4. Bangkok, Lampang & Chiangmai

I got some kind of food poisoning, or fever, or I don't know what, while I was in the Philippines. I felt awful what with my rib, and this too. When I returned to Bangkok I checked into my hotel and stayed in bed for two days, mostly sleeping. My first impressions of Bangkok were really shot to hell, both times: before going to Phil, and then coming back too about 8 days later. I have a fuzzy memory of it. I survived, but almost completely missed out on experiencing Bangkok. By the time I felt like I could get out of bed and return to the world of the living, it was time to go to my next destination, Lampang. I had booked three days at the Elephant Conservation Center to take the mahout training course.

This is my first view of the elephants. Big bulls in the shed. 
They issued me a mahout uniform. 
Here's my elephant. She is a 16 year old female named Patchidaw

Our first day with the elephants was taken up by practicing climbing up and down. It was pretty hard with my rib hurting like it was. To climb up on the elephant Patchidaw's trainer, John commands her to kneel, and I use her knee as a step, and grab her ear and just clamber up on there. He had to push me to get me the rest of the way up on top.

Getting up on her was quite a chore with my injured rib. I had to get up, and jump down, over and over again.
It was a training course, had to practice. This was pretty scarey holding on with one hand
and trying to take a picture with the other. Her head was about 8 feet up.
I saw this a lot. She liked to eat all the time, and constantly wanted whatever I had.
I kept a bag of dried fruit and some bananas.

She also liked sugar cane.

I felt really honored.
Around mid-morning we had to go wash the elephants. They love the water. When she began to submerge, I realized my hips had locked up or something, I couldn't get up. So I just sat there and went down in the water.

The smart thing to do was to get up and stand on their backs while they rolled around.
I was having a little trouble doing that, I'm sort of in the back there.

Sinking further and further down there

Whoa, that water is pretty cold.

John was getting a little concerned I wasn't getting up

Did I tell you I had a trick elephant? They told me how it worked: she fills up her trunk
with water and brings it up for you to hold onto and aim. Then you say the magic word
and she sprays the water at whoever you aim at. 

I was the only one with a trick elephant, and I was being a real bastard about it. 

OK, bath time is over.

After bath time we went back up to the huts to have some lunch. It was really good Thai food, northern Thailand style. That means extra spicy!

There were lots of dogs running around the mahout village.
This little guy was snoozing pretty hard right outside my door.

This is the stairs up into the structure where I rented a room. It's all wood
and bamboo, and the roof is thatched. I like it.

Here it's coming up the stairs and looking into the main area. My room is directly
to the right. You can see a picture on the wall there, it was painted by an elephant.

Just off to the side was another structure, with an open air kitchen.  This nice
lady was in charge of preparing our food and keeping the guests happy.

This is a pic from my front porch across the road, look onto another building similar
to the one I'm staying in. These are really nice places. I could live happily in one.

This is that stairs the dog was sleeping on at the top.
This is from the bottom, off to the side. I like the way it's built.

The walls, floors and ceilings are all built from a kind of rattan
woven material. Thoroughly adequate in my opinion.

My front door.
One more of Miss Patchidaw
The afternoon was more or less free, and we went for a hike around the village. It was strange seeing bamboo huts with thatched or tin roofs, and in the front yard was a satellite dish. 

Orchids just grow everywhere, like weeds

Decided it was time for a haircut. Here is the village barber shop

He had built a barber chair out of an automobile transmission housing. Just welded
it all together out of scrap metal, bolt on some plywood for seating, and spray paint the whole thing.
The haircut cost about 50 cents. Pretty good haircut.

That was my first full day there. Other things we did was march the elephants around in an arena for an audience, and show the things we learned, like climbing up and down, and some other things. Some elephants were trained to play musical instruments made of large pieces of bamboo like a xylophone. Other groups of elephants were able to make astonishing paintings holding paintbrushes with their trunks. The show ended up with a parade down the main avenue.

The next day I was too sore to do anything. My rib had become quite painful, and my hips were giving me fits, as if I had arthritis or something. I walked along Patchidaw most of that day, and by mid-day I decided to call it quits. I packed up my things, went to the road and caught the first bus north to Chiangmai. Caught an over-priced tuktuk who brought me to a guest-house where accommodation was $7/night for aircon room. I stayed there for 5 days, half the day spent just laying in bed and watching TV.

After a couple days of not doing anything, I had to get up and walk around town. I like Chiangmai.

This old guy had a stall with all manner of spices and seasonings. 

This all looked lovely, so I bought some of it. I didn't know what it was

They told me it was banana. This wasn't like any banana I ever had before.
It was extremely sticky, dense and sweet. Really wonderful.
Somebody told me about a flower show. I was able to catch the first day of it, on my last day in Chiangmai. 

So many pretty orchids

I have so many pics of these flowers. I wouldn't mind living in Chiangmai and growing orchids in my backyard.

When it was time to go, I caught my flight back to Bangkok and then caught my flight back home. But on the way I had an 11 hour layover at Seoul, South Korea. When I was there I was able to meet a new friend, a dentist who had purchased some books I had for sale about a year earlier. I boxed them up and mailed them to him from my home in the US, and we just kept in touch afterwards. He met me at the airport after an all nighter with some of his army buddies.

He met me at the airport and 5:30 AM. We went out for some coffee at Starbucks to try and warm up.

I was exhausted myself, but he took me into downtown Seoul for a look around. It was FREEZING. I did not have much warm clothes, the warmest thing I had was that grey fleece I'm wearing. I had it in the bottom of my backpack the entire time. It was about 20 degrees F that morning.

I knew it was going to be cold in Seoul, I just didn't know how cold. Here I
am wearing almost every piece of clothing I had with me, but it was not enough to stay warm.
Wow, I was so zonked. Very sleepy, in pain, very tired. We called it quits and went back to the airport on the bus, with hours to spare. Both of us fell asleep on the bus. He went home to sleep it off, and I caught my flight back home.

But while I was waiting for my flight I heard the most lovely music. It sounded like the Japanese koto, but it was softer and more delicate. That's when I got my first taste of the Korean gayageum. It looks like a koto and the technique is superficially the same (to me), but it is more delicate and the strings are silk rather than the more metallic sounding synthetic strings on modern kotos, and played with the flesh of the fingers rather than finger picks. Also, the music is sweeter and less bizarre sounding (my take on it). There's some nice music examples on youtube, here's a start. I'm particularly impressed by this one. It's really beautiful, and so was the woman who was playing it, at the Korean Cultural Center of the Seoul Incheon International airport.

Sorry about the date stamp on these things. It was a new camera, and I didn't even notice they were on there until I got home.

It was not a great vacation, but only because of some bad luck. There were many good things, I'm even starting to forget the bad. Better luck next time!