three days in big, busy, bustling Bangkok, traveling by taxi, tuk tuk, motor bike, sky train, underground train, and overnight country train, as well as by foot. The skytrain and underground are very fast, clean and efficient, with air-conditioned trains arriving every 5 to 10 minutes to move the masses.
I visited Erawan Shrine again, which is on a small, open air corner site, where an endless stream of Thais, young and old, come to pray, offering flowers, fruit and money, and lighting incense and candles to support their requests for help, or expressing thanks for previous successful supplications. Most Thais appear very devout and constantly "wai" as they pass shrines or statues of Buddha which are everywhere.
I walked around a number of sites in Old Ayutthaya which is the ancient capital of Thailand, abandoned in 1767 after being sacked by the Burmese. Life in the ancient palace and various wats can easily be imagined.
There was a large open air statue of a reclining Buddha, about 70 metres long, which had been carefully draped in a massive sheet of gold coloured cloth, with the folds of the cloth immaculately arranged.
All the above sites set in a lush, verdant green location provided a relaxed peaceful atmosphere.
Do elephants have good memories ? Last year when I left, I remember my elephant Look Khung swaying happily, but I wasn't sure whether it was because of the fun we'd had, or because she was finally rid of the bumbling old apprentice mahout. On arrival this year, I found her swaying happily again, but was it to see me return, or because I had been allocated another elephant this time. We'll probably never know.
My mahout this year was John, known for his mischievious nature and sense of fun. Our elephant was Patidar, a magnificent 14 year old elephant, which like all of them, have a fascinating rapport with their mahouts. A softly spoken word from the mahout would have them performing a variety of tasks. And then there was me loudly giving the same instruction which caused the elephant to do whatever it pleased. But it was still great fun.
There were six trainees. Two English women, a young couple from Holland, and a young English girl. We again shared thatched cottages in the village of 200 locals, and it never ceased to delight us to see one or more of the elephants stroll past our cottage on the way to or from its tasks.
This year, we had to help bathe the elephants every morning and afternoon when we collected or returned them to the jungle. The mahouts would stand safe and dry on the elephants backs, and instruct them to submerge, taking we trainees down in the water, sometimes over our heads. A tightly closed mouth was essential (not always easy because of hilarious laughter) in the muddy polluted water.
The mahouts would also instruct the elephants to exhale a trunk full of water over us. This usually lead to water fights which may have included throwing 400 gram lumps of elephant dung at the mahouts. After each episode, we were always grateful to return to the cottage and receive a fresh, dry suit for our next escapade.
Training with the elephants twice daily had us again climbing up from the side by nearly pulling its ear off, sliding over its head and down the trunk, leap frogging from the front over its head onto the back, where we had to turn around after it stood up, leaping off when we instructed it to lay down on its side, and then casting a leg over its neck and being ready to balance on its back when it lumbered upright again.
Another innovation for us, was to bathe the elephants during a display before the day tourists, which gave me the opportunity to catch my mahout, John, unawares and push him in the water, much to the hilarious amusement of his fellow mahouts, the trainees and public.
Patidar painted two colourful abstract paintings which I bought on behalf of my sister. On the final day, I happily rode Patidar into the public show ground as she beat a drum, followed by another display of what we had learned.
Once again, I thoroughly enjoyed this experience, and I thank my fellow trainees, the mahout and elephants, for a memorable time. I look forward to returning next year, probably about June, if you should care to join me. (This is partly a hint for Barbara to get used to the idea of me going off again).
After all the above hard work, I spent a few days relaxing on the beach, enjoying the good local foods, and the company of some of the local Thais. One of them drove me to see a recently built, massive Chinese Temple filled with interesting bronze statues. We also saw a small mountain which had been blasted to provide a rock facade on which a 160 metre high outline of a Buddha had been outlined in gold metal, at a cost of about $Aus5 million.
Go here for web site index, including pictures and comments about other destinations, scuba diving, and other activities, or look at details of the 2004 trip or 2006 trip.