Bangkok, Khao Yai National Park
02.01.2013 - 07.01.2013 35 °C
After a bit of an emotional goodbye to Vietnam, we headed back to Bangkok to await our flight to India. We hadn’t planned to do much whilst there so, having stayed there the first time round, we opted to go to the Khao San Road area because we knew it. Bad idea. As soon as we arrived the reasons we’d had for disliking the place so much hit us again with full force.
Take for example our first night back. We got in to Bangkok at 2am and, once we’d found the guesthouse we were booked into, spent the first two hours trying to get the receptionist to give us our room key, as she wouldn’t accept our email confirmation from Agoda. In the end she had to ring the hotel owner who, after a disjointed conversation with Chris where both parties had to shout to make themselves heard over the ridiculously loud house music coming from the club next door, agreed to take a deposit from us and let us stay in the room, subject to their own email confirmation being received. All well and good, but then there was the room itself, which was a 2x5m concrete cell with sick stains on the door, an old mattress dumped in one corner of the room and creatures living in the walls. All this in addition to the aforementioned house music, which went on ‘til 4am and shook the walls, and the fact that the guesthouse also doubled as ‘workspace’ for the local prostitutes (we witnessed a few negotiations whilst arguing for our room in reception), just added to the appeal! Our room did however have a lovely framed pencil sketch of Tom Cruise on the wall, so, y’know, things are never that bad ;-). Needless to say, we got out as quickly as possible, and relief came in the form of Khao Yai National Park.
We took the local bus and sawngthaew (pic link) to a guesthouse on the outskirts of the park and were greeted with friendly faces, warm smiles and beautiful scenery. The guesthouse cost five pounds per night, had just been refurbished well and had big beautiful grounds surrounding a swimming pool filled from a water feature in the style of a cliff. This was the Thailand we remembered fondly and it was nice to be back. We happily arranged to go on one of their safaris for the next day and spent a much more relaxed evening doing admin for India.
The tour started at 8am when we met our guide, Ta-ta, and made the short journey by jeep into the park. Ta-ta spoke fantastic English, had a few jokes up his sleeve and was very relaxed. We made our first stop in the park at a viewpoint overlooking the valley and were each given a pair of rather fetching ‘leech socks’ (modeled below by Chris). We were also descended on by a group of monkeys, obviously accustomed to human contact, which set about making friends with whoever looked like they had food. Ta-ta didn’t want to spend too much time with the monkeys though, he said we’d see loads of them throughout the day, and so we carried on.
We cruised very slowly through the park to avoid scaring the wildlife and the guides were in constant radio contact with each other to give us the best chance of seeing something special. It wasn’t long before we pulled up and Ta-Ta started pointing at the treetops. Who knows how he spotted it, but sitting nonchalantly high in the treetops was a white gibbon. We spent some time looking through Ta-Ta’s powerful binoculars before a shout from another guide further up the road signaled even more gibbons. We hotfooted it over and walked a little way into the trees where another white gibbon and a family of black gibbons were enjoying the morning sun, swinging around the treetops and even taking time to hang around the lower branches to have a closer look at us and pose for some photos.
If these cute characters had been the only animals we’d seen all day we’d have been more than happy, but Khao Yai turned out to be an absolute treasure trove of wildlife and we were in for plenty more surprises.
We travelled a little further in the jeep before jumping out to take a 2 ½ hour trek through the jungle. Ta-Ta stopped occasionally to talk through the different types of flora including tiger balm plants, cinnamon trees and fig trees that plant themselves on top of host trees and grow downwards, slowly enveloping and strangling the host. Grim!
As we were walking down a fairly steep leafy hill, Ta-Ta turned round and stopped us, he gestured for us to walk slowly and quietly and to stop talking and as we gathered round where he had set up his binoculars we understood why. Two Great Hornbills were sat in a tree only one hundred metres from where we were walking. Standing about 1 metre off the branch, the bird was not only massive but with its multi coloured beak, also very beautiful. When one of them flew to another branch, you could literally hear the individual wing flap reverberating round the trees. We watched them for about half an hour, unable to take our eyes off them. They were absolutely magnificent, so much more amazing than seeing them on TV, it’s difficult to describe but we were completely awestruck. It was a definite highlight of the day, and of the whole trip.
Not long after, and nearing the end of the trek, Ta-ta urged us to hurry up as he had just been radioed through the location of a wild elephant who’d taken a break from the mask of the jungle. After a 5 minute march, we turned a corner and there he was, wild as you like, majestically stood on the edge of the jungle munching some grass. Ta-Ta warned us not to get too close, as it was mating season and the elephants get a bit hormonal. We watched him make his way across the path in front of us until he disappeared back in to another part of the jungle. Ta-ta had a hunch that he would be heading for the next nearest salt lick (these are made by the park rangers to help with the elephants diet), so we got there ahead of him and sat in wait. It didn’t take long before he came boldly striding round the corner...
After this we headed for the park’s information centre for lunch, which itself was a haven of wildlife. Groups of deer had found a home by the river that runs past the restaurant area and as we ate we watched as a water monitor hunted down a freshwater bird.
After lunch we were taken to see the waterfall used in the film The Beach, which was nice but nothing special (unless you’re a huge fan of the film), before being driven to the cliff summit of the park to overlook panoramic views of the canopy and beyond. It was beautiful.
On the drive back, we stopped very briefly to see the same elephant at a different salt lick, and another group of hornbills, this time much further away, but again, we only stopped briefly as the overall feeling in the group was that they wanted to return home. One of the Dutch guys in our group joked that some people must have paid to see the road, not the wildlife. It was slightly disappointing, as we both felt like we’d rather make the most of our time there, but the trek was long in hot conditions and some of the group were a bit elderly.
So with Khao Yai done, the curtains were sadly starting to close on South East Asia. We headed back to Bangkok and tried our best to steer clear of the notorious Khao San Road area but the cheapest room we could find was 3 times what we had budgeted for. So, after an hour of searching in the heat, we admitted defeat (for the sake of the cashflow) and headed back to Khao San for one last night in the madness. We were comforted by reminding ourselves we’d rather spend money on jungle adventures than on free toothbrushes and origami hotel towels ;-)
It has been lovely to be back in the country we started in. The route we took made gradual changes to the landscape, the people and the food but it was when we came back to Thailand, that we realized just how different the four countries had been. We’re sad to leave South East Asia after such an extended stay as, despite moving from place to place, it’s come to feel like home. However, we were both ready for a new challenge and India is shaping up to be just that! If we’re honest, we were a little nervous to be taking on India, everything we’ve read about it says it’s going to be a love-it-or-hate-it complete sensopry overload of a country, but we’re also confident we’re going to have a fantastic time. So goodbye from South East Asia and help make some more sense of the blog, here’s a map of where we’ve been! :-D