Published: September 16th 2006September 16th 2006
Telling others about my Mum's visit, I'm sometimes made to feel slightly embarrassed about the 'thrifty backpacker' style in which I showed her around a little of Thailand. This never lasts long though, because I know for a fact that's the way she likes to travel as well. Not just for the money it saves but more importantly because you gain a richer experience and it just feels like more of an adventure! For example, I recently recommended one of my favourite Bangkok guesthouses, (just a street away from busy Khao San), to a couple of friends my own age. They checked it out on arriving but turned their noses up and looked elsewhere. My mum loved the place and we stayed a few nights there. =)
Not that I was particularly surprised. After all, we're talking about a very well-travelled lady here, who's lived in Northern Ireland, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, New Zealand, Australia and Botswana during an eventful and active life. Someone who spent 17 challenging years as a missionary in Africa, who's white-water rafted down the Zambezi and recently jumped out of an airplane at 12,000 feet, and generally just lived life to the full wherever she was.
Both before and during her visit, I never once considered taking her to a 'luxury' hotel or giving in to any of the other comfortable ways in which one can be insulated from fully experiencing a foreign place. She's just not that sort of Mum! Rangsit
In what could have been a highly unfortunate coincidence, Mum's flight arrived on the night of the World Cup Final. =P Getting the cheapest flight possible had meant a lengthy stop-over en route and she'd been up for almost 24 hours before our happy reunion at the arrival gate. Thankfully, she still looked as alert and energetic as always, and jumped at my tentative suggestion of watching the Final at the big screens set up at Future Park, (the huge shopping centre near Rangsit). But first we took a bit of time out, to have a coffee at an airport cafe and catch up a bit. I keep in close contact with my family when I travel, (lots of emails and the occasional phone call), so I was surprised at just how much catching up we had to do - so much had happened in the last seven months since we'd seen each
We ended up spending a couple of days in Rangsit, while Mum adjusted to the stifling heat and oppressive humidity, (it was winter back home in Perth, so quite a change!). This was great in a way, as Mum got to experience the lazy life of a Rangsit student firsthand - sleeping in a bit, spending some time with a few of my friends, selecting which delicious and inexpensive Thai restaurant to eat out at each meal, rambling around the air-conditioned comfort of Future Park, buying a yellow 'We Love the King' shirt, trying fruits she'd never seen or heard of before, going to the local cinema, and so on. It was good to be able to share my life here with her for a few days. Bangkok
The next part of our travels involved a relocation to a guesthouse on Soi Rambutri, close to (but slightly removed from) the craziness of Khao San Road. Many of the older travellers we met along the way couldn't believe I'd take my Mum to that area. =P I never gave it a second thought though, knowing she'd love the place. And she did - bargaining for gifts in the
Khao San markets, (and she bought lots
- "Hmmm, now I don't know if I have something for the Phys Ed teachers at school yet... or the lady down at Dewsons... or her brother-in-law's second cousin..." - you get the idea), trying a different Thai dish each night, getting a Thai massage every now and then, and just soaking up the energising backpacker atmosphere.
As for sight-seeing, we didn't actually do that much in Bangkok. Naturally we made the requisite visit to the impressive Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew
, as well as admiring the enormous reclining Buddha at Wat Pho
, and catching the river ferry across to the much older Wat Arun
. Apart from that, we wandered through the full range of shopping options, from the hectic Khao San markets to the airy exclusiveness of Siam Paragon. As I expected, Mum preferred the atmosphere in the markets, (although neither of us could find any fault with Siam's icy air-conditioning!). Koh Chang
We had initially considered trying to cram in both a trip north to Chiang Mai and then some island-hopping down south, but abandoned this plan after losing a few days in Rangsit. Instead, we decided on
Koh Chang - a relatively undeveloped island not too far from Bangkok, with beautiful beaches and a lush jungle interior. I'd visited it earlier in the year with Joel and Glenn, (First impressions of Thailand
), and we'd all loved it.
