With a good night’s sleep under my belt I am ready to put away the frustrations of yesterday and tell the thrilling stories about our time in Pattaya.
Though much of it has been spent relaxing at our hotel (which features 29 styles of rooms, including a boxing-themed room with a boxing ring for a bed, where we pretended to beat each other up; and a space odyssey room, where we watched the movie Alien and felt a part of the doomed mission), we have also managed to enjoy some of the best things about Pattaya.
Koh Kheow Open Zoo
I’ve been hesitant to visit any zoos in Thailand because I don’t even like zoos back in America, as it seems like the animals never have enough room to roam. My thought is, just leave them in their natural habitat if you can’t give them a close resemblance to it.
But Andy really wanted to go to Koh Kheow Open Zoo where he promised me the animals were living lives of luxury. I agreed because, if that was the case, I wanted to see it for my own eyes and give Thailand the chance to ascend in my book of standards. I also felt I owed Andy after the infamous Koh Tao cancellation. And mostly I agreed because he promised me I could drive a golf cart around the premises all day. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to turn the tables and torture Andy with some screwy driving skills of my own. After another harrowing hour-long bike ride to Chon Buri where the zoo is, I was ready to shove him over and take the wheel.
Once we were set up with the golf cart, we began our journey through the zoo.
While most of Thailand’s people probably wouldn’t hesitate to push the country’s animal population off a cliff in one fell swoop, Koh Kheow Open Zoo seems world’s away. The term “open zoo” is exactly what it sounds like– many of the animals are free to simply roam the grounds wherever they please. All of the animals appear robust and healthy. The property is dotted with trees, lush greenery, and there’s hardly a souvenir booth in sight.
Our first encounter was with a pack of deer that was roaming around the front entrance. Across the pathway from the deer, black and white monkeys were swinging uninhibitedly from the trees. These two completely distinctive animals were living perfectly in coexistence. We stopped to feed the deer some of the vegetables we purchased at the ticket counter.
Next we stopped at the hippo den. Common sense surprisingly won out here, so these dangerous guys were kept in a secure pond/garden area inaccessible by humans. Though we could not get close enough to pet them, we were able to walk over a bridge above the pond where the hippos sat in the water, mouths wide open a la Hungry Hungry Hippos, waiting for passersby to throw in corn cobs and green bean stalks. We had a good time playing basketball with them, trying to make every shot clean into their gaping chops. They’d clearly done this before.
I took note of the large area the hippos lived in, complete with both land and water, and enough greenery for a year’s worth of meals.
Just around the corner we came upon a strange animal we had never seen before. Three sloth-bear-Tasmanian devil-looking things sat on a tree branch with a zookeeper sitting a few feet away. We learned this creature was a binturong, more commonly known as the bearcat, and the three were a momma and her two babies. The man asked me if I wanted to hold them and of course I was more than obliged. They were sweet, loving guys who curled up around my body and into the crevices of my neck. The man even showed me how they hang from trees by wrapping the momma’s tail around my arm as if it were a branch and letting her dangle from it. She was heavy, and thus further reinforced the fact that I need to start working out again.
Along the way we saw the most beautiful, exotic birds I never even knew existed. We saw white lions chase each other, and we saw tigers, cheetahs, pumas, and panthers. We stopped to feed giraffes, ostriches (who, if hungry, are quite frightening I might add), elephants, rhinos, and monkeys. At one point a gang of about 100 monkeys came at our golf cart like a menacing street gang. Moms with tiny babies hanging from their underbellies skillfully blocked us at the front while a couple of cagey males stole our bag of vegetables. I had to pull off some adroit driving expertise to escape without running anyone over. When all was said and done we felt lucky that our bag of vegetables was all that was lost to the precarious and hungry gang.
We ended the day with feelings that are hard to come by in this often unforgiving country. We felt like we’d gotten our money’s worth– at 300 baht ($9) per person, the entrance fee was negligible. We felt exhilarated to have seen species that don’t exist on our home continents.
Most of all, we felt proud; proud of Thailand for giving back to the ecological community in such a profound way. All of the animals were healthy and seemed content. Many different species were allowed to coexist within the same enclosures, and it seemed this created a harmony within the zoo that I’d never felt in others. And the environments looked as though they exactly mirrored the natural ones where the animals came from. Not once did I see an animal or cage and go, “Awww, poor thing,” as I usually do when I visit zoos.
Pattaya Elephant Village
One thing Andy and I have been itching to do is ride elephants in Thailand, Thai style, through lush jungles and deep rivers. We haven’t had many chances, except for when we’ve been in super touristy areas where elephant trekking is just another attraction; and that mostly means the elephants are treated extremely poorly. We did not want to pour our money into businesses like these just to accomplish a goal on our list. So we decided that if we didn’t find a place where tourists were scarce and the elephants lived in comfort, we would have to scrap the idea altogether.
Luckily Pattaya offers an elephant-riding experience that fit all of our criteria.
Pattaya Elephant Village is a safe haven where former worker elephants who can no longer serve a utilitarian purpose come to live out the rest of their lives. The only work they do is carry around a few tourists and workers around the quiet estate and surrounding farmland.
We were initially impressed with the looks of the place– we were the only white people in sight and the only noise we could hear was the wind rustling the trees.
Soon we were introduced to our elephant whose Thai name I cannot remember, but she was beautiful and peaceful. She wasn’t emaciated or even rugged-looking. She seemed like a happy elephant. We felt okay climbing onto the saddle.
She took us through rivers and jungles. She stopped along the way to shovel tree branches into her mouth with her long snout, spitting out the ones that had fire ants crawling all over them.
She walked very slowly throughout the countryside, giving us an hour-long ride. We pet her from time to time during the journey, telling her, “Good girl.”
All of the workers at the elephant village seemed to have a deep connection with the elephants. There was no feeling of aggression or hints of ulterior motives lurking around.
It was a place of peace and serenity, a purity that’s hard to find in this country.
Don’t get used to it but, well-played, Thailand. Well-played.
a tongue-gry giraffe! yes I know, I will be skewered for this. worth it.
view from the top
pretty bird, pretty papaya
petting the rhinos
the eye of the elephant
taking Andy down in room 23