A Travellerspoint blog

Paddington or Pooh?

sunny 32 °C
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There were three of us on our day tour of Khao Yai Nationap Park. Katherine, myself and a sombre Israeli guy called Zach. Our guide's name was Ruang and we had a driver as well. We stopped at the park entrance to pay the fee. Technically, according to Thai law, the fee rises from 200B to 400B for a foreigner in November this year (and from 20 to 40B for locals). But practically, most of the parks are already charging the higher rate. At 400B the park has to be spectacular otherwise I won't be visiting them anymore.

We stopped half way up the windy, steep road to see a clouded (or Bengal) lizard warming itself on a branch. The lizard was 100m across the valley and blended in so well with it's surroundings we wondered how on earth Ruang had spotted it. This was the tone for the day, many times he spotted something that we had trouble seeing, even after it was pointed out to us. Luckily, Ruang had a scope with him that gave great close-up views of the creatures we saw.

Our next stop was at the viewpoint to put our leech socks on. They make you look oh so silly but they are oh so necessary. Nasty, little creatures. Katherine took a liking to them but then she hasn't had one attach to her so you can't get it off.

Then Ruang spotted a hornbill, a Great Hornbill. It was huge and was sitting on a branch outside it's nest. These are the birds where the female encloses herself in a hollow in a tree while she lays her legs and the male feeds her through a small hole. After three months she breaks out with the chicks. So, if the male dies, so does the female and the chicks. We saw the male too.

We stopped again to see a squirrel. Squirrels are quite common and we had admired them at several places include Baan Lotus, right back at the beginning of our trip. But this was a Giant Black Squirrel and it was large, much bigger than the regular squirrels. It was eating fruits on a branch over hanging the road.

A bit further along we heard a family of gibbons so we took a walk into the jungle to hunt for them. (Thank goodness for leech socks as the horrible things were everywhere.) We finally spotted the gibbons, sometimes stationary on the branch, sometimes swinging through the trees. There were at least two black ones and two white ones. The colour of the gibbon doesn't matter, the breeding pair can be any combination of black/white and they produce any combination of black/white offspring.

While we were happily absorbed in watching the gibbons we heard a noise and about 10m away was a black shape on the ground. It was an Asiatic Black Bear. After a moment to admire it Ruang told us to retreat quietly and quickly as the bears can be dangerous. He told us stories of people who have had their faces scarred from the bear raking them with their claws. It was a good sighting though as he has only seen them one or two times before. Later in the day Ruang showed us claw marks on the trees where the bear has tried to get honey or insects from the inside. Also, he pointed out a sleeping platform made by a bear. It was way up high in the branches and there were the distinctive points of bear claws going up the tree.

Next we went to the Park Headquarters for a toilet stop and to look around the Information Centre. We saw an Indonesian Water Dragon (a small one) perched on the end of a branch and some kind of longtail bird (I forget it's full name).

Now it was time for our trek. Katherine had been worried about this but I think Lek from our guesthouse had primed Ruang and we had an easy 6km walk of about three hours. We went slowly so as to spot wildlife but we only saw a horned spider, slaters (curled in protective balls like marbles) and some birds. Ruang did point out mud marks on a tree where a wild elephant had rubbed itself while walking by.

Finally, we came out to the grasslands where it immediately became much hotter. After 10 mins we arrived at a hide at a watering hole. There was a saltlick nearby too, but no animals. They were all on holiday, it seems. The hide was a like a treehouse with small windows to observe the animals. It was coolish with the breeze and we had a rest and ate our lunch. Poor Ruang was carrying our packed lunch (rice and veges), two books on birds in Thailand and his scope.

After lunch and a rest we walked a further 10-15 mins through the grasslands to the road where our driver was waiting. A driver for another company had cunningly slung a hammock between his vehicle and a tree. We drove on to Hew Suwat waterfall slowly so as to spot more wildlife but the only thing of note was a family group of pig-tailed macaque monkeys. Some were swinging in the trees like the gibbons, some were at the side of the road. The alpha male came and did some posturing, checking us out and hoping we would throw fruit. It's a bad practice as they should be fending for themselves but I suspect many people do throw them fruit so they come to expect it.

I had been to this waterfall before, last time I was in Thailand. I think there was less water this time but it is still good to see. We had a drink and a wander around. We took off our leech socks here as we had finished treking for the day. On our way back from the waterfall we stopped to look at a water monitor lizard.

