As we continued our extended journey from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, we took a break from cities and ancient ruins to enjoy the beauty of Khao Yai National Park. Located North East of Bangkok, Khao Yai is Thailand’s 3rd largest National Park and one of the only places left in the world where Tigers and Elephants live in their natural habitat. The tigers are obviously almost impossible to ever see but their are night tours that regularly see families of roaming elephants.
Considering we had to get to Bangkok by Christmas to meet Sarah’s family, we tried to do as much as we could in the less than two days we had there. We started the day in Ayutthaya and encountered a classic Thailand scenario, rode in a Took Took to the train station for the 9am train. Of course there was no 9am train, never has been. Our guesthouse people had assured us there would be, and even showed us the time table which in fact had a 9am train. So we decided to just take it easy and spent 2-3 hours relaxing in the sun and reading at the station. I also took the chance to play with the settings on our camera and got some cool pictures.
The train finally arrived at a little before noon and we quickly boarded to get seats. The seats were hard and it was like a sauna in the train but the scenery was great out the window. We got to the city of Pak Chong after about a 90 minute ride and took a van another 20 minutes to our guesthouse which was near the park entrance. We quickly checked into our rooms and headed out for a 1/2 day tour we had scheduled in advance.
1/2 Day Tour Surrounding Khao Yai
The tour was organized through another guesthouse near the park and unfortunately there were at least 12 people in the group. We boarded two trucks and left at around 3pm. The tour focused on noteworthy sites outside of the park which we had heard were worth seeing. After driving for about 20 minutes we pulled off to see a natural spring that you could swim in if you wanted to. It was pretty chilly and Sarah and I were incredibly unprepared for this tour (we wore flip flops and no swimsuit) Compared to some of the other things we have seen, the spring was pretty underwhelming and we spent the time there just relaxing. The highlight here though was a green Viper we spotted in the tree near the spring. You don’t want to mess with that guy…
After the spring, we drove to see a rural Buddhist temple. The temple was at the top of a hill and although the temple wasn’t particularly memorable, it provided beautiful views of the surrounding landscape.
Bats, lots of Bats
Our next stop was by far the highlight of the tour. We drove 30 more minutes to a group of hills, one of which has a huge cave known for housing thousands and thousands of bats. Each night at sundown the bats pour out of the cave for almost an hour in their nightly quest for food. We walked to a spot our guide said would have the best view and waited for the bats. Sure enough,, like clockwork, the first bat flew down from the cave and a steady stream of thousands followed. With so many bats flying it looked almost like a river flowing in the sky. Obviously the bats are highly sensitive to sound which meant if you clapped your hand they simultaneously ‘swoosh’ out of the way. It was really cool to see and we got some awesome shots:
And of course Sarah found a friend; one of the nearby villagers dog. We also enjoyed a beautiful sunset.
The last stop on the tour was a big cave. We walked down a steep staircase into a huge open cave with tall ceilings and Buddhist relics everywhere. Our tour guide said that this was a common place for Hermit monks to meditate. At night it was just creepy. Our guide kept pointing out huge spiders, bugs, and bats clinging to the ceiling. Neither Sarah and I particularly like caves and could have skipped this part.
We headed back to the guesthouse after the cave and had a few beers watching weird Thai TV back at our room.
Day #2- Hiking and Hitchhiking Khao Yai
We started the day with a good breakfast at the guesthouse and then waited for the local bus to bring us to the park entrance. Once on-board, we realized how local the bus was when we saw what our fell passengers had for luggage…
Logistically Khao Yai is not your average American National park. This is not Yellowstone with organized tours and various shuttle options. Like I said, you take a local bus from Pak Chong which passes most of the guesthouses on its way to the park. Once at the park entrance you pay the fee and then are encouraged by the park rangers to wait for a passing car or truck to pick you up and give you a ride somewhere in the park… Yeah, you hitchhike. It’s pretty cool. If you are not a local Thai, this is how everyone gets around. We had read about it before we came but were still cracking up when we lined up inside the gate and stuck out our thumb. Sure enough, five minutes later a guy pulled up in a truck and we told him we wanted to go to the visitor center, he nodded, and we jumped in the back.
The 30 minute drive in the bed of his truck was by far our favorite part of the Khao Yai trip. The road climbed straight up a series of mountains and dangerously hung over the edge of many cliffs. As we went along we saw dozens of monkeys on the side of the rood catching some sun and eating. The air was fresh and the scenery was beautiful.
Once we got to the visitor center we grabbed a map and headed out on a hour long hike. The terrain was easy and it was cool to walk through such a different forest than we are used to.
Motion sickness anyone?
After the hike we hitched another ride, but this time we hopped into the bed of a truck with 7 other Thai teenagers. They all giggled when we jumped in and we exchanged broken Thai and English phrases. However, after about 20 minutes of swerving on hairpin turns and up and down hills the whole group started to turn green. Suddenly one of them leaned off the side and started puking, and before we knew it the whole group was throwing up everywhere.. except Sar and me. We handed over our water bottles and got out of the way.
Once everyone got it together we crawled up the last few hills until we reached Heo Suwat, which is the waterfall Leo jumps off in the famous scene from The Beach. It is really a beautiful waterfall and you can climb right down to the base of it.
We relaxed by the waterfall for quite a while before catching a ride to the park entrance with the pukers. We then took the bus back to our guesthouse to grab our bags and were back on the road again. This time we took a bus from Pak Chong down to Bangkok. We were looking forward to a nice dinner in the capital city… it was Christmas after all!