My first venture out from the safety of Bangkok has been both exciting and filled with lessons. I arrived in Pak Chong, the closest city near the Kao Yai National Park, on Wednesday evening by minivan after a day in Ayutthaya, the old Thai capital. But, more on those cities later…
The drive from Ayutthaya to Pak Chong was a lesson in trust. In “reality”, there was nothing to be worried about, but it so happened that in Ayutthaya neither the non-English speaking tuk tuk I hired that morning or the owner of the guesthouse, Banbua, knew about any mode of transportation between these two cities. Second lesson, download Google translate! Third lesson, have the names of the cities written on a piece of paper and easily accessible. After a few runarounds in the center of town with inquiries, he motioned me to go up on a parked minivan, and to do it right away since it was about to leave. I had to make a decision then and there, and trust him and the moment. I had to believe he understood something of what I said, and that he had good intentions for me. I took the plunge and boarded. Inside, there were several Thai women who spoke no English.
After two hours in a pleasantly air-conditioned van (with the help of motion sickness drugs) we arrived to the town of Saraburi and it was time for everybody to get off. I knew this wasn’t the right town, but I didn’t know how to access help to find the next bus to Pak Chong. Luckily, a Thai woman with some English skills saw my despair and helped me get onto the correct bus. Of course, I arrived safely. Once at the station, a woman working the stands was called to ask me where I was going and phoned the guesthouse to pick me up.
I’m also learning whom to ask. Outside of Bangkok, most Thais hardly speak any English. They don’t understand what you are asking, but seem to want to help. However, even if they have some language skills, they might be unfamiliar with the tourist routes outside of their zones of expertise. Since I am here on the off-season, there are fewer English tourists to ask. This is both a positive and a negative. Fewer tourists feel more of the “normal” day-to-day life. Because of my personal choice to stay away from hotels, and sleep in guesthouses or B&Bs, I haven’t yet accessed the most polished tourist trails yet.
By the time I woke up this morning, breakfast was no longer being served at Bobby’s apartment and jungle tours guesthouse. I’ve stayed here for the last two nights while visiting the Kao Yai National Park. Run by a German expat and his Thai girlfriend, this is a wonderful place to stay. The rooms are simple, clean, and with extra secure mosquito doors. I would say my only complaint is that the beds are as hard as a rock, but that inadequacy is compensated for by the warmth of the owner and the great home-cooked meals prepared by his girlfriend.
I thought I was going to be meeting other backpackers, but as it turned out, I was the only guest. On the second night, it was her birthday and I was invited to the festivities for a delicious hot pot meal and a drink mixture made of champagne, white wine and pineapple. Delicious!
This morning my intention was to walk 15 minutes along the freeway to Tesco, one of Thailand’s chain of large supermarkets where I could eat breakfast. I can’t believe I’m going to fess up, but the only available food was either pizza or KF@*^%C. A sad day for me when I chose fried shrimp with rice from this awful American institution…
Regardless of this faux pax, I loved the National Park and I if you are a nature lover, it is worth a visit. I went on a one-day tour with a company called Greenleaf tours. They pick you up early in the AM for a whole day of jungle trails, waterfalls, and spotting animals. In a few days I will post a tale about a specific story from that day.
Below are a few images of the animals I saw: gibbons, monkeys, a giant spider, a giant scorpion, snakes, and lizards. No wild elephants since it was pouring rain for most of the day. A fact that I didn’t know was that gibbons give birth every 4 years and each baby lives with his mom for 3 years before they venture out on their own. There were also a few uninvited guests that latched on… leeches! Yikes, these creepy crawlers were everywhere on the trail, (monsoon season!), and even though they give you leech socks, you still end up having a few crawl inside your clothes which is what happened to me and I got an ugly bite on my stomach.
Back to Ayutthaya, and its fantastic ruins. I would highly recommend going and staying overnight. The old city is within an island park and is enormous, and you will need some time to see all the ruins. Don’t miss out on Wat Chaiwatthanaram, set apart and on the other side of the Chao Phraya River, which reaches Bangkok and flows into the gulf. My guesthouse, Banbua House, was perfectly located, in a quiet area overlooking the river.
But best of all was cycling from ruin to ruin around the park. It got me in touch with crazy Thai driving. Known as heavy drinkers they don’t obey traffic lines or speed. It can be unnerving when motorbikes speed past you. But most importantly, Thais drive on the other side of the road. So even if you are on a bike, you must keep your eyes and mind on alert!