DAY 12 - Wednesday 8th July 2009 - Thailand Safari

Despite my fears of the contrary, the rusty green truck with a snarling engine and the barest dashboard I have ever seen had delivered Nick and me safely to the Thailand Safari compound at approximately 3pm, where we would be spending the rest of the day.

The safari in fact contained little safari-ing. Well, not in the traditional sense of the word. There were animals, yes, but not in their natural habitats, as one would expect when attending an animal-orientated expedition.

We waited a few minutes as the area gradually filled up with fellow tourists before being leapt upon by a Thai lady who introduced herself as our guide. On a tiny wooden dock on the edge of a wide river the first activity was introduced as, confusingly, canoeing. Or whatever it’s called when you’re shoved a life jacket, shown to an inflatable boat and thrown a paddle each. I splashed pathetically at the river, desperately trying to recall my last paddling experience while Nick shouted instructions. “You paddle! Now stop! No, I paddle now! Look, we’re going to crash into the bank! OK, now you paddle. Not so hard!” We rowed downriver, letting the current aid us, trying to catch up with the people ahead. Nick recognised the bay we came to as Chalong Bay, which contains the port and boat which had previously taken us from Phuket to Racha Yai Isle for scuba diving.
After some more apprehensive rowing into a valley, causing me to fear for drifting into the sea, a loud rattling behind revealed a timber (but motorised) craft speeding towards us, filled with the members from the rest of the group. “OK, you finish!” Yelled our guide. She grabbed a rope attached to our vessel and towed us close enough so Nick and I could hop onboard. A large Thai man controlled the motor and steered us assertively back to the dock.

Back in the compound, a cart awaited us. A cart with two yaks attached to it. Nick clambered inside and I dubiously followed; a man seated at the fore of the cart thwacked the wobbly animals and they lurched forwards, delivering us to…yet another animal. A bull. Which I sat on. A Thai man, obviously an employee of Thailand Safari, handed a traditional straw hat to each visitor who sat on the smelly, oddly leathery beast and hurriedly snapped a photo of their attempts to stay balanced. During the canoeing, we had also been photographed by a man perched on a bank; I was beginning to smell a pattern.

Our transport

Riding the bull (not a euphemism)

A traditional Thai salad-making lesson and one quick rice harvesting demonstration later, the group was shown to a small stadium, with rows of wooden seats hugging the walls and encompassing, what appeared to be, a wrestling stage complete with those bouncy, stretchy ropes which sweating, snarling, hulking, brainless Neanderthals use to launch themselves onto unsuspecting opponents. We took our seats and watched the stage curiously, occupied by two stringy but lean and muscular Thai men, their fists bound in gloves. A show fight followed; an exhibition of Thai Boxing. The only rule in Thai boxing was announced: Don’t Hit The Bollocks. Ever. Otherwise anything goes, apparently. However, it became evident that some technique and skill is necessary to ensure your survival as the two young men fluidly ducked, dipped and dodged, each blow raising groans and winces from the crowd. The show finished and, after a request for a volunteer, a rather hefty young lady squeezed her way into the ring and was invited to slap some gloves about and pose with the boxers.

Duel

Finally, what I had been waiting for: monkeys. Macao monkeys, to be precise. We sat in another show area, and, before long, our guide yelled out over a microphone: “Hokay! Please, you welcome Samlee!” A man strolled into the vicinity, pulling a monkey by a rope to excited gasps and whoops from the crowd. This ape carried a sign branded with My name is Samlee: Miss World 2009. I briefly wondered what had happened to Miss World 2008. We were asked to line up and hold out our hand: Samlee would instantly grasp it and allow a photograph, mine taken by Nick despite yet another employee snapping away eagerly. I complied, although close up I couldn’t help noticing how Samlee appeared distracted and blank, almost lifeless. Samlee was led away after holding the hand of legions of jabbering tourists, and another monkey, named Johnny, was dragged forth.

Guess who's Miss World!

