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Elephants sneezes and monkey bites for Vail Valley local

Stephanie Woodruff
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado ” Rumor has it this has been the coldest winter Thailand has seen in years. In the morning on the way to school at around 7, it’ll be about 19 degrees Celsius, a chilly 67 Fahrenheit, and the car’s air conditioning is set at 25 Celsius. So, I guess, technically, my host mom has the heat on every morning. Only in Thailand.

I will admit that I have noticed the temperature dropping, but not nearly enough to have to wear a down jacket to school along with a scarf and sweater underneath. But it is a little cooler and actually quite a nice temperature. We’ll see if I’m thinking the same thing in March and April, the middle of the Thai summer, when temperatures get up to 45 degrees (that’s about 113 degrees Fahrenheit). It gets so cold at night that my host parents put blankets on the dogs after they go to sleep! I kid you not!

Over the holidays, my brothers Chris, 18, and Andrew, 22, came in visited me in Siam. We had a great time and some awesome adventures. On the 25th, we headed down to the south of Thailand with my host family and some of their Irish friends who live in Thailand.



When we were on our way south, my host father’s friend wanted to put his boat into the river and then meet us at the island we were headed for. He was going to put the boat in, take a nice little cruise, and then park it in the dock at the national park where we were spending the night, then get back in the boat in the morning while the rest of us were in the van. Sounded like a pretty good plan right?

The first stretch on the river was beautiful ” very lush tropical forests on the banks and a nice cool temperature, and it was really cool because the river served as the border between Burma and Thailand. The bank to the left was Thailand, and the bank to the right Burma. Each side was flying its respective flag, and, as we passed fishing boats, some greeted us with hello in Thai, “sawatdee,” or in Burmese, “mingalabar.”



It was all very nice until the “captain” (I use this term loosely!) realized we had no idea where we were. His map printed off of Google Earth didn’t turn out as helpful as he thought it would be. Oh, yeah, and we were running out of gas.

We would pass a fishing boat every now and then and ask for directions, and suddenly it was not such a nice thing that we were on the Burmese border and these fisherman didn’t speak Thai and everyone we passed said our destination was one hour.

You could have asked where Bangkok was and they would have said one hour!



So, as we sat there, my brothers, host brother and sister and a crazy Irishman, lost, somewhere in between Thailand and Burma, running out of gas with no food or water, we (at least I) thought we were all doomed!

And then, we remembered the miracle of cell phones and cell service in Thailand! We made some phone calls to the people we were meeting at this national park and said we were going to be a little late.

We finally found a tiny little fishing town, on the Thai side, with a makeshift dock and decided this was the best place we were going to find to park the boat. We asked if we could leave the boat there overnight and the local people were more than happy to help. I’m pretty sure we were the only farang (Thai word for foreigner) to ever come within a 50-mile radius of their town. We wondered around this little town until the van found us, and we were off again!

Like I mentioned earlier, we were staying at a national park. The hotel there couldn’t have been more excited to see our group of 14 roll up. We were the first guests they had had in three months. When we got there, we realized that, even though it was advertised on their Web site, they didn’t even have a dock, and the whole trip was doomed from the start!

The next day, we were taking a ferry from another tiny little town to the final destination, Kho Payam Island. We arrived about two minutes before the boat was supposed to leave and everyone who was on board was quite comfortable and content ” until we came. All 13 of us ” my host sister had to go back to university ” and our luggage somehow disrupted that. It was about a two-hour ferry ride to the island and definitely worth every minute! We got there right around sunset and it was absolutely beautiful. Imagine your perfect beach paradise, and that was Kho Payam.

There were no cars on the whole island, just motorbikes, for rent and motorbike taxis.

My brothers and I decided it would be a good idea if we rented a couple. Andrew had been the motorbike driver since the first day we got there but decided that we should probably go ahead and splurge for another one for approximately $10 a day. So it was decided that Chris would be the other driver. A sophomore at the engineering school at USC, he should be able to figure this one out right? Pull the throttle toward you for gas, away from you to stop and the brakes were just like the brakes on a bike. Simple right? Apparently not. I jumped on the back and off we went … straight into a concrete pole!

The whole town saw our little episode and tried, not very hard, to hide their smirks and chuckles at the dumb farang. We escaped with only a few cuts and bruises and a really big cut on my knee and his hand. Chris’s pride was lost somewhere in the wreckage.

And we had to pay 3,000 baht for some dings and a new mirror on the bike. But the best part is that I was able to drive the bike right after our crash perfectly, so therefore I am smarter than him! Victory at last!

