It’s been a few days since I last posted a blog. I have now arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam. I just about made the flight. I will explain why further on.
The last time I wrote I had had a strange day in Chiang Mai. It had started off well on the Mae Ping River Cruise and then sort of curtailed during the day with the incidents with the cars and then the evening was uneventful due to everywhere being shut. I did, however book to go to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary the following day.
I was due to be picked up at 11.30am. I got up and put some washing in the laundry. It was first time I felt that this wasn’t just a holiday, having to do ‘chores.’ I was able to hang it up to dry in the sunny north Thailand weather, with temperatures in the late 20’s. I got picked up along with 6 other travellers. Two of the lads were from England, one lad was Canadian and then there was a girl from USA, one from Peru and one from France. Stories were exchanged of where people had been and plans of where people were heading during the hour or so journey to the Sanctuary. The two questions; ‘Where have you been? Where are you heading?’ are like the travellers’ equivalent to the ‘Been busy? What time you on till?’ super question combo that taxi drivers get asked all day every day.
This particular trip was marketed as an ethical excursion. A lot of tours in Thailand enable you to ride the elephant. This was not one of those. During the conversations en route, this is what appealed to all of us.
As we made our way through the hills, you could smell the elephants before you could see them. When we did see elephants, some were tied to a tree. It reminded me of the book by Geoff Thompson entitled ‘The Elephant and the Twig.’ It’s an old (Indian?) proverb whereby a baby elephant is chained to a tree trunk soon after it is born. As it grows, it is transfered to a smaller trunk, or twig, and it doesn’t attempt to move because it’s been conditioned to think it wouldn’t be able to go far. If it would only try, it would realise, as an adult that it had more power than the twig and would be able to break free. Thompson, who is a martial arts expert and former door man, wrote the book and used this analogy to compare the lives that many humans live. Feeling that we’re chained to a job, a house, a system etc. we never test our own strength and like the elephant don’t even attempt to move. If you’ve not read it, get a copy and have a read and let me know what you think. I have my uncle Gerard to thank for the recommendation. I have since passed it on to friends of mine, given the affect it had on me. I need to read it again.
I realise that a lot of what I write goes off on a tangent and into some other nuggets of information I’ve collected during my 30 years on this planet. I hope you bear with me and don’t mind the additional information…..Of course you don’t. I’ve seen the ‘hits’ for my blogs and a lot of people are reading. Thank you for your interest.
Anyway, back to the smelly elephants. We came to the Sanctuary and were welcomed by Mr O. He explained that this was one of a number of camps for this Sanctuary. He said that all the elephants here were female and no longer work. Freeloaders. By work he meant they’re no longer used for rides. These are the type of unemployable elephants Jeremy Kyle would like to parade to the nation, barking in their faces that they’re good for nothing and should be slaughtered, whilst sitting in an ivory tower higher than any of his guests have ever been. Sorry Jez lad. Mr O explained the differences between African and Asian elephants. African elephants have larger ears, a two dome head and a two finger trunk, whereas the Asian elephant has smaller rounded ears, a single dome head and one finger trunk. I learnt this in Bangkok Zoo and did my best to take it all in again. We were given really trendy shirts to wear whilst feeding the elephants. The intense look comes as an add on…..
The day started off with us being informed of the medicine the elephants are given (can you hear Jeremy loving it that they’re on something?) to help them recuperate. A mix of rice, banana, ginger and woodworm (I think) is crushed and mixed together into little balls, similar to those that Ikea sell and everyone goes for, even though it is a furniture store. We were given an opportunity to beat the rice with a wooden stick to remove the shell. When I was beating the rice, Mr O suggested I was strong and would make a good husband. I might use this as an endorsement on Tinder. I liked his high opinion of me, although I couldn’t take all of the credit for the de-shelling of the rice as two girls had beaten it before me. I was like John Aldridge really. I allowed everyone else to do the hard graft and snuck in at the end for the glory. Here I am claiming the glory…..
The balls were made and we were invited to taste them by Mr O. I was tempted but then decided not to. Mr O said that people in Thailand use natural ingredients when they’re ill and don’t go to the hospital. Now would be a perfect opportunity to go off on another tangent about how pharmaceutical companies create customers not cures and we’re being duped and refused natural remedies for the sake of multi millions of pounds being made. As I say, great opportunity for a rant, but it doesn’t seem appropriate when talking about elephants. If there’s the demand I can cover it in the future maybe. We were introduced to the elephants. One was pregnant. She had been pregnant for 18 months. Poor thing. And she was 40. Another was 65 and then there was a baby of 4 years old, so more of a toddler. We fed the animals the little Ikea balls of medicine and then bananas and sugar canes. They loved it.
