Saturday, April 21, 2012

Bangkok Safari World : An Ultimate Zoo Experience

                 After five days of long bus rides, visiting temples, haggling at markets, a day trip to the beach and playing charades with the Thai people, we were not done yet. On the sixth day of our Thailand- Cambodia vacation we had to get up early again for a trip to a zoo,the Bangkok Safari World. The main reason why I wanted to visit Bangkok Safari World was to see giraffes as they have dozens of them.It's my childhood dream to see a giraffe, In fact, when I first set foot in Manila one of the first places I visited was the Manila Zoo. Sadly, I was told that the giraffe at the Manila Zoo had died.         

Opening of the Elephant Show
                   Bangkok Safari World is also highly recommended because of its Open Safari Tour which makes visitors feel like they're in a real African Safari. We took the skytrain and alighted at the Victory monument station. We hurriedly looked for the bus going to Bangkok Safari World (the zoo is located at 99 Panyaintra Road, Samwatawantok, Klongsamwa, Bangkok ).I had written down the address on my notebook and I kept on shoving it to the faces of the locals whenever we asked for directions. We already asked several people and no one knew which bus could take us to the zoo. It seemed like they had not heard about Bangkok Safari World . It was perplexing that none of the locals we asked had heard of the place when it's a hit among foreigners . Though I was aware that most Thai doesn't speak English I didn't realize that they could not read our writing either. That explained the look on their faces accompanied with the head -scratching -thing every time I would show them the address on my notebook (sometimes to the point of almost slapping them with it out of utter frustration that they could not understand it).
                  Finally it rang a bell to someone and he pointed us to the right bus.The bus doesn't actually stop at the gate of the zoo, we had to take a taxi from the bus stop to the zoo entrance. It was like a 10 minute ride through a nice and exclusive neighborhood. After buying our zoo pass which cost 830 baht each. They gave us a zoo map and the schedule of the shows they had. We're late for the Orangutan show as it was already 11am so we briefly stopped at the dolphin show instead. We stayed only for a few minutes  since we had already seen the same type of show in Hong Kong Ocean Park.

                 Our next stop was the elephant show. It took a while for us to find the venue of the elephant show because the zoo was really huge and there were so many trees and man- made bodies of water within the sprawling property that it felt like we're in a forest. When we found the venue of the elephant show which was another amphiteather , we settled at the top. Most of the spectators was comprised of grade school students .Shortly after we could already hear the kids screaming as the elephants paraded in front of us. Some were carrying hoola hoops with their trunk and the less flirty ones carried poom pooms.They all looked cute.The cheers and screams from the audience got louder when the elephants lined up and raised their forelimbs and put them on the back of their fellow performer in front of them, but that's it,they stopped there and just held that position for a few seconds. I thought they were gonna do something to multiply.The beast also showcased other talents like painting while holding the paintbrush with their trunk.             

                Finally it was time for me to meet the giraffes so we proceeded to the Safari terrace. In that section we were face to face with the giraffes literally as we were on a platform as tall as them. Tourists get to feed them bananas for a fee of 40 baht. We didn't waste money , we just helped the kids who were scared to feed the bananas to the giraffes. Those creatures have very long tongue and if you get too close you run the risk of getting licked. I overheard a tourist who commented that the giraffe she fed was "la chica mal" or a bad girl, I wondered how she'd figured that out. 

Feeding the giraffes costs 40 baht, talking to them is free

                  There was also another section of the zoo called the White World as its residents were albino creatures. We saw white deers, white tigers and a polar bear?I felt sorry for the bear because the zoo environment in a tropical country like Thailand is the exact opposite of the conditions that they are used to. 

polar bear in the tropics?

                  Next stop was the main attraction of the zoo , the Open Safari tour. It's like being in a mini safari where visitors can see the animals roaming freely. I call it "mini" because even though its a vast area, it's still nothing compared to a real African Safari. When the tour started around 2 pm we found ourselves on a bus among Indian tourists , good thing I wasn't suffering from a "last song syndrome" like what happened in Hong Kong Ocean Park where I'd burst into singing Jai Ho every five minutes while queing up for the rides with Indian tourists.We drove slowly as we passed by the animals. There were few camels,rhinos,zebras,buffaloos ,black asian bears, a lot of deers , my favorite giraffes,long legged birds and peacocks .What about the lions and the tigers? They were actually occupying a separate section of the open safari which is like a maximum security section of a prison. The lions and tigers had to be separated from everyone else for obvious reasons.

