Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Summer time with the grandkids is fading fast

It is hard to believe that Zach and BeBe have been with us for almost 2 full months. Next week our younger son, Aaron, will arrive in Singapore to collect his daughter. He will stay until August 17 and return home to Houston with BeBe. Zachary also will leave on the same day, but he will be flying as an unaccompanied minor on another airline and route. We have decided to take the marina car over to Singapore to pick up Aaron when he arrives, and return with him to Puteri Harbour Marina in Malaysia for about a week. Then take the boat over to Singapore around August 9 or 10 and stay there until everyone flies out the following week. That way Aaron will have the opportunity to see both a tiny bit of Malaysia and everything he might want to see in Singapore. Maybe we will rent a car and drive over to Malacca, although neither Bill nor I have heard of anything in Malacca that calls out to us to come see. We understand that the marina in Malacca was recently totally destroyed by high winds, so if we don't drive there then we will be skipping Malacca altogether.

The only regret I have had about the grandkids activities this summer is that our dinghy developed a severe leak and we have no more hypalon patch material or the proper adhesive to effect a repair. So the kids have not been able to go fishing in the dinghy in the Johor Strait as we had planned. We had bought little fishing rods for them to use in the dinghy. Guess we will hang onto those rods and they will be able to fish when they visit us next summer in Turkey or Greece. Both kids have announced that they plan to visit us in the Med next summer. Wonder if their parents know of these plans.

A few days ago a young Malaysian couple of Chinese descent had a few of their wedding photos taken aboard S/V BeBe. Jasmine is a pharmacist who has assisted us in obtaining a few routine prescription medications; and her fiance, James, works in Singapore; I believe James is an aeronautical engineer. They are each very nice and we enjoy their company. A lot of brides and grooms have their wedding photos taken at this marina -- always up on the mainland seating area under the palm trees and on the wide concrete retaining wall around the marina. But Jasmine and James are the only ones who have been invited to have their photos taken aboard one of the sailboats. We thought they might enjoy having a unique setting for some of their wedding photos. The local custom is to have many professional photos taken in several wedding gowns at many locations. These photos are done months before the actual wedding. A photo album is prepared and the "wedding book" is displayed to the wedding guests. This same custom is followed in Korea and Vietnam. Possibly this is the norm for all the SE Asian countries, but we know for certain that this is commonly done in Korea and Vietnam as well as here in Malaysia.

After the photo shoot we joined James and Jasmine at the marina cafe for dinner. It was nice visiting with them. Who knows what the future will hold. We encouraged them to stay in touch. If nothing else, they can follow this website and be advised of our future locations. They are invited to visit us aboard S/V BeBe somewhere in the Med if such a trip for them becomes feasible during the time we are cruising that area.

Before Jasmine and James arrived with their photographer, we had the boat washed by one of the marina staff on his day off. Then Zachary and Bill polished the stainless -- that never-ending job. Zach is a champ at polishing brightwork and doesn't complain a bit.

Yesterday BeBe finally actually rode a bicycle on her own. She still cannot start off on her own and requires a starting push, but that will come with practice on her own. She had told her mom in a telephone call a few weeks ago that she now could ride a bike (yeah, right -- about 30 feet). When she got off that phone call, I told her that now she HAD to really learn how to ride on her own before her father arrived or her parents would know she had lied and would be very disappointed. The deadline threat must have kindled her interest because she finally got serious about learning how to ride. We celebrated with ice cream sundaes at the marina cafe last night after dinner.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Back at Puteri Harbour Marina

It has been raining almost constantly since we returned to the boat after our trip to Thailand.

We are all getting a little stir crazy staying cooped up inside the boat.

