Sunday, January 17, 2010

Snakes on a Prue.

We walked out of our bum massage feeling like new men, which was a little awkward as Prue is actually a woman, either way, we were walking with a new zest. We headed to the Chiang Mai night market, deciding to save our zesty walking for later, we jumped in a Tuk-Tuk. Arriving at the Night Market we were overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place, it is massive. The markets stretch along four blocks and are two blocks deep even going inside some of the buildings. At the same time we where overwhelmed by another sensation, hunger.

As sad as it is to admit it, but to our defence there had been a long time between drinks for us and the global food machine. There were absolutely none of them anywhere in Vietnam, and if they were in Cambodia or Laos, we never saw them or ate at them. Nearly two months since indulging at Khao Sahn Rd, we let ourselves give in to the dark side of cravings, walked straight past the market food vendors and their plethora of exotic culinary delights and pushed through the golden arch fronted double glass doors into McComfort Food.

Despite the massive size of the markets, every other stall sells the ‘same same’ crap as the one six doors down. Most of it is the generic mass produced stuff you get in all of the markets throughout Asia with the occasional stall selling local arts and crafts. Although having said that, every time we visit the markets we always find a shipping container worth of stuff we wish we could buy, we curse our backpacks which seem to grow fatter each time we repack them despite our inability to buy anything. So we promise again to return another day, possibly towing a trailer, then buy ourselves clothing and write it off as necessary equipment.

The markets closing around us we head back to Julies, exhausted after a massive day. Prue slipped off to bed to read and I curled up on a cushion in the communal area with a beer or two and channelled some blog energy from a few weeks past (We were only about two weeks behind at that point). Distracted by a Thai movie on television, I was bemused to see that Thai censorship laws involved blurring a gun when it was pointed in a man’s face and more humorously blurring the underpants of a fat teenage boy getting changed from his jeans into shorts. Julie’s has an honesty system beer fridge where you take a beer and write it in the book for your room. After the beer fridge was locked for the night, I went to bed.

In the morning we suffered another bad Julie’s breakfast, picked up our CD of off-road tour photos, dropped our bags for storage and headed out. First stop an internet café to dump the CD photos onto USB as our Netbook doesn’t have a CD drive, making the CD no more than a coaster to us. Walking out of the internet café we found a cheap Tuk-Tuk who would take us to a place called ‘Tiger Kingdom’ where we could do a bit more Tiger hugging, something I think we both thought was pretty awesome the first time.

Tiger Kingdom was a lot more upper class and fancy than the Tiger Temple we had been to earlier in our trip. Tiger Kingdom served gourmet food, had polished wood and pastel coloured furnishings and the Tiger’s roamed around in nicely manicured enclosures, the large ones in a central viewing area set a level below in the middle of the dinning areas. Given the décor it was no surprise to find that Tiger Kingdom was pricy, we were already counting pennies nearing the edge of our budget and with four days left. We considered leaving, then decided against it, stuff it we want to hug Tigers!

Incidentally the Tigers were actually quite cheap, but we had become so used to paying the local prices that while at the time it seemed expensive, in reality it was only about $15 each for us to hug some form of Tiger. Looking back now, after being in Europe for more than three weeks, I wish I still considered $15 expensive. Prue choose the hug-a-cub option, I chose to hug the big bastards. The cubs were super cute, as a non paying customer I had to stand outside and watch Prue petting and playing with the little cubs, of course when I say “little” I’m talking about something the size of a Labrador, a Labrador with razor sharp teeth and talons for claws. Cute, yes. Dangerous, definitely.

My tigers were the ones in the middle enclosure surrounded by the dining area. On the way there Prue was stalked by one of the big cats who followed her right around its enclosure watching her with creepy menace in it’s eyes. At my enclosure Prue went back to the dining area to get a photographic vantage point and I was led by a very large local man into the enclosure where I sat and patted two tigers, while one of them growled and stirred, making the large local guy move to place himself between the Tiger and me as quick as if he’d dropped a doughnut. Then I moved over near a small pool where another Tiger was jumping around chasing a giant cat-toy on a stick splashing water all over us, most of it went on the large local guy, but I guess he had a lot more surface area to wet.

Outside of the Tiger-Kingdom we thought about going up the road to the Snake-Palace or the Monkey-Castle (not their real names) but we were running out of time as our train to Bangkok was due to leave at 4pm and it was nearly 2pm. Heading to the Tuk-Tuk I spied a PR man from the Snake-Palace who had a small basket with a couple of vipers sitting on top of it. I had already tried on a pair of vipers earlier in the day while standing outside having a cigarette. Prue however, I had not seen holding a live snake, not ever.

As it so happens, there is a good reason for this, Prue is genuinely shit-scared of snakes, as was evident in the inability for the Snake man and I to convince Prue to hold a snake. Eventually the Snake Man distracted Prue with a snake in one hand and swiftly coiled the other snake around her arm. The range of facial expressions from Prue were absolutely priceless, one photo I took captures a still image of the essence of Prue’s thoughts, from “Oh my god! Get it off” to “Aaargh it is slimy” then “Hey this is kinda cool…no wait IT’S MOVING!!!”. It was the first time Prue had ever held a snake, I wonder if it was also the last. Not if I have a say in it.

We found our Tuk-Tuk man waiting patiently in the car park, and headed back to town. Back at Julie’s Guest House we paid our driver and asked him to wait awhile. When we returned half an hour later he was gone, but we conned another Tuk-Tuk driver by lowering our original quote to see if he’d honour it, he grudgingly accepted and we were whisked through the traffic to arrive at the station with about ten minutes to spare.

The overnight sleeper train was nothing like the ones we had in Vietnam. Instead of individual cabins with four bunks, we found that the sleeping pods were not yet assembled, instead large berths of spacious front and back facing chairs lined the edged of the length of the train, almost like a normal train, despite the frame work of ladders and storage shelves in the aisles. Prue and I both had top bunks so sat on either side of the train, but no one sat opposite so we were able to spread out and swap seats. Given that the bottom bunks were booked out when we bought our tickets we figured more people would climb aboard further down the line.

The train was pretty nice, we were offered a menu to choose dinner and drinks, then when the food was on its way, the stewards made tables appear out of thin air (they were actually under the seats) then after a reasonable dinner they took them away, I wanted to keep my table, but was only able to stall for as long as it took to set up the bunks of the neighbouring berths. Like an Autobot the seats slid together and a pod dropped from the ceiling to reveal two sets of bunks, which were hastily and professionally assembled and then made.

In our top bunks Prue and I played humorous games of peek-a-boo over the tops of our privacy curtains while we relaxed and read. Eventually late in the night a couple of locals boarded the train and settled in the bunks below us. I made a mental note not to kick them in the head when I went to the toilet or for a cigarette. You can smoke between the carriages or in the toilets of trains in South East Asia. In Vietnam although the third class trains were non-smoking, most people still smoked in their seats. After dragging myself away from the book I was reading, I went to sleep, and actually slept quite comfortably.

Meanwhile the train powered on towards Bangkok, each kilometre closing the loop, completing our circle.