Sunday, November 17, 2013

Travelogue: Flying High

Another scam?

We had to rush in the morning; the tour operators will tell specific timings when they pick up tourists from hotels for particular activities. First thing in the morning was to carry enough money for the event; and we had locked most of our cash and passports and whatever anyone felt valuable within our hotel safety locker in our room; due to the fear created by the hotel owner the previous day. Guess what – the electronic locker didn’t open in the morning! We called the hotel owner (who is the receptionist, cashier, manager and everything rolled in one).

I’ve described a few scams that happen in Thailand; being suspicious I wondered if we had fallen into some lesser known scam. I wondered how we easily trusted a hotel safe! Truth be told – in Thailand it is probably safer to keep valuables with you in hand as long as you are not getting into a tussle with anyone or getting into something illegal; because here tourists are given priority when it comes to police cases. The owner gave us some cash to cover for the time being and said he will have it opened by the time we return. It felt uncomfortable – passport, cash, card, our expert photographer’s camera and what not.

A van picked us up and we went to another hotel where we picked a couple of north Indian families – there was also one kid. The Indian family really frustrated the van driver because they kept delaying with each person coming one by one – the driver threatened many times to move. The van dropped us on a small beach. Over here the van operator hands you over to another event organizer – they collect money for activities like parasailing and underwater sea walking. These are pretty much fixed rates that you can Google; no negotiations there. 500 Baht for parasailing, 1200 for underwater walking and the tour guy takes 500 for the whole trip (boat, lunch, pickup and drop).

Up up and away

We were all loaded into a speed boat and taken out to the middle of the sea where there was a flurry of activity atop a relatively large platform constructed with wooden planks. The organizing lady asked, “dip no dip?” and then put a mark on our hand and pushed us out of the boat onto the platform. Actually they even have 2 dips if you want – this decides how many times you want to touch the water when you do parasailing; default is 1 dip.

The activity is pretty well organized on the platform in the middle of the sea – between the speed boat organizer and the parasailing guys. They’ll strap on a life jacket on you with some places where they can hook up the strings that will attach you to a speed boat; you will also be clipped on to a type of parachute. The speed boat will force you to start running on the platform (even if you don’t you will get dragged off!), the parachute will spread open and you will find yourself floating higher and higher in the air till you reach a maximum height. The driver of the boat will then slow down a little and you will slowly descend to the water, sink up to waist level, most likely swallow some salty sea water and then he will again accelerate while you fly again. He will go around the platform and then slowdown in such a way to let you land on the wooden platform from where you started where a few organizers will grab you and unbuckle you from the speedboat. The sensation of ascent and descent is great – what starts out initially as fear will turn to joy. Take heart from the kids who are more than eager to fly - there was a little kid who insisted on doing the ride and he was buckled up with one of the organizers to take the ride. Don’t worry too much about the fear of drowning in the middle of the sea and you should be ok :-)

Our expert photographer had good fun – he got to do a 2nd round free! For some reason the speed boat driver wasn’t able to get him to land on the platform and so he took him around once again. Our photographer had another bigger surprise in store for later!

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