A Birthday to Remember
Thanks to everyone for the happy birthday wishes! It was indeed a very happy one! Lydia and I decided to rent a motorcycle for the day *gasp!* much to our mothers' delight I'm sure. Although, I'm not sure you could actually pass it off as a motorcycle by American standards. Its 150cc's of power never got us going faster than 50mph. But boy was it fun! The first night we got it, it was a little scary due to some, shall we say, environmental factors. Not only had neither of us ever driven a motorcycle, we didn't have a Thai license, are still used to driving on the right side of the road, it was dark, raining, and Lydia (who was driving) had a helmet that would occasionally slip over her eyes because it was too big. But we made it home and the morning brought blue skies and a dry road. We got the hang of it without too much of a struggle and really enjoyed the independence it gave us! We rented it for a day for about $5 and only had to fill it up with two or three dollars of gas for many kilometers of driving (that's right, we use metric here... just like everywhere else in the world).
Anyway, enough about the motorcycle. My birthday was awesome! We drove about 15 kilos North of Chiang Mai to a little place called Mae Rim. We stopped first at the Orchid Farm and looked at some beautiful flowers, butterflies, scorpions, spiders, and a stray dog. Next, we hopped back on the bike and drove up to the snake farm! We got there a few minutes early and they had a little area we could walk around in, so we decided to peruse. We encountered all sorts of snakes including a king cobra, crocodile, Siamese cobra, spitting cobras, and some exotic birds. After we were done looking at the birds, a man we were talking to asked us if we had seen the big snake eating the other snake. Much to my delight, the king cobra we had seen just a few minutes earlier was devouring the other snake in his cage whole (I've got some good video to prove it)! It was a sight to see for certain. Afterwards they had a snake show where the "snake man" (he's actually just a regular man with none or very little snake powers) danced around cobras, pythons, and Asian water snakes. The best part was when they introduced the "jumping snake" that could supposively jump up to 6 to 9 feet. That got people nervous. The snake man was prodding around in a wooden box trying to get the jumping snake out when yep, you guessed it, it jumped out right into the audience. Turns out the jumping snake was actually only a little yellow rope, but I'm pretty sure a few people needed to visit the laundromat after almost being attacked by the notorious jumping snake rope.
After the snakes, we continued onward to the monkey training center. They train monkeys to help them with their coconut harvesting. They demonstrated how to climb up a tree, twist off a coconut, and drop it--you know, pretty basic monkey skills. My favorite part was actually before the show when we were playing with a monkey on a rope (not a snake rope, just the regular monkey rope) who decided to steal Lydia's bracelet and then continue to mock us by biting it, running around in his cage, and doing flips. He tried to break it, but we got it back before he got a chance. (I actually had to wage a full-scale war against the primates of middle-earth that put 'Planet of the Apes' to shame, but that's a story that will have to wait for another day.)
From monkey school we then visited the Elephant camp and had the chance to watch elephants bathe, play soccer, paint, play darts, and eat a LOT of bananas. They're really incredible animals. We were amazed at how great some of those paintings were. They weren't just splotches of paint, they were grape vines, planting pots, and bouquets of flowers. Very impressive!
Aside from being entertained by Thailand's animals, we also had the chance to experience one of the most beautiful areas of the North. We stopped by at Mae Sah waterfall and hiked up a fairly secluded trail and just enjoyed the beauty of Thailand's jungly limestone mountains. Everything was so lush and green on the hike up - very serene. The trail alternated from wooden steps to moss covered concrete, to dirt roads. Mae sah is not just one waterfall, but actually ten individual waterfalls that run parallel with the trail. The most impressive one was at the top of the trail where we found some locals enjoying the pool underneath the falls. We waded through the pool and cooled off, and walked down another trail on the opposite side of the water.
On the way down, I noticed a large spider web on our left. I'm glad I did, because if I didn't see the web, we wouldn't have noticed the incredibly large spider that inhabited it. In my whole life, I have NEVER seen a spider this big. It spanned out to about the size of my extended hand. I would say it was somewhere between 7-9 inches large. It was bright yellow and on its abdomen was, I kid you not, what appeared to be a black skull. HO HO HO!! Who could ask for a better birthday present than that?! We took a few pictures and on our way out wiggled its web a little bit to see if it was real. It sprung into attack stance and we shrieked and ran away like small little girls. Scary. (The picture I have posted was just one I found on the internet, but it looked pretty similar to this one).
