Entering Thailand, adventures in the jungle, Christmas in Asia

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Buddhist temple at Tak

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We cross the Thai border rather quickly. The employee asks us if we are OK with two-months visa because the one we have in our passports is without expiration date. We are overjoyed and say “yes”, he stamps our passports and here we are… walking on the streets of Thailand. This is the second time we are here but nevertheless we get a culture shock upon entering. The contrast seems even stronger to us the 7 months we spent in Pakistan, India and Myanmar.

Everything is well arranged and clean and there are many luxury cars on the streets… The sun is strong and we feel as if here is even hotter and drier than Burma. We decide to hitchhike inside the town. We wait for no more than five minutes and a corpulent woman stops her pick-up, we jump at the back and the wind starts playing with our hair. Since we have two-month visa we decide to visit as much places as possible in Thailand. We plan to first head north and visit several national parks. We are eager to be in the wild nature for a while. We will pass through the town of Chiang Mai, which everyone says is interesting. Then we will head south-east to explore a region that is not visited by many tourists. Then during the second month we will go south to explore the wild beaches near the sea.

The woman who is driving us is concerned about us and diverts from her way just to leave us at a fork outside the town that is convenient for us to hitchhike. Next we hop on a truck driven by a joyous toothless driver who doesn’t speak a word of English. We pass by several checkpoints for immigrants. We have to wait till the employer comes to check our passports and we continue without problems.

Obviously it is OK to hitchhike in Thailand and also to camp, as we understand later. Here you can pitch your tent anywhere – including the cities. The roads are perfect and are marked by the highest standards. We feel like we are in America. Alongside the road we see shopping malls, fast food restaurants, supermarkets 7-11 and luxurious buildings. The asphalt is perfect, obviously made by machines, not by hand 🙂

Everywhere we see signs in English, traffic lights, bicycle lanes – all things we haven’t seen for the last year. The cars on the streets are all new, there are almost no pedestrians and the fast food restaurants are full of corpulent Thailandesi dressed in short pants and t-shirts. Many women also wear short skirts. Seeing this the feeling of being in a developed country gets even stronger. There are no huts and barracks anywhere and this makes us feel like we went on another planet.

MAP_Taksin MaharatThe truck leaves us in front the Taksin Maharat National Park and we continue on foot towards the entrance. A foreigner with a Thailandese woman in the car offers us to take us to the entrance, but we prefer walking in order to orient ourselves.

Five minutes later a local guy stops and also proposes to take us. At the entrance there are guards and the ticket is 5 euro per person which is above our budget so we don’t enter. Nevertheless near the main road we see a small pathway leading inside the park and we enter. We start going down the path and find ourselves in a banana tree forests. We decide to camp here as there is also a small spring next to us.

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Taksin Maharat National Park

It is wet and dank, but very interesting. The soil near the spring is swampy and when you step on it leeches start stick on your legs and start sucking on you immediately. We use a leaf to fill water in our vessel in order to boil it.

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Collecting water for cooking

Then we pass it through a cloth and drink it because we don’t have other water here. We walk around the jungle and see that the path ends and we can’t enter further inside. The park is famous for the oldest Krabak tree in Thailand (it is 50 meters high and its circumference is 16 meters). We have a map of the park and we really want to see the tree – hopefully tomorrow.

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Our bivouac inside the banana forest

At night huge spiders-oppilions (the ones with the thin and very long legs) start going out and we hear many sounds produced by insects and animals. The bamboos also crack loudly and we first thought some big animal is coming but then learnt to distinguish the sound. We spend a wonderful night.

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A giant tree in the jungle

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Adventures in the jungle- Taksin Maharat National Park  (Part I)

After breakfast we pack our stuff and hide our rucksacks in the bushes. It is time for an expedition! We take the wider path which goes through a pine forest. On the near hill we see the hotel and the camping site of the park. There is an asphalt road that leads to the camping and some waterfalls.

Our pathway becomes more and more narrow and 20 minutes later we reach a field with 2 meter high grass and then a steep slope that leads to the place where we slept. We decide to slide down among the bamboo trees and we reach the swampy spring. The we continue walking alongside the small river and 20 minutes later we reach a strange ritual place – a wooden table with tangerines, a coconut and a juice bottle. We think these are offerings made by people to some local spirit.

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Exploring the jungle

This pathway disappears again and we start climbing up the slope where the camp site is located. Half an hour later we are there and we head the opposite direction. We walk on the ridge and do a big semicircle. Then we understand we are walking the opposite direction and the tree is near the hotels.

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Stone wall on the road

The pathway ends and we have to start going back in order to reach the place, where we hid our rucksack, till there is still daylight. We spot a place with dozens of well-crafted wooden spears stuck into the ground but we don’t know what they are used for – maybe hinting?!

