Khao Yai National Park, Thailand
Friday 30th December 2005:
Bangkok to Khao Yai National Park
I went to bed early at 9pm. My internal clock was telling me that in South Australia it was about 2am. I slept soundly until 4:30am and then dozed until 5:30 when I arose, showered and dressed. I went down for breakfast at 6:10am. It was still quite dark. I had a large breakfast again to prepare for a long day, not knowing when I would eat next.
Big OOOPS time!
The minibus came for me at 7am. I was the last to get on. There were nine passengers plus the driver and a guide for the day. There was a couple from New Zealand, a couple from Brisbane and a Venezuelan girl studying in Sydney. Her sister, brother in law and nephew from Venezuela were also on board. About a half hour later as we were travelling through the outer suburbs of Bangkok the guide had explained what we were going to be doing for the day. The Venezuelans asked if we were going to visit Pattaya Beach. They were on the wrong bus! Major oops time. After some quick negotiations and phone calls to the Tour East office they agreed to continue on our tour, even though they were dressed for the beach and definitely not prepared for hiking through the rainforest. I had my hiking boots on; they had their bathers, towels and thongs. It seems that there was a misunderstanding between their travel agent and the Tour East Company.
Visit to a rice farm
Our first stop was at a fuel station after about an hour. This was for fuel, toilets, purchase of drinks and whatever. I needed the toilet (because one takes every opportunity to use a toilet when travelling) but didnâ€™t need to buy anything. A little while later we stopped at a rice farm near the entrance to the national park. For the next half hour we were given a ride in a water buffalo cart through the rice fields. This traditional means of transport has all but died out due mechanisation. Our guide called them Japanese buffalo â€“ tractors that use Japanese engines. Our guide had a delightful sense of humour and was full of witty sayings like that.
For the first time I managed to see quite a few birds. We were travelling in quiet countryside at a slow walking pace. Unfortunately I was unable to identify many of them. During the ride in the cart we had to wear a traditional straw hat used by the locals. We also had to squat cross-legged in the car; my legs were really stiff for the next three days as a result.
Visit to a Country Market
The bus had travelled to our destination and another group of tourists had arrived ready to ride the carts back to the farm house where we had started. After another half hour in the bus we arrived at a genuine working country market. There were hundreds of stalls under plastic sheeting (to keep out the hot sun). These stalls sold an enormous range of foods â€“ rice, vegetables, fruit of all kinds, fish, eels, cockroaches, frogs (still alive), all kinds of meat both cooked and raw, plus many things I didnâ€™t recognise. Our guide was really good at explaining what things were and what they were called. We even got to taste some of the produce. He then bought a few items of fruit for our lunch.
Khao Yai National Park
Within the next hour we drove deep into the Khao Yai National Park. This was largely very thick rainforest. We saw many elephant droppings on the road but we did not sight a wild elephant. This would have been a worthy addition to the mammal list on my database! We also drove through a tiger zone but I was not surprised that we didnâ€™t see one. There were also signs warning to watch out for wild buffalo and several species of deer. We saw none of these because it is a fairly busy road.
At one point we stopped for a toilet break and then went for a walk through the rainforest. After half an hour downhill we came to a spectacular waterfall. The last section was very steep, 180 wooden steps as steep as a step ladder. The climb back up was very challenging and good training for next week in the Himalaya. My tendency to sweat profusely was not helped by the high humidity. And it is the dry season here in Thailand. Iâ€™d hate to go walking here in the Wet.
After another drive through the beautiful mountains we came to the Jungle Lodge. Here we had a sumptuous lunch of traditional Thai food, including more rice! Iâ€™ve eaten more rice in the last two days than I usually have in a year. After the soup and the main course we had a selection of fruit from the market.
After lunch we walked a short distance to where there were several elephants waiting to give us a ride through the rainforest. Fantastic! The ride was very peaceful. Our mahout took my camera, hopped off the elephant and proceeded to take about 20 photos of me and Vicky (the Venezuelan student) on the elephant. Vicky didnâ€™t have a camera with her but I offered to send copies to her on my return home. She gave me her email address so I must remember to send them to her.
One delightful and amusing incident as we got into the seat. Vickyâ€™s thong fell to the ground. The elephant nonchalantly reached down and retrieved it. It then handed it back to her. Should that be â€œtrunkedâ€ it back to her? Elephants donâ€™t have hands!
Feeding the Elephants
After the ride we were expected to buy our elephant a pineapple to eat. At 20 baht (about 70cents) it was a pleasure. Such gentle creatures; I stood right next to it and it gently took it from me, neatly bit off the leaves and politely chomped it up, dribbling just a little juice. I then tipped the mahout 40 baht. This also goes towards looking after the elephant.
On the ride through the rainforest I saw and heard many birds. I could not identify any of them as the experience was so overwhelming. I do remember seeing several parrots and a Blue Magpie, I think. The beauty of it all is that I get to ride another elephant at Chitwan National Park in Nepal.