Planet   Backpacker
  "From flying monkey gods and amorous donkeys to tales of a bus caravan speeding through a terrorist-infested desert, Downes puts you right there with him."-- Ben Gohs, Charlevoix Courier
  "From flying monkey gods and amorous donkeys to tales of a bus caravan speeding through a terrorist-infested desert, Downes puts you right there with him."-- Ben Gohs, Charlevoix Courier

Amongst the animals of northern Thailand

Chiang Mai, cobras, Thailand, Planet Backpacker
Chiang Mai's Snakeman & friends.

Travels With My Wife

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Signed copies of the expanded second edition, featuring more than 40 routes and 1,400 miles of cycling.

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Available at amazon.com, $4.99 
   

By Robert Downes

From the book, Planet Backpacker


  ... A visit to Thailand is a trip to Animal Planet. I have a live cobra dumped in my lap by “Snake Man,” who clowns around during a visit to a snake farm.  The cobras flare their hoods and strike repeatedly at Snake Man, who manages to dodge them (when he’s not picking them up and sticking their heads in his mouth, that is). 

   An announcer at the snake farm coos seductively into the microphone: “Ooooh, be ca’fu’ Snake Man... Ooooh, don’ let cobwa bi’ you Snake Man...”

   The cobra in my lap is a good six feet long and as big around as my arm, with a soft, silky texture.  It has a shocked “what the hell?” look in its black, doll eyes.  And it’s loaded to kill -- we watch Snake Man milk it for poison after my lap dance. Its fangs have been filed down to nubs, but still, I’m glad he had a good grip on its head, because I jumped about a foot. 

Snake Man has to dive head first into a dark pool to retrieve a python, which it an unpleasant experience even for him, because these critters bite.  He comes out of a pool bleeding, with the snake hissing and snapping at the air.

    And did you know that a King Cobra can grow to 18 feet long?  Not something you want to find in your bed on Sunday morning...

   There’s also the Tiger Temple near the River Kwai.  The preserve is run by Buddhist monks who line up tourists 100 deep and give them five seconds with a staked-down tiger on a short leash to have their photos taken.  A tourist in his early 20s, who obviously has too much money for his own good, coughs up $50 to pose with a doped-up tiger’s head in his lap.  Hey, tough guy!

   Some practices at the Tiger Temple are pure animal abuse: a monk jerks a baby tiger around all day long to rouse it enough to make a good photo for tourists.  The cub looks stressed and irritated, but of course, no one seems to notice.

   The biggest thrill in Thailand, however, is an elephant ride.  Tourism has literally saved the nation’s elephants...

   

 

The Human Zoo


   There’s also a bit of a ‘human zoo’ in Chiang Mai in that most of the trekking companies take you for a stroll through the hill tribe villages. Some of these treks go on for several days.  

   It’s a disturbing trend, marching through these villages to gape at the ragged inhabitants, similar to the slum tourism now popular in the ghettos of Mumbai, the favelas of Rio, and the townships outside Johannesburg, where you pay a guide to steer you through the wreckage of humanity.

   The hill tribes are made up of dirt-poor refugees from Burma, southern China and Laos. They live in palm huts up in the hills, with most of the women selling handicrafts to trekkers and the men working with the elephants, or poling bamboo rafts full of tourists down the rivers. The hill people seem to be happy working in the tourist industry -- but it’s appalling to walk through the villages and gawk at these people like they were monkeys.


  


Chiang Mai, Thailand, Planet Backpacker
Chiang Mai offers many day trips at bargain prices.
Click on the logo to order 'Planet Backpacker: The Good Life Bumming Around the World" from Amazon Kindle -- $4.99 for the illustrated ebook.
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