Thailand: Adventure Into the Unfamiliar  

Posted by Brock Booher

The view at the top of Tiger Cave Temple

The sound of metal crashing against metal made my heart skip a beat. It was our last night in Thailand and I didn’t want to spend it in some urgent care, or police station, where nobody spoke English. However, I had taken a few risks on this trip and although risk can produce rewards, it can also produce injury, and incur cost.

I like to take a few risks while traveling. I’ve raced horses on the beach, whitewater rafted, rappelled down waterfalls, explored caves, ziplined above the rainforest, jumped off cliffs, boated down the Amazon (the river not the website), scuba dived shipwrecks, and swam with sharks. A bit of adventure gets the heart pumping and makes travel more memorable. Sitting by the pool or on the beach is boring. I like a little more adventure. My trip to Thailand incurred a few risks, but it was packed with once-in-lifetime adventures as well.

At the Grand Palace
When my daughter suggested Thailand for her Senior trip, I must admit that I wasn’t enthusiastic about it. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to travel that far when perfectly acceptable destinations were within a few hours of air travel. What could possibly be worth spending twenty hours in an airplane and crossing the International Date Line? She promised it would be an adventure into the unfamiliar.

From the moment I stepped off the airplane onto the streets of Bangkok, I felt like I was swimming in the unfamiliar. I couldn’t speak the language. I didn’t know much about the culture. I struggled to hire a taxi. The money was strange. I had trouble finding my bearings. I was in deep water of the unfamiliar and all I could do was tread water. The streets of Bangkok enchanted me with the intoxicating smells of street vendors, the melodic sound of the Thai language, and the rhythmic movement of a city in motion. I went for a walk the first night and soaked it all in. I wanted to communicate and my brain instinctively began searching in vain through my rolodex of languages for phrases I could use, but found nothing useful. I was relegated to pointing, smiling, and hoping that I could get my point across. Just finding a place for dinner was an adventure in the unfamiliar.
After a good night’s rest, we embarked on the first thrilling quest—feeding tigers and riding elephants. Growing up on a farm you develop a healthy respect for large animals. You learn that no matter how loyal or docile, large animals have the propensity to injure or kill you at any time. In spite of that learned respect, I found myself bottle-feeding juvenile leopards in a cage. They tugged at the bottle like baby calves I used to feed, but I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen when the bottle was empty. Of course, I found out. I fed them raw meat at the end of a rawhide bone while they sat on my lap. I was relieved to emerge from the cage with all my fingers.

Next we boarded a safari bus with open windows and passed through areas with lions, tigers, and various other wild animals capable of eviscerating a human without breaking a sweat. I felt pretty safe, until I realized that my window was broken and wouldn’t close. When we finally arrived in the herbivore section, our bus was bombarded with giraffes, zebras, and one aggressive ostrich looking for the sliced carrots we had on board. Luckily, when we ran out of carrots they went back to standing in the shade and let us move on.

We topped off the day by riding elephants bareback along the banks of the Kwae Noi River. As we approached the lumbering beasts with bananas, their long trunks greeted us like groping hands. I climbed aboard Mayura, my ride for the day, straddling her neck with her coarse hair poking at my legs and her ears flapping against my hips. The trainer grunted and she sauntered forward to follow the other elephants, but every chance she got she stopped to eat, pulling up small trees and clumps of grass. The trainer dismounted and I sat atop of that great beast feeling completely out of control. I knew no commands. I had no bridle or saddle. I was keenly aware that had she wanted to, Mayura could have yanked me from her back with her trunk and ripped me limb from limb. Instead, she was content to pull saplings out of the ground from their roots and get me soaking wet in the river. I was a helpless passenger in this adventure into the unfamiliar.

The next day we traded our four-legged transportation in for long-tail boats and tuk tuks (open air taxis powered by motorcycles) as we toured the sights of Bangkok. We visited several Buddhist temples as the oppressive heat beat down on us. We followed the masses through the opulent Grand Palace. We weaved in and out of gnarled traffic in the back of a tuk tuk and explored the city from a water taxi on the Chao Praya River before heading to the airport and our flight to Krabi. The mix of unfamiliar sights and sounds kept me off balance and intrigued me the entire time.

