In the morning a ranger with a motor bike comes and he doesn’t seem worried at all that we are camping at the pavilion which is in the center of the park area. He just asks us when we plan to leave and even gives us a lighter because ours is out of gas. Good that he did because without it we wouldn’t have even drunk our morning tea.
After breakfast the rangers come again and offer to take us to the main road. This makes us happy because otherwise we would have had to walk for 3-4 km. to the village and then wait to get to the main road. We ask the rangers to stop at the information center because I want to see what animals live in the park, but all the leaflets are in Thai. Then I see a luxury thick book in English with descriptions and maps of all the 150 parks in Thailand. We start taking photos of in, but our camera runs out of battery and then the rangers offer to give it to us. I am overjoyed and can’t stop looking it through on the way. The book seems very valuable because many of the information it contains can’t be find in Internet.
The rangers leave us at the highway and we continue hitchhiking. I notice that in Thailand many times women stop and this is the case again – two corpulent women stop and take us in their brand new jeep to Lampang. They drive with 120 km/h all the way and we are as if teleported. Next a schoolgirl with her mother who listens to rock and roll take us. They leave us at the entrance of a famous Thai center for protection of elephants. We know that next to it there is a path leading to another national park. The place is full of tourists.
We ask where the paths is and no one tells us. Finally they tell us to go 10 km. back – I don’t know why it was so difficult for them to give us this information. We are happy to go away from here – the place has nothing to do with elephant protection – here they offer trainings for elephant riders, shows with elephants, you can ride elephants and the similar which according to me has nothing to do with wild elephant population – there are only 2000 wild elephants left in Thailand.
Upon entering we have noticed a narrow road that leads to an elephant hospital that is not part of the luxurious tourist center. We decide to visit it and it turns out to be a great place. No tickets are required to enter. There are 17 patients in it this day. We see a small baby elephant whose leg is injured and they have put soft mats on his leg to not feel pain when stepping. Other patients have artificial legs after they have stepped on land mines in Burma. The woman who created the hospital saw an elephant hit by a car while riding with his father. She asked her father whether they will take the animal to a hospital and her father told her that there are no elephant hospitals.
Then the girl decided to create one and years later managed to fulfil her dream. They told us that the owners of the tourist center terrorize them all the time and even set fire last year because they didn’t want their tourists to come here and donate money. Good that they managed to save all the elephants back then.
We go back to the fork we missed and continue to a place where we saw before and from where we could infiltrate the park. The last hike was with a corpulent villager with a brand new luxury jeep who took us to the pathway itself and gave us a bag of tangerines. We are constantly surprised by the villages here – they are well arranged, with luxurious houses, many flower pots and green lawns. We passed through a village which railway station looked like a five star resort. We don’t know whether these are villages or just villas of the people living in the big city, but nevertheless it seems shocking to us after India and Burma.
We buy some food and enter 1-2 km inside the park. The official entrance and the hotels are 10 km north so here we can enter for free. Just before sunset we reach the Mae Long Waterfalls. Thank God it is not dry and we can take a bath and cook. The waterfall itself is not so impressive but the area is picturesque. At night some small tick attack us, we take out 2-3, we take a good look at our bodies to be sure there are no more and we go to bed.
Adventures in the jungle Dоi Khun Tan National Park – part III
It turns out there are no paths around the waterfall so we continue further inside and decide to go back to the village and start hitchhiking towards Chiang Mai where we will probably stay at a couchsurfing host and spend the New Year there. We reach the beginning of the path and find another one that leads north – which is our direction.
We decide to take it and reach the more touristic part of the park and continue hitchhiking once we reach the road. The path is quite broad and soon we climb a ridge. We walk on it for two hours and suddenly it disappears in a dry gully. The forest is broad-leaved and is easy to walk in it without a path so we continue towards the hills.
Then we start climbing another ridge sure that the hotels and the camp site is right in front of us. We get exhausted, but in an hour we start noticing signs of human – empty bottles of energy drinks. We thought that rangers who come here had left them.
Finally we reach the ridge and come out at a wide path. We expect that soon it will lead us to where we want to go, but we hear and see no one. It is late afternoon now and we just finished our last drop of water. We took just a 1,5 liter because we didn’t expect to walk for so long. The ridge goes in direction east and we have to go north or west in order to reach the asphalt road.
Altar with offerings for the spirits in the wood
Slopes are steep to start descending, there are many ridges and gullies so we stick to the path hoping it will divert north eventually. We see many camp fires, bottles and other stuff left by illegal hunters. We even see a trap and a bullet. There is no water on the ridges and the gullies are far down.
Where are we?