One day BeBe wanted to cook something and we agreed that I would teach her how to bake a cake. I wanted to bake a meatloaf -- something we haven't had since last August in Cairns. I don't like to heat the oven just to bake one thing, so this seemed like a feasible idea for a rainy afternoon. Unfortunately, due to foreign language printed on the labels, the can of evaporated milk that I thought I was opening turned out to be a can of sweetened condensed milk. Not something I want cooked into a meatloaf. So I asked Bill to get online and find us a recipe using sweetened condensed milk. Normally the only thing I use this for is to bake granola, and I did not have all the ingredients for proper granola. He found a pan cookie recipe and a fudge recipe. Both kids immediately exclaimed that they wanted the fudge. So Elisabeth cooked her first batch of fudge. It turned out just fine. Better for her to start with this simple recipe than to try her hand at the better and more difficult real fudge recipe that we prefer.

It had stopped raining by the time the fudge was ready, so she and Zach brought a small amount of the fudge to share with Bill and Amy on S/V Estrellita. Later, they came over to our boat and we enjoyed visiting with them in our cockpit. BeBe and I managed to get a lot of insect bites and will be itching miserably for weeks. It really isn't fair that she and I are the only ones who react so severely to insect bites. That is the main reason I stay cooped up inside the boat so much. With all this rain, the insects are particularly thick.

Last night we were treated to dinner at the marina cafe by Randall and Ruth on M/V Dora Mac. Bill had checked on their boat several times while they visited Nepal and Tibet. They reciprocated by buying dinner for all 4 of us. How sweet! And totally unnecessary. Bill was happy to check on their boat in their absence. Cruisers always are looking out for one another.

Nothing else going on -- except more rain, rain and rain.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Photos of Thailand trip uploaded

Since it is raining so much and we are stuck inside the boat, I decided to take the opportunity to upload photos from our recent trip to Thailand. Photos have been added to the individual postings for the trip. These are a few additional photos.

These photos are mainly intended for our family members to see what the grandkids have been doing this summer.

As can be seen, the kids have been enjoying unique experiences and places.

I particularly like the photo of Zach laying on the floor and face-to-face with the baby tiger. This is not the tiger that bit him.

Both kids got a kick out of the small young elephants putting hats on their heads and taking the hats back off. Each time the elephant did this to someone, it would place the hat on the person's head and then tap the hat 3 times. Then the elephant would remove the hat and take a bow with its trunk placed on its forehead between the eyes -- just like the Thai people place their palms together and put their hand between their eyes when saying thank you. It was really cute.

The baby elephant was at the horrible Mae Taeng Elephant Camp. This one is 5 months old. There also was a newborn less than 1 month old, but we were not allowed near that one because the mother was still ultra-protective -- as well she should be.

And here is a photo of BeBe frying the spring rolls that she made from scratch during our full-day cooking class at the Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School in Chiang Mai. That was an enjoyable day and we each learned a lot from the experience. And we especially enjoyed eating all the delicious food that we cooked!

And this last photo is some structure that we passed while riding the river boat taxi in Bangkok. Elisabeth was more observant than the rest of us. She noticed that there was a large painting of this structure on the wall of our hotel room. We never did find out what this is. People were climbing the steep steps up the sides of it. We weren't interested enough to get off the boat and explore.

We are now finished with Thailand -- unless we sail to Phuket in December. In fact, we are finished with all SE Asia travel. Nothing left to do except sail up the western coast of Malaysia after we depart from Singapore late next month. The Phuket area is supposed to be beautiful but extremely crowded with tourist long boats. I'm not convinced that the beauty of the area is worth the hassle of crowded anchorages with fast tourist boats zooming around. Bill has not yet decided if we will sail up there before heading west or if we will depart for India from Langkawi. I am leaving that decision entirely up to him. We can't plan that far in advance.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Bangkok to Penang to Kuala Lumpur and finally back to marina

We boarded the train in Bangkok around 14:00 Tuesday afternoon and arrived in Butterworth (on the Malaysian mainland across from Penang) around 13:00 Wednesday afternoon. We had tried unsuccessfully via email and phone calls to book ongoing train to Johor Bahru. The plan was to try and purchase tickets at the Butterworth station for first class sleepers on train # 9 departing at 23:30 that night and switch to train #5 early the next morning in Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bahru. We could take a long taxi tour around Penang while we waited. Or if tickets were not available then we would spend the night in Penang and take the 07:00 train the next morning direct to Johor Bahru. Those plans did not pan out. Turned out that train #9 was recently discontinued; no more sleeping cars; we would have to sit up all night. We nixed that idea.