Riding in Ao Nang
Our first day in Krabi and Ao Nang began with a little slower pace. Our villas were nestled in the countryside away from all the hustle and bustle of the town. After breakfast we ventured into Ao Nang to stroll along the beach but found ourselves peppered by shop owners hawking their wares. The streets were filled with motorcycles and scooters creating a cacophony of revving two-cycle motors and the air smelled of lingering oily exhaust. Not wanting to be left out of the fun, we rented a couple of scooters for the afternoon and were soon dodging in and out of traffic along the beach on 
the wrong side of the road. By the end of an exhilarating afternoon cruising around on two wheels, I 
was starting to find my bearings, and we decided to rent them again the last few days of the trip.
Britt with Natty

We thought we booked a private boattour across the Straits of Malacca to Phi Phi Island, but soon realized as our flatbed truck-cum-taxi filled up with people, that we were part of a bigger tour. After some heated and somewhat confusing negotiations, we cut the price in half for the tour and were assigned to Boat 21 and lined up on the beach to load up. Our guide, Natty, burst on the scene with great fanfare dressed like a banana with shorts on. His flamboyant delivery of instructions and coquetry kept us entertained as we island hopped our way to Phi Phi Island.

Unfortunately, the tour on Phi Phi Island was overcrowded and didn’t deliver the adventure experience we wanted, until the ride back to Ao Nang. On the way out that morning the water was smooth and the skies were clear, but when we started our return a squall line loomed on the horizon. The seas became rough and the wind whipped at our faces as we headed towards the storm. We were at the mercy of the capable Captain and his First Mate as we ploughed forward into the waves. I was sitting at the back of the boat with the sound of the two outboard motors pounding in my ears as the waves continued to build and crash over the side of the boat on top of me. Each time we crested a wave with the bow of the boat I got soaked in the back. For thirty minutes the warm water of the Indian Ocean pummeled me and soaked me through and through and I laughed a nervous laugh as we headed into the teeth of the afternoon shower. By the time we pulled into port, the rain was coming down in sheets, but we were all laughing at the thrill of the ride.

Monkeys at Tiger Cave Temple
It was foggy and cooler the next morning, but that was perfect weather for the next adventure—climbing 1237 uneven and steep steps to a Buddhist temple atop a limestone mountain. Tiger Cave Temple overlooks Krabi from the North and boasts incredible views of the surrounding geography, but you will pay a price for those views. My daughter wanted to race to the top, so we split off from the rest of the group and kept a grueling pace. We stopped for photos and to catch our breath, but made it to the top in about forty minutes covered in sweat. The breathtaking vistas made the climb worthwhile. I sat and took it all in as everyone else climbed to the top. As I sat enjoying the view, I met people from the Philippines, Malaysia, Germany, France, Canada, and Spain. I guess the desire to climb is universal and the risk was certainly worth the reward.

The last day we rode our scooters back down to the beach and hopped a long tail boat over to Railay Beach. This gorgeous beach boasts white sand with the consistency of brown sugar, clear blue waters, and great kayaking. We kayaked out to the nearby limestone islands and explore the caves carved by the ocean. The lack of waves made for great kayaking, but monotonous beach time. After a few hours we headed back to Ao Nang and toured the area on the scooters enjoying the afternoon sun.

For our last dinner in country, we rode to a restaurant where we could watch the sunset. The view was spectacular, but like almost every other meal ordering food was an adventure in itself. When we finished, we hopped on the scooters in the dark for one more jaunt along the beachfront road. One more chance to take a risk and glean the reward of soaking in the sights and sounds of Thailand.

The sound of metal crashing against metal made my heart skip a beat. My daughter, riding double with her friend, had gotten off balance during her start and crashed into two parked cycles. I pulled over and went running back to the accident. She had banged her ankle in the mash up, and they were both shaken a bit. I picked up the other bikes and examined them. They didn’t appear to have any damage. Her scooter had a broken headlight and damaged fairing. As I examined the rented scooter, a policeman came up and started taking notes. For a moment I regretted taking the risk of riding in a foreign country. I worried that my propensity for adventure might cost me more coin than I anticipated. Maybe I should stay home and watch TV like everybody else. Perhaps taking risks is not the smartest course of action when you are a long way from home and don’t speak the language.

With the help of a local hotel employee (Holiday Inn no less), we got it all sorted out. The other bikes were not damaged. No laws had been broken. Although my daughter and her passenger were shaken a bit, they had suffered only minor bruises. The only problem remaining was the cost of repairing the rented scooter. As my wife and daughter got one last massage, I solicited the help of a local shopkeeper and got an estimate on the repair. In the end the damage came to about $160, a small price to pay for the fun we had.

Yes, I like to take a few risks when I travel, probably too many risks. But the very nature of traveling is risky. We leave the safety of our home to visit places where we don’t understand the language, the culture, the food, and the customs not because we are looking for the familiar. No, we travel because we are looking for an adventure into the unfamiliar. I took a few risks while traveling in Thailand, but the trip certainly was a pleasant adventure into the unfamiliar that I will never forget.

Railay Beach
Rylee on her to Railay Beach