Day 160: Pak Chong, Thailand. We were up super early this morning for our trip to Khao Yai, billed as the best national park in Thailand. We knocked back numerous cups of coffee on the patio in an attempt to jar our bodies into life. And while we were downing caffeine and scoffing sandwiches, we had our first wildlife encounter of the day – a fabulous snow white squirrel ran across the power lines above our heads. A pretty good omen for the day ahead.
At 6.50am a white pick-up with bench seats in the back pulled into the yard, and we climbed onboard and introduced ourselves to the other passengers – an English and French couple who live in Berlin, and two young German sisters. They were all lovely, and as the day went on, proved themselves to be great company and a lot of fun.
We drove to the HQ of the tour company, met the owner briefly, then our guide for the day, Jib, appeared and joined us in the truck. Jib is a bundle of energy and the early morning start didn’t seem to faze him at all. He asked us our names and where we’re from, writing the details down in a small lined notebook which he continued to write in during the day. He’s from the far south east of Thailand, close to the border with Cambodia, rents a room in the town to work (he does all sorts apparently, including construction) and is a tour guide for the company just once a month. We were lucky his one day’s tour guide work fell today.
Jib wore thigh length wellington boots and breeches, like a pair of waders, and looked a little like he might be heading off for a fishing trip. Meanwhile, we were given bright blue leech socks which we were instructed to put on ‘just in case’. We looked like dorks walking around in the shiny blue fabric shields, but at least we didn’t have to worry too much about having our blood sucked out. Jib reassured us that leeches in Khao Lai are quite small, unlike some of the leeches found in other national parks which can be up to 16 inches.Let’s hope we don’t encounter any of those on our travels.
We drove to to the national park with Jib hanging off the back of the truck, staring up into the trees above to spot wildlife. He shouted to the driver to stop a few times, and we clambered out to set up his telescope and peer into the trees above.
Over our first hour of wildlife spotting, we watched a gibbon swinging happily in the branches above our heads; several hornbills perched on the branches and flying across the jungle; and a giant squirrel eating fruit at the top of a huge tree.
We stopped briefly at a lookout point with fabulous views across the valley below. There were monkeys everywhere, and one of them jumped and grabbed Lil on the back of her thigh then bounded off again. Once we reached the visitors centre, Jim inspected Lil’s leg and confirmed there were no scratches. All to the amusement of the other visitors, as we rustled around behind her sarong.
We had a look around the visitor centre, a quick briefingwith Jib, then set off on a trek through the jungle.
Just like the guide we had in Mount Abu, Jib is a walking encyclopedia of all things fauna and flora. As we walked through the jungle, he stopped every couple of minutes to point out a plant or insect or animal prints in the mud. We tasted a few different plants and berries, some leaves and stems that tasted like celery and peas, and a small, tart, wild plum, secretly hoping that Jib’s plant knowledge was sound, and we weren’t unknowingly scoffing anything poisonous.
We were excited (and admittedly somewhat alarmed) when Jib pointed out some marks on a tree trunk, and said they were the claws of a bear who’d climbed the tree in search of food. How recently the bear made the climb, we have no idea, but we found ourselves glancing over our shoulders (and up the tree) just in case the creature was still hanging about.
We also saw piles of fresh elephant dung, indicating there a herd of elephants hanging out nearby. Unfortunately despite our best efforts during the trek, and later in the day when we went out in the truck for an elephant sighting, we didn’t see any. But it was enough to know that large numbers of elephants roam freely in the national park.
Sadly 6 elephants were recently killed when a baby elephant drowned at a waterfall, and others tried to save it. The disaster made international news media, as did the story of an elephant straddling a car in the national park just a few days ago. Luckily the tourists inside the car escaped unscathed, though their car was badly dented. That should make for an interesting insurance claim.
Jib speaks excellent English, with an impressive vocabulary which he’s determined to keep improving. As the day went on, he continued to ask us to spell words he wasn’t familiar with or doesn’t use much, and wrote them down in his notebook.
Our trek finished with a visit to an observation tower (Jib said he has seen tigers there in the past, but these days there are too many visitors for tigers to hang around).
We had lunch at one of the national park cafes – huge plates of pad thai followed by a large bag of longan fruits. Then we drove to another lookout point where people sat with legs dangling on the side of the cliff for photos (we stood well back), followed by a final walk through the forest to spot some more birds.
We arrived back in Pak Chong around 7.30pm, after a long but fabulous day. As always we felt really lucky to get close to some amazing wildlife, and meet others with the same passion for animals and birdlife.
Once we’d showered and changed we walked into town for dinner, and had some of the best food of our travels at a Chinese restaurant which doubles as a family living room, with a collection of well loved cats roaming around our feet.
Thank goodness for Google translator as the menu was all in Thai. Had we randomly pointed at a few dishes we could have ended up with stir fried horse with basil, or fried jungle frog. Instead we had a sensational dish of fried basil with chicken and chilli, kung pao chicken, and stir fried morning glory and chilli.
While we ate our food, one of the cats chased a giant green grasshopper around our table, eventually catching and eating it. As Lil pointed out, had Jim been quick enough, he could have caught it himself and asked for it to be stir fried and added to his dinner.
Then back to the guesthouse for a long night’s sleep. Tomorrow we catch the train to Ban Phachi Junction, then on to Phitsanulok, where we’ll spend one night before continuing to Sukhothai historical city the next day. Perhaps Jim will have another opportunity to catch some grasshoppers there.