“Ahhhhhhh! The cobras are under the seats! Dad, how come they let the cobras go right under our seats! I don’t like this….” Alex screamed as she climbed up higher on the bleachers and put me between herself and the angry snake. I glanced to my right and Suzanne had Patrick by the shoulders, unconsciously using him as a human shield between herself and the snakes. I had seen the same snake show 15 years ago when I first visited Changmai with my brother, and I knew that the handlers would snag the snakes by the tails before they went too far under the bleachers and bring them back on to the stage. By the end of the show we witnessed the handlers do some impressive moves with the snakes including nearly getting bit by a cobra, catching a snake by mouth (can you say salmonella), giving an open-mouthed snake a kiss (just gross), and driving a poor Australian woman to hysterical tears by tossing a piece of rope onto her lap. Great Thai fun!
The insect zoo we visited had some cool exhibits, including a walking stick bug – that walked up Alex’s arm, a bug that looked like a leaf blowing in the wind. I thought the Owl Butterflys were impressive too, even though this species is from the Americas. We walked through a butterfly habitat where we were able to get some good close-up pictures. and a brown scorpion that the attendant said wasn’t too poisonous when she put it on Alex’s hand. Great Thai fun!
Patrick, Alex and I took an afternoon to zip-line in the forest. After I climbed into my harness the guides handed me a short piece of stick and mumbled something that sounded like “brake”. At the top of the mountain the head guide told us in broken english that on some of the runs we would need to slow down before we smashed into the tree at the end of the cable, and the proper braking procedure is to drag your stick on the cable. Just don’t slow down too much or you will be stranded on the cable and a guide will need to come out and drag you to the platform. The process was actually pretty straight forward, since it was just a stick. However, several others in the group didn’t understand the instructions and ended up barreling into the down-hill platform, requiring the little Thai guides to throw themselves in between the “high-speed tourists” and the trees to avoid big collisions. We “zipped” over 30 cables strung between the big jungle trees, and on one long run Alex and Patrick got a little special treatment. The guides rigged them up in Super Man mode, where they zipped on the cable in a face-down flying pose. The most terror inducing activity was ab-surfing, which involves rigging the tourist on a rope, dangling them from a platform 50 feet from the ground, releasing the tourist to free-fall toward the ground, and then stopping them just before they smash into the ground. Great Thai fun!
We decided to take a two-day/one-night trekking tour into the near-by mountains. Our group consisted of about 10 people plus our Thai guide, whose name is Mr. B. It was a very international group, besides us Americans there were German, French, Canadian, and Spanish. We hiked a total of about 7 hours on jungle trails and while Suzanne and I were generally last to our destination – we consoled ourselves that the other trekkers were all in their 20’s. Suzanne kept saying “Huff, puff…I’m old enough to be their mother… huff, puff”.
As we walked along the trails Mr. B showed us how to make “jungle poppers” out of leaves, blow bubbles with the sap from another plant, and let Patrick taste a jungle lime. We visited a couple of waterfalls, traversed rice patties, crossed rivers on foot bridges made of a few bamboo logs, took a quick ride on elephants and fed them bananas and sugarcane, and rode a bamboo raft down a swift mountain river. The first waterfall we visited had a shallow cave behind the fall, and I convinced Patrick and Alex to walk through the fall with me. They both tried to chicken out just as we started through the water and I had to keep hold of their hands so they wouldn’t slip and wash down the river. They were both screaming as we entered the fall and got a mouth full of river water. Hopefully a lesson learned – keep your mouth closed when walking through a waterfall. (or maybe, never let Dad hold your hand when walking through a waterfall) We spent the night at a guest house in a Karen village and visited with locals in their house while dinner cooked. Mr. B tried to teach us a Thai kindergarten song called “Chang Chang Chang” about elephants. Patrick and Alex played cards with a girl about their age who lived there. The guest house we slept in is a large rectangular building, constructed of rough-cut teak wood, with the floor elevated about 10 feet above the ground. We slept on lumpy cushions, hard pillows, thin sleeping bags, and dusty old cotton blankets. Unfortunately there was cold weather that night and the sleeping bags and blankets were not enough to keep us warm. So between the hard floors and cold air, it wasn’t a very restful night. The pictures of us the next morning pretty much tell the whole tale.
Suzanne and I have a special place in our hearts for Thai food. Our first date was at a Thai restaurant in San Francisco and during our honeymoon in Southern Thailand we ate a great deal of pad thai and yellow curry. So during this visit we wanted to attend a cooking school and learn a few basics of Thai cooking. Similar to the cooking school in Bali we started with a tour of the local market where our instructors purchased some of the fresh ingredients for our meal. Once again the group attending the cooking school were very international and we made a couple of friends as we created some awesome pad thai, green curry, and fried bananas.
Thai boxing is a national sport in Thailand and since our hotel was directly next to the fighting arena we decided to attend the fights one evening. The fighters come to the ring with traditional head-dress and during the pre-fight warm up they say a small prayer in each corner of the ring. As the fight begins a musician plays a repetitive tune on a horn that increases and decreased its cadence along with pace of the fight. The music becomes an important part of the fight. The first round of each fight was always slow, as the fighters tested each other’s speed and technical expertise. After the first round the fight begins in earnest as the fighters begin to throw serious punches, kicks, elbows, and knees. This is dangerous stuff, and the referee and coaches in each corner quickly stop the fight when one of the fighters starts to falter. We watched several bought, but the one the kids liked the most was called 4-way free style, and was the comedy relief for the evening. They blindfolded four slightly pudgy guys and let them loose in the ring swinging at each other. Good Thai fun!
Another past-time in Changmai is shopping at the different open-air markets. Suzanne and Alex were on a shopping mission for Alex’s girl scout troop in Danville. They needed to acquire (for the right price) sarong and decorations for an annual event. We visited many stalls to inspect their merchandise and enter into price negotiations. Eventually they found what they were looking for at an acceptable price in time for us to box it all up and send it home. By the end of our stay we were having more fun at the open-air markets as we strolled down the streets, perused the variety of wares, bought snacks from street venders, and negotiated with the street vendors for a good deal.