Khao Yai National Park – Welcome to the jungle

Khao Yai Packs

We landed in Bangkok and decided not to explore the city right away since we would be back later.  Instead we hopped on a bus and headed up to Khao Yai National Park.  First we stayed in a hotel near the park and rented a motorbike.  This enabled us to get into the park and see the main tourist sites, which was interesting.  Lots of Thai people dressed for a night at the clubs rather than for a jungle meandering along paved paths to waterfalls and taking selfies.

Then we set foot on a trail from one waterfall to another and entered a different world.  Within a few meters we were on a tiny path with vines drooping across it and dense foliage all around.  We traipsed along happily for a while and then paused when we heard a crashing overhead.  Monkeys!  We eventually decided they were Macaques.

Perhaps 100 yards later we heard more movement above and looked up.  This time it was a small group of Gibbons!  Gibbons are endangered and we were happy to have spotted them.

After making our way past some “Please Beware of Crocodile” signs, some of which had been amusingly modified, we suddenly heard a sort of grunty sighy noise ahead of us.  We both froze.  What was it?!  It sounded deep, like it was coming from a pretty large animal.  We backed down the trail a bit and waited.  We heard the noise moving off and continued.  At the end of our trail we were rewarded with another crowded waterfall.  This one was used during the filming of “The Beach”.

We still hadn’t spotted an elephant, so we went to an observation tower overlooking a salt lick and pond for sunset.  An hour later we left with no elephant sighting.

We headed back to our hotel that night and worked out our next move.  We had been thinking we might head over towards the Cambodian border for some ancient temples, but at this point we were excited about the jungle and of course wanted to see a wild elephant.  So we looked for a day tour or something and found Khao Yai And Beyond.  A tour company specializing in overnight trips into the jungle.  We decided to skip the temples and do a 3 day, 2 night trek with them.

We spent one down day at our hotel outside the park, got a haircut, planned our bags for the trek, and relaxed.

The next morning our guide, a nice young man named Rung (pronounced Rhoong), picked us up in a truck and off we went to the park.  We stopped to buy some lunch for that day at the visitor center, parked the car near the ranger quarters and set off up the road to our trailhead.  At the trailhead sat our ranger guide, Toto.  We set off in what would be our standard configuration, Toto in the lead, Sarah and I in the middle and Rung bringing up the rear.

The first day we went through leech infested jungle, over some hills, stopped by a stream for lunch, then up to a grassland, then through more jungle to our campsite next to a stream.  It was really cool.  Our guides cooked dinner, red curry with veggies and pork over rice.  It was delicious.  While they were prepping that we set up our hammocks!  The hammocks had built in mosquito nets and were quite comfy.

After dinner we took a little night walk.  We didn’t spot any wildlife but were rewarded with nice views of the surrounding mountains and a few stars peeking through the clouds.

That night we learned an important lesson, sleeping in a hammock on a mildly cold night with wind is a freezing affair.  We wished we had brought some warmer clothes for the nights.  Oh well!

The next morning we hopped down from bed to a fire and hot water for coffee.  Breakfast was rice soup with some yummy things in it.

That day our trek took us into the higher ground in the park.  It was interesting watching the jungle give way to forest as we made our way up into the mountains.  Our only big wildlife encounter that day was with a few of the park’s Great Hornbills.  The sound they make when they fly is crazy.  It’s this buzzing whooshing sound that brings to mind helicopters.  We continued on our way following elephant paths and eventually came to our camp on top of a mountain.

We took our dinners over to a little blind type spot and watched the hornbills fly around this valley.  It was really cool to watch.  They flapped and glided around for quite a while as the sun sank.  Apparently during mating season there are hundreds of them in that valley.

Our guide informed us that tomorrow would be our best chance for wildlife spotting as we would be following a stream and since it was dry season the animals come there for food and water.

The next morning as we set off down the mountain the sound of gibbons calling to one another echoed through the valley.  It was a rather haunting soundtrack for our morning hike.  Eventually the sounds came close and we saw a gibbon swinging away through the trees.  We gave chase and soon spotted another.  Our guide called to them and we got a great view of another one looking directly at us before swinging off into the canopy.  It was pretty amazing!

We kept on and eventually were heard a couple very loud crashes.  Our guides stopped any one said “Chang?” the other answered “Chang.”  The first then pointed ahead and said “Elephant.”  We left our packs and crept ahead.  I was scanning at eye level looking for a giant grey beast when a small shape flew across the stream and hit a tree on the other side with a loud crash.  Our guides laughed, just macaque monkeys.  Damn!  Oh well, they were cute and playful swinging across the stream and running up the logs. and into the forest on the other side.

We continued along and through some grassland to a ranger substation where our tracker lives 5 days a week.  We had a snack there before finished our trek with his commute.  A 3k hike to the main road where he flagged down a passing truck and asked if they could take us to the visitors center.  They obliged.  We walked up to the truck, deposited our packs and then went to the visitors’ center for a lunch of fresh fruit.  Then we hopped in the truck and took of in search of elephants.  At one checkpoint a car coming the other way said something to our guide and he smiled.  “Elephant, hopefully he stays long enough.”  It was a tense 10 minutes of driving and felt like an eternity.  Finally we rounded a bend and saw 5 trucks parked, windows bristling with cameras and shutters crackling as a lone bull elephant destroyed the greenery on the other side of the road.  We snapped a few photos before traffic forced us to move on.  We turned around at our earliest opportunity and joined the gawkers moments later.  It was impressive watching this creature work.  Vines came crashing down, branches snapped and small trees stood no chance of standing.  We had our fill of watching him long before he’d had his and we motored on out of the park.

We stopped at a local market and picked up a few things, then it was on to our guide’s farm where we met with some of his friends.  They cooked up an excellent dinner and we ate, talked and drank late into the night.

The next morning we headed out.  We loved Kao Yai and our jungle experience.  Thanks Rung!


Sorry about the lack of pictures.  Way behind on processing them!

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