                We were about to leave the zoo when we saw a woman mounted on top of an elephant. Yehey ! We found out that they offer quick elephant rides for 40 baht only. It was a great deal because it only cost 40baht compared to the  fee of riding an elephant in Siem Reap which costs $15. The trainer instructed the elephant to kneel down so I could climb on its back. I was amazed at how quickly it obeyed the trainer. When I was on top I held on to the rope tied around the elephants neck preparing for the acrobatic maneuvers it was about to do. My favorite part was when it raised its forelimbs and just stood on its hindlegs just like what horses would do when in battles. While mounted on the elephant I caressed its hairy skin then I noticed the bleeding wound on its neck.WTF! No wonder they were so obedient. Anna told me that the trainer would hit the elephant with a gad or a stick with pointed metallic object on one end everytime he commanded them to do something.Poor creature. I felt guilty afterwards.There I was having a blast while the elephant was suffering.
40 baht -elephant ride with a twist
                I'm aware that a lot of people are against putting animals in a zoo. They say it's a cruel environment. I agree that its not right that you pluck them out from their natural environment and separate them from their brood or parents but I believe that zoos can also help educate people about the nature of different animals  especially those that we don't see in our locality. I ,personally went there to learn more about the animals I only read about from my text books.Seeing them may help us understand their behavior and their needs which could be useful in conservation and protection of these animals.But  why did I  let myself  enjoy watching the whole show when I knew that the stars of the show  were suffering. Was I really learning or just trying to justify this cruelty towards animals? 

siesta time for the tigers

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Koh Samet : White Sand Beach Near Bangkok

                   We had heard of nice beaches in Thailand so we wanted to visit one during our trip. Our problem was time constraint. The famous beaches are far from Bangkok and we only allotted a daytrip for the beach. Phuket and its neighboring islands were out of the question as it’s impossible to do a day trip to those islands being 8-12 hours away by bus or car from Bangkok and even flight schedules if one chooses to travel by air won’t allow a day trip either. One day, when I checked my facebook account, I came across photos of a really nice white-sand -beach in the island of Koh samet.I researched about it online so I could find out how to get to Koh Samet from Bangkok( a lot of islands and beaches that popped up had the word "Koh" on their names. It turned out that “Koh” means island in Thai).
               Koh Samet is an island in Rayong Province, Thailand. In 1981 it was declared as a National Park. Being a National Park means it’s protected so there’s limited development as far as the construction of resorts and commercial establishments is concerned. The transit point for every visitor to Koh Samet is Ban Phe, Rayong province. The cheapest way to get to Ban Phe from Bangkok is by bus from the Eastern Bus terminal also known as Ekemai Bus Station . Once in Ban Phe visitors can take a boat to the island of Koh Samet.
          We left  at around 5:00 AM. I forgot the bus number that takes tourists from Khao San area to Ekemai. Since we’re trying to make it to the first trip to Ban Phe we hailed a cab instead. There was a miscommunication as the driver didn’t use the meter when I told him to use it. Instead he charged us 140baht which I haggled down to 120 baht. The bus ticket to Ban Phe cost 157 baht (round trip)which came with bottled water and a cupcake. Sweet .The bus didn’t leave until 6:30 AM. It was the only bus that we took during our stay in Thailand that didn’t leave on time as buses in Thailand were usually on the dot. It was kind’a sad on the bus because there were  only 5 of us including the driver and the conductor. The sights were again familiar but what’s interesting was the fact that we were already an hour away from Bangkok and were still driving through an elevated highway.


                   It took three and a half hours to reach Ban Phe. From the Bus Terminal we just crossed the street to get to the port. The ticket for the boat ride to Koh Samet cost  100 baht . After buying our tickets we ate at a restaurant and waited for two hours because the boat wouldn’t leave until there were at least ten passengers. We left around twelve noon and the sunny weather turned gloomy and then it rained. The boat ride took 25 minutes. I somehow lost interest because of the weather. When we arrived at the pier in Koh Samet we hopped into a pick up truck that took us to Hat Sai Kaew beach (the ride was included in  the 100  baht that we paid for the boat ride) . Hat Sai Kaew beach is the closest beach to Nadan pier and its also the most popular . It was still drizzling when the driver dropped us off. We walked through a small alley lined with souvenir shops then a white sand beach and blue water welcomed us. We were surprised. It was indeed beautiful. Fine white sand was something that I was looking for. It’s the quality of the sand that I use to gauge the quality of a beach since I spend my time just strolling (because poor me can’t swim).

                   Even with an overcast skies the sand still looked pristinely white and it was also very fine that I couldn’t help playing with it by burying my hands . There are also restaurants in the area and a lot of affordable guesthouses.While strolling on the beach I noticed that it was littered with plastic and foil wrappers .It’s a shame that the people there didn’t mind throwing their garbage everywhere. If we had more time I would have picked up all those plastic bottles and wrappers.             


                   Despite what I saw I continued walking and I enjoyed the feeling of the powdery sand under my feet.The good thing about the island is that it's not crowded so it is perfect for those who need some quiet place to relax while on vacation.