Sunday, October 27, 2013

a bucket list moment.

One of the top 5 on my list of things to do while in Thailand was to ride an elephant. And I got a chance to cross that one off my list during our orientation week. We all loaded onto buses and drove a couple of hours west of Bangkok to Kanchanaburi where we were able to visit an elephant refuge. Situated right on the river it was exactly what I had pictured when I thought about Thailand; thick green jungle, rather primitive buildings, giant golden Buddhas rising out of the trees, water buffalo trudging through the water, birds of all colors, mountains rising in the distance. It was beautiful!

We spent the early afternoon with the elephants. They put on little shows for us, playing the harmonica, basketball and lifting people up with their trunks. And then we got to ride them! They’re so sweet and majestic but it broke my heart just a little to see them put to work for our amusement. No amount of ‘proper treatment’ can make up for what their lives in the wild should be. It made me think twice about visiting a tiger sanctuary (number 1 on my list!) There are horrible rumors about how they’re treated, drugged to remain docile for the tourists. As much as I want to see and pet a tiger I just don’t know that I can do that in good conscience.

Anyway, later that afternoon we were treated to a float down the river on a bamboo raft ala Swiss Family Robinson. It was the first bit of stillness and peace I’d really experienced since coming to Thailand. Bangkok was definitely the opposite of both of those things. It was also the first time my brain had had a moment to sort of process all the information and emotions that had been thrust at me solid for over a week. I sort of melted into it and regenerated for a few minutes. It was great!

Next was a stop at the famous bridge spanning the river. There's a movie, you may have heard of it or at least its catchy theme song, though it promotes the mispronunciation and spelling of the river’s name as Kwai (kwy) when it’s actually Kwae (pronounced like quack without the ‘ck’ at the end) all about the horrible conditions surrounding the building of the bridge during WWII. Thousands of POWs were killed during construction and it was bombed several times. The bridge is still there and still in use but now it’s surrounded by t-shirt and refreshment stalls. Progress? Hard to say. But it was a lovely way to spend an afternoon and a much-appreciated respite from the week’s events.

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