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Published: February 21st 2007
hardly the Thai paradise you've seen in the pictures
After our brief journey to Cambodia it was time to meet up with the monkey project - at last! In the 1st instance this meant not going to the woods...but going to the head office of the organisation that runs the project (Eco Explorer) which is, bizarrely, in Pattaya.
Patttaya is just east of Bangkok and is a tourist haven, teeming with expats. The skyline is dominated by high rise hotels and brightlights, the beach is crowded with sun loungers like the Costa Del Sol and the nightlife.....is, err, of the neon light, go-go bar kind. Yeah, it's the sex tourist haven of Thailand. But on the outskirts of town, attached to an elephant camp is a set of appartments called Green Jomtien Studios, which houses the office of Eco Explorer. That's where we headed.
We were dropped in town by the bus, thankfully in daylight hours and wandered around with our bags in the sun, passing such eloquently named establishments as "Shagger's Bar", "Shagwell's Apartments" and "Beavers", until we found a taxi that could take us to our destination. We were dropped outside the attached elephant camp and what can only be described as complete confusion, ensued.
at the elephant mahout volunteer project. Pictured are Ao who manages the elephant mahout project, Sarah a volunteer, Mr Tong one of the mahouts, Boa the head mahout, Joanne another volunteer and Mr Pon, manager of the elephant camp.
A gaggle of non-English speakers approached us at the gate and, fearing we were going to be forced to have a touristy elephant ride, we explained we were here to see Ahnon - our contact at Eco Explorer. They seemed to understand...but then pointed us towards a field where elephants were lumbering around and began shouting "Inside! Inside!!". As far as we could work out there was no "inside" It was a field and some trees. As we wandered around aimlessly much arm waving and laughing followed. Eventually they made us sit down and have a drink and told us to wait. All the time we didn't know what was going on. At last a mahout, who had been riding an elephant, picked up one of our bags and led us through the trees to Green Jomtien Studios (clearly the "inside" everyone was talking about) where a smiling Thai guy was waiting for us. This the Ahnon we'd been corresponding with since last summer.
Welcome to Eco Explorer
Eco Explorer is one of these eco-friendly, eco-tourism companies that tries to do the right thing for the environment and the local people. Although it runs tours around Thailand with
After we got our jabs in Bangkok we went to the snake show at the hospital. They use the snakes to produce antivenom and do a display about poisonous snakes in Thailand, their care and how to milk them etc. Here they are displaying King Cobras. The presenter was saying how all of the snake handlers had been bitten at least twice. One guy had had his finger bitten off and was proudly showing us his hand. They must be mad.
wildlife guides etc for a profit, some of it's projects are non-profit - the dusky langur project (our project) being one (have a look at www.ecoexplorerthailand.com). Ahnon, the guy who runs these things is basically passionate about nature and animals and local culture. The langur project, it turns out, is his baby. He's fascinated with biology and knows so much about Thai wildlife, but isn't technically a biologist - hence he was happy to have us offer our services. Though admittedly, what I know about monkey conservation you could write on a postage stamp...
Anyway, the head office of Eco Explorer, is, as I said attached to an elephant camp. Although, technically, the elephant camp is a separate business, providing rides for tourists, it is linked with Eco Explorer as the company runs an elephant mahout project. Basically, volunteers can come and learn to work with elephants just like a real mahout. They feed them, clean them and ride them under the instruction of one of several Thai mahouts over the course of one to several weeks. When we arrived at Eco Explorer office, 2 new mahout girls were coming to the end of their training - it was their last day on the project after a week. Sarah and Joanne were set to leave the project the following day, so as Ahnon explained, we had to have a party. He showed us a brief video about the langurs we would soon be visiting and gave us more info about the project...then broke out the cans of Beer Chang and we began "unwinding".
We met everyone who works there during the course of the 1st evening. Mrs. Noi runs the office and, as it turns out, was who often e-mailed us when Ahnon wasn't around. We caught up with her just before she left for the day. Then there's Ao, Ahnon's younger brother and Lam, the resident chef.