It was amazing seeing how many bananas they could shove in their gobs. The men who worked at the Sanctuary would shout orders out and the elephants would raise their head, open their mouths ready for another banana catipult. They took sugar canes in their trunks. Mesmorised by the dexterity and mechanical brilliance of these wonderful creatures, we each took it in turn to feed the hungry blighters. They must go through a lot of bananas. Mr O said the elephants are happy now, because they don’t work and because the bananas are a good relief for stress and depression. So if you’ve had a tough day at work and are feeling a bit tense, don’t bang on about waiting for wine o’clock on Facebook. Have a banana…..and then some wine. Have a banana wine milkshake. You can probably get that in Wigan or Blackpool.
After feeding time was done, we were asked to remove our tops (that’s the men by the way. The women got into their bikinis) and were ushered down a dirt track to a massive mud bath. The elephants lay down and allowed us to wipe mud on them; part of the cleaning process. This soon turned into a bit of a mud fight. You sort of sensed everyone had used the elephants as an excuse to just fling big dollops of mud and water at eachother. It was fun.
The next stage of care was to go into the nearby river to wash they elephants down. We were advised to stand at their back when they were lying down because they kick their legs out. I didn’t fancy getting one in the k’tangas (thank you Angie Hawkesworth for this gem of a word to describe testicles) from 62 year old Dumbo. Not her real name. We were told their real names but they escape me. This again turned into a human water fight. Photos were taken by a photographer throughout the process to capture each stage of the day.
The elephants had been fed, played with and bathed. We were now led to a lake with a waterfall to have a swim. I had been thinking the day before how I could do with a swim. Usually when I am in these temperatures, I’m on holiday and have a pool. The hostels I have stayed in so far have not had pools so the opportunity to cool off was most welcome. Again, more pictures were taken by the photographer. Here’s one that was edited out of Peter Andre’s ‘Mysterious Girl’ video.
It was now time for the humans to be fed. Best part of the day. Regardless of what day it is. The place we ate in was a wooden hut overlooking the waterfall. Perfect. There was another group of people who were there at the same time as us, so we all mingled over food. We were then given a final chance to play with the elephants and get photos before heading back. I’ve not seen a 65 year old more pleased to have a selfie with me since a mad karaoke night in the Claughton many years ago. It was then time to say goodbye to ‘your’ elephant as Mr O described them. I now own an elephant (in my head). We jumped aboard our trucks and headed down from the hilly terrain back to the hustling streets of Chiang Mai.
After the Buddha Day disruptions the night before, it was business as usual for places selling alcohol. The Rasta Cafe was open and I was heading there. A few of us from the tour met up and went to the night market and seen a Ladyboy Show first. It was the campest thing (obviously) I’ve ever seen. We then headed to the Rasta Cafe, which, to my surprise wasn’t really busy. The band playing were fantastic though. There’s a few clips on my Twitter, which I uploaded if you want to have a listen. They played a good selection of songs, notably from Bob Marley and finished with Inner Circle’s Sweat. The band were tight and the singer had a really good voice. It was a good end to a great day.
The next day, I packed my things up and headed into the town to hire a bike. My mind was at war with itself, whether to get a moped or just a push bike. I opted for the bike, mainly because of the price, but also because yesterday’s car incident had unnerved me. What could possibly go wrong with a push bike? I had a few places I wanted to stop at, so with map in hand and legs at the ready, I pedalled my way through the busy streets. There was a book shop I wanted to find, called ‘Little Lost Book Shop.’ I’d read about it on that World Wide Web you can get now. It came well recmommended. I was fascinated. The fella who owns it hails from Wexford in Ireland. We exchanged pleasantries about Birkenhead, Liverpool (the city) and Everton (the football team). This place was a book lover’s paradise. There was everything in there; novels, Sci-fi, spirituality, music, languages, tour guides. Anything Waterstones have this place had and more. I got 4 books…..I had to. I brought four with me, so now have 8. I may need to ‘lose’ some clothes on the way to make sure my backpack isn’t too uncomfortable to carry. I got a few music books, two Chomsky books, and for a bit of light bed time reading, a book about the history of God. Here is the gem of a place.
Making use of the very fashionable basket on the front of the bike, I stored the books and headed for Art in Paradise. A 3D art museum and gallery I had again read about on the www. This place was great. Loads of mind boggling 3D art on the walls and plenty of interactive pieces. Here’s me getting friendly with a koala bear.
