Bumble At Baan Boran
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I met my wife in Chiang Mai 8 years ago. She was a receptionist in a very nice 4-star hotel. And because I was absolutely head over heels in love with her, I returned to Thailand 4 or 5 times that year to be with her. We spent our time traveling throughout
the Kingdom, and I enjoyed taking her to places in Thailand where even she had never been to before. I was in love with her, in love with Thailand, and to this day, I can't remember ever being happier than I was at that time in my life. We
spent glorious days exploring Bangkok, Phuket, Pi Pi Island, Hua Hin, Pattaya, Chiang Mai, and Chiang Rai together.
I was fortunate at that time to have done very well in the market. It was Christmas, the last week of 1999, the technology bubble hadn't burst yet, and I was flush with cash. That, and my desire to spoil the love of my life was the reason we traveled 1st class. I must digress however to say that whether I stayed in a 2-star hotel, 3-star hotel, 4 or 5 star hotel, I have always found the hotels in Thailand to be wonderful in every way. The two exceptions being one hotel in Bangkok which smelled like dead fish when I exited the elevator, and the rug in my room which smelled like ‘Charlie the Tuna’ passing gas. The other hotel, a 5-star masterpiece in Phuket, which had so many loud farangs in it, that the poor Thai staff's attitude was as crass as a New York taxi driver at rush hour. "Do you know where Patong Beach is, or shall I just go fxxk myself?" Neither of these hotels was to my taste. But all the others, (and I've stayed in about a hundred) were wonderful, including the hotel in Chiang Rai, which is where my story begins.
A couple of days before New Years, we flew from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. I had taken this flight before, when a fellow golfer and I flew up to Santiburi golf course in Chiang Rai, for a day of golf. At that time, it blew my mind to find out that a one-way ticket cost only 500 baht. In other words, a 30 minute flight cost less than a cross-town cab fare in New York. Amazing Thailand.
Anyway, before I could tell the cabbie, I mean pilot, to take the Lincoln Tunnel, instead of the George Washington Bridge, we had already arrived in Chiang Rai. We jumped into a taxi, and I told the pilot, I mean the cabbie to take us to the Meridian Baan Boran Hotel. These days it goes by another name, the Anantara Resort & Spa Golden Triangle. If you look at various websites you can see a picture of it. I remember at that time, that it looked like a Burmese Castle, or something right out of a Harry Potter movie. The picture was pretty impressive, and when we arrived, I was not disappointed.
We checked in. The staff was very polite. The room was gorgeous with its teak floors and a glass window between the bathroom and main room so you could see your beautiful teeruk taking a shower, while you ravaged your suitcase looking for the Viagra. Everything about this hotel was terrific.
The next day, we ventured along a path outside the hotel, and were pleasantly surprised to see, what looked like a Thai midget standing next to an enormous elephant. The two of them were smiling. On the elephant was a wooden box, a two-seater. And of course, we wanted to take a ride. I don't remember how much it cost, but it wasn't a lot. We climbed a wooden ladder which was nailed to a tree, to a flimsy wooden floor which acted as a platform to board the elephant. I was dizzy when I reached the top, but that was nothing compared to mounting the four legged monster beneath me. If you've never had a chance to ride an elephant, I must say that it is an experience that you’ll never forget. Taking away the fact that this animal smells to high hell, you really can't appreciate the magnitude of such a great animal until you're actually on top of the thing. You feel its strength, its powerful legs, and its massive girth as it waddles from side to side. I can truly understand why this animal is the national symbol of Thailand, and why all Thais revere this creature.
So, with the two of us seated, on what seemed like a flight simulator on a water bed, and the midget straddled around the elephant's neck, knees behind the ears, and a 10-inch chop stick prodding Dumbo's wings, we set off downward on this tropical path rich with exotic foliage on both sides. The path was about 10 feet wide. On the left was a wall of dirt, with rocks, and various plant life. On the right was a cliff, which descended to middle earth, and the sight of it gave me pause to reflect on my life, the sanctity of all life, and chaos theory.
