Unlike the short elephant ride we did bareback in Vietnam which was a bit painful on the nether regions (certainly for a guy!), this one involved decent seats and was perfectly comfortable. Boarding the elephant from a ramp was pretty easy too. The ride is smooth until steep downhill sections when you go down in a series of lurches which has you hanging on tightly!
The comfort of a decent seat!
Fantastic view from high in the forest
Trying to pick my pocket for goodies!
We had a short trip in a cart pulled by a water buffalo. My goodness, they are seriously big and the size of their horns defies belief. This one was a big old softie but I'd hate to meet one that was ticked off!
A seriously big animal
Rubber tree tapping
Thailand still seems to have huge rubber tree plantations whereas when we were in Malaysia, the planting of Palm Oil forests seemed endemic. I have no idea of the planting of palm oil vs. rubber in terms of long-term economics but palm oil plantations are quite poor for supporting biodiversity under the canopy. No magic bullet, that's for sure.
After yet another humid day of activity, it was a perfect end to go for a buffet dinner cruise on Chalong Bay as the sun began to set - sheer magic!
Our boat at the wharf
Cruising past a tropical island
Sunset over the mainland - Big Buddha on the highest hill
Next day, it was another day of great activity in the shape of ATV riding and we were collected from the hotel and taken to a forest area on the east coast where it was all due to take place. We knew that there would be big mud holes and streams as well as forest trails so a change of clothes was prudently packed. Like all of the activities we'd been on so far, the Thais deserve every accolade for their timing and organisation, without it being overdone. On arriving at the ATV base, we were plied with cold drinks to prevent dehydration and given a comprehensive run-down on riding the ATV's. This was followed by an easy circuit of the base camp to let people get used to them. The ATV's were 400cc 4 strokes so there was the potential to cause some grief if not handled with a bit of respect. Two of the riders looked downright incompetent and seemed to be having trouble co-ordinating the lever-operated throttle and brakes, so they had guides on the pillion to watch over them. Was still wary of going anywhere near them though!
ATV Central, although only about 10 people on our trip
Forced smile before setting off.
Arty shot of Jennie - she's clearly not impressed!
The terrain through the forest was fantastic, with steep up and downhill grades, mud holes, streams, fast forest tracks and even in sand and sea through the mangroves! Both Jennie and I had no problems with the terrain as we'd ridden racing 2 stroke ATV's in NZ's south island a few years ago (Jennie had actually given me a complete riding lesson on one part of that day!) but some of the other riders were finding it a bit tough. One of the riders kept following me too closely and actually ran into the back on one downhill grade, fortunately with no damage. I feel a bit guilty now, but solved the problem by deliberately banging open the throttle at the next mud hole, getting wheelspin and dumping several kilos of exceedingly sloppy mud over the driver. He kept his distance after that!
A bow wave of mud and water
Half way through the day, we looped back to base for a lunch of fresh tropical fruit and more liquids to keep up energy levels and hydration. Jennie's right thumb had nearly seized up due to the throttle adjustment on her ATV so I suggested that she double up with me for the second half of the ride. Some of the mud holes were deep and the tyres got a bit floaty so the extra weight would help although you'll understand that I was exceedingly careful in the phrasing of this to avoid a swift kick where it hurts most.
The second half of the day was equally huge fun although the driving standards of some of the people hadn't shown much improvement. On one tricky section, we heard a scream from behind followed by a glancing blow and the sound of foliage being rent asunder. When we stopped and looked round, there was an ATV half-buried in a bush with the rider totally inside it and the guide/instructor completely in the open on the pillion giving a broad grin and a wink. It was clear that the rider had got badly out of shape and had panicked, so the instructor simply reached forward, grabbed the bars and steered them into the bush. What a hoot!!
Hmmmm.... can we get through that?
Yours truly among the mangroves and sea
We had yet another fantastic day, we were completely knackered and slept pretty darned well that night.
Final episode to come.......