Thursday, October 4, 2007

Chiang Mai Zoo

So, I said goodbye to Chiang Mai and hopped in my taxi to the airport. As a series of food stalls, bars and guesthouses filled my view in a steady passing stream, I began to reflect on my day. I spent most of it reading, visiting wats and finished off at the zoo. I knew it was going to be depressing to see all of those caged up animals. But I had to see what a zoo in Thailand would be like. I half expected the animals to be running around between your feet with nothing barring you from imminent danger but perhaps a big stick. You know when I got there, I realized that I wasn't too far off.

They say that in Africa, the hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibus) is responsible for more attacks on humans than any other animal. In fact, hippos regularly attack boats approaching too close or anyone standing between them and water. Knowing this, I walked up to the hippo display and hung over the whopping 5 foot wall with my camera in hand. I was pretty sure that hippos don't jump, they only charge. Pretty sure. Instantly the, hippos submerged themselves into the dark & scummy water. The only thing that even gave you a hint that there were very large animals in this very small enclosure were a trail of very fine bubbles; leading directly under me. Seeing how I was pretty much petting distance away from the blubbery beasts and I didn't want to be the joke on the front page of the local paper, I decided to take a step back and just lean on the concrete edge until they passed. As they did, they rose back out of the water, gave a couple of big yawns, and well just hung out and did their little hippo thing. I snapped a shot and went to the next display.

Before I go on, allow me to tell you all a bit about the zoo's layout. This attraction is most definitely set up for motorists, not pedestrians. Most guidebooks describe the walk through the Chiang Mai Zoo as an extremely strenuous hike. I strongly agree. And I will also add that the map the provide you with is a navigational nightmare. The largest animal displays are not on the map; however the animal pics which are supposed to represent the captive animal on the map aren't even at the zoo. They have deer listed in about 15 different locations. And here's the best part about this map, north is represented on the little compass as right, south is left, west is up and east points down! With all of the animals running around within chomping distance and a map that appears to drawn by an eight year old; this zoo seems like a very elaborate tourist trap. And I mean trap in the most literal sense. After about 5 hours of dazily wandering through a maze of hilly roads, incorrect signage and vast fields of steaming dung, I thought for sure I was going to be on the menu for tonight's crocodile feeding. For sure these zookeepers are out to dehydrate, exhaust then feed me to something. Or in the very least drive me absolutely mad.

Next I find the rhino, whose hope looks very similar to a velocaraptor paddock. I swear, I half expected those things to jump from the bamboo forrest at any moment. Well, the rhino seemed happy. He was wagging his tail, probably because of the flies, but I'll just assume for now that he was happy until someone proves me wrong. He also had a large roaming area filled with plenty of mud to roll around in, lots of food lying around and nobody has yet killed him for his horn. You see, Rhino horn is a key ingredient in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Even today, traditional Chinese practitioners use rhino horn to treat life-threatening fevers. It's a myth that the Chinese believe the horn is used as an aphrodisiac. But whatever, these animals are endangered. Oh, you have a fever, so you want to kill I rhino. I see, but I've got a better idea, take some fu**ing Tylenol you jackasses!!

I walk away from the happy rhino after I begin thinking that rhinosar'o's would be an excellent cereal name. Then I realize that the heat must be getting to me. Perhaps I'll seek some cool air in the penguin exhibit. I look down at my crude little map, rotate it in a few different directions then head north, which is actually east of my current location. When I reach the enclosure, now dripping wet with perspiration I saw that there was a sign informing me that left lead to the penguin exhibit and right led to the aquarium. Now after my short stint at Sea world, I learned one thing; penguin exhibits are supposed to be cold. Aquarium exhibits supposed to be in roughly the 70's to keep the water temp roughly the same without relying too much on chiller units. Man, get me to those birds! When I did reach the penguins, it was only slightly cooler in the display compared to the outside air temp. I know this because the crooked little mercury thermometer hanging on the inside of the by a suction cup. I swear, I've worked at pet stores that were more professional than these 'habitats.' As the penguins stood there, beaks agape and wings held up to help cool themselves in the inhumane conditions I read the thermometer. It informed me that is was 82 degrees in their enclosure. I assumed these penguins were being conditioned to survive the global warming issue. Maybe they're creating a new super penguin, one that doesn't need all of that extra fat and fluff to survive. Then they'll release them into the wild, so they can teach their other penguin friends how to beat the heat. Then I realize, I have to find somewhere to cool off quick. Poor freaking birds. Now a little depressed, I wander over to the fish. Maybe they're happy.

