It all started so gently when we arrived at the port an hour earlier than expected, the captain had told us the day before that due to our late departure from Vietnam that we would be about 15 minutes late arriving in Thailand but he was way out in his calculations as we docked – thank God no tenders this time - an hour early. Our tour was not planned to leave until 1.00pm and we considered catching the coach to the nearest town Pattaya for an hours shopping but instead we decided to do the ironing and head for the swimming pool considering that no one was using any of them and there were lots of unoccupied sun loungers. I managed two 15 minute swims over the space of a couple of hours and it was hot, very hot in fact close to 90F before we finally called it a day and decided to get changed for our tour.
We were among the first to arrive at the Theatre Royal to collect our coach stickers so we were allocated Coach 1 and that suited us as Richard and Keiko our dinner companions were on the same coach. The formalities of leaving the ship and entering Thailand were very quickly dealt with and we exited through an arrivals hall complete with lots of shopping opportunities but sadly we had no time and we made our way onto a very high seating coach. It wasn’t quite a double decker but the seating was nice and high off the ground so that visibility from it was excellent. Hilary located two seats about in the middle and conveniently located just behind what we think was a loo and the effect of this was that we had no one in front of us and we had a huge picture window. We had an excellent English speaking guide and she gave us the highlights about life in Thailand as we made the 45 minute drive through Pattaya to the elephant sanctuary, there was a lot of talk about spirit temples in the gardens and this is part of the Hindu ideal of looking after the spirits, for if you do so they will look after you. What she didn’t talk about was something that was obvious to all of us on the bus and that was the incredible tangle of electrical cables that runs up, down and across the streets supplying the shops and various establishments with their power needs. I can honestly say that I have never seen anything so dangerous in all my life – I thought that some of the cabling I had seen in the USA was bad but Thailand is far, far worse. She talked a lot about the elephant sanctuary and how it was a non profit making business set up by a Thai philanthropist to look after elephants that were too old to continue to work in the timber industry. She also advised us that if we were asked to sit on the elephants head to have a ride in front of the mahout we should decline it and settle for an elephant fitted with a double seat where we could ride behind the mahout.
Despite the traffic and the bad roads we were at the elephant sanctuary well on schedule for the 2.00pm introduction and soon enough we were greeted by a parade of musicians and dancers as we took our seats. Being on coach one paid its dividend when we found that the front seats were available to us so Hilary and I took full advantage and plonked ourselves in the middle of the front row. On the bench between us was a huge bunch of bananas that we had purchased for $3.00 US and it didn’t take long for the elephants to spy them and long trunks were waved in our direction. The sanctuary guide spent some time explaining how the elephants were looked after and reassured us that none of them were circus animals and that most of them were between 40 and 70 years old. They have 3 males and 34 females all of them have been retired from the logging trade but any babies that they have stay with their mother for 3 years and as soon as they are big enough they are taken away to be trained for work. Finally we were encouraged to meet our new friends and present our bananas and most of us did this one banana at a time much to the disgust of the elephants that are used to having them by the bunch. Many of them hoarded the bananas in the crook of their trunk until they had what they considered to be a big enough mouthful and then crammed them in their mouths.
With that mission completed it was time for the elephants to have a bath and participants from the audience were invited to climb on the backs of the elephants and bather with them, this was one deal that we passed on but several intrepid folks did so and learned to regret it when the elephants decided to sit down in the pool! However when it came to the offer to ride an elephant Hilary and I were among the first to joint the queue and how super was that! The elephants kneeled down with one leg bent to make a place to stand on and no sooner had I stood on it than two young men pushed, tugged, heaved and lifted me not very gracefully onto the elephant’s neck. Then he stood up! Help! My God they are tall and they don’t provide a very stable platform as they move, with every step I thought that I was going to fall off, there was nothing to hold on to all you could do was place the flat of your hands on this huge hairy head and hope that you weren’t commanding him to do something stupid like run or sit. We neglected completely all the advice that our tour guide had given us and all I could think of was “Don’t fall off, don’t fall off it is a bloody long way down and the ship’s doctor is an hour away.” The mahout spoke to me but there was no way that I could turn round to talk to him, I did think of turning to see Hilary but even that manoeuvre was not possible in the terrified state that I was in. Luckily, but unhappily the ride only lasted about 5 minutes and almost unnoticed by us a nice Thai photographer snapped us on our journey so we now have another two photos to add to our collection. I will try and make photo copies of them and post them over the next few days.
The elephants continued with their demonstrations of how to pull logs, roll logs and stack logs and the culmination of the show was a parade of elephants and oxen in full ceremonial dress that they once wore when going into battle and then sadly it was time to leave them. It was an experience that both of us will always remember and we have well over 100 pictures to help us! It was with great reluctance that we boarded our coach knowing as we did that the next experience for us was another shopping opportunity, just what we needed….. It was indeed a very shop that we arrived at and it was one that specialised in jewellery and silk, we spent far too long in the jewellery and it was getting toward the end of our time in the shop when we found the silks. Hilary had to wait ages to get served with the 4 metres of material that she had chosen and in that time I had found and purchased two new silk shirts of very bright material – Sammy please note that these are on the UFCU credit card – we were so late that we were last on the bus and so the rest of our party were not best pleased to see us rushing on with our bag of goodies.
We arrived back at the ship just after 6.00pm, too late to post the cards that Hilary had written so we will have to find another way of getting them to all the recipients and of course we were too late to avail ourselves of the facilities in the embarkation lounge. In fact we had only 10 minutes from getting into our cabin all sweaty and smelling of elephant to get to our 6.30pm dinner. Luckily it was a casual night and not a formal one.
OK that’s it for tonight, nothing from Hilary as she has gone to see a pianist called Bobby Crush in the theatre while I write this piece, I am sure that she will add her four penneth tomorrow.