Our next activity was searching for wild elephants. We drove along the road that bisects the park. It goes from Prachinburi Province in the south to Nakhon Ratchasima Province in the north. I biked this road last time so was glad to point out to Katherine the places I had been. I looked very carefully for elephants. There are many trails onto the road. In fact, the road (and the walking trails) was originally an elephant trail. Katherine searched for elephants with her eyes closed so afterwards I told her I had seen three. But, alas, we didn't see any. November is a good time to go, apparently. Ruang said they see wild elephants just about every day then.

We took a side road that goes to a radar station for the airforce and stopped at another grassland area to see if any animals would appear. No, they were still on holiday. We did see a woodpecker and a little bird (I forget the name) chirping away with all it's might. I would expect more animals to appear at dusk but we weren't having any success (just a wild chook and a pheasant and a mongoose, but I didn't see the mongoose). We drove up the windy road to an excellent viewpoint of the setting sun.

That was the end of our day tour of Khao Yai National Park. Now we were on the return journey to our guesthouse. The driver still drived slowly so when I saw two wild dogs I banged on the cab. It was a pair of jackals. Our last animals for the evening.

Our 12 hour tour was definitely worth every baht even though we didn't see snakes, scorpions and elephants. We were very pleased to see the animals we did and would gladly do it again. A fantastic day had by all.

Posted by pythagnz 16:37 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

To the Bat Cave

sunny 36 °C
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After breakfasting in Ayutthaya we caught a second train to Pak Chong. This was a third class train only, the same one as we had caught from Bangkok to Ayutthaya on our first day, except this time we had allocated seats. We sat opposite a 23 year old woman and an old man who seemed to doubt we knew what we were doing as he wanted to examine my ticket to check we were in the right place. We were.

We both enjoyed this trip as the train slowly climbs through rock out crops to the Isan plataeu. It took about 3 hours to get to Pak Chong. At the station we were accosted by several people who wanted to sell their guesthouse and National Park tour to us but telling them I had already made a reservation was a good foil. And true.

We were met by an old man who took us to the Greenleaf Guesthouse. We travelled on seats on the back of his truck, a common way to get around. The guesthouse didn't appear to be much on first glance. Our room was basic and there was mould on the bathroom walls. Katherine just about revolted after our lovely bungalow and gardens at Malee's in Chiang Dao. But she got over it when we discovered there was a coin-operated washing machine nearby. We had been handwashing all our clothes at Malee's as the laundry service was expensive at 50B per kilo.

It was very hot and I tried to rest in a hammock outside but was disturbed by bugs. Katherine tried to rest inside but it was hotter than outside. Finally at 4pm it was time for our half day tour. Four young UK women and a UK man were also on the tour. The women were travelling together and were amusing in their lack of preparedness and knowledge about Thailand. They were fun though. The man (who was travelling separately from them) was nice and had more clues.

The first stop on our tour was at a tree at the roadside. We were looking for a green parrot in a big tree with green leaves. We didn't see it so we moved on to the first bat cave. This one is in a temple complex and was only discovered 10 years ago. We thought this was surprising - how come nobody noticed the bats leaving the cave? So, we climbed down steep steps and the guide took us to several rooms to see the bats. He showed us a mother with a baby holding on to her and a bat adoption site - some bats care for other bat's offspring. They are actually social animals. In one small cave room the bats flew very close to us but not quite touching as they use their sonar to sense our position. There are ony 2-3000 bats in this cave.

We had a choice of exit points. Two people chose to return the same way but most of us followed the guide further into the cave. We came to a big room with a hole in the roof. Part of the roof was on the ground. Perhaps this is why the monks and nearby villagers hadn't noticed the bats until relatively recently. Maybe it was only when the roof fell in and the bats started using this as an exit point that they saw them. Our guide went hunting for a creepy crawly and came back with a scorpion spider. It's actually an insect as it has antennae and six legs, not a spider and it is harmless so I let it roam over my hand.

Our next stop was the bat cave with 2-3 million bats. They were already streaming out of the cave as we approached it. They take an hour or more to all exit the cave. We watched them for a bit - they are like a giant streamer blowing in the wind. We also saw a coupleof hawks circling then diving into the stream of batsin search of dinner. The first hawk was successful and flew off with it's prey. We watched through the scope as the hawk picked the unfortunate bat to bits. Good for the hawk, bad for the bat.

We ate fruits on the hill while watching the sun set. Still the bats streamed from the cave, but in smaller numbers now. Our last stop was a fresh water spring here some of the group went swimming. It was dark by now and almsot cold on the way back to the guesthouse. I had noodle soup for dinner (20B) and Katherine had some tofu, vege rice dish.