Here’s another of me made up with myself on a bit of old Eygptian rock.
A stop of at a coffee shop (obviously) and I then had to return the bike before the shop shut at 5pm. On the way back I stopped for some more Chicken Pad Thai (delicious) before heading back for the hostel. I had booked a coach to leave this evening at 7pm for Bangkok.
I fell in love with this place. The shops, food and general vibe were brilliant.
The fella working in the hostel had suggested I leave between half five and six o’clock to get to the bus station due to traffic at that time. I got there with 20 minutes to spare and boarded the coach. It was small with few seats and the chairs reclind back. I thought I had a two seater to myself until we stopped at another stop further up the road and I was joined by someone else. I had to move my bag. How incosiderate. This journey was going to be 9 hours. I was in for a LONG journey. I’d hoped to sleep and began to do this until I was woken up by the bus attendant placing things on my chest. First a plastic container of rice and chicken, then some crisps and finally water. It was the cold from the water bottle that finally woke me up properly. I worked through the fatigue to eat the meal. I wasn’t expecting food which made it a nice Brucey bonus. From then on, I was unable to get any proper sleep. I tried to watch the film being shown, something with Ben Stiller in. The sound was all over the bus, despite some people having headphones in. Usually, like on a plane, the headphones are the opt in to the film. Here on this bus, you could put headphones in, if you wanted, or just listen to it on the speakers…..in Thai. I put my ipod on and drifted in and out of disturbed sleep. Look how happy I am on the bus…..
Here is where things started to go a bit pear shaped. The coach was due to get to Bangkok bus station at 4.30am…..the time was now about 5.15am. I was due to fly at 7am. I queued for a taxi and was taken to the second and smaller airport in Bangkok. It was absolute mayhem. Bedlam. Queues all over the place, no real order, just chaos. And I was running out of time. It was now 6.20am. A lady who had told me to queue with everyone else, then came along the line reading out a list of destinations to take passengers to another check-in desk. Mine, obviously, was on this list. After checking my bags in the lady behind the counter asks me if I have an onward flight from Vietnam. I tell her I don’t and I plan to get the bus to Cambodia. She says Vietnam immigration will ask and she advises I have an onward flight. I say again I don’t want to fly out of Vietnam, as I’ll be taking the bus. She says I should book a flight with Air Asia and then cancel it if I don’t want it. It’s now about 6.30am.
I’d read nothing like this during my research so was skeptical, but worried. Do I board the plane without an on-going ticket in the hope I’m allowed through, or do I take her advice and buy an onward ticket? I decided to continue as planned with no ticket. I’m in the queue for passport control now. I ask two people, who work at the airport for advice. They take me back out to the check-in desks. A man tells me I will have to explain to Vietnam immigration and they decide on an individual basis. I am then sent back to passprt control. I explain that my plane is due to depart in about 30 minutes. One lady takes me to the priority lane. I get to the front and the lady behind the desks says I don’t need to be priority as I have time. MBack to the passport control. A moment or two passes. I am then taken by a young fella working at the airport back to the priority lane. I explain that I’ve been there and had been sent back here. He insists I need to go back. As I started to walk over, the lady who initially sent me back, all of two minutes before says ‘No, no, no’ to me, as though it was I who insisted I returned. I turn on my heels, explaining to the young bloke that I should have stayed where I was. An Englishman allows me my place back in the queue. The young fella apologies. I accept…..just. I am eventually let through passport control at about 6.50am. Checking my phone constantly, with a battery of about 6%, and running loudly in flip flops to Gate 25, which, guess what? Yeah, it was obviously the last gate at the end of the airport, I just about make it on the plane in time. My seat is on the aisle, at the back. I manage to get some sleep. The flight is about 1 hour 40 minutes…..
We touch down. The first notable difference is the weather. I said to someone today that getting off the plane dressed in shorts, t-shirt and flip flops and sporting a bit of sun burn, due to yesterday’s bike ride, I felt like one of those lads getting back into Manchester after a 4 day stint in Zante, or wherever it is people go now for stag do’s…..probably Marbs (ha) or somewhere like that. Totally inapproriately dressed for the overcast and windy Hanoi weather, I made my way down to the luggage collection point. Bags picked up, I got talking to a few girls from Essex who had had a similar journey from Chaing Mai to what I did. They may even have been on my bus, but I don’t recall seeing them. We decided to all get on the shuttle bus from the airport to Hanoi Old Town. It stated on the bus that the price was 40,000 Vietnamese Dong. This jumped up 10,000 on board. 50,000 handed over, we were waiting for about 40 minutes. The fella claims he was 100,000 short. Everyone insists they’ve paid. This goes on, until one of the girls I’d been talking to says she thinks she may have taken her money back from him, as she had initially given him 10,000 instead of what she thought was 100,000. It got sorted and off we went. The detail in this is monotonous. Not one of the more enjoyable reads, unless you know me and know what sort of a mood all this could have driven me to. There you may find the humour.
