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Khao Yai

Thursday May 4th, 2000 to Sunday May 7th, 2000
Setting out into the jungle, Khao Yai, Thailand

I booked a Friday off and we headed to Khao Yai National Park, a couple of hours northeast of Bangkok. Khao Yai is Thailand's oldest national park (it was established in 1961), and is apparently considered by people who know these kinds of things to be among the best national parks in the world. It consists of 2172km2 of intact monsoon forest, and was recently named an ASEAN National Heritage site; the wildlife in the park is plentiful, and includes wild elephants, sambar, barking deer, Malayan sun bears, Asiatic black bears, tigers, leopards, and macaques, to name a few. Unfortunately we didn't see any elephants (we occasionally came across relatively fresh evidence of their presence), but we visited with a large number of monkeys, and glimpsed a few deer, birds, and butterflies.

We travelled to nearby Pak Chong on Thursday night, and the next day, having stocked up on provisions in town, we arrived at the park around 2pm. We secured some maps and headed off on a 4hr trek along a trail that, according to our map, was "difficult to follow in spots". For the first 3hrs and 45min, we congratulated ourselves on what a good job we were doing following this apparently "difficult to follow" trail; then it simply disappeared. To say that it is "difficult to follow" a trail that no longer exists is a bit of an understatement, and needless to say, we were a little annoyed. We were also more than a little stressed, since the light was quickly fading and we were having to seriously contemplate the possibility of spending the night lost in the jungle. 3 times we returned to the last trail marker and tried to find our way, and 3 times we failed to find anything even remotely resembling a trail. Compounding matters were the fact that there had been a thunderstorm which had soaked (and tripled the weight of) everything we had, and the leeches: gross, nasty, bloodsucking things that we peeled off of various body parts through out the trek — luckily for me the little vampires seemed to like Noah better. In our desperate attempt to locate a trail, Noah, trying to find a place to cross a river, fell in over his head — the only consolation was that he had been soaked to the skin long before his little swim.

Khao Yai, Thailand

The thing that ultimately saved us was the sound of cars. We knew that the trail was supposed to end at a road, and it when it disappeared we were close enough to the road that we could occasionally hear a car going by. Unfortunately, we were separated from the road by a large river (the one into which Noah had fallen), a steep bank, and ample thorny undergrowth. We attempted to follow the river towards the road, but that was impossible: the river was too deep to walk in, and the bank was steep and covered with large thorny plants. We decided to climb the bank and see if we could get to the road that way. We painstakingly crawled up the muddy embankment, our clothes and skin being torn by thorns; it was presumably around this time that we picked up the nasty little vampires that we would later be picking out of our armpits and off of Noah's neck. Though it was a wee bit tense for a while, we eventually cleared the bank and fought our way out to the road where, relieved not to be preparing for a night in the jungle, we hitched a ride to the nearest campground to rent a tent. This had been our 2nd "lost in the jungle" experience, and, due to the significantly larger size of this jungle and the fading daylight, it had been much more stressful than the 1st.

The jungle of Khao Yai, Thailand

Now it is important to understand that, traditionally, Thais rarely examine a situation on its merits, preferring just to follow the rules unquestioningly: "mai dai" — "can not" — I am sick of this phrase, the most common answer to my "why?" (we've been told that the reason is that employees, underlings, etc., get in serious trouble from their superiors if they so much as bend a rule). So when we showed up at the campground at 6:10 (later than we had expected because of their poorly marked trails), we discovered that the rental place stopped renting tents at 6, and we were out of luck. It didn't matter that the rental place was open, that we were on foot and 12km from any other accommodation, that we were soaked, that it was dark, or that it was starting to rain again, they stopped renting tents at 6. End of story.

Frustrated, we headed out to the road to walk 12km back to park headquarters. I was not in a pleasant mood by this point, thinking that murder would have been too kind a treatment for the park rangers who had turned us away. Fortunately for us 2 Chinese men stopped to give us a ride; unfortunately for them we stunk. After several hours of hiking in the rain and scrambling through the jungle, the benefits of our carefully practised daily hygiene had long since been exhausted. In any case, we made it back to headquarters where we rented a patch of floor in one the park dormitories, ate dinner, and then removed the nasty little leeches that had previously escaped notice. Eventually we settled ourselves down on the hard wooden floor in a big empty room. We froze, (it gets a little chilly at night in the park and we had no blankets), we ached (I had bruises on my hips the next day from the hard floor), and the Thais sharing our room had a party until all hours of the night; it was still better than holing up in the jungle, though.

Heo Suwat falls, Khao Yai, Thailand

Due to our less than ideal sleeping arrangements, we headed out early the next day. We spent several hours hitching around the park and looking at some rather amazing waterfalls. By mid-afternoon our clothes had finally dried out and we were just getting ready to head back to town when the heavens opened up and we were soaked once again, along with everything we had brought with us (my pocket Tetris has still not fully recovered). We waited out the rain and then hitched a ride out of the park to a guesthouse recommended by the Lonely Planet, where we spent the night before heading back to Bangkok the next morning. (In Thailand, "western breakfast " is hard to come by, and when you do find it it's usually expensive and not particularly good — the guesthouse we stayed in was run by a Thai/German couple, however, and they served 4 huge, thick slices of toast with the breaky — I was rather pleased with the whole experience). After breakfast we caught a ride into town and, having come up on the bus, decided to take the train back to Bangkok, a decision which only proves that we are stupid. For the same price as a seat in an airconditioned bus we stood under a broken fan in an unairconditioned train that took longer to get back to Bangkok than the bus had taken to get there.

More information about Thailand is available on the About Thailand page; you might want to have a look at it if you haven't already.

You might wish to look at the Khao Yai photos in the photo album.

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