Around the World, Part 2: Operation Koh Samui

Around the World, Part 2: Operation Koh Samui

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Location: Koh Samui, Thailand
Date: March 2012

View of Koh Samui, Thailand
March 2012
Prior to this trip, my only exposure to the island of Koh Samui came from “Meet the Fockers.”  Luckily, we had a chance to go there, and my eyes were opened to this beautiful island, which is much more than just a funny location in a movie.  Here is more of our “Around the World” trip that we took in March.  
Trent on our hike at Na Maung Safari Park
March 2012
On Wednesday, March 8, we landed in Koh Samui and took tenders over to the island.  When we arrived, there were many local taxi drivers and excursion agents trying to get anyone and everyone off onto one of their tours.  (*Tip here!– Don’t just go with the first driver that tries to get your business.  NEGOTIATE!)  Trent found drivers that would take our group of 14 to the Na Maung Safari Park, a 15-20 minute drive, for $12.50 each.  We usually like to make our own adventure and don’t always do the excursions offered by the boat because we’ve found we can save money.  In this case, we found the information about the Na Maung Safari park online, and the boat didn’t even offer an excursion here.  We were excited because the kids really wanted to ride an elephant and this was the place to do it!
Getting our $10 pictures with these wild beasts
March 2012
The park was in good shape for a third world country.  It had many things to offer, and there was no cover charge to get in.  At the front of the park, there was a tiger and a jaguar chained up with a line of tourists waiting to get their picture taken by these amazing creatures.  Clay chose to get his picture with the tiger, but we waited to watch a few others in the group get theirs, so we could make sure the tiger was docile enough to get up close and personal with.  Though I do hate to see animals locked up on a chain this way, it was incredible to get close enough to touch this animal, and I do realize this is a way for these people to feed their families.  For $10 each, we were able to pet the tiger and get our photo with him.  When the tiger tried to look over his shoulder at us, the handler would knock him in the muzzle to have the tiger look away.  At one point while I was petting the tiger’s back, and he was knocked by the handler, the tiger did a low murmured growl that shook through his body.  That was my cue to move on.  I was done.

Bailey choose to get her picture taken with the baby tiger and feed her a bottle of milk.  It was precious and really looked a lot like a kitten with the exception of his huge paws.  This also cost $10 just for a picture. 

Bailey & me riding Solomon our elephant
March 2012

The most amazing thing about the park were the elephants.  They had 28 that lived there, and once again, all the tourists were lined up to ride them.  Trent and Clay got on one elephant, and Bailey and I got on another with our mahout (elephant handler) riding up on the ears of the elephant (yep, that would be the forehead!).  We rode peacefully along as our huge beast ate giant bamboo leaves and moved to the commands of our mahout named Tuck.  Tuck shared that our elephant’s name was Solomon, and he was a 45-year-old Asian elephant.  He was a dark charcoal grey with orange-tinted splotches of freckles on his face to distinguish his elephant breed.  We roamed around the park for about twenty-five minutes on the back of Solomon, and at one point, our mahout jumped off and had us move off of the bench saddle they had strapped on Solomon’s back and we rode up on his neck and shoulders. Can I just mention that I did get a little bit panicked here?  What if Solomon tried to make a break for it?  It was so interesting to feel the thick skin of Solomon and feel the bristles of his hair under our skin and to think about all of these animals living on this island in the middle of the China Sea.  Tuck took lots of pictures of Bailey and I, but we were separated from Trent and Clay and their elephant so we didn’t get to enjoy it as a little family.  By the end of our ride, we felt like Solomon was an old family friend, and Tuck told us how prestigious it was for him to have become a mahout.
Momma & Baby at the Elephant Nursery
Koh Samui Thailand, March 2012
At the end of our ride, we said farewell to Solomon and headed up to cool off at the waterfall in the park.  On our way, we saw the nursery where there were two baby elephants that were three- and six-months-old.  They were absolutely precious, and one even sucked the mother’s teat as we watched and fed the mother bananas we had purchased.  (Though there was no cover charge at this park, everything had a price!  To feed the elephants some bananas, we had to pay a few Bhats though they did accept dollars as well.)  The baby elephant made us all wish we could just take one home and keep it in the backyard but seeing the size of their mamas made us realize that was just our childish dreams surfacing for a moment.  

Our beautiful waterfall taken from the bottom of the 2nd waterfall
Koh Samui Thailand, March 2012

We paid $3.50 each for a ride up to as close as we could get to the waterfall without having to hike too much with the kids.  I felt this was a smart choice since there was plenty more hiking in front of us.  At the first waterfall, there were lots of tourists all trying to get in and get cooled off from the heat and humidity that was engulfing us.  With a little refreshing splash, we were ready to hike up to the next waterfall which was about another 10 minute walk up.  We stayed on the path that was clearly marked with ropes and cutouts of the mountain and made it up to the next waterfall where there were less tourists and a little more water to splash around in.  My only regret was having only one water bottle with us that was quickly gone by the time we had gotten to the first waterfall. (*Tip– Bring water on hikes – even if you’re hiking a waterfall!  It’s hard to hike thirsty when there’s so much refreshing water is running by your feet.)

