Anyone who knows me is well aware of my obsession with hiking and trail running and all things outdoors. This may make my decision to live in the big city seem pretty silly, but Thailand is full of national parks so it’s not hard to catch a ride to a neighboring jungle. Khao Yai was first on my list – full of wildlife and covering 2168 square kilometers, it’s easy to get away from the crowds (who tend to stick pretty close to the visitor center). We used the Queen’s birthday holiday to explore the park for a long weekend.
Scott and I had the overly-ambitious idea to drive a motorbike from Pak Chong to our hotel for the first night. I had chosen a hotel owned by the Cabbages and Condoms crew (I know what you’re thinking, but it’s actually a great organization!), but I didn’t realize the distance we’d have to cover coming from Pak Chong. To make matters worse, we had our weekend packs with us on the ONE bike we rented, and the signage for the hotel was abysmal. We were close to running out of gas at one point. It seemed like every Thai we stopped to ask kept pointing us in different directions. All said and done, we made it.
This little guy was so friendly. So, naturally, now I want a cow.
First order of business was food (duh). I knew I wanted to check out the vineyards backdropped by gorgeous green Khao Yai mountains, so we took the bike back a ways to PB Valley Winery to eat at the Great Hornbill. After refueling and getting our wine buzz on, we ran down to the vineyard in time to frolic among the grapes before the sun set. Of course, a brief, sweaty photoshoot ensued.
Scott and I went to university together (and dated there) and now he is simply one of my best friends…and five years later, we both live in Thailand! Life is crazy. It’s so good to have adventure friends like this.
That night, we soaked our tired bodies in their multi-level pool – after nearly going down the slide in the dark…into the bottom level that was half-drained. I was raised in Arizona, where I essentially grew up in a swimming pool. But I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated them more than here in swampy Thailand. Despite the temperature in Khao Yai being noticeably cooler, the cool water was just the refresh we needed before heading into our adventure in the park.
Up and alive with anticipation, I hopped a fence in the morning to get a better view of the sunrise while Scott roused himself. Snapped an okay photo, placed my phone on the top of the wall and launched myself over so easily, that I actually thought to myself, “I am a ninja!” and simultaneously went to grab my phone…and immediately dropped it on its face. No cracks, but white bars lined the screen, rendering it unusable. Resisting the urge to cry and/or chuck the thing against a wall, I rushed to Scott to seek his rational thinking. He calmly urged me to just putttt the phone dowwwwn…and I begrudgingly tucked it away for the rest of the trip. While I love having the easy access and simplicity of shooting with my phone, maybe it was a good thing I couldn’t use it in the park.
We packed up and rode to the main entrance of the park. Be sure to show your work permit at national parks, if you have one. It is normally 400 baht for foreigners and only 50 baht for Thais. Show a work permit and get the Thai price. Quite a difference. Also, you should note – once you’re in the park, you’re in. You cannot leave and come in again on the same ticket. Because of this, we chose to stay in the park. All the lodging was full, so we rented camping gear. I taught Scott how to pitch a tent and then we started off on our first hike through the jungle.
I remember an uneasy feeling through parts of the hike. The jungle is no joke. It gets very dark, even in the middle of the day, we didn’t pass any other hikers, and I realized that if anything happened to us, my survival skills are more to the tune of using cacti for drinking water – this tropical maze was totally new to me. We made it out alive, but not without incident:
– ALL THE LEECHES (I would recommend the leech protectors if you’re squeamish. I didn’t mind too much, but I did end up with leech marks on my legs, ankles and feet for months)
– Scott attempted to sprint past a wasp nest that was blocking our path, but to do so he had to clear a felled tree. He did, but promptly fell on his ass, inciting great anger from the wasps. I saw the fall, then all I heard was a fading “ouch! Shit! SHIT! AGGHGH!” as he tried to run away. For the record, wasps will chase you down. I waited and then found a little game trail to the side of the path, so I came out unscathed. Sorry, Scott.
– We had to use a giant log to cross a very wide, rushing river at one point. There was a rope strung across to help you balance. As I had my backed turned to photograph a colorful bug (yes), Scott attempted to pull himself up onto the log using the rope. Unfortunately, his foothold was rotted, and the rope was almost as old. The bark crumbled beneath his feet and the rope snapped, causing him to fall backwards – onto me. My bruised body and his bruised ego then had to v e r y c a r e f u l l y cross the log bridge without assistance.
Our hike ended at a large lookout tower, but no elephants to be seen. Disappointed with the lack of wildlife sightings on our hike, we hitched a ride back to the visitor center where we left the bike. There, we had our first close encounter with a monkey troupe. Finally seeing some of the animals that call the park home, I was satisfied for the time being.
Back at camp, we had just finished showering off the layers of mud and sweat when it started to pour. Regretting not renting a tarp, we sprinted to our tent – luckily our gear stayed dry. We snacked on tamarind candies and peanuts by the light of my broken phone. I’m usually Boy Scout-level prepared for even day hikes…I’m embarrassed to say I had not even packed my headlamp.
If you go, you can be sure you’ll see numerous Sambar deer. I slept, but not well. On the bright side – I was awake well before the sun, so we sleepily bundled up (hello, pants! Jackets! Wrapped in a blanket!) and headed out on the motorbike in search of some sunrise animal encounters. We had only been riding a short time when we turned a corner and were face to face with a herd of wild elephants. Not another soul in sight. It’s a difficult experience to explain. I feel like if everyone were able to experience something like this, more humans would give a shit about the other creatures that inhabit this world. We walked alongside them for awhile, in awe of their sheer size and the volume of their growls. I will not confirm nor deny any crying accusations…
Aside from the magical morning with the elephants, simply riding the motorbike through the twisting roads stands out as a highlight. It seemed we spotted all of our wildlife during these rides; the only wildlife our hikes got us were spiderwebs to the face and leeches on our feet. The views from the bike were unbeatable. Wide open vistas, dark, vine-twisted tree tunnels. Every tree seemed to be drenched in green. At night, mist swirled around our feet and reflected off our headlights. Khao Yai was quickly becoming my favorite place in Thailand.
As we rode the motorbike down the mountain towards Pak Chong, the temperature change was impossible to ignore. We left the magic of Khao Yai and headed back to our daily grind in humid Bangkok…dreams and schemes of my next visit already filling my head.