The fork we take leads us far from the park’s entrance and our rucksacks. We go down a small village with wooden houses just like those in Burma with the difference that the cars parked here are brand new. We ask for some water and continue on the asphalt road to the highway.

It turns out we are 6 km. away from the highway and a guy with a jeep takes us to it. We start running towards the park’s entrance and manage to get to the rucksacks while there is still light. We move the bivouac on top of the hill where there is more light and have dinner. Our provisions are finished and there is no shop close by so tomorrow we have to continue hitchhiking and won’t be able to see the Krabak. While walking we didn’t see any animals except a black snake that was so scared by us that jumped one meter high and we couldn’t take a good look at it.

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Sunset at Taksin Maharat National Park

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The regional town of the Tak province is 30 km. away and we reach it in no time riding at the back of the pick-up of a village family. In Thailand the highways always pass through the city and one can continue hitchhiking easily. The town is small and we head on foot to the center. We leave our rucksacks at the first monastery we see and continue walking. We have to exchange money and go to an Internet café.

Map_TakThe streets are impeccably clean. The buildings are low and modern and there are western style restaurants everywhere. All things have price tags and we sigh with relief that local vendors will not try to lie us here. Civilization has its perks. The food looks delicious and even in the best looking restaurants a portion costs 1-1,50 euro. There are all kinds of fish, exotic meals, ice-cream, freshly squeezed juice, pancakes, pizzas and sweets. There are culinary temptations lurking behind every corner.

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Yummy

We reach the bazaar and order… (in fact we don’t know what exactly we ordered) but it was very delicious. We want to buy everything but we finish with sweets and a fruit shake. Then we buy food for the next national park and go to an Internet café where we spend all the afternoon. The heat is unbearable and at noon all the streets are empty. We sweat excessively. It is 30-32 degrees Celsius (86-90 Fahrenheit) and I can’t even imagine what the situation here is when the real heat hits in February.

It is already dark when we go back to the monastery and to our surprise the gate is locked. Mr. Shushtari finds a back door and sneaks in. The monks here are strange and a little crazy and we barely manage to explain we just want our rucksacks. They don’t speak much English and when we ask them if we can sleep here they reply something we don’t understand at all and tell us joyously “Bye, bye”.

We take our luggage and while we walk it comes to our minds to have a Christmas dinner at some restaurant – it is Christmas Eve today. We eat a many things for just 2,50 euro and head to the river. The path along it is well arranged. We are far from the center and the place looks good. Suddenly a group of policemen shows up and worriedly tell us this is where the town ends and that the hotels are in the opposite direction.

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Christmas treat

We tell them we will sleep in a tent and they accept this very well and tell us that it is better to sleep then in the center next to the police station because it is safer. We tell them we will not go any further, they leave and we pitch the tent under a tree. We are so relieved that we will not hide as we did in Burma where foreigners are forbidden to sleep outside or in India where you are always surrounded by hundreds of people who touch your tent all the time and explain to you that you will be bitten by a cobra (obviously through the tent).

Here everything looks very easy – perfect roads, thousands of new fast cars, incredible food and policemen who tell you to pitch your tent at the center of the town. Calmness and freedom reign here – I think we will spend quality time in Thailand.

The heat is unbearable during the night and we sleep without the upper layer of the tent, sweating heavily. It wasn’t a very pleasant experience.

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The alley alongside the river where we slept

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It is Christmas today! We crawl out of the tent all sweaty. The sun hasn’t still penetrated through the morning mist and streets are empty. Needless to say we don’t feel the Christmas spirit here. Instead of pine trees the streets are filled with jasmine trees. The only “decorations” are the red lanterns on the Chinese shops, which are quite a lot by the way. We pack our bags and we sit on a stone table to drink our morning coffee. In front of us there is a luxurious public toilet with a bathroom and we take a bath. A vendor gives us mineral water when we ask her to fill our bottle. The Thailandesi seem calm, educated and hospitable people.

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The sweet-smelling Frangipani flower

 

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Frangipani flower

While I am writing the blog Mr. Shushtari goes for breakfast. He buys red rice with boiled flowers, seasoned with some sweet sauce. Around 11 a.m. the heat hits hard and we head to the highway. We wait for three minutes and a policeman stops by. He opens his mouth to say something but we are faster and ask him if we can ride with him. He is flabbergasted and agrees. We travel for 20 km with him and then he diverts to the police station. We noticed that there are many police stations in Thailand, but luckily no stupid western rules for hitchhiking or pitching a tent, so we are well accepted here.