But wait! A man hustled us as we unloaded off the train from Bangkok and said we could take an express to Kuala Lumpur leaving right then. Okay; we will do that. Then we could take the express bus leaving KL at 21:30 and arrive in Johor Bahru in the middle of the night. Or we could spend the night in KL and take the morning express buss to Johor Bahru. We tossed the duffel bags in the bottom of the bus and climbed aboard, deciding that we would figure out what to do once we reached KL.

Good thing we did not make definite plans. The Sentral (central) station in Kuala Lumpur is closed for renovation. Sentral transit station normally handles all buses and trains; makes traveling through KL fairly easy. We had taken the express bus to Sentral KL in early February on our way to Cambodia. However, during this renovation all northbound buses stop at a temporary station that is quite a distance from the temporary station for all the southbound buses. This is a boom for the taxi drivers, but very inconvenient and very time-consuming for travelers. Luckily we found an English-speaking Indian taxi driver who explained this mess to us. We asked him to take us to a hotel that would cost 200 ringitt or less for one night. We wanted a hotel located close to the departure point for southbound express bus to Johor Bahru. He took us to The Cube and it was fine for a one-night stay. The room was tiny and was completely filled with 2 queen-sized beds pushed together. There was no walking room whatsoever; quite literally a bed=room. I don't know how they made-up those beds! There was a TV and a teensy bathroom. But it was fine for the night and the beds were actually like normal mattresses. This was a welcome relief after sleeping on rock-hard mattresses in Thailand.

We were all very tired and dirty after the train and bus rides, but we walked off in search of a late dinner anyway. Two blocks away we found several blocks of Chinese restaurants taking up the sidewalks and most of the street. We enjoyed a good meal and all felt better.

The next morning Bill awakened around 06:00 and walked off in search of buying bus tickets to Johor Bahru. The ticket kiosk was closed when he found it at 07:30, so he bought snacks for breakfast and returned to the hotel. He called the taxi driver who had delivered us to this hotel the previous evening and told us we had 10 minutes to get dressed and leave. Turned out it was a good thing that Bill had rushed us. We arrived at the temporary southbound bus "terminal" (in tents at a park) and purchased tickets for the 09:00 express bus. It was 09:03 when we purchased the tickets. We would not have made it in time if Bill had not rushed us.

We boarded the bus and sat there for an hour. The driver announced there was a problem with the engine and we transferred to a second bus. At 10:10 the 09:00 bus departed Kuala Lumpur. We arrived at the Larkin Bus Terminal in Johor Bahru and grabbed a taxi to Bukit Indah for grocery shopping, finally returning to the boat mid-afternoon. All 4 of us were so glad to be home! We enjoyed our Thailand trip, but we were ready to be home.

BTW, Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles. You see than on travel ads all the time. But the true name translates differently. Thai means freedom. Thailand is really Freedom Land. Thailand aligned herself with the United States way back in the 1930s when communism was gaining strong footholds throughout SE Asia, and Thailand remains aligned with the United States. The Thai people value their freedoms.

Bangkok is the name of the capital city as it is known by westerners. The Thai people call Bangkok by its real name......or rather, its abbreviated name. The abbreviated name is Krung Threp. Thais never use the name Bangkok and always refer to the city as Krung Threp. The proper name for Bangkok is actually the longest word in the world and was designated by King Rama III. Our guide in Chiang Mai said the full name for us and it sounded like a paragraph. He had to take several breaths to say the whole name. Try to get your tongue around this:

Krungthepmahanakhon Amornrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharat Ratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphiman Awatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit

which translates into English as:

The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated God, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn.