It is hot and we sweat a lot. We feel very exhausted, thirsty and hungry. The situation starts getting critical. At dusk, while walking, I suddenly feel sharp pain in my leg. I take a look at it and see two spots near my foot. The first thought I have is I got bitten by a snake though we haven’t seen any or even a lizard the whole day. Mr. Shushtari tightens up my ankle and tries to suck out some blood from the little wholes. It hurts a lot and start panicking but then remember that this will quicken my pulse which will help the eventual poison to spread faster.
We don’t know what to do. We don’t have a phone (it is broken) and we have walked for 7-8 hours. We start thinking about the matter and come up with the idea that it couldn’t be a snake because the skin is not perforated and the pain is not excruciating. It might be some other animal but the spots are 3-4 mm apart. At some point later I see that the bite is crusted over and when I removed the crust I saw there is just skin below. This is weird to me and we couldn’t understand what animal or thing could possibly do this.
It is already totally dark and we can’t follow the path anymore because it is covered with dry leaves. We decide to stop and continue early in the morning. We see some village lights in the distance. We also hear a train passing so there is no room for worries. Our only problem is the unbearable thirst. I have happened before to be without water but for much shorter time. The thought that we will not have water in the morning and that we may have to walk 2, 3 or 5 hours more makes me panic.
I know that one can survive 24 hours without water so we force ourselves to sleep. I wake up at 2 a.m. with dry mouth and a headache. I can’t sleep and start thinking hectically how we can reach any water the fastest way possible. At the moment the fact that we haven’t eaten all day or that we have walked for 9 hours seem a child play to me. The thirst is killing me.
I start thinking how fragile human beings are – 3-4 day without water and you die. Then it came to me that if there is an apocalypse people in cities will die fast depending on the perks of civilization. Tap water stops, all the supermarket close down and… game over. These were the dark thought circulating in my brain at the moment. Finally I manage to fall asleep again. I dream of a shop full of used bottle of Fanta and Coca Cola filled with water. I bought 5-6 and started jumping from joy.
We get up at dawn. We pack the tent in seconds and leave. We decide to go back and then try the extreme descending down. After a while we see a path that we had missed yesterday in the dark and that goes direction north.
In two hours we start going down and I sigh with relief. It is hard because the path gets quite steep, but at least there is a path. Here and there we see signs from the hunters. The problem is that we are so thirsty and exhausted that walking is gruesome. At one point I feel a nervous breakdown and drink a few drops of the rose water I have. Then Mr. Shushtari finds a bottle with some water, I drink it and feel much better.
In two hours we reach the foot of the mountain and then we take a glimpse of the asphalt road. I feel so overjoyed that start running. I have never felt so happy to see asphalted road. We walk on it but nobody pass by in any direction. Then we hear the sound of running water. We start running towards it and find ourselves on a bridge over a clear mountain brook.
A tree with interesting roots
I can’t describe you the joy we felt and we start drinking directly from the spring. Then we bathe, wash our clothes and sleep. We are in heaven! We calculated we haven’t drunk water for 18 hours and walked most of the time in the heat, sweating. This is a personal record. I don’t even mention the fact we haven’t eaten 24 hours.
We didn’t see any wild animals though – just the body of a dead forest rat and the skin of a snake. Nevertheless we had such a survivor adventure we haven’t had in years.
At noon we continue walking on the road and a motor biker tells us that the next village Khun Tan where the entrance to the park is is 3 km. away. There are no cars so we walk the distance. From Khun Tan we stop a jeep that drives us to Lamphun 30 km. before Chaing Mai.
We step on the highway and almost immediately a luxury mini bus stops. We thought it is paid transport first but then it turned out it is a family of aunts, grandmas and children from Bangkok on a vacation going to see Chaing Mai. They give us a bag of tangerines and some luxury sweets with filling of salty eggs. They leave us 3-4 km from the center of the city.
We head to the river. Lately we don’t have time to eat twice a day and we are very hungry. We start looking for street food, but prices are two-three times higher. Finally we buy rice with vegetables and start looking for a place to sleep. Our host from couchsurfing said he couldn’t accept us which is normal because tourism in Thailand is very developed. I remember that last year in Bangkok we couldn’t find either.
We start walking along the river hoping we will find a nice place as in Tak, but we see only hotels and restaurants. We start worrying we will have to walk for hours, but spot a small park with pavilions and a statue of a prince. First it looked luxurious but when we enter we see it is not maintained and all is in dry leaves. There is no electricity in the toilet facilities and some of the stone tables are broken.
Camp at the river
The place looks great. We see a wooden pontoon where several people fish. We settle and this parks is our sanctuary for the next several days. It is clean and nobody comes here. There are no guards and we have a lavatory with mirror and something like a shower with running water. We feel like we are in the best hotel in whole Chiang Mai. And the place is just 20 min walking distance from the center of the city. On the other bank of the river there are some bungalows and shelters hidden among tropical trees. The view is great. Real romantics!
