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While I'm really not in the mood to write a lot today, I really want to sketch out some of what we've done over the past 10 days or so before something else replaces this stuff in my memory (it's not what it used to be!).

Back on July 10th, it was the Buddhist holiday of Asanha Puja (see my entry, "Yet Another Buddhist Holiday") and Tim wanted to take me to a temple.  However, as things often do, these plans changed due due to her reliance on certain friends and we ended up taking a VERY LONG motorbike ride (convoy style with Lek and Jum) to Bang Pae Waterfall way up in Tambon Pa Khlok (far northeast part of Phuket).  Luckily, although the sky was very overcast we managed to avoid the rain all afternoon (it really let loose after we returned home).  This particular waterfall is tucked into some of the last remaining sections of rain forest left on Phuket (much of it was transplanted with rubber trees some years ago, replacing tin mining as the principal non-tourism industry).  The best parts of the river and waterfall are quite a hike up the mountain from the road but are well worth it.  Because of the especially heavy monsoon this season, the water was running high and fast and the temperatures under the forest canopy were nice and cool.  The four of us spent several hours swimming near the base of the falls (well, I spent most of the time wading around looking for photo opportunities).

The entrance to Bang Pae (which is a National Park, although we didn't pay a fee — all National Parks recently raised their entrance fees for foreigners from 20 baht to 200 baht which has sparked A LOT of controversy here) abuts the Gibbon Rehabilitation Center.  Unfortunately, this was closed by the time we finished swimming.  Tim and I plan to return another day...

We did drive further down the road, took a turn (directed by me after seeing a sign), and soon ended up at Bangrong Pier.  It's so remote that I suspect many tourists don't get up this way which is a shame as it's in a beautiful setting amidst mountains lining a channel heading out to sea (well, Por Bay).  An added bonus are the numerous monkeys and gibbons patrolling the parking lots, sitting on motorbikes, and digging for crabs in the sand below the pier.  I tried taking a number of photos but my camera refused to focus properly despite me trying many different settings.  I think the humidity in the rain forest affected it somewhat.  I did learn that gibbons don't like it too much if you set off a flash in their face (does anybody?) and the one I made this mistake with hissed at me violently.  Won't do that again!

Finally, we stopped for dinner at a large Thai restaurant near the Super Cheap shopping market.  Each table had a large gas cooker in the center and you filled your plate with raw food to cook.  I impressed Tim by getting some som tam (spicy papaya salad) and enjoyed some fried pork and other morsels as well (I'm slowly trying more and more Thai food and don't always get the opportunity as she and her friends invariably bring me fried chicken at home).

Tuesday was another Buddhist holiday (Wan Kao Pansa) and Tim left early to go to temple.  Soon after she left, it began pouring rain and it was several hours before she could return.  When she did, Lek and Jum were along as well and they wanted to take me to another temple — the one atop the mountain right behind our home in Chalong (I still haven't found out it's name as it's too new to be on any of the maps).  The road twists and turns through the forest on the way to the summit and soon becomes a dirt (mud) track with numerous breaks.  His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen had been up this road a few months ago to dedicate the wat and I wondered how the royal motorcade fared (we had some difficulty on the motorbikes).  Although it was overcast, the views down to Chalong Bay were spectacular.  The chedi is still under construction and the golden Buddha which will eventually be placed atop it was sitting off to the side.

Tim, Jum, and Lek lit their joss sticks and made their offerings to the monks while I sat nearby and watched (I pulled a muscle when I knealt at the altar so I made a hasty retreat).  When the senior monk was blessing the dozen or so people there, a funny moment occurred when Tim's cellular phone began ringing.  Her current ringtone is a recording of her granddaughter crying so the monk began looking around for the baby.  Tim was involved in the blessing so couldn't go over to turn off her phone (and her friends don't quit trying until she answers the phone so it just kept crying and crying until she was finally able to get to it).  Her offering to the monks was several flourescent tube lights which seemed a more useful gift than the usual prepared buckets of soap, crackers, etc.