We had an "interesting" experience on the train returning from Thailand to Malaysia. I am writing a separate blog about that experience that will not be posted until we leave Malaysia for the final time in December. If any readers plan travel between Thailand and Malaysia before that time, feel free to send me an email and I will summarize our experience so you can be forewarned of a possible problem.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Back to Bangkok; China Town; MBK Center

The overnight train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok is the best. Far better than taking the all-day "express" train. We arrived at the Chiang Mai train station about an hour early, and the sleeping coaches were already lined up on the track. There was no one around to tell us not to, so we boarded and found our adjoining "first class" sleeping compartments. As with all the other trains we have seen in Malaysia and Thailand, this train was pretty dirty. They clean with a hit and miss attitude and the interior of the train cars never get thoroughly cleaned. Because of this, there is a gummy dirt build-up all over the floors and cockroaches sometimes peak out. We have seen roaches on every train in Malaysia and Thailand. We never saw a roach or insect of any kind on any train in China. The trains in China were much newer, much nicer, and MUCH cleaner!

We opened the doors separating our 2 compartments and had a snug little place for the night. We plugged in the laptop and watched DVDs until the attendant arrived and made up our 4 beds. We watched one more DVD and then turned in for the night. Surprisingly, we all slept soundly through the night. The attendant knocked on our doors around 06:00 to turn the beds back into seats, and breakfast arrived shortly thereafter. I would not recommend purchasing the breakfasts on these Thai trains. Better to bring along some granola bars or bakery rolls. The train arrived in Bangkok shortly before 07:00 right on schedule. A short taxi drive later we were back at the Phranakorn Norlen Hotel.

Our family room at the PN Hotel this time had 3 queen size beds and 2 bathrooms. This small boutique hotel is just wonderful for traveling families. The only drawback is that one must walk up to the third floor to the family rooms; there is no elevator. But, what the heck, we can always use more exercise.

Bill and I wanted to lie down and rest for a hour, but the kids weren't having anything to do with that idea. We managed to tolerate them sniping back and forth with each other until 10:00 and then Bill declared we were getting out of the hotel and doing something........anything. We walked the few blocks to the Thewet boat stop #15 and caught a boat heading south down the river.

At boat stop #4 we got off the boat and walked around Chinatown until we found Yaowarat Road and turned left. This was a most interesting section of Bangkok to Bill and me. The kids were not interested in anything we saw. They were both tired and very hot. The local people were even complaining about how unusually hot it has been for several days here in Bangkok. It is also unusually dry. Zach quickly realized that complaining wasn't going to accomplish anything with us and he marched on silently. But BeBe complained every few steps that it was too hot and too boring and she wanted to go back to the hotel. We ignored her and kept walking. Bill and I found the area very interesting -- there were many shops with all kinds of bronze fittings and we wished we had brought dimensions of some of the things we would like to replace or modify on the boat. Click on the photo of the ice creams and read the flavors. We saw these while walking through Chinatown. Even though we were all hot on this very warm day, none of us wanted to try any of these unusual flavors.

Eventually we came upon an air-conditioned very nice Chinese restaurant and immediately decided it would be the perfect place for lunch. It would shut-up BeBe's complaining and we could all use a drink of cold water and a rest in the air-conditioning. The prices were quite a bit more (like double) than we have seen anywhere else in Thailand, but the quality of the food was also extremely good. After a long delicious lunch and lots of cold water, no one complained as we walked onward to boat stop #5.

We caught a boat back to Thewet boat stop #15 and walked back to our hotel. We told the kids that if they complained or started arguing with each other again then we would take them on another long walk in the heat. No more complaints from anyone about anything. The rest of the afternoon in the hotel room was delightful. We all showered and felt much better. Both kids and Bill fell asleep (and not one of them normally naps!). I woke everyone up around 19:00 and we went to the hotel dining area and shared one small super-thin crust Hawaiian pizza and icy cold pineapple smoothies. After our big lunch none of us was very hungry. BeBe ate a small Thai omelet instead of pizza because one of her teeth is very loose and she can't eat anything hard like pizza crust. Then we retired back to the hotel room and watched DVDs on the laptop until bedtime. Amazing how much nicer everyone acts toward one another when they aren't hot, tired or hungry.