View of the other side of the river
All the morning we cook and rest. The other people that inhabit the park are a homeless guy with a cart for selling street food. He comes at 10 a.m. every morning, catches fish together with one other fisherman, sets fire and starts cooking food that he sells to the tourists at night 🙂 There are also two other little bit crazy guys. One comes from time to time with a bag over his shoulder and goes to look at himself in the mirrors of the toilet. The other one walks along the river.
View from the park towards our bivouac
They are go away at night but come during the day and everyone does his thing. Sometimes here also come other people for a walk early in the morning and the sight of our pitched tent obviously doesn’t bothers them at all. We usually pack our stuff and leave around noon, then we leave our rucksacks in a hotel and start walking around the city. Then we come back at 10-11 p.m. and go to bed.
Chiang Mai is one of the most touristic cities in Thailand and is also known as “The rose of the north”. It is surrounded by mountains and the climate is cooler than the rest of the country. There are many temples and monasteries in the old town dating back 500-600 years ago with exquisite architecture including the remains of the ancient kingdom Lanna. People come here to do safaris in the jungle, visit the tribes in the mountains, ride elephants and enjoy the calm atmosphere.
Nowadays the city is “destroyed” by the mass tourism – luxury restaurants, hotels, bars, millins of shops for souvenirs, tourist agencies. The Thai spirit and the temples are lost inside the crowds of westerners and Chinese. One meets white people every few meters and most of them are Americans. Several years ago there had been some movie with a famous Chinese actor and the movie was filmed here. After that hundreds of thousands of Chinese had started coming. So no there are signs in Chinese everywhere.
The place is commercial, prices are very high and one feels more like being in some American resort than in Thailand. On the other side the place is calm and we love walking around the old town and the bazaars. Our only problem are the prices of the food. First of all there is almost no vegetarian food and second the vegetables at the bazaar are as high as in Spain for example. A kilo of tomatoes or onions is 1,50 euro. Our budget is 5 euro per day for both of us so it is hard to follow it.
We buy some basic provisions at a bazaar. Most of the things being sold are very exotic and interesting but are somehow sterile – wrapped with many plastic bags and ordered neatly. We came across a place where they sold snakes, eels and even small chicken and I felt sick. Tortoises are huge and seeing them suffer in the buckets made me want to cry. Why do people have to eat other living beings when there is such an abundance of other food? I don’t get it honestly…
Today everyone gets ready for the New Year celebration. People from all over the world come here to celebrate and streets are filled with tourists. Everything is lively and interesting. Thailandis celebrate their year by the lunar calendar (as do the Chinese) but they prepare for the commemoration with equal enthusiasm.
Monks prepare tables for night meditation
We take a bath in the morning and get dressed for the evening – I even bought a dress for the occasion. We have a breakfast, leave the baggage at the nearby hotel and start going around the most interesting temples of the old town. Monks arrange chairs and oil lamps everywhere. There are also some strange bamboo structures fastened with ropes inside the rooms. Obviously there will be New Years ceremonies at the temples too.
At the temple Wat Chedi Luang they were even offering free coffee.
Wat Chedi Luang
The main celebration will be held at the square Tha Phae located in front of the city gate. There is a stage and there will be live music. Along the channel circumventing the old town there are thousands of street food vendor selling – huge steaks, sausages, barbecue, chicken, king prawns, lobsters, sushi, omelets, traditional noodles Pad Thai, bowls with various soups, strange beverages, pan cakes, jams, freshly squeezed juices… on gets dismayed by the aromas of all this. There are also vendors who sell clothes and souvenirs – the crowds shop and celebrate. In the back streets people everywhere have barbecues in front of their houses. All are drunk and dance and laugh. Even the ironware shop are open and people have parties inside them.
A hall inside a temple prepared for the New Year’s Eve
Along the channel everyone launches flying burning lanterns which are beforehand written on with the New Year’s wishes of the person who launches. The whole sky is filled with bright dots. We also launched one. The atmosphere is euphoric, music playse everywhere and people circulate around the streets and the square. Families with children sit along the channel with beers in hands (not the children though) 🙂
It is New Year so we decide to buy whatever we want and sit near the channel. We bought something like sider with alcohol. This is one of the few times we drink alcohol for the past 10 months so I am a little bit tipsy.
The dress for New Year’s Eve
Just before midnight we go at the square and after the final countdown the sky bursts with fireworks. Then in just five minutes all is finished and people start going home. Strangers don’t greet among each other so the festive spirit disappears in mere seconds
There were some Chinese next to us and they were eating sausages during the countdown because in fact this is not their New Year. We spent a great time and around 12:30 we head back to the hotel. Around 1 we pitch the tent and go to bed.