On the island, we went snorkeling and saw some really cool stuff. I found this one weird fish that was stalled in the water and had all kinds of crazy fin-type-things coming off of it and really cool stripes. My host brother dived in with his fancy underwater camera, and when we showed the owner of the boat, he said it was a tigerfish and is extremely lethal.

After Kho Payam, we headed up north to Chang Mai. We took the overnight train from Bangkok to Chang Mai, a 14-hour train ride but only a six-hour car ride. Explain that one to me!

We checked into our hotel room, and, half an hour later, we were on what the hotel concierge called “the Adventure Tour of Chang Mai.” I was a little skeptical at first, but it was fun nonetheless! We started off visiting a hill tribe, for about five minutes, just long enough for them to peddle whatever they were selling to us. Yes, I’m a sucker and spent more than 100 baht (a whopping three dollars). After that, we went on a little hike to a beautiful waterfall but the whole group was a little antsy. The only reason any of us signed up is to ride elephants. Duh!

I had been in Thailand for over five months and had not ridden an elephant! Unbelievable, I know. Well, we finally got to go, and it was everything I had hoped for! I got sneezed on by an elephant. The elephant Chris and I were riding blew water all over us and even dirt, too! Woot, woot! My brand new sparkling white Obama shirt that Andrew brought me was ” I won’t say ruined but ” was given a new dye job. Christopher and I shared an elephant and Andrew got one all to himself ” a little guy that he looked incredibly goofy on (he won’t appreciate me writing that. Love you, bro!).

After the elephant ride, we went whitewater rafting, and then came the bamboo “raft” float down the river. It was described in the brochure as “a relaxing float down the river on a traditional Thai bamboo raft.” They could have just scratched out the whole “raft” part and it would have been mildly accurate. The “raft” was several huge bamboo sticks tied together with old pieces of bike-tire-rubber and was “steered” by someone with an equally long bamboo shaft in the front of the boat. In the end, we were sitting in a foot of water, the bottom of the boat dragging along the riverbed. Oh, what a float!

The next day we went zip-lining through the jungle about an hour north of the city of Chang Mai. We got to the little town where the tour started and it was friggin’ cold! I will admit, the first time that I was legit cold in Thailand. We got all harnessed up and headed out to the 2-kilometer zipline extravaganza! There were, like, 18 platforms and you would “fly” from tree to tree, and it was a really cool experience and a lot of fun.

After the zipline, we went on a little animal excursion. We first went to the Monkey Center, which is a huge facility where they house a ton of monkeys and they put on little shows. They had basketball playing, swimming, bicycle riding and banana eating monkeys. As inhumane and awful as the whole setup was, it was so cute and so much fun (I feel guilty saying that).

They had little baby monkeys that you could play with and I was playing with one and right as the trainer nearby started to explain how you couldn’t touch the monkey’s belly because they didn’t like that and they would bite (do I really even need to finish this sentence?), I touched the monkey’s belly and it bit me! It bit me! Hard, too! I still have a little mark almost two weeks later. So, if I never make it back to the valley, it’s because I have some weird tropical disease and am not allowed into the U.S. ever again. After walking around and feeding all the monkeys and everything, right when we were about to leave, I just had to go to say ‘bye to little baby Max (the one who bit me) and, yep, he bit me again. Not happy.

We were planning on going to the Snake Farm next, and, not to my disappointment, we missed the last show by 10 minutes. At my rate on that trip, I would have definitely gotten bitten by one of the “Amazingly Friendly Cobra’s who never bite, we promise!” Definitely a good thing we missed that.

We then ventured to the Tiger Kingdom. Duh, duh, duh! We got to not necessarily play with, but more awkwardly pet-while-being-terrified-to-death-on-the-inside by these massive tigers.

Then we got to play with baby tigers that were three months old. Hands down the greatest day of my life. They would run and tackle each other and bite each other and play just like little puppies and you would think that they could never be a serious threat, until you went back over to the big guys and realized what they would be in about a year.

I’m allergic to cats, and I had hives on my arms by the time we got back to the hotel. (I was fine by the next day.) Yeah, so that was a rough day for me.

Our last day in Chang Mai we did a very touristy tour of the city and saw all the beautiful temples and pagodas and what-not. Nothing compared to baby tigers though!

The next topic of interest that I would like to discuss is corn. Yes, corn. Not some weird acronym or code name for something bigger, but simply corn. The Thai people have some weird fascination and eat corn in the WEIRDEST ways possible. The other day at lunch, my host mom offered me corn with sugar lightly sprinkled on top of it. At McDonald’s, instead of the all-American Apple Pie, you can get corn pie. At KFC, you can get a corn ice-cream dessert thing. At the street vendors, a very popular dish in a cup of corn with sweetened condensed milk in it!

That’s all I got for now. I hope everyone had a nice holiday season and is not too cold!


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