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Thailand holiday adventure

by Judith Geppert

August started off in much the same way as any other month in 2005. But with the exception, this month I was booked to give a talk at a Travel Expo for people with disabilities. Here I was to give a thirty-minute rundown on my many sporting activities and how I manage traveling in my wheelchair within Australia and overseas.

After the talk I was approached by an employee from Thai Tourism, who handed me a brochure on Thailand and told me to email Tom, an Englishman who operates a tour company in Thailand called 'Adventure Holidays Thailand'. Two days later I did and this is when my life changed.

Tom along with his wife Malee, who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis (MS) have lived in Thailand for many years and traveled extensively throughout Thailand surveying locations for their suitability as destinations for the disabled traveler. Tom has made it company policy to employ as many people with disabilities as possible; firmly believing in giving everyone an equal opportunity at success regardless of their disability.

After several emails and a phone call, I knew this tour company was for me. It also has the same belief as I do - Nothing Is Impossible.

So, I went ahead and booked an eighteen-day tour which included, three meals a day, 4 - 5 star hotels/resorts accommodation, an English speaking guide and a wheelchair accessible van with a driver.

Traveling the streets of Bangkok

Let me say that footpaths and buildings in Thailand are not wheelchair accessible and most of the time I had to drive on the roads, which was very scary but I did get use to it. The weather temperature was between 35 - 42 degrees each day I was there.

Below is a short list of just a few activities I took part in:

Thailand itinery

I left Sydney on October 28th for Bangkok.

Wat Phrae Kaew Grand Palace

Judith outside the Bangkok Temple

In Bangkok I visited the Wat Phrae Kaew Grand Palace, Wat Pho and the Emerald Buddha. This enclosure housing the huge ornate temples is where the Thai royalty worshiped. The Emerald Buddha, taken by the Thais from Laos is housed here and there are also several museums here as well. I had to be carried into the inner sanctum to view the 'Emerald Buddha', just 40cm high the buddha has been hand carved out of one solid piece of jade. It has a set of clothes made out of gold cloth, representing each season. (These are changed periodically).

Chao Phraya River cruise

Evening dinner was a buffet dinner river cruise, on board the 'Horizon Cruise II'. This cruise was up the Chao Phraya River where I saw Bangkok by night. We passed many historic buildings and monuments including the Grand Palace and the Temple of Dawn. I boarded the cruise by driving my electric wheelchair up and down a ramp, which was placed very tentively over the steps, enabling me to negotiate them (thought I would end up in the Chao Phraya River).

Visited the Chatuchak Weekend Market.

This Market is pretty much the undisputed king of markets. The scale of it is pretty unbelievable - it covers an area of 70 rai (35 acres), contains more than 15,000 shops and stalls, and has over 200,000 visitors each day. The range of products on sale is extensive, and includes household accessories, handicrafts, religious artifacts, art, antiques, live animals (which unfortunately are frequently caged in cruel conditions), books, music, clothes, food, plants and flowers etc … It is an extremely disorientating place with many narrow alleys and trying to drive a wheelchair, to get around can prove very frustrating. But I did manage to get around and spent about four hours shopping.

Tuk Tuk

Chiang Mai Tuk Tuk drivers

From the market I took a 'Tuk-Tuk' - motorised rickshaw, back to the hotel. The 'Tuk-Tuk' is so named because of the sound of their engine and are popular for their novelty value. They are occasionally faster than taxis in heavy traffic as they can weave in and out. 'Tuk-Tuk' drivers, like taxi drivers mostly come from the rural northeast of Thailand and don't have to undergo any training (some will not even have passed a driving test). The 'Tuk-Tuk' I was in ended up at the wrong hotel. Never-the-less I had great fun!

Museum of Imagery

On the way to Kanchanaburi 150 kilometres west of Bangkok, I visited the Museum of Imagery. This is the equivalent to Madame Tussaud's. These breath-taking human figures with various characteristics and replicas of important people are displayed in many sections such as The Great Buddhist Monks, Former Kings of the Chakri Dynasty, and One Side of Thai Life.

Tiger Temple at Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua

Patting a wild tiger

The Tiger Temple is located about 40 kilometres from Kanchanaburi. The Tiger Temple is a rescue centre for wild animals and the home of wild tigers, wild pigs, deer, antelopes, water buffalos, apes and a hand full other animals. The tigers are taken out from their cage from 2.00 pm to 4.00 pm and visitors can touch them. The monks have a few tips for when you are in close proximity with the tigers; Do not make loud noises, do not wear bright colors or perfume and most importantly, never turn your back on a tiger! Here I was carried out to and sat on a rock, by tiger volunteers, then I was able to pat two wild tigers. This was an amazing experience.

