I needed an alter ego, a disguise. This mission had to be top secret from any parts of my brain with a social and political conscience. If I could trick myself into parting with my morals and journalistic nature, this assignment just might work. Hiding behind the door, well away from the tell-tale mirror, I sneakily pulled on my fishermen pants and singlet, slipped on my Birkenstocks and rolled the sandalwood beads on to my wrist. The transformation was almost complete. Incognito as a backpacking tourist, I recited my mantra – the only reality I know is Chang Beer, pad tai and lots of it. Been trekking with the hill tribes, to Thai boxing, every market in Chiang Mai and had countless massages. I wondered what else there is to do in Chiang Mai and who the hell is this Thaksin dude anyway? It was time to
check out the Chiang Mai Night Safari.
I gulped the last of my pineapple fruit shake, slung my backpack over my shoulder and set off. As I approached the entrance I wondered if I should have dressed up for the occasion. Luckily I had worn my best fishermen’s, I thought to myself as I surveyed the immediate area, this place is the most expensive place I’ve seen since I stumbled upon the website of the Four
Seasons Hotel last week. Dramatic tribal sounds rumbled through the grand Lanna style pavilion as I handed over my B 500. The friendly but quiet Thai staff smiled at me and gestured towards a pathway and so I set forth into the empty abyss, towards the Savanna Safari. I had a bus to catch.
We boarded the waiting tiger striped transport and the bright lights abruptly switched off. The guide introduced herself, warning us to be quiet and not to feed the animals. Ok, won’t say a word, she sounds serious.
Finally we were on our way to Africa, right here in Chiang Mai. The guide brightened up, giving us some background information as we coasted silently into the heart of the safari, “Savanna’s are also found in Madagascar, Burma, India and Australia, not just in
Africa,” she announced. Then our guide urged us to look to our right as the lights momentarily lit up a proud looking wild yak a top a man made cliff, before I could adjust my eyes we were motioned to our left. While I was busy looking into the distance for the rusa deer, it suddenly appeared, lazily walking alongside the bus, just one metre away. As the spotlight was wildly spun around the park we could see small herds of different breeds of deer congregating around the trees and lounging about. The bus kept rolling along though, an animal a second, while a barrage of facts assaulted my poor brain. We passed the second largest animal in the world, the white rhino, with nasty looking double horns and a wildebeest herd which apparently should sound like croaking frogs; and then the king of the jungle appeared to our right, the lion. A huge ditch separated us from the two females and one male lurking suspiciously in the distance.
A group of startled ostriches and giraffes mingled a few metres away as I suddenly felt the impulsive urge to wrestle away the spotlight from the guide. I doubt she would be a happy camper if someone shone their headlights constantly on to her bed every night. I quelled the activist uprising within, just as the lights illuminated another African predator,
the cheetah. Reaching speeds of 70 miles an hour in seconds, I felt content at that split second we were in such a hurry. Glimpsing a greater kudo antelope the guide informed US this animal barks like a dog – not that we could hear anything. In fact, these animals were all so quiet. All I could hear was the relentless, yet interesting spiel from the guide. I just wished I could absorb it all. Phew. The bus pulled back into base.
Dazzled, I followed the crowd through to the centre of the park as a dancing water spectacle choreographed to a classical soundtrack unfolded on Swan Lake. I know this is a tourist attraction, but this show definitely felt out of place at a Night Safari in the north of Thailand, more suited to a champers clinking crowd on the lawns of a private estate in England. I quickly made my way to the next port of call. The ‘Predator Prowl’ flashed before my eyes in the same way as my visit to the Savannah. I couldn’t fault this place with their amazing variety of animals though; springboks, nyalas, impalas, vultures and Arabian camels blankly stared back at US as we swiftly travelled through the park. As we passed a pacing Canadian wolf, the bus suddenly plunged into a swampy ditch on the way to the crocodiles. Peering over the side of the bridge into the pool of water, I counted about twenty of the fierce looking creatures trying to conceal
themselves. With that the moving journey was over and I was more than ready to do my own exploring on the Jaguar Trail.
The walking trail promised to take us on a 1.2 km journey to visit an incredibly diverse range of species. As I walked through I found a yawning cassowary, a couple of smooth coated otters spooning each other and a Bengal tiger letting out a sad moan as it walked back and forth along the perimeter of its enclosure. The koala sanctuary was empty, no sign of any orangutans, nor any pygmy hippos. The black leopard and the jaguar sat scarily frozen to the spot, hardly moving at all. Maybe they
were robots….I quickly dispelled that
crazy thought as the jaguar swung its heavy head in my direction, slowly blinking. I picked up the pace, ready to leave these animals to their slumber, through the aviary and past the llamas, who were sprawled out on the grass and apathetic to the passing visitors. Who could blame them?
Chiang Mai Night Safari certainly possesses an eclectic collection of animals and there is no doubt you will be fascinated by the rare glimpse at some of nature’s more exotic additions to this attraction. This incognito tourist however couldn’t escape the eerie Jurassic Park atmosphere of the Night Safari that crept into her imagination as she pondered the odd adventure over her next cold glass of Chang.