This past weekend, I visited Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. The other interns had already visited Chiang Mai and my colleagues raved about it, so I knew I had to visit it. I met up with Pickering friends Holly (who also works at US Embassy BKK with me), Leyth (Pickering fellow friend who works at US Embassy Singapore), and Leyth’s friend Jeff whom he met online.
On Saturday, Holly bought us all a package of 1,700 baht for a visit to the famous Doi Suthep Temple (enshrined in gold), two day hikes, and a zip lining adventure. I’ve visited a lot of temples this summer, but none as awe-striking as this one. Doi Suthep is tarnished in gold from head to toe! The hikes were a good exercise though slippery at times. I chatted with two European guys (German & Italian) who were in our group. Zip lining was definitely the highlight of my day. Like the ATV adventure, it was exhilarating and riveting. Every time we were geared up to zip line, my heart paced and I began to breathe heavily. Then, BOOM! As soon as I was shoved off the platform and I let go….weeeeeee! Off I went flying into the air – over the river or over the forest! So much fun! I think the package could have been negotiated down a bit from 1700 per person, but oh well.
Later that evening, we went to Ram Bar where we enjoyed a 2-hour cabaret drag queen show. It was quite entertaining – colorful, flashy outfits, loud music, and a room full of rowdy Westerners.
On Sunday, we all went to an elephant sanctuary (or “camp”) where we fed the elephants lots of bananas, saw them get muddy, then washed them, and then cleansed ourselves in a waterfall. This half day package cost 1,175 baht per person, a price that I negotiated down from the original 1500/person. I guess being Pakistani and having lived in Turkey gave me those skills 🙂 We woke up at 6:30am for a 7am bumpy ride to the elephant sanctuary, which was 2 hours away. We tried to sleep on the open truck, but it was uncomfortable (and dangerous) to fall asleep on such a bumpy ride. When we arrived, our guide who claimed his name to be “Justin Bieber” gave us an overview of the camp, shared some educational facts about the difference between Thai and African elephants, and made us laugh with jokes such as elephant pee being delicious Thai beer called “Chang” (Thai word for elephant). The four of us were joined by a group of about 10 European youngsters vacationing in Thailand. It was fun to get to know others on this trip. Our half day ended around 2pm with a lunch which included rice, chicken curry, vegetable sweet sour curry, and pineapples.
If you have Facebook, check out the photos that Justin posted from our trip: https://www.facebook.com/pg/chiangmaielephantsanctuary/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1426606647429243.
Before lunch, however, something happened that stayed with me for the rest of the day. An very elderly lady approached me with some simple bracelets – pink yarn thread and a bead on each. At first sight, I was not interested. I tried to express my disinterest but before I could open my mouth, she had already wrapped a bracelet around my wrist. She looked at me asked for 50 baht. I felt uncomfortable and in the moment, didn’t know what to do. Should I buy it? But I don’t really like it. Should I tell her I don’t like it? What if she takes offense. No, don’t do that, that’s mean. Maybe I should just give her money because she’s poor…it’s only $1.50 after all. If I do that, I might as well take the bracelet. AHHH, what do I do? What do I do?? In this panic, I took the bracelet off, handed it back to her and politely shook my head. Later, I felt terrible with this decision. Of all the money I spend on junk, I could have afforded to give this elderly lady 50 baht. Of all the kindness I try to do by overpaying some poor vendors, why didn’t I show my kindness to her? I felt really guilty and terrible and my decision haunted me on the truck ride back to the hostel. If only I could go back in time and redo this moment – I would have bought two bracelets in a heartbeat…