River Kwai

At the River Kwai Railway, I went for a two-hour train ride on the 'Death Railway' from Kanchanaburi to Wang Po Station. The train left Kanchanaburi Station chugged over the bridge on the River Kwai en route to Namtok Station. This is the last existing train station of the Thailand-Burma railway in Thailand. Crossing over the world's longest wooden span bridge it snakes through scenic and thrilling natural terrain. Hugging the mountainside at a dizzy height over a river far below. It creped over the World War II rail line laid on creaking wood-trestles. This route from Kanchanaburi to Namtok, along rickety cliffside trellises, gave me an eerie feeling for this railway line where so many POW's lost their lives.

Kaweenchai Elephant Camp

Riding a bamboo raft at the elephant camp in Kanchanaburi

At Namtok Station I was loaded back into the van, went for lunch and then visited the Kaweenchai Elephant Camp. Here I went for an exciting Bamboo Raft ride where the boatman paddled and steered the raft on a thirty-minute journey through lush tropical vegetation and, quite appropriately, large stands of elephant grass, passing by unspoiled mountainous jungle scenery. Then a short trip through an Elephant Village in the back of a truck, and then I was transferred to an elephant for a thirty-minute trek. These elephants are raised by the Karen Hill Tribes for working purposes. When not working, they are available to tourists to ride. The elephant trek went through a village where I saw children playing, women cooking food and men working in the garden.

Namtok Erawan Waterfall

Swimming beneath the Namtok Erawan Waterfall in Kanchanaburi

I trekked up and into the forest at Namtok Erawan Waterfall. The Erawan stream is about 2,000 meters from top to the bottom. It is about 65 km from Kanchanaburi, this 550-square-kilometre National Park is the site of the seven-tiered waterfall, widely regarded as one of Thailand's loveliest cascades. A mountainside forest setting includes dense bamboo groves which support numerous bird species. Here I drove as far as I could in my wheelchair, and then Noi, the driver, carried me up and into the forest. After a one kilometre rough trek we finally reached the waterfall. He then carried me out into the cool clear crystal waters, put my life jacket on and then set me free. Here I floated around in the waterfall and could not believe, where I was and what I was doing - it was an unbelievable experience. After two-hours, Noi carried me back down to where I had left my wheelchair.

Thai Long-Tailed Speedboat trip

At sunset I went for a Thai Long-Tailed Speedboat trip up the River Kwai, to where the Mae Klong River, Kwai Noi River and Hanoi River meet. Along the way I saw the Floating Restaurants setting up for the evening and the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.

Chiang Mai

Back to Bangkok and an international flight to Chiang Mai. My host in Chiang Mai was Claudio Vezzaro, Claudio is a lay missionary from Somma Lombardo (province of Varese, Italy) he has lived in Thailand for many years and currently runs an Italian restaurant named 'I'L Forno Slow Food Restaurant', which gives employment to people with disabilities in Chiang Mai. The kitchen is fitted out with wheelchair height ovens and fridges. He has also built wheelchair accommodation at the rear of the restaurant for his staff and visitors.

Mae Ta Man Elephant Camp

Chiang Mai elephant trek

At the Mae Ta Man Elephant Camp, 52 km to the north of Chiang Mai, I took an Oxcart Ride up into the hills and visited a local hill tribe village. Then perched high in a wooden howdah, I returned to the elephant camp through another village. I had an impressive view of the forest and an unforgettable experience. Here I saw many elephants living as they have for centuries with their handlers, or "Mahouts".

Mae Rim Monkey School

Here I watched monkeys performing tricks, playing basketball, riding tricycles, counting exercises and a demonstration of how monkeys climb trees and retrieve coconuts.

Mae Sai Snake Farm

Judith with the snake handler

This farm not only displays snakes from all over Thailand, but also regularly carries out in depth studies and research concerning snake breeding. Here I watched a Snake Show including a demonstration of how snake venom is extracted from a snake. At the end of the show, I kissed a cobra and had a python placed around my neck.

Mae Sai Bai Orchid and Butterfly Farm

Here there was a large variety of beautiful butterflies raised in a spacious garden and here I sat among them. I also saw many varieties of colorful orchids.

Chiang Mai Zoo

Situated on 531 Rai of verdant forest land at the foothill of Doi Suthep Mountain. I saw the giant pandas, the pair comprises a three year old 160 kilogram male called "Chuang Chuang" and a petite two year old female named "Lin Hui". A contest was held to come up with Thai names for the pandas, with the winning entries being "Tewan" and "Tewee".