Posted by pythagnz 07:13 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Tips for Train Travel in Thailand

sunny 32 °C
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The first one is if you are a light sleeper like me then don't. Travel on the train, that is. When the bunks are made up they are very cosy. In fact, many guesthouses and hotels could learn something from the State Railways of Thailand in terms of providing soft pillows and comfortable mattresses. Somehow, I don't seem to sleep though Katherine rather enjoys the sleeper train. Mind you, she was on the wider lower berth.

In Chiang Mai Train Station, the toilets cost 3 baht. This is common practice. But if you pay 5B you can take a shower and that is exactly what we did. After coming from Chiang Dao on the bus and spending the afternoon in Chiang Mai we were rather sticky but forewarned we were able to have a shower and chane our clothes just before our 17:55 train departed for Bangkok.

Next tip: The air-con is cold. I wore my zip-off trousers so I could add or remove the legs depending on how warm or cold it was. It's cold on the train but warm outside when you get off and it's good to be able to remove the legs then. We took sweatshirts too, which also were used after an hour or two.

Of course, train food is expensive and less than exciting. I went over the road from the train station and bought fried rice for Katherine and pad kapow gai for me. At 30B for each meal this was less than half the cost of a train meal, tasted better and was more filling. The locals had done the same thing too, I noticed.

Try and get your berths in the centre of the carriage or in a carriage further away from the dining car. We failed both times with this one and had to put up with many Europeans and other travellers heading backwards and forwards to the party in the dining car. Our berths were also near the toilets so we had a constant stream of people traipsing past in the evening and early morning. The automatic doord whoosh open and closed every time somebody walks through them but thankfully they seem to have a curfew and lock the one through to the dining car sometime in the late evening.

Final tip: When you choose to get off at a destination that is not the last stop it means you worry about missing your station. It is not necessary to be awake at 3am when the trains are often late and the steward kindly tells you when your station is coming up (at 6:30am).

Posted by pythagnz 06:56 Archived in Thailand Tagged train_travel Comments (1)

R&R in Chiang Dao

semi-overcast 35 °C
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The Chang Puak (White Elephant) Bus Station is the stepping off point for buses to Chiang Dao. Our tuk-tuk arrived just as a bus was ready to go so we were hustled from one form of transport to another. The bus is a provinicial bus so the air-con is open windows and the seating is three to a seat when necessary.

The first half of the journey is through built-up area and not so interesting, apart from the passing the army barracks and the equestrian centre. But the second half is very scenic as the road winds it way through the mountains, alongside a muddy brown river. We saw elephants and their mahouts walking alomside the road - there is an elephant camp up here too.

At Chiang Dao our first priority was food as it was now after 1:30pm and we hadn't eaten for awhile. We ate noodle soup. Katherine thinks this is the fourth time her vegetarianism has been compromised as even though she didn't have meat in her soup. the soup stock would have been made from meat. It was delicious anyway and Katherine closed her eyes and thought of Mother Earth.

We took a truck taxi to Malee Nature Lover's Bungalows, about 1.3 km past the well-known Chiang Dao cave. Malee has a beautiful garden with little brick bungalows. We settled in and went for a short walk to the temple up the road. We had just started looking around when the rains came (yes, my title Monsoons in May is appropriate). Luckily we had our plastic rain ponchos from the Elephant Camp so we sheltered for a bit then walked quickly back to Malee's and a lovely mussaman curry for dinner.

At nightime the fireflies, frogs and geckos came out and kept us entertained.

The next morning we walked down to the cave. We hired a guide with a lantern to take us through the caverns. You can go by yourself through the paths lit by electric lighting but with a guide we went the less well-trodden path. At times we had to crouch and scramble through little tunnels. The bat droppings reminded Katherine of Steve Gurney and his problems from going through a cave in Malaysia. The guide pointed out lots of rock formations that had been named eg 'Looks like dead elephant', 'Looks like lotus flower'. Her other most popular saying was 'Watch your head' but despite the warning I still managed to bang my head.

It was a very hot day that day, at least 32deg in the shade so the afternoon was spent snoozing in hammocks and swing chairs.

On our second full day at Malees's I hired a bicycle and had a short 2 hour ride along back roads through orchards and to hot springs (not much to see actually) and again the rest of the day was spent in idleness. In the cooler afternoon we walked to the hill temple again this time managing the 500 steps to the top.

