Saying Goodbye

So about 3 hours ago I said goodbye to my dad, who had to leave our adventure (but he’ll be back, right Dad??) for the time being and head back home. What a responsible adult. Clearly we can’t be related.

Traveling with my dad is an adventure in itself, regardless of the destination. His lust for life, ever present smile and open heart make him the ideal traveling partner. The fact that he is also my father is just icing on the cake. I am very fortunate to have experienced the last two weeks with him, and consider myself to be very lucky. Thanks for everything Pops, I love you!

However, with the good comes the bad. I’ve made a short list.

1) I will miss one of the greatest traveling partners a person could ask for. However, I will not miss everyone in Bangkok assuming Dad was my life partner. Kind of awkward, you know? I like to think I could do a little better…

2) I will miss his unquenchable desire to socialize. He never met a person he didn’t want to talk to. He’s the human icebreaker. However, I will also NOT miss his unquenchable desire to always socialize. I’m serious when I say he never met a person he didn’t want to talk to. We met hundreds of people on this trip, and Dad knows every life story. The man is a machine.

3) I will miss his child like enthusiasm. There wasn’t a sight, sound, or taste he didn’t want to experience. However, I will not miss the frequent stops where he declares his love for side streets. Yes, Dad, I see that side street. There is a person smoking, an old cat, two door overhangs and a garbage can. It’s not that amazing.

4) I will miss his incredible sense of direction. Ok, no bad side to this. The man is a walking GPS unit. I’m screwed without him. After I said goodbye to him outside our hostel, I couldn’t remember how to get back to my room. This won’t end well for me…

I imagine my posts will be less frequent now that I’m traveling alone. I won’t be as “go go go” when compared to my time with Dad. For the next 10 days I’ll be on the island of Koh Tao, learning to scuba, reading books, and exposing my pale, ghost like skin to the masses. How much does 1 ton of sunblock cost, anyways? Hope they have a Costco on Koh Tao…

I hope everyone is happy and healthy! I love all your comments and if I don’t respond directly, please don’t take offense. Please know each one brought a smile to my face.

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The Tiger Kingdom (Chiang Mai)

This is the fifth installment of the Chiang Mai posts, as told in the words of my amazing and incredible father! (he’s standing over me as I type this)

Lying down with a big tiger and rubbing his tummy really messes with your survival instincts. The tigers we visited were all raised in captivity and have a pretty good life: sleeping 16-18 hours a day (normal), entertaining visitors (not normal), playing in their water pool (just plain fun). There was the moment when Larry and I were both lying down with a dozing tiger named Rabbit when she suddenly opened her eyes and jerked her head upwards. I think the reaction of Larry the son says it all.

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After the first reaction, Larry the son got a little more comfortable with Rabbit.

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More Elephants (Chiang Mai)

This is the fourth installment of the Chiang Mai posts, as told in the words of my incessantly social father!

We have hired Bot, a young man Larry the son’s age, to drive us to see animals. Bot’s family lives four hours northwest of Chiang Mai in a Karen village without electricity. Bot’s grandfather used to work in rice fields with his own elephants and water buffalo. Now it’s just the water buffalo because modern equipment is faster than the elephant.

I try to imagine Bot’s world, moving between the city from where he leads treks and guides tourists to his parents village where he helps with the rice fields part of the year. All the while he is discussing music with Larry the son. They both like the Red Hot Chili Peppers from Los Angeles and try to figure out if the Kings of Leon is an Irish band.

Our first stop is the Maesa Elephant Camp where we buy bananas and sugar cane to feed the elephants all lined up in a row to welcome their latest visitors. You reach out a banana to that waving trunk and the next thing you know the trunk encircles your waist and, once you get over the shock, you find yourself experiencing a very sweet, amazingly gentle elephant hug. When elephant introductions are done, we go to the balconies overlooking the river to watch the mahouts (the elephant caretakers) wash and scrub their elephants. Everyone loves a bath!

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Bathing done, we head for an arena and the elephants display their talents. Some show off their soccer skills, others shoot hoops, some paint amazing pictures, and one skillful elephant beat Larry the son throwing darts at balloons (Larry was selected to represent the audience). Better work on those skills, son!

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We worried about whether the elephants were exploited but these elephants seemed happy and very well treated.

Here is the baby elephant’s finished picture!

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Elephants and Trekking in the Mountains of Northern Thailand (Chiang Mai)

This is the third installment of the Chiang Mai posts in the words of my gregarious father!

We are picked up at 9:30 a.m., joining Chris, from Liverpool, and six members of a French family and head for the mountains north of Chiang Mai. But first, a quick market stop to buy water, crackers (seaweed, chicken or coconut were popular), and candles. We pass on the five different types of insects being sold in one corner of the market, including beetles, worms and crickets. We thought we dodged the insect bullet, but we were wrong. An hour and a half later, we were sitting on the floor of a small home, passing around a bowl of worms recently pulled from shoots of bamboo. Plump and pale, we dropped them into our mouths and with one sharp bite, felt them explode. Surprisingly, they didn’t have a strong taste. I watched as young Larry took the bowl and shook it over his noodles, and five or six worms landed on his plate. I guess he liked it more than the others, as everyone else passed on the opportunity for a bit more protein.

