Top Secret Assignment Day 4

Agents E and C continued with their last major assignment, a reconnaissance mission to scope out the markets and wildlife of central Thailand.  Their destination: the Samphran Elephant Grounds and Amphawa Floating Market.

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We drove about an hour west of Bangkok to Nakhon Pathom province, home of the Samphran Elephant Ground and Zoo, a popular sightseeing stop both for foreign visitors as well as Thais.  I guess we could invite the animal rights experts to debate the merits of this type of attraction, in which elephants and other animals are on display and put through their paces in shows.  The upside is that it gives people a chance to interact with and, hopefully, appreciate these creatures and why it is important that their habitats be preserved.

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Agents E and C didn’t have any particular assignments at this first stop, other than to feed the elephants.  It is easy to be awed by how strong and how smart these animals are.  They are also very playful.  One of the adults liked dancing in her pen to the rhythm of the music playing from the magic show in the nearby stadium.  She was doing this on her own, with no guidance from her mahout, or trainer.

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Agent C got on well with one of the baby elephants…

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…but I think she got a little “carried away” by the baby’s mother!

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A unintentionally psychedelic photo when I had the wrong setting on the camera and twisted it while taking the picture.

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One of the babies (nine months old, in fact) hoped to borrow my camera.

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Even Tawn got into the act, getting a big hug from one of the elephants.

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In the elephant show, we learned about the history of elephants in Thai culture, including their use in logging, an occupation that is pretty much extinct, leading to the problem of too many elephants and too little designated land where they can roam wild.

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We also learned about elephants’ role as weapons of war, featuring a silly little skit complete with low-tech pyrotechnics to simulate the Thais’ victory over the Burmese.  Actually, at that point in history it would have been the Siamese’s victory.

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The park also featured crocodile pools and a show with two “croc whisperers” who perform all sorts of feats with the large and lazy reptiles.  No doubt the water is kept at a temperature that fosters a sedate mood, lessening the chance that one of the handlers loses a hand…

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…or a head!

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One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from Agent E and C’s visit is that it is the small things that really provide young people with the most fun.  A half-hour spent paddling around the lush landscaping in an aged paddle boat provided an adventure for them and a respite for the adults.  The swan looks like it has had some plastic surgery, maybe a beak job.

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After the elephant grounds, we hopped into the car and drove through a small rain storm on our way to the floating market in Amphawa, Samut Songkhram province.  Along the way we stopped at a roadside cafe that I used to frequent in the days when I volunteered as an English teacher in this province, so as to enjoy several types of fried rice.

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Because there were a lot of other events going on this weekend (including World Cup) the market was busy but not overcrowded as sometimes happens.  As the sun was setting, we rented a long-tail boat and took a tour along the canals and river for a chance to see what country like along the water looks like.

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Along the way, we were able to find many trees and bushes along the banks that were full of the fireflies for which this area is famous.

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Back at the market, everything was bustling as people ate dinner and snacked on local specialties, including grilled prawns and squid that are among the freshest you’ll ever eat.

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The bulk of day 4’s assignment was to try new fruits, foods, and desserts, of which the market has plenty.  We went from vendor to vendor, looking at the many different items for sale, trying to guess what they were, and sampling many of them.  Above, Agents E and C, along with their father, try some fresh young coconuts.

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Uncle Tawn picked up several types of fruit for them to try.  By the end of the evening, the agents had fulfilled their assignment and had tasted (although not always enjoyed) many new edible items.

We headed back to Bangkok that evening with full stomachs, heavy eyelids, and many new memories.