Sunday, August 9, 2009

Thailand-Koh Chang

After all the zip-lining and partying and early morning wedding, it was time for a bit of an actual vacation. We all loaded up into a van for a 4-hour trek to Trat where we took the Centre Point Ferry over to the island of Koh Chang, which basically translates to Elephant Island. We had reservations at the Paloma Cliff Resort, which looks lovely here, but it's not. Our first clue should have been the stagnant green water in the dolphin fountain to welcome us at the front of the hotel. Our next clue should have been the broken cooler sitting in the lobby, adding an air of apathy and neglect to the place. Our final clue should have been, and finally was, the overwhelming smell of mold that hit us in the face when we opened the door to our room. This hotel was probably a beautiful place in its hey-day, but it appears to have suffered from years of neglect.

We started walking up the street to check out other hotels, and we finally walked across the street to the Keeree elé Hotel, which is brand new, did not smell like mold, and has a super-cute logo! It's so new, in fact, that they were still working on the elevators, which was kind of a bummer since we were on the fourth floor, but we were willing to overlook that bit, even the one of us that was coming off of recent knee surgery. I mean, look how cute it is! These pictures are of the hotel lobby/entrance area. It's kind of hard to tell here, but the butterflies and birds on the trees are three-dimensional, which adds a rather unique touch. You can see some better pictures at their on-line gallery. To be fair though, I wasn't getting paid for my work!

The staff at the hotel was very gracious, and were clearly trying very hard to make a good impression. There was only one person on staff who spoke English; he seemed to be the manager, and we found him sleeping behind the front desk one night. Whether this is because he didn't have anywhere else to sleep or because he was trying to be available in case we needed him, I'm not sure, but it wouldn't have surprised me to find out that it was the latter.

We only ever saw a few other guests at the hotel, and we more or less had our pick of rooms. Our rate was 1500 baht/night (about $45), and that included breakfast every day, and I mean an actual breakfast that you could order off a menu, not just some bagels and toast. I wish I would have taken some pictures of our rooms, but I forgot. Luckily, their photographer did a better job than I did in that department too. They were quite spacious, and if you looked straight out from the balcony, the view wasn't bad. I wouldn't recommend looking at the area actually surrounding the hotel though-it's a bit industrial junk yard-y. Just gaze out toward the horizon and you'll be fine.

The only real complaint I had was that every time you used the water, the bathroom would smell like sewer. It wasn't that the water stunk, it was just that sewer gas was coming up from somewhere. I'm not sure if that's something that they can/will fix or not, and yes, it's off-putting, was still better than the other places we looked at.

We got settled into our rooms and relaxed for the rest of the day, and the next day, we went for an elephant ride at Ban Chang Thai! See? I'm still working through my list, which leads us to this:

I'm riding an elephant!

Heehee! That's us on An-na. Isn't she cute? We went on this jungle trek which ended at the river, where the elephants dumped us off in the water, and then we got to play around in the water with the elephants which was way cool! They were trained to do tricks too like lift us up in their trunks and stuff, but my camera died before we got to that part. =( The staff did take pictures though, and we bought some before we left, so I do have a picture of me sitting aloft in an elephant trunk. If you click on the Ban Chang Thai link above you can see pictures of other folks doing this to get a better idea of what's involved.

Our guides on the trip sat on the elephants' necks to "drive" the elephants, and at one point we looked back to see my brother-in-law driving the elephant. Later his wife got to take a turn, so they thought that was pretty neat!

Getting dumped off of an elephant into a river is a little unnerving. Elephants are really steep when they want to be, and I got a little bit freaked out because I didn't know if I would be able to stand up or not, and I'm not so good in the water, and I can float in the ocean, but this wasn't the ocean, and I wasn't sure how deep the water was, and, and, and! See? This is why I'm not good in the water. If I'd thought about it, I would have realized that the elephants were standing up in it before they dumped us off, and it really wasn't all that deep; but I forget to do things like put my feet down and try to stand up. Also, I was trying to avoid the elephant poo. The elephant ahead of us found the river extremely relaxing, apparently, and then our elephant started getting steep, and I was busy trying not to slide off my elephant into the unknown depths of the river long enough for the other elephant handler to pick up all the poo and huck it onto the river bank. After that it was fine. I still have a weird scratch on the back of my leg from where I tripped over a branch that seems like it's taking an awfully long time to heal completely, but I'm sure it's fine.

After we got done playing in the river, we got back on our elephants and rode back to where we started. We disembarked and found some tables to sit at while we waited for our pictures. Fruit and water were provided, and they also had food available for sale, for us and for the elephants. They had little bitty pineapples that you could feed the elephants, so we bought some of those and had fun feeding the elephants. Walking back to our table I got attacked by a monkey, but it was pretty small and on a leash, so I was able to bat it away and redirect.

I know it probably sounds kind of terrible, what with the pooing elephants and the attack monkey and all, but it was actually great! When we first started talking about our trip to Thailand the one thing I really wanted to do was go visit the painting elephants of the Asian Elephant Art Conservation Project, but as far as we knew they were all in northern Thailand, and after making it to Pattaya and then to Koh Chang, I was not about to do the traveling required to get back up north. So, this was a fine substitution. Looking at the site now, it appears that there's actually a painting elephant in Koh Chang...I'm going to assume that that information is out of date and that the elephant probably has not actually been there for about five years. That's probably the case, right?

The next day my plan was to sit by the pool and make people bring me drinks. Everyone else agreed with me that that was a fine idea until the next day when everyone was going to rent scooters and go to one of the nearby waterfalls. I was done. I just needed some down time. I already had a plan, and it was to sit by the pool and make someone bring me drinks. So, everyone else went off in search of scooters and a waterfall, and I got my bathing suit on, went down to the pool, walked over to the bar to ask if I could get a piña colada and would it be OK to just charge it to the room. About two minutes and 12 staff members later, the English-speaking manager finally showed up, I gratefully explained to him that I wanted a piña colada and just wanted to make sure that it was OK to charge it to my room. That's when I was informed that they don't have a bartender. So, I ordered a Sprite and walked like Droopy Dog over to the pool. To his credit, the manager did come over and offer to run next door and get me a piña colada from the neighboring bar. I'm not gonna lie-I thought about it, but in the end, I thought that would just be a little too desperate. So, I sat and drank my Sprite and read my book (Same Kind of Different as Me) and realized that there are a lot worse things than being stuck by a pool without a piña colada.

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