So as we strolled down this path, I noticed that the elephant was getting closer and closer to the edge of the Queen of Spain's earth before Columbus. And, that the elephant had a plan. He stopped, and with his muscle-bound trunk, he grabbed a bamboo tree. I was then told that elephants like to eat bamboo, and not to worry, because he just wanted a little snack. But, it didn't look like he was munching on a bag of Doritos, because the prehistoric vacuum cleaner looked to be uprooting the entire tree. We're not talk’in a little bonsai tree, we're talk’in REDWOOD! I could feel his immense power as he grabbed the tree trunk and wrestled it towards his starving mouth. Either this creature hadn't been fed in a month, or this was just his way of turning a one-way street into a superhighway. And to make matters worse, I noticed that his forward feet which were about the size of two frizzbees, were dangerously dangling about half-way over the cliff. I told my future wife to explain to the midget that it might be a good idea to use that 10-inch chop stick, or his equestrian calf muscles, to direct the animal away from what seemed to be my untimely death. And I was certain that if a centipede, underneath the frizzbee suddenly mutated to 101 legs, that the weight of its new prosthetic limb would unbalance this four-legged house, and tip it over the edge. I unhappily watched as the midget tried to wrestle the 2-story condo away from the cliff, even going so far as to coax it with some gentle Thai phrases, but as time went by, or as time stood still, I thought of how a New York taxi driver might deal with this situation. Machine guns aside, I thought a good healthy scream might be appropriate. And just before I let loose with a samurai blast from the bowels of my being, the elephant did mosey a little to the left, and away from the now naked bamboo tree.
I then thanked the midget for the ride, and nonchalantly threw in a thanks for saving my life, and asked to go back to the hotel. On the way back, the elephant did stop for a moment, this time to nibble on the bamboo leaves on the wall to the right. And just then, a light bulb went off in my head giving me the idea that the elephant must be right handed.
That night, we made plans to go down the Mekong River on a long tailed boat just to go to a casino, which was in Burma, now Myanmar. It wasn't far away, and the trip took minutes. But what fascinated me was upon docking, we were directed by several solders holding Uzis, to the passport office where we were told that we would be slaves working in a poppy field in the jungle for the rest of our lives. And if we were good and lost a lot of money in the casino we would get our passports back, and be ferried back to the part of the world where the heroin was sold. That being the case, we were driven by armored vehicle to the hotel/casino. The casino was not up to Las Vegas standards, but it did look like a large, ornate Asian hotel, with high ceilings, fancy chandeliers, slot machines, blackjack tables, a nice restaurant, and what appeared to be an elegant lobby, until we saw a rat the size of greyhound running towards a giant Christmas tree displayed in the center of the room. We didn't stay long, because I wanted to have a healthy fulfilling life, and I wanted to get back to my hotel room to continue my avocation as a bathroom voyeur.
The next night, New Year's Eve, we signed up for the gala buffet at the hotel. It cost 4000 baht per person for the buffet, so at 8000 baht for the two of us, you can imagine what the dinner was like. It was spectacular! Tables and chairs were arranged around the swimming pool, and the food was displayed as if Picasso was a chef. Piles of Phuket lobster, giant prawns, muscles, crabs, clams, a giant pig on a roaster, lamb, roast beef, fruit, cheeses from all over the world, salads of every texture displayed, and to this day, I have never, ever, in any corner of the earth, had a better meal. Sometime during the meal, the waiter came, and I ordered a diet coke.
We retired early that evening, sometime around ten o'clock. But I do remember hearing fireworks around midnight, even though I was blissfully asleep. It was New Years Eve, right? Around 2 o'clock in the morning, I got a call from the front desk. In a state of semi-consciousness, I answered the phone, and a gentleman at the front desk told me that I had to come down now to the reception desk to pay 20 baht for the diet coke that I had for dinner. My eyes rolled backwards into my skull, and remembering that I paid 8000 baht for the dinner, 4000 baht per night for the room for 3 nights, and not to mention that it WAS 2 O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING!, I quietly whispered to this soon to be strangled gentleman that I would pay in the morning, and not to worry because I was good for the 20 baht. I did feel that I got my point across, because he hung up, and didn't call me again until 3 O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING! At which point my eyes rolled backwards out of my skull, and I just lost it. I asked to speak to the night manager, who was probably standing behind this poor soul threatening to take the 20 baht out of his salary if he didn't collect before sunrise. And with the skills I developed as a garbage collector at the United Nations, I calmed both of them down, and swore on the King's purple coronation sash that I wouldn't depart the hotel until I paid in full.
At breakfast the next morning I just drank water.
Only in Thailand.
That is quite outrageous. While it might have made the imbeciles mighty uncomfortable, I would have gone as high as I could have gone within hotel management and told them what I thought of that. Totally totally unacceptable.