Unfortunately the weather was grey & wet almost the whole time, so we didn't get any quality beach-time at all. However, another of the reasons we'd chosen Koh Chang was for the chance to visit the Ban Kwan Elephant Camp, and this probably ended up being the highlight of the whole trip! As we arrived there one morning, two of the elephants were being led down to the river to be washed. Along with the rest of the day's 'tour group' (about a dozen other farangs
), we followed them down to the river. It was great just to stand and watch as the mahouts swam out and then clambered up onto them, scrubbing away with coarse brushes at their thick, wrinkled hides. But then they invited us to join them as well! I'd come semi-prepared, wearing easy-dry shorts, but unfortunately Mum was wearing long trousers as it was quite a cool morning. Of course, she didn't let that hold her back for
Pretending to cheer wildly watching the World Cup =P (Mum
Emily, Trace, me (with impressive sweat-stain), Leti & Jen
long and soon we were both paddling across the chilly river to the elephants, climbing up onto their backs and trying to help scrub them down. It was obvious how much the elephants enjoyed this part of their day, rumbling contentedly, closing their long-lashed eyes trustingly when we scrubbed the top of their massive heads, rolling gently from side to side in the water.
For about ten minutes, Mum & I swam around them, climbed up onto them, and just enjoyed our uncommon proximity to these mighty but gentle creatures. Surprisingly, the other tourists remained on the riverbank the whole time, looking envious but making no move to join us. When it came time to return to the camp, we clung to our elephant's back as he climbed slowly to his feet, lumbered up the bank, and then ambled unhurriedly home. Riding an elephant, sitting in the usual 'elephant-saddle', is one thing. To ride bareback, after scrubbing the elephant down in a beautiful jungle river, is something else entirely!
The rest of Ban Kwan's 'Elephant Experience' involved a 'normal' elephant ride, (that is, sitting on an uncomfortable saddle on the elephant's back), and then a chance to feed
the elephants bananas once we'd returned. While enjoyable enough, this was nothing compared to our experience of swimming with them, and we both felt so lucky to have been able to do that. Kanchanaburi
Quickly running out of time, we decided to fly home, rather than waste almost a full day on the bus again. For Mum's last full day in Bangkok, we signed up for a Khao San tour of the Kanchanaburi region, (to Bangkok's west). This included visits to a Prisoner of War cemetery, the JEATH (Japan England Australia/America Thailand Holland) War Museum, the famous Bridge over the River Kwai site, riding the Death Railway for a bit, swimming at a waterfall and finally calling in at the 'Tiger Temple' (where you can get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures, albeit in fairly sad conditions).
Visiting the POW cemetery was quite a moving experience, reading the epitaphs on the long rows of tombstones (many Australians buried there), paying our respects at the memorials to the unknown soldiers, and commiserating with some of our fellow visitors who had loved ones buried here. The JEATH War Museum was very interesting as well, with a number of
informative displays and others that were a little strange. In particular, the wording of the some of the labels was unintentionally amusing and simultaneously disturbing. For example, when the Japanese heard Allied bombers were coming to destroy the bridge, they sent hundreds of prisoners out onto it, in a last but futile attempt to prevent the bombing. The inscription about this explains that "the bridge got broken into pieces in a twinkle of the eye" and that "the bodies of prisoners of war lay higgledy-piggledy beneath the bridge"... Slightly jarring choice of words and phrases.
Back in Bangkok, Mum had her final sitting for a Thai silk, tailor-made dress, (an early birthday present from me and my brother Joel). Returning to my little room in Rangsit, Mum packed up (going home with perhaps twice as much as she'd brought: all those presents!) while I checked what I'd missed that week around Rangsit. Next morning, it was time to return to the airport, have another coffee at the same little cafe and spend just a little more time together before Mum's flight. The time had really flown by, with some very memorable experiences as well as lots & lots of
catching up and chatting over meals & coffees, during long bus rides, and so on.
Thanks a lot Mum, hope you enjoyed the time as much as I did!
There are more photos below