Sunday morning Bill and Zach walked the area searching for a store that might sell a USB charging cable for a DS Lite. None to be had nearby, but one of the hotel staff suggested we try the MBK Center. She said anything can be found there. The charging cable that Zach had brought died last Sunday and the kids have not been able to play their DS -- not a great inconvenience in Chiang Mai where there were lots of activities to keep us busy. But not having working DS(es) here in Bangkok when staying in a hotel without a television was becoming an annoyance both to the kids and to Bill and me. So off to MBK Center we went.

Finally, we had found the Bangkok that Bill and I had expected. This shopping center had everything one might wish for. We found the electronics on the 4th floor level and soon located a suitable charging cable. There must have been 1,000 shops in this large complex selling all kinds of things. Then we chanced upon a vendor selling DVDs and purchased 6 of those. We had to wait 30 minutes while the DVDs were burned, so we found a Burger King and enjoyed a fatty American lunch -- so good when you rarely eat it. We have seen Whoppers of all sizes at Burger Kings across the world. These Whoppers were really huge! Or maybe we have just forgotten how big Whoppers are back in the States and have gotten accustomed to the much smaller burgers found in Malaysia and Singapore. We returned and collected the DVDs and browsed some more.

We came upon a tiny kiosk shop called Upgrade. It so very much reminded me of the computer shop that I owned with our 2 sons for 5 years called Upgrade HQ. This guy was upgrading X-Boxes and Wii and other such game machines. Quite the little operation he had going. We talked a few minutes and soon found ourselves at his second kiosk where he sold DS games and did DS repairs. The screen on Zach's DS was very scratched. It did not have the protective film cover over it and the actual screen was badly damaged. The shop owner said he could replace the screen, apply the protective films and sell Zach another charger cable for 1,000 baht. Done deal!! Zach was willing to spend $33 of his own money to have his DS made like new again and have a new charger. The owner also said he could sell a R-4 module and 40 games for 900 baht. That really got Zach's and BeBe's attention. Both of them jumped at the chance to buy 40 games for about $30.

They started selecting which games they wanted. Neither one of them could decide on more than 25 games. So they each ended up buying the R-4 module including 25 games instead of the 40 games the shop owner offered to them for the same price. He gave them each a URL and a USB R-4 card reader so they can download games now instead of having to buy games from stores in Houston. And that was a bonus. No charge.

So, we did the real American thing today in Bangkok. We went to a mall; ate massive amounts of fatty burgers and fries; and spent money on things that we had no intention of buying when we left home. What could be more American than that?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai

Our last day in Chiang Mai we enjoyed an all-day cooking class at Photos from our day of cooking class should be posted online for the next 3 months on the school's website, but were not yet posted as of the time I wrote this blog entry. Here is a video from the cooking school website that shows how the school used to look.

The garden is now filled with organic herbs and vegetables. There are 10 cooking stations in the cooking area on the side of the home and another 10 cooking stations in the cooking area in the front of the home. One section is utilized for all-day classes and the other section is utilized for half-day classes. This is a very nice cooking school.

This was the first time that Asia Scenic Thai Cooking had students as young as BeBe and Zach. The owner/instructor said she had never before had an 8 year old in class. BeBe will celebrate her 9th birthday on August 12 and Zachary will celebrate his 10th birthday on October 5. Both have parents who are very good cooks and both children are familiar with helping in the kitchen, so I figured they would enjoy taking a real cooking class. I think both Zachary and Elisabeth did great in their first adult cooking class. Our class consisted of 10 people -- 3 from Germany, 2 from Holland, 1 from Ireland, and the 4 of us from Texas. Each person had to cook 7 dishes, choosing from 3 choices of each category.

