Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Friday, April 03, 2015

20. Phuket, Thailand, Asia

Phuket, Thailand

This was a short visit; we only docked in Phuket at noon and had to be back on board by 5.30 PM. Nevertheless we had an excursion booked through the Cruise Line so we had no worries about missing the ship in case something delayed us in our land travels. The possibility is always there that a car breaks down or something else will delay us and if that happens and you are not on an Oceania sanctioned excursion, you are on your own. The ship will leave without you. It is then up to you to get to the next port to rejoin the ship again. How you do it is up to you. So taking non-Oceanic outings is always a bit of a gamble.

Ganesha, Hindu god with Head of an Elephant, Body of a Man 
god of Wisdom, Knowledge and New Beginnings
The main reason for a Phuket excursion was the promise of an elephant ride. Sure enough, our first stop on the tour was a camp with trained Asian elephants. Our beast of burden was a 20 year old female elephant that was cared for by a young (33 years old) mahout. A father of 2 children, he makes a living directing, feeding, washing and totally taking care of the elephant. No, the elephant does not belong to him; he is just the care taker, the mahout. The elephant listens to him only and his only tools to direct this huge animal seem to be his feet.
Picture of a Picture
This mahout sits right on top of the elephant’s head and rubs or kicks his feet behind the elephant’s ears. Amazing to watch how this large animal listens to her mahout.

Riding High

Our Path Through the Bush

Climbing onto the Elephant's Back from a Platform

We had to climb a platform and from there, step onto the elephant’s neck and then sit down on a bench that was fastened to the beast’s back with just ropes. Nothing seemed to bother the animal; it just stood there and let us climb all over her back. Once she started moving, her gate was slow and we swayed from side to side but felt secure. We were about 4 meters above the ground and could see well from our perch while we moved through the bushes. The young man, our guide, was entertaining. His English was basic but good enough. For his work with the elephants he gets paid 300 baht per week (U.S.) $100. - From the owner of the elephant. Plus he receives tips from the tourists. His family, wife, 2 young children and in-laws, need about 50 baht/ day to eat. He just ekes out a living yet he was all smiles and happy.

Our trip through the bush lasted approximately 30 minutes and was a memorable event. I am glad we took this ride.

Ox Cart Ride Not Available as we Ran Out of Time
The next stop after the elephant ride was a demonstration and talk on the collection of natural rubber from the rubber trees. The history of natural rubber is a long one. Originally found only in the jungles of the Amazon and once a main source of income for Brazil, seeds of the rubber tree were smuggled out of Brazil and then planted in other tropical areas around the world. The demand for rubber exploded after Henry Ford started mass-producing cars and each car needed hoses and 5 tires. Rubber was a huge business and made a lot of people very, very rich. Rubber tree farms were planted far and wide; everybody wanted a share of this new business. “Rubber barons” was a term used to name the people who had rubber tree plantations. World War 1 and 2 needed loads of rubber for all kinds of applications.

Scored Bark of the Rubber Tree
Then synthetic rubber was invented. The synthetic rubber was made from oil, like it still is today. It was not invented all at once but developed between the years of 1879 to 1940. It took some time to perfect today's different rubbers. The natural rubber business dwindled. Latex gloves, certain straps, other products that need natural rubber do not provide as much business as synthetic rubber does today. There are still rubber barons today, those who still grow and harvest natural rubber. But they are fewer in numbers than in the 19th and 20th centuries. Rubber trees are susceptible to blight and there is a real danger that this blight may wipe out most of the trees on the globe. To plant trees in various locations is actually good business practice. 
Collection of the White Liquid Rubber
The methods those early rubber pioneers developed are still used however. The bark of the rubber tree is scored with a special knife and the whitish juice from the tree is collected in a cup attached below the cut. The scoring cuts are made in the early hours of the day (before dawn) and the tree juice (rubber) takes two hours to drip slowly into the collection cups. After breakfast, the cups are collected and processed. With the addition of some water and formic acids, the collected rubber is dissolved and then processed to 
Rubber Mats Hanging Up to Dry
form usable rubber matts. Nothing has really changed from the processes used years ago. Natural rubber has unique properties that synthetic rubber can not copy. But today, most “rubber” used is the synthetic kind.

Part of Chalong Buddhist Temple
Our next tour stop was the Chalong Buddhist temple, a compound of buildings and very tourist oriented. Small shops within the buildings sold all kinds of paraphernalia and useless plastic memorabilia including key chains, prayer beads, plastic flowers, etc. Even fire crackers were for sale and some believers lit them to celebrate the granting of their prayers. The noise was tremendous.

The Main Temple

All the statues of Buddha were painted a golden color. The place was packed with sitting, standing, sleeping, smiling statues of Buddhas in very ornate and colorful settings. I still think this kind of Buddhism is a mix of Hinduism and Buddhism combined. The Indian/Chinese mix is so obvious.

Many Lying, Sitting and Standing Buddhas

More Gold Painted Buddhas

All the Gold Leaf is Peeling Off
Buddha's Statue

Removing Shoes is a Required
Ritual Before Entering the Temple

Dragon Motifs Everywhere


More Dragons

Cashew Nut is Inside the Fruit of the Cashew Tree
(Artificially Attached to the Tree to Demonstrate)
After many photos taken at the temple, we were driven to a cashew nut factory.
The process of getting to the edible part of the nut is quite labor intensive. No wonder those nuts cost so much in the stores. After picking the ripe produce from the trees, the husks have to be boiled in water to extract the center shell. Those shells have to be cracked and then the nut has to be poked out of the shell, after which the nut still has to be peeled and then roasted. 
Cracking the Fruit Open with a Press
Peeling Each Nut By Hand


It is a lengthy process with many hands needed to make this product marketable. Of course I bought some of those delectable nuts, plain, salted and roasted in honey too. Yum!

The final stop, the jewelry factory, could have been dropped from the tour if it were up to me. I don't see the need for diamonds, jades or whatever other stone is made into rings, necklaces, etc.  Gold or silver, what grade of purity, what shine, what color, what cut is of no interest to me whatsoever. I can appreciate the artful workmanship but that is about it.

We returned to the ship by 5 PM, just in time to watch the deck hands release the cables from the moorings.
Leaving Phuket, Thailand
 The elephant ride was the best part on this tour. I would have liked to get to know the animal a little better, not just climb on her back. Feed her a banana or somehow say hello, not just use her like a car. She was a sweet lady, gentle and strong. I wanted her to know I appreciated her conveyance. But I liked the ride, slow and powerful and gentle. 

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