After following a dirt path over gnarled roots and thick bamboo forest, I realize I am waaay off the grid. It's crazy, I haven't see a single employee only or keep out sign any language. For all I know, I am wandering into right into the lion's habitat. Again, I smell a trap. So, I backtrack a bit and turn out onto the pavement. Of course, the aquarium is located right next to the giant45 foot long fish statue. Who would have guessed?! Once again, I pass blame on the heat. I trudge up the hill and stroll into the buildin, grateful for the shade. I stood there for a moment, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the dim lighting. Then noticed something was wrong, there's no lighting. I fumble around for a light switch, half expecting to place my hand on a giant cockroach, or centipede or one of the many squirmy little creatures that are indigenous to the tropics. Then I start singing a little happy song to keep calm, "Something tells me It's all happening at the zoo, I do believe it I do believe it's true" Then CRUNCH. Oh God what the hell did I just step on? (mind you, I'm wearing sandals) Then another step, CRUNCH. Oh God, please tell me that was a Frito. Where the hell is the light switch?! Crunch, Crunch, Crunch. "The monkeys stand for honesty, Giraffes are insincere. Something, Something, Something the zookeeper is very fond of rum." Well, maybe that's why he forgot to turn on the god damned lights! Two more crunches, then I finally find the switch. It doesn't take me long until I realize that they cut the power. So being as clever as I am, I remove my camera turn on the flash and strobe away. I don't really want to look down, but I do anyway. Only to discover that I have killed a bout a dozen and a half snails. I'm so relieved that they weren't giant, disgusting cockroaches. Though I'm sure the snails feel differently. Poor little crunchy fellas, they only wanted to have a little snail party in the shade. And because my camera actually flickers the flash until focus is found, it looked like a little disco party in there. I must say, it really freaked most of the fish out. They started jumping out of the water and splashing around in their tanks. So, I thought it best to leave as to not allow them to over exert themselves in their overheated tanks.
So, there were many more animals that I passed. Crazy ostriches, depressed looking bears, content turtles and a little too close for comfort crocodiles. But the weirdest thing I saw there was a mini bike racetrack that looked like it was scooped up right from the Jersey Shore and delivered right to Thailand. You know the ones I mean. They are pretty much novelty sized. So when one sits on the bike their knees are at about chin level and elbows are thrust out like you're doing a little pirate dance. It's actually quite comical to watch someone ride one of these things. But I couldn't believe it. Really, a race the zoo?!
After I decided that I was out of there, it took me an additional hour and a half to find the exit. Passing the mini-bike track 3 times, I thought for sure I could hop on over and ride one of those mini-bikes to freedom. Which I probably could have, if I were a midget.
So, I finally got out of there, grabbed some dinner, then hopped in my taxi. Which is where we started this little tale. (I must say that even though this entry seemed like a bit of a rant, I assure you I had an absolutel blast on this little adventure.) Shortly after some more conversation with some really interesting folks, I hopped on a plane then spent 8 hours doing Bangkok bivy on a cold metal bench until 8am. I couldn't find soft cushy seats anywhere, but I've slept on worse during this trip. Then flew off to Taipei, where my plane was delayed for an additional 3 and a half hours. Once aboard the plane, I spent the next 10 hours having my chair kicked, my hair pulled and drooled upon by the lovely little monster sitting behind me. Oh and this 3 year old had a habit of crying for no reason about every hour while her mom yelled at her in between her loud hocking of something flemmy which was lodged apparently very deep in her lung cavity. Must be my lucky day, I thought. (That part really did suck!) When I got home, I went to sleep around 8pm, waking up the following day at 2pm. As I looked around I thought, whoa this bungalow looks a lot like my room. Then I realized, wow I'm home.


  1. Bummer of a zoo... sweet blog though! If you ever make it to Singapore, it has one of the finest zoos in the world. The animals really are free to roam around, which is nice.

  2. Welcome home, Dan! Here's to swimmin' with bow-legged women.

  3. nice description of the zoo. Pretty accurate, I'd have to say. I spent my first ever day at the Chiang Mai zoo yesterday and couldn't really believe it. I think my favorite highlight is the fur seal doing tricks to a thai version of "Living the vida Loco" playing at full volume.
    I managed to get lost in the dark bellows of the aquarium myself. About 8 pavilions with a maze of muddy paths between them and fish that live in eternal darkness.
    Strangest animal at the zoo if you are from Seattle: Crows.
    Most envious feature at the zoo if you are from Seattle: a monorail that weaves its way through the entire place.
    I'm going back to the zoo for sure!

    Nice to have you in Chiang Mai, Dan. Consider the move out here.