What followed was a series of tricks performed by the unfortunate primates, much to my horror. I stopped taking photos in revulsion as we watched the creatures throw a basketball into a hoop, walk around with an umbrella, pedal around on a tricycle (“It rides a bike and everything!” a tattooed, scantily-clad Australian girl squealed to her friend), lift a weight and dive into a water tank to retrieve some keys. The surrounding crowd cheered and applauded but I shook my head. In my opinion, the entire spectacle was insipid and vulgar. These animals did not evolve to perform petty tricks for humans. Nevertheless, I sighed when I realised their lives were probably far more secure than lives spent in their natural environment, with assured food and safety from predators.

"It rides a bike and everything!"

Elephants came next, previously the source of much anticipation for us; but my fears were confirmed as we were treated to the same, sad procedure, with the giant animals playing football and clumsily balancing on brick platforms. The best part included inviting spectators to lie on their stomach on a towel and receive an ‘elephant massage’ – the beast would lower its foot and squash the volunteer with unfortunate tenderness. (“New boobs! Can’t lie on them!” I heard one of the Australian girls squawk to her friend after returning from a kneading.) Another man lay down on his back, had two bananas stuffed up his shorts and was treated to a ‘hoovering’. If you know what I mean. He returned to his seat, giggling and very red in the face.

There's a good elephant!

Undoubtedly the highlight of the day was the actual elephant trekking. I say trekking, which paints a scenario of galloping through dense rainforest for endless days and nights, balancing on the back of my trusty elephant steed, heroically fending off bats and leopards and other hideous creatures with various sharp weapons. It was, in reality, being thrown up and down on a metal bench which had been lashed around the mammal, and being led along a pre-determined path, while its trainer/master perched upon the animal’s head.

Our steed

Our elephant appeared to be the swiftest, possibly fuelled by the bananas I had purchased prior to the ride. As it barged down the line of its calmly tramping fellows, I hung on for dear life and Nick considered various names for it, considering Usain, Chris and Lance before eventually settling on Lewis. (Guess the sportsman references!) The line paused for a few minutes, and another two elephants bearing tourists crowded around while their masters chatted to each other. The two elephants also seemed to converse; they began endearingly holding trunks and communicating in ear-splitting bellows, while another crept up and began molesting me with its muddy trunk. I yelped and repeatedly fed it bananas, hoping this would keep it at bay.

The elephant attacks

It was at the inclusive dinner when we had three sets of photos laid out in front of us, framed in elaborately decorated display cases. They were excellent photos, with six in total – us in the boat and the yak cart, me perched on the bull and holding the monkey’s hand, us riding the elephant… However, it was when we were told the price for these cursory mementos that I immediately choked and pushed them away. They were 800 baht per frame, which converts roughly to £16. Being the tight bastard that I am, I refused outright to pay a single baht. My suspicions had been confirmed.

The dinner tables were placed around a large sand arena and as we ate, several beautiful Thai women, dressed immaculately in glinting gowns and headdresses swayed into the centre and began a slow and graceful dance, in time to the traditional, twanging music played by a band. Eventually they were joined by yet another elephant, who also danced, though not perhaps with quite so much elegance.

Elegance

At least he tried.

After bidding farewell to our guide, another truck with, in my humble opinion, a slightly more competent dashboard delivered us back to Patong.

The day had, in all, been enjoyable, although upon discussing it, both Nick and I agreed on the superficiality and tastelessness of Thailand Safari. The pictures repeatedly taken by employees throughout the day symbolise the fa├žade we were treated to; essentially one, long photo opportunity. However, considering the lack of authenticity found in Phuket life, the way the island seems to represent a distorted, falsified veil of Thailand and her cultures, it can be said with assurance that the Safari is certainly found in the right place.

1 comment:

  1. You tight fisted bastard! £16 for a photo is clearly cheap!.........

    Good reading. Nice to see you're alive after no post for a while.

    ReplyDelete