Tourists and Tigers and Elephant Lairs!

Day 4: Bangkok and Chanthaburi

I gulp a cup of coffee and shovel in a few spoonfuls of rice soup before my tour van arrives at 730am. Being the second last on the pickup run lands me a spot up front, finding the least painful way to arrange my shinbones against the dashboard as I sit smushed between the driver and Jim from Perth. Riding shotgun! Sort of.
Two hours pass with sights of elaborate temples, monstrous sculptures of Buddhas and elephants, and finally, The Jungle. The driver sped, honked, weaved, tailgated and u-turned with the professionalism of a stunt driver, using the lanes as mere suggestions.
We stopped at a huge cemetery which held the bodies of thousands of WWII POWs, then popped over to the JEATH museum to check out more war stuff. Architecturally gorgeous,  the building was all white stone with sculptures of dragons and elephants and of course, Buddhas. Stairs lead to a dark basement, opening up to a bright covered balcony looking out to the famous Bridge over the River Kwai. Beyond that stood a golden temple on the edge of the river. I tripped over rail ties on the crowded bridge, sweat dripping into my eyes. I felt the urge to shove all the tourists into the river for taking dumb selfies until the reality of solo travelling hit me smack in the face when I caught myself doing the exact same thing. DAMN.
Then, elephants! We pull up to the elephant “camp” (doesn’t really have an ethical ring to it, does it?) and I felt like some character out of Aladdin as I swung my leg over the grey giant. The trainer sat on his head, legs dangling, and led us down a dirt path by the river. He jumped off and told me to scooch up to the elephants neck with my legs behind his ears. We ambled along the path like that, the trainer snapping photos for me as I tickled this huge creature behind the ears and he flapped them forward and back like a set of wings, hitting me in the calves.


Back on land, it was tough to say bye and I had to run to catch our group at the river. A long wooden boat that sprayed four foot walls of water took us to a bamboo raft manned by two kids who paddled us down river. They silently moved around to keep the raft properly weighted and afloat in accordance to the five rowdy guys moving like a pack to each corner taking stupid pictures. Da boiz on vacation, what can ya do.
The Thai kids spoke no English, but I managed to find out from one that he was sixteen. I would have guessed nine. His name was Myo. He gave me the paddle and laughed at me as I sat on the back and tried to steer.
We ate lunch at a floating restaurant upriver and then went to a stunning waterfall.  I jumped into the lagoon fully clothed and showered in the falls. Soaking wet, I climbed into the van again and we were off to see some tigers!
A trainer at the temple stood on one of the tables and cupped his hands to his mouth.
Never mind the tigers.
I waited in line until a volunteer, a Thai kid half my size and age took my phone in one hand my own hand in his other, leading me to a massive orange cat. He showed me where to sit and took photos as he led me around to six tigers, handing the phone back at the end. I watched the line of people go through and do the same as the tigers lolled lazily on the ground with thick metal collars around their necks. Are they really this well trained? It seemed so unnatural the way they calmly disregarded hundreds of strange hands petting them every minute. These huge wild beasts, on a ten foot chain.
It was near closing time for the temple, so they unchained two tigers and led them on leash through the park, giving each of the hundred or so people a chance to hold the leash and walk the tiger as the volunteers rushed in with the tourists cameras, snapping and flashing like paparazzi catching Kylie Jenner with a nip-slip. They had him “pose” for another photo op – one paw resting on a tree stump, licking milk from a bottle held by a monk, his orange robes draped like so.
I watched for a moment before turning and heading back to the tour bus. This was starting to feel like a circus.
It was a group nap during the three hour drive back to the city, and I emerged from the van into the Khao San chaos, exhausted and bleary eyed. My hostel was fully booked for that night, so the ladyboy at the front desk sent me to the next street over. I stumbled upon a dark guesthouse. The guy said they had one room left, with a bunk bed, air con, and wifi for 250 baht. I told him I’d take it. SCORE. My own freaking room! I bought a beer and drank it on the balcony, chatting to 40 something old Ryo from Japan who’s been living in hostels and hotels in Bangkok for the past five years on his parents dime. Bad son, he said, bad son. I washed some clothes in the sink and ventured to the street to find food. Instead I ended up with my feet in a fish tank for half an hour as hundreds of tiny fish nibbled at them. I downed a spicy squid salad before heading to my sweet, sweet room. So much for planning out the next day – after a shower I was out by 11pm. The mattress was hard as a rock and that is exactly how I slept.

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