BeBe chose to cook Spring Rolls, Pad Thai (shown eating her Pad Thai in photo on right), Sweet & Sour Chicken, Tom Sab soup, Deep Fried Bananas, Penang curry paste from scratch, and finally Penang curry. Each person could cook each dish to the spiciness level of their choice. Elisabeth does not eat anything spicy (bet that will change as she ages considering her Mexican and Texan heritage), so she chose not to add any hot spices to any of the dishes she cooked. But even without adding any hot peppers, the Penang curry was still too spicy for her. My curry was at least 5 shades darker red than her pale pink curry and I thoroughly enjoyed mine, but that pale pink curry was still too hot for her. She did very well in her first cooking efforts. Her spring rolls turned out perfectly. Her favorite dishes were the fried bananas and the Pad Thai, in that order. She cooked everything shown in this photo, plus the Pad Thai she ate earlier. We were very proud of her. She did well in this adult-level cooking class.

Zach chose to cook Glass Noodle Salad, Pad Thai, Sweet & Sour Chicken, Tom Sab soup, Deep Fried Bananas, Penang curry paste and Penang curry. Zach also did very well in his first cooking efforts. Actually this wasn't the first time he has cooked. At home he cooks scrambled eggs, French toast and pancakes, as well as quesadillas and a few other simple dishes. On the boat with me he has made pancakes from scratch and also baked a cake from scratch. He enjoys cooking very much -- just like his dad. His favorite dishes were the Pad Thai and the fried bananas, in that order.

Bill surprised me by willingly participating in this cooking class. He really had no interest whatsoever in doing this, but was a good sport and came along. I wanted him to supervise one child while I concentrated on the other, and switch back and forth as needed during the day. When we cooked with the hot woks BeBe stood at the cooking station on my right and Zach on my left, with Bill on the other side of Zach. And it still required full-time concentration to oversee both kids while simultaneously cooking our own dishes. Bill chose to cook Spring Rolls, Pad Thai, Cashewnut with Chicken, Tom Sab soup, Deep Fried Bananas, Penang curry paste and Penang curry. His favorite dishes were Pad Thai and the Sweet & Sour Chicken that BeBe cooked, in that order.

I chose to cook Green Papaya Salad, Pad Thai, Sweet & Sour Chicken, Tom Sab soup, Deep Fried Bananas, Penang curry paste and Penang curry. My favorite dishes were the Penang curry (mine was redder and spicier than anyone else's) and the Pad Thai, in that order; with the Deep Fried Bananas a very close tie with the Pad Thai. Pad Thai has been my favorite dish since arriving in Thailand, but the version that we cooked lacked the spicy creamy sauce that often accompanies Pad Thai to pour on top. Also, I prefer the vegetarian version of Pad Thai rather than the chicken version that we cooked. I forgot to mention that every full-day or longer cooking school in Chiang Mai includes a visit to the local market. It was the typical markets that we are accustomed to seeing and shopping in this part of the world. As I could take no photos of myself at the cooking school, here are a few photos from our market trip with the cooking school. As you can see from the photo of the many baskets of rice for sale, rice is taken very seriously here. There are many different kinds and qualities of each variety.

The only disappointment to Zachary and me is that the school did not offer the option of learning how to cook the vegetarian Thai soup that we both have enjoyed so much. A friend who had visited Chiang Mai last month had given me the brochure of the cooking school she attended and that school offered the vegetarian soup. But our hotel did not want to book that school for us and pushed us instead to book the Asia Scenic Thai Cooking school. The hotel insisted that Asia Scenic would also offer that vegetarian soup, but that turned out not to be true. Oh well, maybe we can find the recipe somewhere online.

