The last 3 days in a row have been perhaps the most thrilling 3 consecutive days in our lives. Yesterday morning we flagged down a songthaew style taxi. It's a pickup truck with a covered roof on the back with two benches facing each other, no seat belts and open exterior. We headed toward the Tiger Kingdom sanctuary a half hour out of town with anxious anticipation.
Once there, we selected which size of tiger to interact with. We chose "smallest" and "small". It turns out "small" is a 10 month old behemoth nearly full size beast that is terrifying. We started with the three month olds by petting them and playing with them in their enclosure. As a child walked by on the other side of the fence, the Tiger ignored us and sprang into stalk mode. The trainer claimed it just wanted to play with the child, but it definitely wanted to eat it.
When it was time to move on to the "small" cage Erin did not even want to go in because there was a giant tiger perched atop a branch that looked like it wanted to pounce down and eat us. We entered the same style cage as the opening scene of Jurassic Park, with a heavy vertical latch. We shared the cage with 4 massive tigers, feeling vulnerable and outnumbered. It was shocking to see how much the tigers grow from 3 months to 10 months. Later on that day, we reflected with bewilderment on the level of danger we were in by climbing into the cage with those ferocious big cats.
Before leaving we found out there was a 2 month old "newborn" to play with in an isolated environment and we could not pass up the opportunity. The newborn was just like a bigger version of a house cat. It played the same way with the same mannerisms. We both loved rubbing its belly.
After riding back into town for a quick lunch, we took our first step into the world of Muay Thai. We arranged a private muay thai boxing class in a legit muay thai fighting gym owned by the man who runs the fighting ring in Chiang Mai. Before class started, we thought we might take turns hitting pads while the other one took a breather, but this was not the case. We were immediately separated and paired with a professional fighter. They spoke very little English and drilled us relentlessly on technique. After a brief stretch session, we learned punches, elbows, kicks, knees, blocks, spinning moves and combinations. Then we did a pad work striking series with the coaches. Davey's workout took place inside the ring, so he got a sense of the spacing and fight atmosphere. Erin's coach thumped her on the forehead whenever her footwork was sloppy. Then they put us through 3 rounds on a heavy bag followed by intervals of push ups and sit ups as our rest. This was all in a hot sweaty upstairs boxing gym so we both almost ralphed, but within a few minutes after the session we felt energized and very appreciative for the unfamiliar physical experience. We got shirts from the gym and tickets to the fighting later on that night.
After the thai boxing workout, we did the perfect thing, a thai massage to help our fatigued muscles recover. We walked back from the spa past the old Chiang Mai fortress gate from the 1400s that was used to keep barbarians out of the city. Today it was set up for a giant market with food vendors, clothing, souvenirs, etc. After grabbing a quick bite we headed to the fighting stadium. The fights take place in a covered but open air stadium with a boxing ring in the middle. The moment we entered, two teenage girls were throwing down in the ring while the crowd cheered loudly as each solid strike landed. The owner of our gym saw us enter and directed us to sit near his section/corner so we could cheer for all of his fighters when they fought. Erin's coach fought and knocked a dude out cold. We got to hang out with him and take a picture right after.
Today we woke up at sunrise and walked to two major temples in Chiang Mai. We were the only people on the streets beside monks descending down from the mountain temple to exchange prayers for locals who purchase their food for the day. We bought some flowers for Buddha from an older gentleman and strolled through some beautiful temples. Then we grabbed street food and hopped on a tuk tuk back to our hotel for a new and better version of breakfast in bed: post monk-temple-sunrise-tuk tuk-fried rice.
We woke up and arranged a taxi 30 minutes out of town to the aptly named "Hang Dong" quarry for some cliff jumping and swimming. The quarry is 35 meters deep and filled with beautiful turquoise warm water. Big bamboo rafts floating out in the middle were great to lay out on. Dave did two jumps from the highest point while lots of people chickened out and climbed back down. Erin opted for a medium-high butt smack jump. In a bit of a culture clash, Korean tourists posed amongst the swimmers taking selfies fully clothed with no intent of swimming.
After that we headed back to the city to rest a bit prior to the NYE celebrations and our 6am flight for the south. More later. Happy New Year!
Erin and Dave
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