We were up at 6 this morning after about 2 hours sleep; we made the mistake of falling asleep yesterday when we checked in and woke up 5 hours later. Anyway, we'd found a tour company highly rated on tripadvisor - tong tours. We had a driver and a guide for the day along with a nice big car. So our first time at breakfast was a hurried affair which was a shame as the options were endless, from super fresh fruit to pancakes and maple syrup, from sushi to Thai spicy noodles. Breakfast is going to get a good seeing to tomorrow when we have more time.
Our guide, Kung (pronounced Kune), was waiting in the foyer for us; a bright, bubbly and very tiny Thai lady. She started by teaching us 2 Thai phrases, that she would remind us of throughout the day, hello and please. She then introduced us to Mr Vit who would be driving us and off we went.
We had asked to go to the Tiger Temple, the floating market, the bridge over the river Kwai and the elephant bath but said we were happy to see anything else of interest. As a starting extra, we went to the train market. Here market traders, unable to afford the 4000 baht rent for a shop, pay only 20 Baht (about 45p) for a space on the train tracks. The train comes through once every few hours and so the traders have to quickly remove the produce away from the lines. Geoff got some great video of the whole process, very impressive. The market was an attack on the senses, selling food to locals who come each day to ensure fresh produce. There were mounds of vegetables, herbs, chillies and fruit. Catfish, still alive swam in buckets, piles of dried and fresh frogs (which was a favourite of our guide who had them with French fries!) chickens were separated by part; nothing wasted here. The people were so very friendly especially when we practised our 2 new phrases.
Once the train had gone, we moved on to the floating market. We hired a paddle boat for the 3 of us and set sail. The water was crammed with boats filled with both tourists and traders. Thai women cooked spicy noodles or more complicated dishes in these little boats, very impressive. We bought sticky rice with mango and coconut milk, the mango was the best we've ever had and we had fresh coconut milk out of the shell (20 baht bargain). We sailed around the market then into quieter water where the fruit farms grew. Fruit swung overhead - giant jackfruit, papaya and bananas to name a few.
Before we moved on to the Tiger Temple, we went to a wood carving factory. Incredible intricate work was exhibited, all very expensive but then they were using teak.
The tiger temple started life when an injured boar was found by the Buddhist monks. They nursed it back to health so it was able to leave. 2 weeks later it returned with it 20 strong family. Then tiger cubs which had been abandoned or their mothers killed were brought to the temple. It now has some 1000 wild boar, water buffalo, deer, peacocks which all roam freely and more than 20 indo-china tigers all being looked after by volunteers and Monks.
The tigers were sleepy when we arrived and were lying in the sun. We were allowed to be photographed with them and pay their backs. We then got to walk them on a lead into their canyon. Ever seen a tiger mark it's territory? It must shoot a good 3 metres. Thankfully we didn't get hit. They say in Thailand it is lucky but I'm not convinced. Our guide knew everyone and got us to the front of every queue, got us more time with the tigers and got us more pictures. She then sorted it for us to have pictures with several tiger cubs (which most tourists were paying for). While we waited we watched a Thai women getting chased by water buffalo.
The next stop was lunch, a cute little roadside restaurant full of locals that Kung said was 5 star. The food was amazing. We had spring rolls and green curry with chicken and rice. The curry was beautiful and has helped me with perfecting the recipe at home. There wasn't a scrap left and all for the princely sum of 210 baht (less than a fiver).
Now onto the elephant bath, something I had been excited about for some months. We were going to meet Full Moon, a female elephant based on the bank of the River Kwai. We changed into our swimming gear and clambered onto the bareback of this lovely beast. She walked down to the river and then she filled her trunk with water and shot it all over us, this continued until we were soaked, then she went into deeper water and tried to shake us off her, which she was successful on both attempts. We then had a giant water fight (which we lost) gave her a bit of a scrub and finally she picked us up with her trunk before we rode back up to her base. While we were waiting to go a South African family asked who we were touring with as they noticed we had a long time with the elephants. They weren't very happy as there guide sat in the truck and ours followed us down to the water, taking pictures all the time. You get what you pay for I guess. Before driving to our last stop we saw some monkeys with a huge pair of nuts in the road so we stopped and took pictures.
Final stop, the bridge over the River Kwai, a beautiful part of the river with a haunting past.
Some of the roads on the way back were flooded which made it more interesting.
What an fabulous experience in an amazing country; today we certainly seized the day. We are now tucked up in bed looking out over the Bangkok skyline, night night. Geoff and Rach