Bailey swinging between waterfalls
March 2012

At this second waterfall, there was a swing that the kids had fun swinging on, and we all climbed the rocks that formed the natural pool.  There, we took a nice dip and cooled off from the sun.  I was the first one back on the trail to head back down, and while I was waiting, I saw a little bench I probably wouldn’t have noticed had I not been waiting on the others.  

The bench where I found our little Thai guide waiting for us
March 2012

There sat a little Thai man in very shabby clothes who didn’t speak any English at all. (Okay, he could speak about three or four words.)  All he said to me when I noticed him was “secret pool” as he pointed up to another trail that was even more primitive than the first.  By then, our group was starting to assemble, and Clay saw the Thai man and heard what he said as well as another French couple who decided to follow this Thai man.  Clay looked at me and I gave my approval, so Clay started following the Frenchies along with the Thai man up the smaller trail to continue up.

Want to cross this bridge?  You can decide when you get there! 😉
March 2012

Because the second waterfall had only been a 10 minute hike from the first, I assumed this “secret pool” would be just as close.  When everyone had finally gathered, I told them I was going up with Clay and soon Trent, Bailey, the “O” family, and I were all headed up.  It was a very treacherous trail.  There were ropes but fewer than the other trails, and this trail was much steeper than the ones previous.  We kept going, taking few breaks to catch our breath and wishing for water, but we continued up.  About 3/4 of the way up, we ran into some other Americans coming down, and they gave us hope that we were almost to our goal and that it was well worth it.  

Our “secret pool” that wasn’t so secret with the little Thai guide telling everyone about it
March 2012

After about 30 more yards, we finally made it to the “secret pool” and our Thai guide disappeared behind a rock to change into his “swim trunks” he had hanging on a tree.  We all started to get into the water, but we soon learned that our guide could also say “No” and “Yes.”  We soon got “no, no, no” as he came out from behind his changing rock in the most dreadful sheer swim Speedo I had ever seen.  It looked like something made by a shipwrecked person living on a deserted island, and it gave very little to the imagination.  I was satisfied that his front was covered, but as soon as he turned aroundm the girls started to snicker since we could see the torn fabric holding on trying to cover his bottom but not doing a very good job of it.  We had a good laugh, and then our guide dove into the pool proving how deep the water was.  Once he was in, he gave us the “yes, yes, yes,” and we all started to get in and cool off.  He swam us over to a little cave in the pool and grabbed a rope submerged in the water that we used to pull ourselves into the cave and through the waterfall that rained down in front of it.  He was a funny little guide since he kept pushing us all into the cave as though it was a huge cavern though there really wasn’t space for us all, and then he gave us the sign for wanting to take our picture. 

Clay posing with the beautiful view from the
top of the mountain down to the ocean
Thailand, March 2012

He showed the kids where they could cliff jump into the pool and we all enjoyed the cool crisp water that rejuvenated our tired soaked bodies.  The view from our pool was also amazing since we were so high in the Koh Samui jungle that we could see a landscape of green out before us stretching out to the ocean.  It really was one of the most enjoyable moments of my life only to be clouded by the fact that my other four kids weren’t with us to enjoy it too.  

At that point, it was time for our descent and since one of my flip flops had broken on the way up the mountainside, I had the pleasure of trying to navigate down with only one shoe.  I know I do this every time.  As my sister, Kym, would say, I hike in banana peels!  It is especially stupid since I own a great pair of Keens that I have officially dubbed as my waterfall hiking shoes but that I forget to bring every time. 
The “banana peels” I tried to hike in – not a good idea
March 2012
We did make it down and had our taxi drivers waiting for us at the bottom to take us back to the boat.  We gave our Thai secret pool tour guide a hefty tip for leading us on our wonderful excursion, and the kids encouraged him to use it on a new bathing suit, but in a country like this, I’m sure that is last on his list of essentials.  
One more rope swing we found on our way back down
the mountain side.
Koh Samui Thailand, March 2012
Back on the boat, the Brits didn’t like that we had come back on with only our bathing suits and cover-ups, and one even rolled his eyes at Clay and turned to his wife and said, “He could have at least put a shirt on” which made me laugh that a shirtless 9-year-old boy in his swimsuit could cause such disdain to a grown man.
Our boat, The Aurora
March 2012
That evening was a formal evening, and though they are not my favorite, it was nice to dress up and see our group looking so smart at dinner.  Since my converter for my curling iron didn’t fit into the plug in my room, I had been unable to curl my hair so I did my best to look presentable, and we ended up having a great evening dining with friends.