Anyway I get to the Old Town and head to the hostel. The hostel staff were very welcoming, friendly and commented that I must be cold. I am. I am freezing. I book a trip to Ha Long Bay which departs tomorrow and includes an overnight stay. It’s one of those things that needs to be done if you’re here apparently. It looks great in the sun on the pictures. I’m hoping it’s a bit brighter tomorrow. I make my way to my room and face yet another fashion dilemma. I only have one pair of jogging bottoms. A denim coloured loose pair I travelled to Manchester airport in and two pairs of linen trousers (one of which I modelled in a video stood in front of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which incidently, seems like a lifetime ago). I have one pair of pumps (it could rain) and a pair of trainies that I use for the gym back home and only brought because I didn’t care if they got wrecked during treks etc. I put the jogging bottoms on and the trainers which are black and have an illuminous green coloured sole. I ask a French girl and an American girl who are in my room, if it looks shit. I know it does. They tell me it’s fine and no-one will care. Ego deflation there for you Matty. I know no-one will care, I really do. But I also know that I look like that R.E or Georgraphy teacher on a field trip who is trying to be ‘down with the kids,’ but has tragically faile. I go for it. I almost want to make a sign and wear it round my neck, just with the word ‘SORRY’ on. If those purple keks (ah, I’ve just remembered, I had them. Hahaha. Actually laughed out loud then thinking of how pitiful they’d look with the trainies) and the man bag didn’t get me beat up, this concotion of attire certainly will. I braved the streets of Hanoi.
Making my way through the city, a few things struck me about Hanoi. Loads of beeping, loads of motorbikes, loads of traffic, loads of roads and chickens roaming around on the pavement. City map in hand (I’m getting there with the navigation skills), I headed for the War Museum. An interesting place, displaying artefacts of wars that Vietnam have been involved in over time. Some parts of US planes were displayed alongside uniforms which were conviscated from enemies when they were captured. I even saw this pair of shoes, which a Vietnamese soldier named Mr Nong Van Phuong, fashioned from the tyre of a French aircraft which was brought down. My footwear dilemma now appeared to be somewhat insignifant, given the complexities this chap must have faced when trying to fight a war with tyres on his feet. There’s a pun to be made here, about whether his feet got ‘tyred,’ but I won’t. I will allow you, the reader to take the credit for it. Like a father does when hiding a toy from his child, whilst the child is watching and then applauds the child when it ‘finds’ the toy.
There was also various quotes from world leaders and other influential people in relation to the war with the United States, backing the Vietnamese efforts. Here’s a few photos I took of some quotes. America…..over to you.
War is tiresome. Not fighting in one, just looking at stuff about them. Although the physical exertion of fighting in one, I imagine also takes it out of you. I headed out for a coffee. I then headed down to the Cathdral, St Joseph’s. It’s a Catholic one. I took some pictures and had a kick of a football with 4 young Vietnamese lads. They invited me to play, but I think they just felt sorry for me because of what I was wearing. I declined their polite offer and headed for food. The streets here are filled with neat little cafes and coffee shops. There’s art galleries and bars, shops selling music equipment, TVs and white goods, fabrics as well as plush looking boutique hotels. I even seen little stores that sold a selection of things, but primarily…..sellotape. Honestly, there’s rows and rows of ‘selly’ with a bit of fabric too. There must be a demand for it. Maybe the tyre shoes fall apart easily and that idea wasn’t thought out fully. I jest. They looked sturdy enough.
Food done, I head for my final coffee of the day, from a rooftop cafe. Below the traffic comes and goes from all angles with no apparent structure. Horns beep to warn other vehicles of their imminent arrival, bikes mount the kerb to beat other bikes to the turn in the road and two ladies stand in the middle of it all selling helium balloons.
An eventful couple of days. I am going to head to bed. Up early for the trip to Ha Long Bay. Hope you enjoyed the blog.
Quick edit to say I’m back from Ha Long Bay. Will blog about that separately.