Up at 6am, though actually I was up many times with the steady drone of the nearby highway preventing good sleep.
Dawn. Eggs for breakfast as we all gather for the trip into the jungle.
Our group contains just 5 of us: Gillian, the retired German who I shared a room with, a very cheerful and friendly Swiss girl, and a young Israeli couple who seemed less in tune with the independent adventure travel life. We travelled in the back of a van ( a pickup with 2 rows of seats in the back) for about an hour. Past the bigger resorts, some austentatious themed holiday castles with flashing lights and decorations, a drive-in Mcdonalds and an elephant reserve.
The national park is in the mountains and the drive takes us deeper and higher. We stop to put on leech socks (just in case), a kind of cotton gaiter-like boot which we wear inside our shoes.
I thought the joke may be on us but even the guide, a very young looking 30-year old woman called Aem, donned them. She turns out to be perfect, a tough little lady who used to do Muay Thai, who wants to take us off the less trodden tracks (even though they are barely tracks, as the park is not over-visited and retains an atmosphere of pristeen jungle) as she gets bored, and wants to see and let us see wildlfe as much as is possible. Our sister group is let by a small guy who has less luck in finding wildlife. He has his entire arms and much of his body covered with the most intricate Buddhist tattoos, which he had done and did himself with sharpened bamboo.
On the way up we see several types of animal: lots of macaw monkeys with their red asses. Running across or sitting on the road. Couples grooming each other and lovingly picking fleas from their partners coats.
A couple of female Sambak deer, which timidly run into the trees. A white gibbon, and then a black one swinging high in the canopy.
Some black and white plumed hornbills.
The day starts off with me slipping on my ass into a small stream and getting thoroughly wet. Although it is not hot, the constant low twenties and the long walk dries me out.
We walk for about 3 hours, taking in cinnamon trees, bayon trees, with their enormous leaves which monkeys shelter under from the rain. I climb a 400 year old strangler fig. After reaching about 20m I slip through a gap in the massive vertical shafts and descend on the inside of the tree. So much fun!
We stumble upon a pair of King Cobra eggs and a newly hatched baby with a yellow head. This is a special moment. Our guide has never seen this before. We hover close by, hoping the mother wont return. These are deadly. I have to remind the others to stop using flash!
We hear gibbons calling and see black squirrels jumping, scampering and almost flying between trees. Crossing the grassland down to the salt lick we find a 15cm grasshopper. On closer inspection we see it has an injured leg.
The walk is beautiful, calming, exciting and wondrous. No leeches. No elephants (though they do live wild here) but we do see their pooh! The best thing is the sense of solitude and that there are so few people here. Just our group.
Picnic boxes of lovely fried tofu rice are provided then we walk down a trick steep path to a couple of waterfalls. The first one is the one used in the DeCaprio Beach film, but swimming is forbidden. Mike from the guesthouse later tells me that many people have died here as the water is so powerful and pulls you under.
The second waterfall is serene and there is barely a sole there. Some of us climb into the pool. The rocks are slippery and I cannot touch the bottom. This scares me a little so i wallow by the edge. The water is cool. My bottle comes out tingling and refreshed. I notice my legs are getting better. And not a single bite in the jungle!
The long day winds down by a drive in search of the elephants, but once more they are hiding. We settle for a glorious sunset by a small pool, then come back to town.
The girls at the guesthouse have sorted out a ticket for me, so I’m all set for going to the Laos border on the sleeper tonight. It leaves at midnight and I have a few hours to kill or rather put to good use on-line.
Tomorrow another country!