After the blessing, we were trapped inside the temple by yet another heavy downpour.  This one lasted for almost an hour during which we looked at photos of the royal visit and of the temple's construction process.  After the rain stopped, we climbed a flight of stairs to the mountain's summit where the Buddha and it's under-construction base are located along with several smaller shrines.  The clouds managed to lift long enough for me to take several photos — the views were absolutely spectacular yet I couldn't find our house (hidden behind part of the mountain I suspect).

[Well, I've written A LOT more than I planned already and now I'm having trouble remembering what else we did past those first two days.  I'll continue with Sunday...]

Sunday afternoon, Tim and I attended a casting call with our neighbors, Franz and Pen.  An American company is making a series of five 90-minute horror movies for cable television called "Man Easters."  Principal filming will be on Krabi but they are casting for parts and extras on Phuket; we'll probably be bussed over to Krabi each day (a five-hour trip in good conditions) because the production company seems too cheap to pay for hotel rooms (the one filming "The Aftermath", about the tsunami, did just this when they filmed up at Khao Lak).  After standing in line for an eternity (it seemed that all of the expats and much of the Thai population of Phuket had turned out), we were ushered into a room where we filled out contact sheets (in English, so I had to help Tim with hers) and then into another room where were had our pictures taken and gave the director a brief on-camera interview.  I was told I'd make a good zombie!

I've been reading a lot recently; I've almost finished a 600-page Michael Crichton novel and have also been plowing through a book on travel photography and a copy of Treasure Island that I found at the Southern Thailand Book Fair last week.  Ironically, a book I'd ordered months ago from — a new biography of King Bhumiphol Adulyadej — arrived yesterday now that I probably won't have time to get to it for a while!

We did do a few more-than-usual motorbike rides this past week:

We discovered the nearby Chalong Tourist Pier (we never had a reason to go down the access road before) which is very nice.  I want to return one morning at sunrise to try out some new techniques I've learned in my travel photography book.

We drove to a resort that Tim's friend Puk works at near Kathu and spent a nice afternoon swimming in the pool.  We were also shown a couple of very nice bungalows and main building rooms that we could rent for 15,000 to 17,000 baht per month with everything (daily maid service, free breakfast, electricity, phone service, ADSL, etc.) included (we currently pay 12,000 baht to rent our house and then have the other expenses on top of that).  It was very tempting (the setting is absolutly beautiful) and we had a long discussion that evening about whether we should move there or not.  In the end, we decided against it...

Yesterday, we made a final try at finding the Robinson's Shopping Center in Phuket Town (the town's layout is VERY confusing and it's easy to get lost) and ended up discovering an interesting section of the coastline with a variety of seafood restaurants.  We added it to the growing list of places to take family members on future visits.  What I liked most about this drive was that I finally got some decent photos of Phuket elephants.  It never ceases to surprise and delight me when we unexpectedly come across elephants just wandering down the streets.  Usually, I don't have my camera ready or we aren't able to stop for a photo.  This time I had Tim pull over to the side of the road (there were no other cars save for one behind the elephants, waiting for a spot to pull around them).  The two large creatures were just ambling down the middle of the road without a mahout (their handler/trainer) in sight.  As they got closer, Tim kept muttering "I fear" (she doesn't trust the elephant won't try to stomp on her) but I set up and managed to get three or four good shots before they turned off into a driveway (their "home", I suppose).  As we were getting back on the motorbike, suddenly we saw their mahout running down the street looking left-and-right.  We pointed out the direction the elephants went and he raced down after them!

Oh, we did eventually find Robinson's.  It wasn't all that it's cracked up to be and the prices are very high.  However, the base of the building has a KFC, a McDonald's, a Swenson's Ice Cream Parlor, and a Pizza Company so it might be a closer source than Patong for these if I ever feel the urge for any of these types of fast food restaurants (so far, I haven't...but you never know).

Well, I suppose this catches us up sufficiently where I can move on and report about current events once again.  There is some more "news" in the pipeline (marriage details and info on my impending TEFL course, for example) but I'll write more about those at a later time...