(With apologies to Karen Blixen, of course.)
When I left The Land Of The Free and The Home Of The Brave last April for Amazing African Adventures Unknown, my intentions were (what did I know??) that I would not leave the continent for the duration of my two year commitment. That was my plan. I had waited many years to see Africa and I wanted to explore every nook and cranny of it that my limited time off, money, and energy would allow. But when my employer informed me that they were sending me to a Continuing Medical Education conference in Bangkok, Thailand, who am I to say no?? And why not capitalize on the paid travel and tack on an extra week to explore the area?
(My astute friend Jean, who knows me very well, commented on my excitement with this gem: “And to think it wasn’t long ago that Babette was excited about her UC employer paying for mileage and a hotel for business travel to Glenwood Springs!” Jean, remember that UC paid for my mileage and lodging to Montrose as well. I was rocking the big perks.)
So off to Bangkok we went, excited about the Continuing Medical Education conference, of course, but maybe also just a little excited to explore a new part of the world and eat Thai food!!!!!!!!!!!
The conference went along as planned, with great sessions on all manner of stuff so that we in the bush don’t emerge two years later having never heard of all the latest. (Did you know that Hepatitis C, currently infecting more than 3.2 million people in the US, will be a rare disease in the next 20 years??) Amazing advances are going on in the real world while I’m over here worrying about schistosomiasis and cordylobia anthropophaga. For real.
It was also a great opportunity for networking with my worldwide colleagues, as half of our medical providers from all over the planet were there. And since I came into the service as a cohort of one, I was excited to get adopted by the group who came in right after me. Woohoo! I have colleagues I can email and ask the simplest of questions!
While I was busy conferencing, Randy, who happily accompanied me as the Trailing Spouse, an identity he is embracing without reservation, did a bit of exploring. He visited the bridge over the River Kwai,
and made a few purchases at the floating market.
I only had a couple of sight seeing moments in Bangkok, but we did manage to see the Grand Palace…
…which included a model of Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world.
(This is just a model. Seeing it was kind of like going to Legoland. If you can’t go to the actual location of Angkor Wat, which is just north of Siem Reap in Cambodia, just check out the model of it in the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Seriously.)
There were lots of Buddhas…
…including reclining Buddhas…
…and “The Emerald Buddha”, which was actually made of jade. Go figure. (No photos of it, though, as it wasn’t photogenic.)
I feel like we can safely say we checked the Buddha box.
Then we visited the Jim Thompson House (Jim Thompson was an American who is credited with single-handedly reviving the Thai silk industry, among a few other things),
and ate some street food.
(You can’t imagine what this was like to our taste buds. Bujumbura has some good food…if you like brochettes and french fries, with a little Ethiopian thrown in from time to time…but lacks variety in a big way.)
(Barked with crap??? We didn’t order this particular delicacy.)
When the conference was over, we headed north to Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, to explore a little bit more of the region, neither of us having ever been to this part of the world.
There were more temples and monuments here…
…but since I don’t speak the language, I’m not exactly sure what this actually is. It was just the whitest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I wonder if they power wash with bleach??
But Thailand isn’t all temples and Buddhas. If you follow this blog, you’ll know that we’ve had some incredible wildlife experiences, like seeing the gorillas, and our East African Safari Extravaganza, and this day with the elephants at Patara Elephant Farm, in Chiang Mai, was no exception. They advertise that you “own an elephant” for the day. They weren’t kidding.
We had to brush them…
…then lead them to the river with voice commands (and a little gently ear tugging)…
(I must have looked grandmotherly. Everyone else got an elephant. I got a mom and her baby.)
…then bathe them in the river…
…after which they said thank you in their own inimitable way.
After feeding them, (and by feeding them I don’t mean gently hold your hand out, palm up, so they can daintily take the offering with their trunk. I mean stick your hand and arm way up into their mouths and deposit bananas and leaves and whole stalks of sugar cane. They have really big, soft, squishy, gooey lips)
we were treated to a bare back ride, but not until after we figured out how to get up on these huge but amazingly gentle animals.
With simple voice commands, (it was amazing) you can have them lie down and climb on top, as Randy did…
…or with another command, you could stand on their trunk and they would lift you up and over.
And voila! Off we go!
We didn’t understand the words the guides used for this little moment, but it must have meant something like hug or nuzzle. The more he said it, the tighter the hug.
And to round out our elephant escapades, we spent some time with these little cute, but rambunctious, babies.
All in a day’s work and we still had a week to go in Thailand! The fun had just begun.
The next day we checked out The Flight of the Gibbons. If you’re counting primates, you’ll remember that we saw the Eastern Lowland Gorilla in the Congo, went chimpanzee trekking in Rwanda with Megan, followed dozens of baboons in the Serengeti, and now watched a gibbon perform for us in the trees of Northern Thailand.
This guy really interacted with and entertained us. He stared at us; he swung from branch to branch; he turned his back on us, then turned upside down and looked at us from between his legs. Quite the character!!
The cool thing about these guys is that they never leave the trees, so to see them, we had to go to where they live. We did this by means of the most incredible zip line adventure I’ve ever heard of. There were 30 different stations, and 17 different zip lines, including a tandem one, a vertical one, and the longest one in SE Asia.
In addition to the incredible Thai food and the eye-popping street markets…
After all this excitement, we needed a break before heading back to work, so we headed to Phuket, a small island off the SW coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea. We enjoyed the beach and the seafood and one last adventure, of a very different nature.
swam in the sea, ate wonderful sea food, and at nightfall, we participated in a traditional Thai ceremony: the Loi Krathong.
This was such a beautiful, touching ceremony I could write a whole blog post about it. (But since this one’s taken me more than a month to get up, I won’t.) We made these little arrangements on the boat,
then after sunset
we lit the candles and set them afloat in the lagoon.
Most of the decorated baskets only had two love birds, but we put two extra on ours and dedicated them to our son, Adam, and his new bride-to-be, Val, who had just announced their engagement!! Welcome to our family, Val!!
In the end, I decided I liked SE Asia far more than I thought I would. I could totally see us living somewhere in this region. The climate is pleasant, the food is incredible, the adventure ops abound, and the people are way funnier than I anticipated, and quite genteel as well. We will certainly keep our eyes open for SE Asia opportunities.