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Anne Marie Ruff is a woman of the world. American by birth, she thinks nothing of adopting foreign countries, learning the language and setting up shop. Thailand is her current new home but her family back in the States has had a hard time embracing her sense of exotic adventure. So it took her years of descriptive letters and captivating photos, but she finally convinced her brother to venture out of his safe and predictable American nest to take a walk on the wild side.

Feature: Biking With My Brother

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My brother Steve and I have two comfy beds in a great hotel in the ancient thai city of Ayudhya. It is a far cry from when we used to get stuck with the hotel floor when we were kids, our parents and older sisters beating us to the beds. In the intervening twenty years, my brother hasn't cared to travel much. In fact this is the first time in his thirty seven Years that he has been out of the English-speaking World. But he has come all the way from Arizona to Visit me in Thailand...well...for a couple of reasons.

Steve: "Because it was easy because you were here. No, the reality is I got...I was so drawn by your continual barrage of descriptions of exotic sites and people and places that uh I just had to come."
Anne Marie: "Were you jealous?"
Steve: "Was i jealous? Yeah maybe a little bit."
I imagine it might have been a bit aggravating for him to have his little sister, eight years younger, sending letters from places like Nepal, Malaysia, Turkmenistan...so I feel I have to take him somewhere that lives up to my stories. But even before we left Bangkok, my brother showed me some pictures on his laptop that made me think I may have taken on a difficult mission.
Steve: "So check this out, this image that comes from Mars."
My brother is a mars scientist, a mars geologist to be Specific.
Steve: "What do you think this, I mean look at these Things..."
Anne Marie: "What are those? They're weird..."
Steve: "Yeah they're actually dunes, they're basaltic sand dunes on mars that were captured by this camera."
Anne Marie: "They're stunning."
They are like nothing I have ever seen, giant sand dunes marching across the face of Mars. And I think I understand why Steve has never felt the need to travel terrestrially. He has already traveled vicariously to Mars. And in the space of an hour...he took me there As well.

I am a bit anxious about what kind of traveler Steve will be. He is an incredibly orderly person, so I decide to take him out of chaotic Bangkok as soon as possible...on a bicycle trip from Ayudhya to Khao Yai, Thailand's jungle-filled national park. I figure the forest is as different from Arizona...as well...the surface of mars. But the trip starts off inauspiciously.

After waiting out the rain for several hours, we hop on our bikes and head out on the wide open road.

Except it turns out to be more like a wide open freeway. Dusty and hot with five ton trucks constantly passing us by. We continue on for thirty miles...possibly the ugliest thirty miles I have yet To see in Thailand. We finally arrive at an ugly little town called Saraburi to stay in the first nondescript hotel we can find. In our exhausted state, all we can do is watch a bad Sylvester Stallone movie on tv.

Steve: "Yeah, it wasn't worth the trip to Thailand to do that.
Anne Marie: "Well hopefully I will be redeemed as a tour guide later in the week."
Steve: "Show me some jungle and I'll be happy."

The next day we travel to the town nearest the park in the comfort of an air conditioned bus. From here, our 35 mile bike ride to the park entrance is scenic...more of what we both had in mind, except for the last nine unrelenting miles uphill. We arrive at camp as the sun sets.

Anne Marie and Steve reach the park...

I am anxious for Steve to see the giant, buttressed trees, to hear the gibbons and the insects. But before that can happen, we must endure...the group campsite. The first night our companions are sixty Thai teenagers on a school outing. After some fitful hours of sleep we intend to ride up to a hiking trail. But Steve's bike delays us.

Steve: "Well I have to repair the damage to this rim after I felt the need to do a stunt that could potentially damage a rim..."
After his field repair with a broken brick, I spend the next several hours getting us lost in the jungle. The path seems to disappear every few steps...and under the murky sky and dark forest canopy I feel like the worst guide my brother could possibly have. I may be a veteran traveler, but I feel like a stupid little sister.

But the next morning the whole world seems different.

Anne Marie: "So its sunny today actually."
Steve: "Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!"
Anne Marie: "It's a totally different day isn't it? Its nice After such a tortured night of sleep."

Steve doesn't gush...but I can tell from the way he scrambles around the stream taking pictures that he feels the magic of the morning light.

Steve takes pictures...

We head out on our bikes and hit an excellent, well-maintained trail through the jungle. We ride across streams, hear great hornbills swooping above our heads, startle a wild deer with our quiet approach, and listen to the afternoon aria of a gibbon before racing downhill on our bicycles.

And with that crazy crashing down the trail...the whole trip becomes an adventure. we zoom back down the mountain road and ride into town. On the bus back, Steve is befriended by young Buddhist monks who feed us thai sweets as they point out the landmarks. We ride an elephant in Ayudhya...we play spot the transvestite in the carnival atmosphere of Bangkok's red light district...and we marvel at the live eels, roasted frogs, and giant fruits in the open air market of a Bangkok suburb.

Steve: "Now I can say, what I've seen in Bangkok is foreign, but this is exotic."
I finally feel like i have shown him something...like we have shared an adventure that could live up to some of my stories. And to my surprise he has turned out to be a natural traveler...not fussing about the details...never losing his sense of humour or getting squeamish about the dirt.
Steve: "Anyway it was a hell of an experience and uh I'm glad i did it...but that doesn't necessarily mean I'm affected enough in the same way to want to, that I'm bitten by that travel bug."
Even though the trip hasn't given Steve the same infection I have...I consider my mission accomplished.

So steve has gone back to arizona to work on Mars...and I am poring over maps...figuring out which foreign land will be the backdrop for the next story I send him...

Steve scales a temple...

For the Savvy Traveler, this is Anne Marie Ruff in Bangkok Thailand.

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