We plan to stay one more day here in order to buy some gifts and send them to Bulgaria. In the morning the first people we see are a family who came to let some fish in the river. For the Chinese it is very important who will you first meet in the morning after the New Year so we come to the conclusion this will be a great year.
A church in Chiang Mai
At noon we eat our bean meal we cooked when a squad of soldiers comes from the military building next to us, bow in front of the statue of prince Kawila, take a broom each and start cleaning the park. Now we understand that the park belongs to the military and that is the reason it looks a little shabby – maybe they clean it once a year. They are shocked by the view of the stone table with cooking utensils on it. Then they see the cart of our homeless neighbor and try to throw away the tire he uses for fishing, but we save it. Finally they concentrate on the cleaning.
We joke that now we have military cleaners who maintain our palace. By the way the royal family in Thailand is worshiped to such an extent that even the smallest joke concerning it is considered a crime. Recently they have even arrested a European for his caricature, and sentenced him to many years, but then he made a public excuse and they deported him.
For example if you step on a coin while rolling on the ground in order to stop it that is a huge insult because the face of the king is on it. The king’s portrait is everywhere – on the roads, in the temples, on the houses – everyone adores him. The same is the situation with Buddha’s images. You cannot have a tattoo with Buddha or wear a t-shirt with his picture. Statues are never placed on the ground and there are all kinds of other rules related to the matter.
In the afternoon we leave our rucksacks at a bar on the river because we don’t want to bother the people at the hotel for third day in a row and continue our search for traditional souvenirs. I think there is not even one street in the old town we haven’t passed on. We have met and American guy who have lived two months in Bulgaria and knew a lot about the Bulgarian cuisine. He talked about many traditional Bulgarian meals and pronounced the names in perfect Bulgarian. He met Bulgarians at a student work exchange in Alaska and after that the Bulgarian cuisine became his most favorite.
So he told us where the backpacker’s neighborhood is and also the vagabond’s one as we named it. At night we go back to the park. In the evening we see the other face of Thailand – namely the thousands of brothels and the half-naked women standing in front of them.
Some bars are with transvestites and many guys buy in because here one cannot tell of they are men or women. There are also many massage beds on the streets. To summarize the night life in Thailand helps satisfy all kinds of passions. Burma and India are much more conservative and even if this exists there too it is well hidden. I don’t understand one thing – all this is tolerated, but hugging or kissing on the streets is forbidden! The Asian irrationality in play again…
We leave our rucksacks in a protestant church named “Eli Church” and we head to the post office. When we arrive we see it is closed for two more days and we will carry more luggage because of this.
Then we go to an Internet café and come back to the church in the afternoon. We take our stuff and head to the highway which is several kilometers away.
We walk for two hours and it gets dark in the meantime. The streets are well illuminated and there are many cars passing by so we decide to hitchhike. Twenty minutes later a boy and a girl stop. We agree that they leave us at the fork for Phrao town, but then they tell us they go to a village in our direction so we travel whole 60 km with them. The leave us at a small road passing through a forest and show us stairs leading to a stupa where they told us we can pitch our tent. We climb on a small hill. The buildings around the stupa seem shabby, but there is water and we settle inside the forest.
Our bivouac in the forest on our way to Phrao
The place is secluded and so nice that we stay till noon. Then two Thailandis take us and there is one blind Japanese woman riding with them. It turns out she has her own library for children at Phraon and is managing it by herself. She loves child books she told us and that is why she encourages children to read them too. It is very impressive to see someone with such a challenge in life being so active and fulfilling ones dreams alone.
The library of the blind Japanese woman
We reach Phrao and we even visit the library. The town is in a valley surrounded by mountains. Here National Park Si Lanna is located where we want to stay for the night. We eat sticky rice with some strange dish made of green jackfruit and continue north to the mountain. One family takes us to the foot and go back – it results they diverted 20 km from their destination just to take us here. Another family takes us at the back of their pick-up and when we enter the mountain we ask them to leave us close to a village we see on the road.
Going north the weather is cooler and we were cold from the ride. While we walk we see a small pathway hidden in the bamboos and we take it. We walk for 10 minutes more and reach a gully with a bamboo shelter – perfect for the tent. There is a fireplace, big bowl and some bamboo cylinder which we didn’t understand what they were used for.
Shelter in the wood
The place looks abandoned. Next to the shelter there are several papaya trees and we pick up one big 3 kg papaya. We also find a small hole with water for cooking and washing. The place is incredible.
A papaya tree next to our shelter