This is not where the adventure ends. But if you'd like to get up and have snack that's fine. I'll wait.
Okay, moving on.
Following the waterfalls, we saddled back up on the motorcyle and made the long trek out to Chiang Mai night safari. Actually, sorry, I need to go use the bathroom. I should have gone during the break. It'll just take a second, hold on...
Okay I'm back. Sorry about that. Where was I? Oh yes, the night safari. In the world, there are only three "safaris" like this one. One in China (I think), one in Singapore, and this one in Thailand. It hasn't been open very long, but boy was it cool! It is split into three zones. The first zone it kind of like a zoo, but the animals have a larger living space, and not all of them are caged (which made me a little nervous... I heard that giant tortoises can actually become quite malicious if provoked). They had some really beautiful exotic animals including those weird oversized rodents that Shawn saw down in Uruguay. My favorite exhibit were the bengal tigers. Quick tangent, when we were out looking at animals it was starting to get dark, and we got hit by a huge monsoon. Not a problem for us, we just pulled out our panchos and continued on, but everyone else ran for cover. So we basically had the place all to ourselves! Anyway, we were at the bengal tiger exhibit, but couldn't see anything. We were standing on a bridge that overlooks a small pool and has a small beach and some rocks and what not. We were looking really carefully for the tigers and were kind of dissapointed that we couldn't see them... then all of the sudden both tigers came roaring out from right under us! They were playing with each other right underneath us in the pool. They had a beautiful coat of white fur and haunting blue eyes. One of them got interested in us and came over and looked at us. We were probably only 6 feet away from it looking at it straight in the eyes. Really cool. Unfortunately, we couldn't take a picture because of the monsoon, but it was awesome.
The other two zones are called Predator Prowl and Savannah... something. Anyway, they take you out on a two car open-wall bus when it gets dark and drive around in the animal's "natural habitat." It reminded me a lot of Jurassic park actually. The safari has nearly 400 acres of land for the animals. They are each given a chunk of that land to just be animals. When the safari bus gets in one of the animals' zones, they stop and pop on the spotlight and try and find them. They had animals from all over the world. We saw cheetahs, lions, tigers, bears (oh my), giraffes, elephants, gazelles, water buffaloes, vultures, deer, and many other exotic animals.
When the tour got done, we navigated our way back to our hotel and crashed (not literally Mom, don't worry).
I know at this point it's really offically the end of my birthday, but the next day was equally great. I won't include all of the details right now, because I think my wrists are starting to convulse, but here's the brief version:
We went to Lampang for chuch and I had the chance to see a lot of the great members I had the privelege to work with and teach when I was a greenie here. It made me so happy to see that the once investigators I had taught and baptized were not only coming to church, but were strong active members very much involved in the church. We had lunch at the old Branch President's (Prod) house and visited with him and his family. We also visited with the family of the current branch president (Suphat & Naphom), and gladly ate the brownies they gave us (haven't had good chocolate in a week). We went back up to Chiang Mai later that night and had the chance to visit Sister Imelda and Sister Pawn, the two members I was able to see baptized when I was in Lampang. Imelda baked me a chocolate cake that was endorsed by Oprah herself! She gave me few candles, sung happy birthday, and we had a great time catching up and talking about life and the Gospel. Imelda bore her testimony to us about how the gospel had changed her life and that had it not been when for the message that we brought to her family five years ago, he family wouldn't be together today. Today they love each other more than ever and even have a goal to go to the temple.
It won't be a birthday I forget anytime soon.
As far as the rest of the trip goes, we decided to change our plans a bit. We are going to go to the South today and will spend the week down in the city of Krapi, just east of Phuket. We're excited to hit the beaches and slow things down for a few days. I'll keep you all posted. Hopefully I can get some more pictures up again sometime soon.