San Khampaeng Hot Springs

The San Khampaeng Hot Springs, in Doi Inthanon National Park, is on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. The water comes bubbling out of the ground at a temperature of 89C. There are two geysers spouting a continuous flow of hot water into the air. A swimming pool is fed with the warm water from the geysers. Here I went for a swim and enjoyed the hot springs water with a cooling waterfall. After which I went for walk (one kilometre) to see the local markets and went shopping.

Chiang Mai with the hills tribe people

San Kampaeng Thai handicrafts

I visited San Kampaeng, which is the home of Thailand's Cottage Industry and saw how local handicrafts are made. I visited back street warehouses and had a look at how the local Thai people work.

Chiang Mai Night Bazaar

I went to the famous Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. Here I wandered along the crowded pavements, admiring the beautifully made handicrafts and seeking out bargains on more contemporary consumer goods is the best way to enjoy the market.

From Chiang Mai I then took an international flight back to Bangkok and a two hour drive to Pattaya.

"Walking Street"

This is Pattaya's main tourist street, and is pedestrianised at night and fairly quiet during the day. Most of the activity occurs here at night when the street is a sea of people and neon lights, touts and 'hello girls' from the many GoGo bars try to drag you off the street. There are now fifty GoGo bars alone in "Walking Street" Street vendors, souvenir stalls, tobacco sellers, food and lots of noise.

The 'Alangkarn Show'

This is located with an area of 80 rais. The entire project includes a prototype Hexa Stage Theatre, Cultural Rostrum and a Restaurant. Alangkarn is aiming towards a new concept of presenting the Thai Culture instead of the standard Thai traditional dancing that could easily be founded elsewhere. The unique features are the combination of multi-dimension technique presentation through the use of multi-colored laser show, real surrounds sound system and more. All Thai performances are professionally choreographed. There by making it a modern Thai Multi-Dimension Extravaganza Show called "ALANGKARN". The show comprises different acts, such as: Sun Moon and Planet, Naga stories of Thailand, Thai Buddhist Ceremonies, History of Thailand, Elephant Battle, Khon Mask Dance, Royal Barge Procession and many others. Trapeze artists falling out of the sky and lots of fireworks all professional orchestrated in a marvelous show of Thailand extravaganza.

Jet skiing

Jet skiing at Jomtien Beach, Pattaya

At Jomtien Beach, Pattaya, which is 14 kilometres long, I went jet skiing. I had awesome fun and didn't want to stop, it was something I always wanted to try and now I have. After this I had my hair done in braids on the beach, and lunch at a beachside restaurant.

Theatre

Went to a traditional Thai dance show.

Go-Kart riding

Zooming around the track at Pattaya Kart Speedway

Here I went for a ride in a double-seat kart 100cc four stroke engine on a 450 metre track. Then took my wheelchair out on the track and went for a burn. Had a load of fun!

Sriracha Tiger Zoo

30 minutes from Pattaya, here with natural atmosphere I watch the tigers in the Tiger Playground. Patted camels, deers, wallabies, rabbits, elephants, and ostriches. I had my photo taken with a tiger cub in my arms, cuddling baby alligators and patting a snake. Saw the "Happy Family" tiger, dog and pig live together peacefully and tiger cub's nanny, here the tiger feeds baby pigs with her own milk. I watched a tiger show, crocodile wrestling, pigs racing and saw the "Scorpion Queen", a lady with hundred of poisonous scorpions attached to her clothes.

Pattaya Elephant Camp

This was a one-hour trek on the back of an elephant, in a traditional riding seat, through undeveloped bush, down a river and through the forest, surrounding the Elephant Village. At the end of the trek, we passed a local orchid farm and then onto a silkworm farm for a brief visit, before returning to the Elephant Village by four wheel drive Land Rover. Whilst on this trek I was filmed for promotional purposes and this DVD will be distributed world-wide.

November 15, flight home to Sydney

Judith in Thailand

I cannot speak more highly and with great admiration of Tom, Uh, Noi, Claudio and Gary, because without their compassion, dedication and determination, my holiday was so much more than I could ever imagine.

Already I have booked to go back this year (2006), where I am hoping to travel down to the south of Thailand. There are still many more activities I would like to try.

So do you want to experience what I just have?

Do you want a true holiday with dedicated people in an unbelievable country?

Or if you just want to know more, email me at judithgeppert@hotmail.com

Published: February 2006

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