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Flowers cooked with rice for breakfast

We continue north with a truck. The next national park we want to go to is 100 km. away from Tak. We are astounded how fast we travel here. We reach the park in no time and have 13 km. left to the entrance. A minute later a jeep stops by and takes us to the village located before the park’s entrance. People here stop when they see you even if you don’t make any sign and they persuade you to ride with them – a kind of “forced” hitchhiking 🙂

Map_Mae WaWe reach the entrance and the guards tell us the ticket costs 2,50 euro. We tell them we can’t afford it and prepare to leave and they let us in for free. We walk 3 km on an asphalt road which ends in the camping site and from there starts a pathway to a waterfall which is dry at this time of the year. We see the people who drove us here walking in front of us – an old guy with a younger woman. They sit in the first pavilion and start drinking beer.

We start to understand what people do in the national parks here in Thailand. Citizens go here with their cars during the weekend, sleep in the luxury bungalows and camp sites, drink beer and relax. There are usually short tracks leading to some waterfall, giant tree or a cave. The parks are visited mostly during the weekends and obviously nobody does long treks. All the pathways are no longer than 2-3 km. The only landmark here is the waterfall and this is the reason why this park is not so developed. We don’t see other tourists or sideways walks. In the beginning of the trail there is a basket with wooden sticks for the tourists and near all the pools have life-belts in the vicinity. We leave our friends to drink their beers and continue up the path towards the dry waterfall.

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At Mae Wa National Park

Adventures in the jungle – Mae Wa National Park  (Part II)

The forest here is totally different than the one in Taksin Maharat. It resembles autumn broad-leaved forest with a lot of bamboo trees inside it that are as tall as 10-15 meters. All is yellow and the trees’ leaves are falling down. Vegetation is not as thick and is much drier. It takes us 20 mins to reach the waterfall where the pathway ends. We climb on the rocks up the waterfall and we reach a flat ground far from the path.

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Rock climbing

We will settle here for the night and on the next day will explore up the dry waterfall. There are some puddles with transparent water in the vicinity so all is well. It is very quiet here – we hear only the buzzing of the mosquitoes and a lonely woodpecker in the distance. Obviously we will not see any wild animals again. At least here the temperature is lower than in the valley. In the evening we encounter our typical jungle friends – the ants. Here they are black, very small and bite a lot.

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The attack of the ants

We have covered the holes on the tent from the previous attacks but the glue is not good and the patches have fallen. Then later some frogs that bark as dogs start jumping on the tent and I also jump in my sleep every time this happens because their fat bodies often fall next to my head.

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In the morning we fry batters and this time millions of ants attack us. If only a drop of oil falls on the ground the spot gets black in seconds, all of our food is full of ants – more and more are coming from inside the ground. After breakfast we get ready for the expedition. We hide the rucksacks well and head up.

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The attack of the ants (Part 2: The ants strike again)

Most of the time we don’t follow any pathway. We jump from rock to rock and in two hours we reach the end of the river which finishes with a 20 meter deep gap. We decide to climb the rocks, though our sandals are not quite good for climbing. Just before the top I slip and good that Mr. Shushtari caught me otherwise I would have fallen. We decide to go back since we are quite far and our bodies are all scratched from the thorns of the bushes, but going down seems even more difficult so we decide to try another route.

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Exploring the river bed

We head up through the bushes to the top of the ridge. The forest here is not thick and there isn’t so much tall grass and thorny bushes so it is easier to walk. Climbing is exhausting because of the steep slope and the slippery ground covered with brown leaves. Usually on the ridges there are rangers’ paths and we see a sign “Rangers’ Station 3”. It is a flat ground suitable for camping.

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The view from the ridge

 

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And some more

We wonder which direction to choose and finally we choose the wrong one. After an hour of gruesome climbing the path goes down and ends at the edge of a pit. We have done a full circle, which means we have to go down the way we came. Going down the rocks is a bit risky but we manage to do it somehow. We go to our bivouac exhausted. We didn’t see any animals. Strange but we didn’t see even snakes and lizards. The only thing we noticed were the marks of a deer in the sand near the river.

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Jungle

We don’t want to battle with the ants again so we go down a river beach close to the main path and we hope no one will see us. Maybe camping outside the marked areas is not allowed. We reach the beach and it starts raining heavily.

Then it occurs to me to go back to a pavilion I saw in the beginning of the path and good that we did. The rain gets heavier and all is in water. The dry brook turns into a wild river that would have drowned our bivouac if we have had stayed on the beach. If we have started going down just half an hour later we would have not been able to go down the waterfall.

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The pavilion that saved us

We pitch our tent inside the pavilion and we take a night rain shower. We run up and down naked and laugh. We are sure no one will come here at this time of the night in this rain. Then we cook a delicious dinner and lie in the slightly wet sleeping bags happy that we have a roof above our heads. Outside we hear the roar of the river so strong that it gives us chills.

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