On our last day we had time for some final relaxing before catching a truck taxi back to Chiang Dao town and the bus back to Chiang Mai. We were intrigued by the police checkpoint where they checked everybody's papers, except for us. I told Katherine they were looking for Burmese refugees escaping to Chiang Mai for a better life, but I made that up and I really have no idea why they were stopping everybody.

Posted by pythagnz 17:23 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Shopping, shopping, shopping...

semi-overcast 27 °C
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After finishing at the Elephant Kraal we caught the overnight train from Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai. Our seats had already been made into bunks so we sat on the lower bunk and looked out the window for awhile until it was time to go to bed properly. Katherine slept ok but I didn't as we were close to the door and it would whoosh open then whoosh closed every time somebody went through it.

We were meant to arrive in Chiang Mai at 7:15am but we didn't arrive until after 9:30am. At least we had a chance to see the jungle scenery. Our guesthouse here is called Tha Phae Garden Guesthouse. It is fairly new and is clean and confortable but the room is a little small (not too bad).

After settling in we took a walk to the old city and Wat Chiang Man. This is the oldest wat in Chiang Mai. It has a Stone Buddha and a Crystal Buddha. The Crystal Buddha is only 10cm high. Like most important Buddha images they have had their own tiki tour around Thailand depending on whick king has looted which town.

A tuk-tuk driver was having a slow day so we helped him out by hiring him to take us to Bo Sang village. First we stopped off at another Wat to see it's unusual chedi in the style of a series of watermelons. I visited Bo Sang village on my first trip to Thailand many years ago, where I purchased a silver chain at a reasonable price. Last year on my birthday I had a cold and stayed home from work. When I was in the shower the chain came off and I threw it out the shower door aiming for the edge of the bath. It slid down the side of the bath and down the plug hole. End of chain. Now I was back at Bo Sang village where I was able to replace the chain.

As well as looking at silver and gems we also saw lacquerware, silk and umbrella painting. At each place they quickly showed us how the products are made and then ushered us into huge showrooms where they hoped we would spend up large. We managed to avoid this in all but the silver place.

Every Sunday night the main roads in the Old City from gate to gate turn into a night market. Back in Chiang Mai it was time to continue our shopping by wandering slowly along these roads. Katherine was in her element. We ate omelette and papaya salad at a stall sitting at a low table wearing plastic rain ponchos and holding the umbrella to keep the downpour off. The rains have come early this year and it has been grey and wet since we started at the Elephant Camp 5 days ago. The rain doesn't last all day though and it is still warm.

On Monday morning we walked back into the Old City and had a massage by the Thai Healing Arts Association in the compund of a wat. I had a Thai massage for two hours while Katherine had a foot massage for an hour. Then she enjoyed watching me be pummeled and prodded.

Lunch was at the Aum Vegetarian Restaurant. This is also a book store so it has great atmosphere and delicious food. We had kausoi - egg noodles and crispy noodles with tofu and mushrooms in a curry broth, a salad and fresh (not fried) vietnamese spring rolls. Yum.

After that we hired a songhtaew (red taxi truck) to take us to Mae Rim to a butterfly and orchid farm. There are at least four of these farms and I think they must get comission as they seem to favour one farm over another. The tuk-tuk driver was the same. The butterfly section was disappointing. It certainly wasn't as good as the one at Poring Hot Springs. The orchids were quite good as many were in flower.

The songthaew driver convinced us to continue a few more kilometres to see a monkey show. However, when we got there we didn't have enough money for the entrance fee. We thought this was a good thing as we suspected we wouldn't have been happy to see performing monkeys. Much better to see them in the National Park at Khao Yai. Somehow we were left feeling it was an unsatisfactory experience - it seemed a long way to go to see a couple of brown butterflies and a few orchids. If we were better informed and organised we would have made a day of it and gone to the Buffalo Camp as well but it was much further on and it was already mid-afternoon. The Buffalo Camp was more appealing to us than the Elephant Camp and Monkey Centre and Snake Farm that everybody tries to push you to see.

After a rest in our guesthouse we went to the regular night market. There were stalls for several blocks on both sides of the road. After awhile we realised it was more or less the same thing and we (me especially) had had enough of shopping so we called it a night. Somehow Chiang Mai has a way of sucking money out of you.

This morning we are heading off to Chiang Dao. We might not do so much there as the rain may have made all the tracks muddy. It will be a nice chance to chill out away from the bustling city.

Posted by pythagnz 20:42 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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