Pineapple Full Moon Party
SO there we all were, having drinks and getting to know everyone, when suddenly, a pick-up truck pulls up outside. "oh no." cries Ahnon, "I forgot about the pineapples"
Apparently, every few days a bunch of people at the studios have to head off into the countryside to pick pineapples for the elephants and for some reason, on the particular day, it was happening at night. Mr. Tong, one of the mahouts was in the driving seat and me, Kate, Ahnon, Sarah, Joanne and Ao all clamboured into the back, each with a carrier bag of beer. Ahnon decided we'd make a party of the whole event, so off we shot into the night in the rear of a pick-up truck, swigging beer (I dunno, the things you do when you're away from home!).
We spent the next hour or so in a surprising light field (because of the full moon) chucking pineapples and pineapples stalks into the back of the pick-up. Eventually, when it was as fully loaded as possible, we all climbed on top of the pile and roared off back to Green Jomtien - after a brief stop-off at the offy. When back there Mr. Tong proceeded to try and teach us Thai - all of which we forgot by morning. But I'm sure more lessons are in the pipeline...
Prak kram and pig's heads
After a heavy night getting to know everyone we rose early in the morning as Sarah and Joanne had to take part in a mahout ceremony called Prak Kram (I think...). Basically this ceremony's carried out before they start their training and at the end, to keep them safe from the elephants. It involves offerings to spirits which include, bizarrely, whisky, 99 baht, some flowers, a chicken and a pigs head. Yeah, a freshly amputated pigs head (see pictures!). They don't have to amputate it, I think it comes from the butchers - but still a little gory.
Once the ceremony was completed, I fed Ahnon's elephant some vitamin laced bananas and Ahnon disappeared off to his room to nurse a sore head. It was Saturday after all and as he pointed out "Okay, okay, free day!!".
Girls, girls girls!!!
The next few days in Pattaya were basically spent finding out more about the dusky langur project with a plan to visit later that week. We discussed with Ahnon what we could do and began to lay plans. We did, however, also have a few excursions into Pattaya town. Leaving the idyllic calm of the elephant camp we wandered into the city - during the day as we figured this was safer. It's an odd place. On one hand it's a Benidorm style seaside resort, bussling with tourist families at big hotels on package holidays. On the other hand...turn down another street and you're surrounded by seedy bars, go go dancing and guesthouses that rent out rooms by the hour. Each bar has several barrel-chested middle-aged western men sat with even more tiny young Thai women. The word "sleazy" kinda sums it up - although I'm sure it's paradise to a lot of people....
Aside from that, we did find a few places we could have a quiet drink in without the hassle of anyone offering you "physical" services, so it's not without charm. However, probably the oddest sight wasn't the girly bars but the boy bars. There's this one place with a load of young Thai guys stood outside in vest and hot pants kinda resembling a school gym kit, beckoning you in. We walked past and they all enthusiastically invited us in for a drink cos there was a special offer on. We politely declined and walked on.......
Bangkok Again - Some unwelcome co-inhabitants
We had to head to Bangkok later in the week to get our 1st round of rabies and Japanese encephalitis injections, so we arranged to meet Ahnon there a few days later on his way to the village where the monkey project is based.
We spent a couple of days in Bangkok where we successfully procured a Thai mobile phone and got ourself jabbed with vaccines. We also managed to stay in a guesthouse that was crawling with bed bugs. I'm ashamed of myself for not noticing the 1st night when Kate picked up some mysterious bites. Then, on the second day, while sitting about in the afternoon on the bed...we watched a bed bug full of blood wandering across the bed sheet. We reported this to the management and they immediately gave us the key to another room. Obviously, using my Rentokil expertise, before we moved our stuff in, I inspected the place....and found more bugs. I took them to the reception desk and told them we'd just like to check out and not pay. They smiled, apologised and then asked me how to get rid of them. I mumbled something about using something other than flykiller, then we inspected all of our clothes and moved on quickly to a nicer room.
We dunno if we're now carriers of the little swines, but we haven't noticed any bites since....
Road trip with Ahnon
After the bed bug incident we hooked up with Ahnon in a bar on Kho San Road. He'd managed to wangle the company mini bus for the weekend, plus the company driver. We also picked up one of his mates, and fellow Eco-Explorer helper - Kop. We left 1st thing the next morning for a loooong drive to the teeny tiny fishing village of Baan Khung Thanod, to stay at dusky langur HQ and visit some monkeys....
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