We were up early in the morning to catch the 6am train to Pak Chong where we would be picked up by the hotel/trekking company we had booked with for our trek into the National Forest. It was just starting to get light out when we arrived at the station.
Trains started arriving and many folks coming from the smaller villages in the surrounding areas disembarked the train with goods to sell for the day in town. Still others boarded the train with goods bound for Bangkok.
I was jotting down some notes about Ayutthaya while we waited when a lady approached and asked me for some paper. I tore out a bundle of sheets from the back of my notebook and handed them to her, and she thanked me. A little while later, she came back over. She showed me the paper on which was written, “Is King Rama Jesus?” and asked me if I knew King Rama. Rama is the the King of Cambodia. I did not know him, other than that his face dominates every public place and building in Thailand, that he is revered, and that it is criminal to speak derogatorily or to speak out against him and doing so could result in incarceration.
I didn’t answer right away as I pondered how to answer her question, and she pointed to his picture on the wall. “King Rama! His picture everywhere. So is he Jesus? Since his picture everywhere, is he Jesus?”
I wasn’t sure if she was trying to coerce me into saying something bad about him or if she was just crazy. I just answered with a simple, “I don’t know, because I don’t know Jesus.” She just walked away at that. Very strange.
The conductor came to tell us our train was coming, and then went to ring the bell. They still ring an old brass bell when each train arrives.
The sun finally rose as we were leaving Ayutthaya.
The train was $700 baht for two 2nd class tickets, so about $40, and the trip would take about 2.5 to 3 hours. We traveled through rural farmlands, with dry rice patties everywhere, laying in wait for the rainy season. We passed pineapple and banana plantations as well as the occasional town with cement buildings and open air markets starting to fill with local customers.
All of the buildings we passed were run down in disrepair, built so long ago and never maintained.
Soon we started passing by giant factory after giant factory, bordered by shanty town shacks and spewing pollution into the countryside. So sad.
In fact, the pollution is so bad you rarely see blue sky in Thailand except in the south beach area. It always just has a haze. In this area we could barely see the hillsides through the smog.
I fell asleep for a while, and before long we were arriving at our station in Pak Chong, where we were picked up straight away by our tour guide and accommodations, Greenleaf Guesthouse.
We arrived at the guesthouse and were shown around the quite primitive guesthouse. We had electricity, but no A/C, no TV, just a bed and a bathroom and a ceiling fan. And it was HOT.
The guesthouse is run by a family, and they have a small kitchen where they have food made-to-order. We threw our packs down in our room, and went out for some breakfast.
We had a few more hours to spare before the first half-day tour left, so we walked down the highway a bit and checked out some of the neighboring hotels.
When we got back it was almost time to go. There were about 30 people gathered now, some staying at the guesthouse and some here just for the trek. We rode in these trucks called Songthaeows into the park, there were 8 people in our truck. Today’s half day trek was into the park to go into the bat cave. Ugh! Can you say “out of my comfort zone”??!
Heading up the hills into the park.
Kao Yai is a less-visited park in the Northeast of Thailand. It is the second largest national park in Thailand, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Khao Yai’s forests are teeming with wildlife. But although plentiful, they are often hard to spot. One of the main draws to the park are its two species of gibbon. The park is also home to clouded leopards and other various cats, as well as deer, bears, monkeys, and over 320 species of birds. The birds are very hard to spot in the tall, tall trees, but you can hear the many different trills and calls and often see a glimpse of colour among the branches. We did not go on a birding tour, but I’d like to return some day to try this specific tour.
Wild elephants are also in the park, and sometimes spotted at salt-licks or on the road in the evenings if one is lucky. We weren’t so lucky, unfortunately.
During our first trip through the park to the bat cave, our guide stopped to show us many creatures and explained a lot about the area, the inhabitants, and the forest.
We descended into the dark freaky cave.
You couldn’t see a thing in the cave without a flashlight. There were no lights, no electricity. It was a very authentic bat cave! We all had flashlights to help guide us. Not being able to see what was around me on the cave walls, roof, and floor very much added to the creepy crawly factor! We walked pretty deep into the cave, stopping a few times so the guide could gather an insect off the ground or wall to show us.
Above us in the cave were an estimated one MILLION bats. We were asked to move slowly, quietly, and speak quietly so as not to disturb them too much. They flitted and chirped round the cave.
Then there was this. A spider’s nest. A TARANTULA’S NEST!
I was completely on the edge of panic in the cave and was ecstatic when it was time to exit. We drove down to the bottom of the hill and parked amongst the newly harvested, scorched sugar cane fields. Here we would wait to see those one million bats exit the cave at dusk to feed on mosquitos and bugs. The guides served us some delicious fresh cut fruit while we all chatted and got to know each other a bit. Most of us would also be on the full day trek in the morning. There were people from Belgium, Australia, UK, Germany, Brazil, and two others from Canada. We and the two other Canadians were by far the oldest, everyone else was in their mid-20’s. This was pretty typical for most of our trip, we definitely stood out as older backpackers (or “flashpackers” as we were coined, which means backpackers who are older and generally have more resources to stay in more expensive hotels. Most of our hotels on the trip didn’t run over $20 per night, but comparably, these youngsters were paying $2 to $8 a night for hostels.)
As the sun began to set, the guides called us over to the telescopes. We looked through them to see a river of bats pouring out of the cave.I can’t even explain to you what this experience was like, other than to say it was absolutely amazing, a once-in-a-lifetime bucket list item for sure.
The stream of millions of bats swirled across the sky like a river, churning and flowing as one, making their way off into the jungle on the horizon before they would separate and go off to feed and serve as the park’s bug control. 30 people watched in silence and awe, listening to the soft whooshing of their fleshy wings flapping overhead and the faint, high-pitched squeeking of their echolocation. This exit from the cave takes about an hour.
I hope you’ll watch this videos and really take it in, as it is hard to describe in words. And the video barely does it justice!
We headed back to the guesthouse for some dinner and a couple of drinks before retiring for a hot night with no A/C.
The next morning we departed at 7am for our full day trek. One of the first thing we spotted was a troop of macaques:
I had never seen a monkey with no tail before. Well, they had a tail, but just a little stump.
There were lots of mamas carrying babies. The babies cling tight to the underbelly of their mommas.
This little one was having a quick meal.
We visited some other areas of the park and saw various birds and creatures, including this hornbill:
I can’t remember what these two birds were called:
And this amazingly humongous monitor lizard!
The trek itself took us walking single-file behind our guide for a four hour tour through the forest/jungle, during which we heard amazing bird calls, the deafening screech of cicadas, and spotted two troops of gibbons (we were lucky to see both species.) Even the forest flora itself was amazing.
We finally came out to the grasslands where we really hoped to spot the wild elephants, but no such luck. It was still beautiful.
We had a lunch here in the fields at a lookout spot, then trekked a little more before returning to the vehicles. We drove around the park for a few hours trying to spot elephants, to no avail.
We did see some more monkeys, and at one point our guide picked up a lovely little black scorpion and started placing it on people’s arms. I ran away swiftly! Here it is on John:
We got back just before dark and enjoyed dinner at the guesthouse together with our trek comrades. The couple on the far left were from Belgium, and the two gentlemen in the middle were from Montreal. Our guide is behind them.
We were pretty tired out from a long day and had to be up at 5am to catch an early morning bus to Kanchanaburi by way of Bangkok, so we retired early. What a wonderful day!