Monday, April 2, 2012

Elephants and a Very Long Ride

My new love
Ayutthaya is a beautiful place, filled with the atmospheric ruins of the old capital of Siam. The old part of the city is surrounded by a natural moat, formed by the Chao Phraya, Lopburi, and Pa Sak rivers. As it's about 50 miles north of Bangkok, it was a good place to overnight without having to fight our way through the metro traffic. Oh, and they have elephants. The very best, most excellent thing about Ayutthaya, in my opinion, is the Elephant Kraal. Elephants we used in battle, and the kraal was historically,where they were captured and trained. Since going to war on the back of an elephant is not de rigeur anymore (although I am quite sure it would actually be a terrifying sight and would make me reconsider any plans of world or even local domination) they now use the kraal to care for and train rescued or retired elephants. 

Knowing we'd have a very long ride ahead of us today, tomorrow, and the next day also, we got up and were on the bikes before 8:00 am. And our first stop was at the Elephant Kraal. We rode up the path and past a large group of bull elephants having breakfast, past more elephants enjoying their morning ablutions, and parked next to the fence. 

Colin getting "bumped"
It was early, and we were the only visitors. It's free to enter the kraal, you only pay a camera fee if you want to take pictures (of course, we did), so while Colin went to pay, I watched the group of young elephants with what I assume were their mothers. All but one adult and one very young one were milling about within a corral of thick, steel bars. Not wanting to startle or anger the adult (I may not know a lot, but I know enough to not run right up to a baby elephant and its mother and give 'em a great, big hug), I stood way back from them, watching the baby dance around. The next thing I knew, the baby trotted right over to me (I apparently looked like a suitable playmate). My first thought was oh crap, the big one's going to come and stomp me flat now, but when that didn't happen, I thought, oh my god, I get to play with a baby elephant!

all elephants love cucumbers!
Wherever I walked, the baby followed and bumped me. I scratched his back, rubbed his head and ears, and played with his trunk. If I stopped moving, he would back right into my legs. Colin, ever the smartass, thought he had an itchy butt and I looked like a likely scratching post. We bought a basket of cucumbers to feed to the elephants, and I did my best to divvy them fairly, but some of them had a much longer reach than others. When that basket was empty, I had to buy another one. We gave our baby friend, “Pachy Dave,” a cucumber. He took it with his trunk, put it in his mouth, and promptly dropped it, being more interested in playing and pushing me away from all the other elephants (it didn't go to waste- mama ate it instead). At one point, I offered a cuke to another young elephant of maybe a year old (?), who ate it and afterward, wrapped its trunk around my arm and put my hand in its mouth. Elephant tongues are soft, wet, and big. I laughed about it, but the very young mahout (elephant trainer) kept a close eye on the situation. 

One of the very old residents
We made the rounds of the other groups of elephants, admired the huge bulls with their very impressive tusks, and paid our respects to what looked like a very ancient elephant, and it was time to go. I could have happily bought all the cucumbers in the province and stayed until everyone went to sleep, but we had to move on. I gave "Pachy Dave" one more butt scratch, washed my arms, and we got back on the bikes and headed out.

shower time
Traffic was pretty light leaving the city that early on a Saturday, and we enjoyed the scenery as we passed the city's ruins and crossed the rivers. The first part of the ride was quite pleasant- sunny, warm, nice pastoral, green landscapes, and after about an hour and a half, we got to the outskirts of Bangkok. Our GPS routed us onto a highway. We rode up the entrance ramp, and at the top, found ourselves at a tollgate where a man looked at us and shook his head no. We were on another of the “no motorcycles allowed” roads. Dammit. 

Ayutthaya ruins in distance, Chao Phraya river
Instead of circumnavigating the city of Bangkok, we had to ride through the very heart of it. After a couple of hours of lane-splitting, stop and start, bumper to bumper driving, we found ourselves at the bridge we'd climbed around the barbed wire to get to a couple of months ago when we were trying to find the MBK mall and a new camera. We truly were in the very center of the city. What we'd hoped would be a 50-mile journey in about an hour, became an 80-mile undertaking that lasted four hours. We eventually did make it out of Bangkok and to the entrance to another highway, where we were greeted with...another no motorcycles sign. Instead of entering the highway, we followed it on the access road with all the other motorbikes, tuk-tuks, big trucks, pedestrians, and bicycles. 

 Sometime after 1:00 pm, I spied a McDonald's a few miles before Samut Song Khram, and we pulled in for lunch. I checked our mileage and determined that it had taken us over four hours to cover the last 90 miles. I didn't figure that we could safely make it to Chumphon, so we went inside and had a Big Mac extra value meal, super-sized. As we sat and enjoyed the A/C, I looked at the map and figured we could make it to Prachuap Khiri Khan before 6:00 pm, and maybe that should be our new goal. Re said, “Fuck no. They have khao mok khai in Chumphon.” She did make an excellent point. They do have excellent khao mok khai (KMK) in Chumphon. KMK is a Thai-Muslim version of chicken biryani and is one of our favorite meals in southern Thailand. The rest of the afternoon was the worst kind of riding for our little bikes. We were finally able to get on the 35, and then took it to the 4, where we turned south. This was all highway riding, and our bikes are underpowered for making time on this kind of road. The scenery was basically scrubby, deciduous trees, some palms, and fields. Not ugly, but not pretty either. In the middle of the afternoon, Re's bike made the bearing noise again, and once again, we were riding north of 45 mph. We swapped bikes for about 50 miles, but I kept our speeds around 43 mph, and we had no further problems. I need to investigate this, just not today. 

When the sun went down around 7:00 pm, we still had about 80 miles to go. I like many things about our Symbas, but our headlights are not one of them. I've been spoiled by the headlights on several of my previous bikes. The weak Symba headlights are made even worse by the fact that our jerrycans cut off the bottoms of the beams. Regardless, we made it to Chumphon by just after 9:00pm, and through sheer dumb luck, found the Suriwong Hotel, where we have stayed a couple of times. The KMK restaurant is just up the block, so while Re went inside to register, I walked up to see if they were still open. To my dismay, they were cleaning up. Seeing me standing in the doorway, a woman came over and asked what I needed. I asked what time they close and gestured to the clock. She said 9:00 pm. I must have looked sad, because she asked what I wanted. I replied, khao mok khai, and she gestured to the back of the restaurant where they were bagging up food and said they had it, and I could get it for takeaway. I happily ordered two to go and returned to the hotel with dinner in hand. Re had us booked into a room, so while I parked the bikes and unloaded the gear, Re walked to get some Changs, since as Re says, nothing goes better with a Muslim meal than a nice, cold beer. When she returned, I had everything in the room and we collapsed on the bed to eat. Our butts are killing us. It hurts to sit on the bed. The other news of the day is that we broke the 20,000 mile mark of the trip, but didn't want to stop to take a picture in the dark.

1 comment:

  1. Man that is so cool. I would have loved to have been that close to "Pachy Dave" and his family. I am really envious that you had the chance to do this!