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Soon after, we hiked to the elephants. Larry (son) and Chris got the seat and I slid down, legs behind the elephant’s ears. Actually, that sounds too graceful. More like a plop and a frantic searching for something to hold onto. I wanted to lean back to prevent falling over the elephant’s head but that just put me off balance. Instead, I had to lean forward and grip the elephant with my legs. That’s all fine and good but try doing that when your elephant heads down a river bank towards the water (emphasis on the “down”). I think all three of us gasped at once as the carrying basket slide forward into my back. But we survived, and just so we would remember him, our elephant sucked up some good dirty brown rice paddy water and sprayed it into our faces. Let’s see what ailments we get from that.

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After the elephants, another hour drive into the mountains, where we are dropped off at a red dirt road heading straight up. I don’t think they believe in switchbacks here. We hiked through forests of bamboo and teak, stopped at a cave to see bats (only two were at home), then finished our day’s hike at a Lahu village of about 130 people. The village is a contrast of the traditional and the modern. There are a half dozen motorbikes and three trucks scattered among the houses, but, for many, no electricity. People wash their clothes by the stream. We thread our way through roosters, pigs, chickens and dogs to the one room house that will shelter us for the night. A family moved out for the night so we would have room but left clothes, pots and pans pushed up against the wall. They will return to help cook dinner in the fire box in one corner of the room. We are well smoked from the fire (no mosquitoes though, they wouldn’t survive the smoke). We eat a fantastic meal of steamed rice, vegetables of all kinds, and a hearty soup by candlelight. Soon after, we lay out on the bamboo floor for a night’s sleep punctuated by crowing roosters, snorting pigs and barking dogs. Larry (son) also says he heard a snoring dad, but I can’t confirm that.

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Day 2 finds us trekking through bamboo, banana groves, under giant rubber trees, buying bracelets from a Hmong village, and swimming with other trekkers at a mountain waterfall. Lots of climbing up and down ridges, eventually reaching a spectacular vista overlooking the mountains of Mae Tang and the fields of the nearby Hmong village. We end our day around a large campfire, mixing French and English and trying to solve riddles presented by our guide. The mountains are cold at night and my one blanket doesn’t quite fit but there’s a full moon and who needs sleep anyway?

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Day 3 we close our trip with a morning hike and a bamboo raft float trip down the Mae Tang river.

Aoi Garden Home (Chiang Mai)

This is the second installment of the Chiang Mai posts, as told in the words of my trusted traveling partner, my dad.

Chiang Mai is a laid back university and tourist city in the mountains of Northern Thailand. Our home in Chiang Mai was the Aoi Garden Home, an inexpensive hostel ($3/night) tucked away in a mostly residential section of the “Old City” center. The proprietors, Aoi and Nong, have created a small garden oasis that welcomes backpackers from around the world. Their kindness and helpfulness touches all their guests. They won’t turn people away so we now have 3 tents pitched in the courtyard. We got the “emergency” room on our first day back from the mountain trek. We didn’t have a room but said we would sleep on the floor. Instead, they gave us one of their own rooms instead. I think they do this regularly so they are left to sleep in a filing room/office.

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Memories of Aoi Garden Home: pineapple shakes; showers and clean clothes; barbecue and beer with Nong and his three friends; talking and laughing with them until midnight; talking life and Buddhism with Aoi; just chilling and swapping stories and advice with other backpackers from around the world.

King’s Cup Futbol (Chiang Mai)

This is the first installment of the Chiang Mai posts, as told in the words of my fun loving father!

Our second night in Chiang Mai we flagged down a taxi and headed for the 700 year stadium to watch Thailand play Finland in futbol (aka soccer). We weren’t sure how we would get back home, but first things first. We bought tickets in the Thailand section of the stands and got good seats to watch the end of the Sweden vs. North Korea match. Gradually the seats ( more accurately described as cement steps) around us filled with Thais, many wearing the red and blue colors of the Thai flag as head bands.

Memories of the stadium night: An honor guard of the King’s horseman, the “wave” in a Thai stadium; chants of “Thailand! clap clap “Thailand!”; the blue and red Thai flags alternating with the yellow flags of the King ringing the stadium rim; Young fans cheering all around us, going crazy at Thailand’s lone goal (we went crazy too!).

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Postscript: Getting home was a challenge. No taxis, just a sea of motorbikes, thousands of them as people headed home. The motorbike is the most common form of travel here, much more affordable than a car. Eventually we hiked to a main road and got the last room in the cab truck – standing on the back steps/bumper with a white knuckle grip on the roof storage rack. It was a fantastic ride, motoring down the street ways at 60 km an hour. We were confident in our driver’s ability, but the wiggle of the storage rack after noticing it was missing a few screws didn’t bolster those good feelings. We made it though. Just another ride home in Thailand, really.