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Khao Yai National Park

Written on: Monday March 31st, 2008

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

Since my time in Louang Phrabang where I spent two days working with elephants and learning how to ride and command them I've seen many others. However I'd seen them from quite a distance, they had all been trained, I wasn't on my own and I didn't have it stomping towards me making me look rather insignificant in my worried state.I was in Khao Yai National Park, a not-that-much-talked-about, stunning gem of Thailand. I was deeply impressed by Erawan with it's seven-tiered waterfall, but this National Park, the oldest in Thailand, had even more to offer.Staying at Garden Lodge Guesthouse, I had booked a two day tour in and around the Park and had the pleasure of the guide, Mr A's company on the first day. Never in my life have I met anyone with telescopic eyes like those that Mr A possessed. He had the eyes of a hawk (but not the speed of the puma, as I'd have had him in a running race). As soon as we entered the park in our songthaew (bus-like taxi thing with benches in the back facing each other) with my fellow trekkers that day, he made the driver slam on his breaks. Mr A leapt from the front seat, ran around the wagon to us, unhooked the back, and beckoned us out of the songthaew, 'quickly!' He then pointed up in the direction of the top of a group of trees ahead of us. When I say ahead, I mean at least 300 metres from us. We all stood there looking excitedly in all directions like a group of adolescent mere cats for about 30 seconds before one of the Russians that was part of our group piped up, ?So what are we looking for?' It was like Mr A was on the tour though. Like a young school boy he once again pointed up to the summit of a tree in the distance, then proceeded to grab his portable telescope, complete with tripod, set it up on the road, angle it in the direction if the tree, mutter something about ?hornbill?, then manipulate my shoulders so that my eye was level with the telescope lens. Right enough, there in the distance perched upon a branch of the tree he had been pointing at was a Great Hornbill, clear as you like through a 60x lens, but with the naked eye still unable to be seen by me, despite now knowing what I was looking for and where it was.This stopping the songthaew and commanding us out the back at double-fast speed repeatedly happened throughout the day, as Mr A continued to spot the tiniest and most inanimate wildlife hidden in the trees. His incredible sense of vision locked in on many more hornbills that day, on longtail squirrels, on horned deer and many colourful and tropical birds nestled hidden in the trees. It was the morning trek through the jungle that produced some of the finest views of the day. A walk that under normal circumstances, i.e. just following the trail, would have lasted about half an hour, but with Mr A every 20 steps or so stopping abruptly so that the rest of the group concertinaed in to the back of him, raising his hand in the air, palm facing forward as if we?d come across a group of Viet Cong back in Nam, it was going to be a lot longer. We knew to be silent, all eight of us, sweat running down our backs because of the tremendous humidity, and then Mr A would point up to the furthest tree you could see where he would have spied a family of gibbons sitting up in the trees. His senses were so finely tuned we spotted numerous gibbons that day, leaping across impossible distances to reach the next tree. Funny that I saw them here when I had no expections of seeing them, but yet at the Gibbon Experience in Laos we barely got a glance of them at all.I was able to fit the lens of my camera over the lens of Mr A?s telescope and get some fantastic photos of the various birds, including of course the hornbills and the gibbons in the forest. Once again, like in Laos, the gibbons? incredible song accompanied us through the jungle. We ate lunch very close to the landmark that brought me here in the first place, the waterfall that Leonado Di Caprio jumps off in the 1999 movie, The Beach. I had just finished reading the book whilst in Burma and had formed my own picture of the waterfall, and wanted to see whether it matched up. Of course it didn?t. As nice as it was, things generally never really live up to your own imagination when your mind is allowed to wander from being given a verbal description of something. The water was quite murky and so I forewent swimming in it for another hike into the jungle. This time though there was no Mr A, just 3 Russians who I had befriended as part of the group. We followed a river in to the jungle and walked for the best part of 40 minutes, hoping that the trail would switch back on itself and take us back to where we started, to meet back up with Mr A and the rest of the group at 4pm. With only 20 minutes to our deadline and the path showing no sign of turning back east, the Russians decided it might be time to retrace our steps. I turned and walked with them for a moment, but then immediately changed my mind for some reason, telling them I was sure the path would lead back to where we had lunch and that I was going to go on alone and meet them back there. I?m not sure where this hunch came from. It was quite simply that, a hunch. I set off at a much quicker pace, running at some points past huge tall trees, listening to whatever animals were also running to move out of the way from this apparent predator bungling through their home. I was relieved to find the path of the river turn north and then eventually back east again after only a short time. Within 20 minutes I was back on a main road, out of the jungle, but still a good half an hour walk away on the main road back to our meeting point. Taking a gamble that the others would get back before me now and would let Mr A know of the direction I would be coming from, I guessed that they would drive to meet me. I was correct but not before I came face to face with a wild adult male elephant, complete with tusks plodding along right in my direction.I had assumed I was quite close to our meeting point when a car came flying around the corner towards me. The car stopped alongside me and all the windows came down to reveal a family of Thais all screaming at me simultaneously. ?Elephant! Very dangerous! You no go! Very big! Elephant!? I interpreted this as best I could. At that point a roar went up ahead of me that echoed through the jungle. A most powerful sound that could only be the voice of an elephant. What the hell I thought and continued on in the direction of the sound. As I reached the lip of a small hill there he was staring me out ahead of me in the middle of the road. I stopped impulsively, very aware that if this elephant had young with him I could be in a world of trouble. As it luckily happened he did not, and as immediately as I had stopped he decided that he didn?t want to mess with me. In fact I reckon he?d been on the phone with his elephant mates in Laos and they?d told him about me heading to Thailand. He just wanted to catch a glimpse of me, then he was off. I approached the exit point in to the jungle the elephant had taken merely a matter of seconds before, but already he was so very difficult to see despite his size. I think he was so scared he was hiding behind a tree.Within 10 more minutes the others came along the road in the songthaew and picked me up. Mr A was ecstatic to hear of my tale and wanted some action of his own. He was so envious that this piddly little English man with senses as numb as a Lego giraffe had had the luck to walk in to a wild elephant in the middle of a jungle which he visits everyday. I told him where I had seen the elephant and Mr A stopped the car along the road, then crouched down at the side of the jungle, intently listening. After 5 minutes a huge smile appeared on his face and he beckoned us to follow him. Like Nga in the Lao jungle, Mr A just took off through the thick expanse of trees at quite a pace, stopping every now and then to hear the elephant moving in the distance. Within 10 minutes Mr A had tracked him down for all of us to see.The following day I went with another guide to two caves. The first we descended in to to see the thousands of bats hanging upside down from the interior roof of the cave, quite noticeably peeved at these bungling idiots waving their torches up at them. In here our eccentric guide caught a scorpion spider which he let me have a hold of. Next up was the unforgettable scene of millions upon millions of bats leaving their batcave at dusk, and flying out across the plain towards the millions and millions of insects on the menu that night in Khao Yai National Park. The trail they created as they left the cave was mesmerising. Every single bat follows the identical path to the one in front, creating what appears to be a plume of smoke bellowing out across the countryside. This picture was straight from a Tolkien novel, fantastical in every way.


From Kara on Apr 14th, 2008

awesome pictures simon :)