Although we were not afforded an opportunity to learn how to cook the vegetarian Thai soup, we would heartily recommend the Asia Scenic Thai Cooking school all-day class. We thoroughly enjoyed the day. I learned a few tips that will help me prepare more diverse Asian meals on our boat. I have a feeling that Pad Thai might become a favorite meal on our boat. Here is a video of a woman cooking Pad Thai at Asia Scenic; she makes a number of mistakes and does not cook this as we were instructed, but you get the general idea.! This video was not taken during our class. You can see the open-air cooking area of the school that is quite nice. Much better than being enclosed in a hot kitchen.

We left the school promptly at 15:00. The school van delivered us back to The Small Hotel where we collected our luggage and hailed a pick-up taxi to the train depot. Our train to Bangkok was scheduled to depart at 16:30. We arrived early enough to snack on popsicles to cool off before being the first people to board the train car and get settled into our adjoining "First Class" sleeping compartments. Taking an all-day cooking class on your final day in Chiang Mai is a good idea if you are taking the overnight train down to Bangkok.

We each gave today a thumbs up!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Mae Taeng Elephant Camp -- not so good

We are so very grateful to Lisa for telling us about Mae Sa Elephant Camp. And we are very glad we visited Mae Sa first. Otherwise we would have thought that all the elephant camps were like the one we visited today. And that would be a bad thing.

Today we took the Safari Tour with Journey Tours. The tour guide was very nice and a good guide. The van was comfortable and fairly new. They were prompt and followed the schedule pretty well. But we did not enjoy much about this tour. We visited Mae Sa on our own with the private taxi for about half the cost of the Safari Tour; and Mae Sa was infinitely better.

It was more than an hour's drive from Chiang Mai to the Mae Taeng Elephant Camp. The guide said we were only about 100 miles from the border with Burma (Myanmar). He also said the Mae Taeng Elephant Camp was connected in some manner with the brother of the King of Thailand. I'm not sure exactly what the connection is -- whether he provides money for the camp or if the tourists visiting the camp provide money to him.

First we rode small bamboo rafts down the river for an hour. The jungle and hillside scenery was pretty. We saw elephants bathing in the river and one small crocodile on the bank. Zachary poled the raft for awhile and BeBe also had the opportunity to try it. Thank goodness there was a man on the back who could steer the raft back to the middle when needed. There were 2 low wooden benches where we sat for this river ride. This turned out to be the best part of the tour.

The van met us when we finished the rafting and brought us back to the elephant camp. Then we spent several minutes touching the smaller elephants and interacting with their mahouts. Then we all walked down to the river bank and the elephants walked into the river for their daily baths. Each one laid down in the water and was scrubbed by his or her trainer. They appeared to really enjoy playing in the water. This bath is their treat before they perform in a show.

The show was very, very disappointing to us after seeing the show at Mae Sa. There were very few elephants to perform in this show. The elephants were not as well trained and did not appear to be as content with their lives in this camp. It was a big disappointment.

Only one elephant had been trained to paint. Her name was Suda. The painting she did was not as impressive as the ones we had seen painted by the elephants at the Mae Sa Elephant Camp, although to us any painting done by an elephant is unique because we had no idea that elephants could be trained for such a thing. For an elephant to be able to select colors and to arrange those colors with brush strokes into a recognizable pattern or form is absolutely amazing. The gift shop at the Mae Taeng camp had many paintings supposedly done by Suda, but those were far more elaborate than the painting she did during this show. I have strong doubts as to the authenticity of those gift shop paintings. One of the reasons we only bought paintings that we had watched being painted by the elephants at the Mae Sa camp a few days earlier.

Now it was time for the obligatory elephant ride. Neither Bill nor I wanted to ride an elephant; but this was a longer ride and part of the tour, so we didn't really have much of an option not to participate. We did not want the kids to ride off unattended on an elephant into the jungle for an hour. I rode with BeBe and Bill rode with Zachary. Our elephant was in front of Bill and Zach's elephant on the walk.

