Welcome to the jungle, we've got mud and rain. Khao Yai National Park, located in a mountainous province outside of Bangkok, is the second largest park in Thailand that covers over 2,000 square kilometers. I ventured through the park in a group of seven guys from Loyola, but it wasn't long before we befriended two other travelers and expanded our fellowship. The fellowship of what exactly? The Fellowship of the Farang.
Our first additional member became part of the group when we arrived at the park. He sat near us for the entirety of the bus ride and I knew he was a European backpacker after seeing so many of them travel through Bangkok. Somehow our group starting chatting with him when we got off the bus and invited him to join our jungle excursion. I was pleased to learn that our new friend Max was from Munich. He just finished high school and decided to travel with the money he saved up and received after graduation. I always enjoy practicing my German with native speakers and learning more about the culture. He spoke English very well, but it was more fun to make simple jokes or conversation in German while the rest of the group remained unaware. Trying to speak three different languages (English, German and Thai) in one weekend can make your head spin; especially when you have a sleepless night in the wild. More on that soon.
We piled in the back of a truck to ascend the mountain to an information center. Along the way we passed jaw-dropping views of the vivid green canopy below. I immediately thought of the jungle terrain camera shots one might see on Planet Earth where the camera slowly surveys the tree tops from the belly of a cruising plane. It would be pretty cool to have Richard Atinborough narrate my journey through a tropical forest. Once we made it to the information center to find a map of the park we realized that we didn't have enough daylight left to complete a hike. We decided to head for the campground to find a place to stay before dark. After paying for numerous truck rides to get around the park we realized that we could hitchhike with passing cars. During the ride to the campground we almost ran into a group of monkeys (gibbons) that were littered across the road. That's something you don't see every day, especially signs that say "Cobra Crossing" and "Beware of Crocodiles". The driver showed no signs of slowing down even as we all yelled "Look out, monkey!" to give them a fair chance. They could've cared less. I was more concerned about the little baby monkeys.
Leaches. Everywhere. I constantly checked my legs for the little parasites. These bloodsuckers are different than the ones back home. They sneak up on you when you least expect it. Rather than attacking from the water, they latch onto your shoes as you walk the trails and inch their way up your legs. If you feel a pinch you better give it a look. On the first night of exploring the camp area I walked onto a trail for no more than thirty seconds, turned around and headed back to camp when I found one on my ankle. When I went to the bathroom to check it out under the light I found two crawling on me. Thankfully they weren’t attached so I flicked them off. As I frantically cursed and checked my legs I encountered the second addition to our group, a young guy from Maine. It was refreshing to meet an American traveler and learn his perspective on Thailand. It turned out that he had actually taught English in Nepal with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps for nearly a year before coming to Thailand. I’m sure he could navigate Thailand with ease after living in Nepal for some time. He was traveling by himself, so I invited him to join us in our jungle antics.
The campground, populated with large deer (and leaches), was located in a marshland next to a small river. We wanted to be real men and camp outside for the night. What a mistake. The ground was soft and saturated when we set up our tent, so when it poured for most of the night we woke up shivering in a cold puddle. I wasn't having any of that and I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep at all, so I changed clothes and stayed up the entire night with a few other guys. When we found ourselves unable to rent any more blankets or camping gear after the equipment building shut down for the night, we were left to make due with the clothes that we packed. The four of us walked around and talked for a bit before failing to sleep on wooden benches in a small pavilion next to our tent. Maybe around 4am we were visited by a massive deer that wanted to snack on leftover rice. I was hesitant to shoo the animal away, thinking that it might get angry for being disturbed during its meal. Fortunately it took what it wanted and crept away back into the night. Eventually the sun came up and I could not have been more thankful that the night was over.
Now for the really good stuff. No doubt I was absolutely exhausted from a sleepless night, yet somehow I found a second wind in time for our hikes to two waterfalls. First, we hitchhiked to Haew Suwat falls, made famous by the Leo DiCaprio film, The Beach. These falls were close to the main road, only a few minutes down a short trail. All of us spent some time climbing across boulders to get closer to the falls for some quality photos. There were many different groups of tourists at the falls. I think most if not all of them were Thai. One of the best parts about visiting waterfalls in Thailand is that there are no rules or area restrictions. If you want to get a closer look by climbing across a few boulders or hiking up to the top of the falls, no one is going to stop you. You can even jump if you’re brave enough. I wouldn’t condone a 25 meter jump into murky water of any kind. But if Leo DiCaprio jumped off of it, then it must be ok, right? We spent a good amount of time investigating the area around the waterfall before heading back up the trail to the main road. Across the road was a small gift shop near the trail to the next waterfall.
Since we knew the leaches would eat us alive on a mile long jungle trek, most of us invested in leach socks to protect ourselves. What are leach socks? Probably one of the most blatant Farang accessories you can buy. They are basically white Christmas stockings with drawstrings at the top. So you put these stockings on and tuck your pant legs into them before tightly tying the drawstrings. I looked pretty ridiculous, but it kept me leach-free! Our hike through the forest was easily the best part of the trip – more fun than actually investigating the falls. The hike was exactly what I expected and I loved every minute of it! I sloshed through the mud along a crocodile-infested river, walked upon fallen trees to cross streams, followed winding trails and pushed my way through overgrown plants. I really should have bought that machete in the gift shop…only 150B. I expected to see the Temple of Doom covered in dense vegetation as we wandered deeper into the wilderness, but I suppose that’s located closer to India. I think I enjoyed the hike more than actually being at the waterfall, but it was refreshing to cool off in the water and take a break. The cascading falls crashed down three or four tiers, which was really something to behold. It was possible to climb up the tiers to the pools above; it just seemed a little too risky to try that after a sleepless night. I took the safer option and reclined on a boulder with my feet in the pool.
While exploring the jungle, I found one of the most fascinating things to be the natural lighting through the canopy. We hiked in the shade most of the time with an overcast sky above us. When unexpected beams of light broke through the canopy I noticed the ways in which the sunlight reflected off the leaves and I was struck by the vibrant green of everything around me. These rays of light seemed to be pointing to certain features along the path as if saying, “Hey! Look at this!” I certainly became more aware of my surroundings and took note of all that I saw and felt while moving through the jungle. All of us made it through in one piece - most of us left with wounds from thirsty leaches. Although our fellowship disbanded, we made a few new friends who we may surely meet again some day.
Song of the Day: Same Same, But Different
From the concrete jungle to the jungle...jungle here's a song by School of Seven Bells, or SVIIB for short. I've decided to start a post once a week called 'Same Same, But Different' where I post an original song and a worthy remix. The quoted phrase is a saying in Thailand when you talk about two similar things that are also different. For example, an oak tree and a palm tree are both trees, but different kinds of trees. Hence, same same, but different. You get the point. So these two songs share the same dreamy lyrics and melody, but sound a little different. Trekking through the jungle half asleep or without sleep for that matter keeps you on your toes. These songs are about dreams and sleep, which I sorely missed after that sleepless night. Seeing the sunbeams in the forest reminded me of waking up in the morning and how comfortable my bed can be when the sunlight wakes me up. Maybe these songs will remind you of a similar feeling; in a different way.
School of Seven Bells - "Half Asleep" <<<Download
School of Seven Bells - "Half Asleep" (Lusine Remix) <<<Download