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Konsai in Pai

Sensing an overrated location became second nature. So many travelers raved about Chiang Mai and its jungle excursions, but we had our doubts. So after plenty of time sorting through what Thailand’s second largest city had to offer, it was abundantly clear that it wasn’t what we were after. Our backpacks loaded, we hit the local bus stop and boarded a minibus, seriously, a miniature bus complete with ridiculously long side mirrors, for Pai. Disembarking in a dusty parking lot, we knew this would be a more authentic experience.

Ash on Pai Street Minibus to Pai

Greg Along RiverThe town is tiny considering one of two main roads converts from pavement to a wobbly wooden footbridge over the meandering Pai River. We felt transformed by this bridge. On the paved side, you are the average tourist in Thailand, on the other a hippie commune cult member. Some youths lounged outside their bamboo huts while others tossed batons into the humid air. Still others gathered near the river sipping potent liquor concoctions from colorful beach buckets (including yours truly). A sense of enchantment permeated from the calmness of the scene. Before being lured into the nonsense altogether, a retreat was sounded for the small shops in town. Nearly every other storefront poured drinks to revelers perched on streetside stools. We watched a competitive game of table tennis underneath corrugated steel between two young Thai boys. The skill level seemed fair, but the competitor on our left had a distinct advantage. You see, his side of the wooden table was both flatter (constructed by horizontal planks of wood) and bigger than the other. When his hit ball struck the edge of a board on the other side, a wicked bounce would send it out of play. It was a landslide victory.

Ping Pong Match Drinking Buckets at Riverside Bar at Sunset

Greg Stands on KonsaiThe main draw cards in Pai are bamboo rafting and elephant riding. The dry season prevented any flotation activities, but Konsai is an all weather vehicle. A pickup ride into the mountains ended at a small home filled with dogs, children, and elephants. Up a rickety staircase then onto the back of the immensely kind Asian elephant, Konsai, his prickly back hair itching our legs. Off into the forest we road, but soon found that the dry season not only reduces water levels, but also depletes the forest of its green hue. Regardless, Ash and I rode high atop the scorched earth as Konsai lumbered to the river where this beast unleashed his fury. Hanuman, our friendly guide, would shout a Thai language instruction and Konsai responded with his best impression of a bull. We were tossed around like ragdolls. After being ejected from Konsai’s back into the muddy water twice, Ash opted for a riverside view instead. With just me on the XXL bull, Hanuman pulled out his dirtiest tricks. My knuckles white grasping the green rope looped around the elephant’s midsection, Konsai began flailing his gray trunk, ears flapping to and fro. I was able to withstand this wrangling, but my undoing was when Hanuman instructed him to sit. Off the back I slid, afraid that Death had arrived in the form of being drowned by an elephant’s rump. This escapade escalated until I glanced an underwater rock and it became evident one misguided dismount could land us back in yet another hospital.

Riding Elephant in Pai Waterlogged

Post Elephant Riding, Puppy Play TimeAnother minibus ride back to Chiang Mai and then a comfortable overnight train to Bangkok, we found ourselves amidst the violent Red Shirt protests. The streets were more or less vacant except for heavily armed soldiers, which made our cab ride swift. Past walls of black tires strewn with bamboo sticks we went as we peered shifting protesters that had barricaded themselves within several city blocks, effectively stifling that particular city section. We made our business downtown fast having prearranged the purchase of Japan Rail Passes. The military presence near the airport was nothing to joke about considering the same group of protesters shut down air travel for eight days in November 2008.

Konsai Tosses Around Like Rag Dolls Greg Attempts Bull Riding on Konsai

Red Shirt Protesters Have Some Armed CompanyThree dynamic months in Southeast Asia had come to a close. Handling tigers, pristine beaches, anti-American museums, living with loving orphans, a moto accident, ancient temples, agile elephants, bus rides from hell, tasty food. The list goes on.

Kon’nichiwa Japan, a proud nation whose culture seemed bulletproof from Western influence.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. A photographer followed us while riding Konsai into the forest and eventually to the river. We were under no obligation to purchase his digital prints and his asking price was ridiculous. Knowing he had already spent his time with us and it would cost next to nothing to transfer the photos to DVD, a swift negotiation followed that satisfied both parties.

  • http://twitter.com/principalvisas Principal Visas

    I love seeing elephants in zoos but I'm kinda afraid to get close with this animal. I was so afraid on it. But as i see and read your escapade with them, I see that you have really enjoyed your time with them.

  • http://followourfootsteps.com/ Greg

    Hello and thanks for reading. Elephants almost look cuddly for a beast that size, but are among the most dangerous animals in the world. So you are rightly afraid of them!

    Cheers,
    Greg & Ash

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