The troubles started almost immediately. There was a slope from the boarding platform down to the river that we were to cross. The slope did not seem that steep, but as the elephant descended both BeBe and I started slipping forward until our feet were on the elephant's back instead of on the foot brace of the passenger seat. I felt like I was going to slip right through and down onto the elephant's back. Consider this one grandmother who was not a happy camper.

Once the elephant reached the shallow river, we were able to straighten ourselves back correctly in the passenger seat. Going up the steeper opposite bank wasn't a problem. The mahout turned and told us several times to move either right or left in the seat; obviously attempting to get the weight properly distributed. The seat continued to slip throughout our entire ride.

We progressed down that side of the river for a distance, then angled back across the river to the original side. The mahout was having difficulty controlling our elephant. The elephant would stop and refuse to move (like a darn mule) and he would try to go off the beaten path. He just did not want to follow all the other elephants on this long walk. We made it up the opposite side of the river on a steeper bank.

Here there were a couple of vendor stands selling bananas and sugar cane sections to feed the elephants, but I did not have any money to buy any. Maybe the lack of treats at this point of the walk is what pissed off our elephant, because from that point onward he was very contrary and refused to obey the mahout. The other elephants continued on the walk and our elephant walked away down near a building and stood in the shade......while BeBe and I wondered what the heck was going on.

And that is when we received our first shower of elephant snot.

The elephant would gather liquid in its trunk and then turn its head to the right and put its trunk up toward us and blow hard.......covering us with a shower of what could only be described as elephant snot. This happened over and over again during the remainder of our walk.

Near the end of the walk the path diverged. All the other elephants had walked down the left path with the gradual slope. Our elephant instead decided to take the short cut down the steep slope to the right. This was not pleasant. In fact, it was downright scary and very uncomfortable. Our passenger seat slid forward until we were up against the back of the mahout. BeBe and I felt like we were sliding right over the head of the elephant and we were holding onto the seat for dear life. BeBe started crying because she was so frightened and was certain she was going to die falling off an elephant and getting stepped on by the big elephant -- like the baby elephant a few years ago at the Houston zoo that was killed when its mother stepped on it. We did eventually reach the bottom of the steep slope and then it was only a short walk down a paved road to the platform where we were allowed to get off this damn animal.

By this time we had been sprayed by elephant snot at least 20 times and our clothes were wet with it. Oh, I enjoyed this elephant ride ever so much!

Bill said our elephant had blood showing in several spots where our mahout had tried to control the elephant with his hook. This whole ordeal was very upsetting. Elisabeth said she liked the Mae Sa Elephant Camp much better because the elephants there were better trained and weren't tortured like they were in this Mae Taeng camp. I agreed with her. The elephants at Mae Sa seemed much happier. Part of this might be because each elephant was assigned a particular mahout. In the Mae Taeng camp it appeared that the mahouts worked with different elephants more often and not so much with their dedicated animal. This can't be good for the elephants because they can't bond with their trainer as well. At any rate, I was so glad to be finished with elephants at this camp.

Next was our ox-cart ride back to the main camp. Funny thing is that our oxen looked exactly like Brahma steers......or Bremmers as they are affectionately known in Texas. These looked nothing like any oxen we had seen before. All of the ox carts looked like they were being pulled by either Brahma steers or Brahma heifers. While riding the ox-cart back to the main camp we passed an old elephant that was chained beneath a thatch roof. The ankle of that poor animal was deeply scarred and indented by the chain ring. There is no excuse for treatment like that.

After a leisurely buffet lunch our next stop was an orchid farm. Gorgeous flowers. We didn't take any photos inside the orchid farm, but here is a shot of the small orchids they pinned onto our shirts as we entered.

We returned to the hotel for another swim in the pink pool. I will never understand why anyone thought a pink swimming pool was a good design idea; blues, greens, white or even black looks so much better. Then it was back to Miguel's for another Mexican dinner. We were going to eat Mexican food until we were burned out since there is none available in Malaysia.