Tag Archives: jungle

Day 3 Sangkhlaburi excursion

My pink motorbike has a sticker that says “I love dogs”. Not true. In fact there are packs of quite scary ones on the roads. At least they would be scary if they were nourished enough to have the energy to chase you.

I take the road to burma. This follows much of the route of the mostly disappeared death railway. I take a detour down a windy empty jungle road to a forest park, which is deserted, and the gate is open. Tentatively I enter the park, park and begin a magical walk through bamboo groves, crazy unidentifiable vegetation until the path gets denser and follows an increasingly bubbling stream. Up stream is a myriad of low cascades, water falling in clear sheets in sparkling deep green pools, flanked by gnarled trees with complex twisty root structures. I'm in the middle of the river. On a little island, in fact. Cascades and pools all around me. Peace, the only sound is the rushing water. This is truly sublime. Not a soul present. Just me.

The spell is slightly ruptured when I meet a couple of rangers coming to check out who it is that's in the park…but they quickly disappear.

My ride continues to the Three Pagodas Pass. This is historically an important place, where the death railway enters burma, and where the armies of ayutthya fought the invading burmese. The pagodas are small are sited on a grassy island, with immigration offices on one side, orchid stalls on another. There is a couple of Hindu burmese selling little samosa in small oil boilers that they can pick up and walk around with. There are some fresh faced languishing soldiers in full uniform carrying assault rifles ostensibly guarding the border, but they look rather disinterested. Their posture and expression changes when I ask to take their pictures, and they stand rigidly to attention. To my disappointment, I discover I'm not allowed to make the short walk into the neighbouring burmese town. Apparently it's only for Thais. It's not a proper frontier.

Immigration is clearly an issue here. In the 20 miles or so I cover i pass at least 3 checkpoints.being a white face I'm greeted with smiles, waves and laughs. Has I been in a longyi, darkskinned and huddled in the back of a pickup, I'm sure I would have been subjected to severe scrutiny.

 

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Sai Yok national park

Filing in time while I'm sitting at the mouth of the bat cave in sai Yok national park waiting for dusk and the assumed swarms of bats that are going to emerge. I've already claimed in and poked around. It's a little bit scary with the floor of the cave being slippery and the only light I have being from my phone. So, better to sit outside. I'm still sweaty from 3 hours of walking through the jungle, not a soul in sight. Unfortunately no wildlife visible, but I can hear bird song, some kind of frog, perhaps, the buzzing of bugs. No human sounds. I had fun staring into tunnel spider webs, getting lost in the details of tree trunks and admiring the grace of the foliage. Crunching across dead bamboo trunks and their peeled away curled husked barks.

 

A long motorbike ride getting here. The only interesting thing was seeing a number of saffron swathed monks bare foot walking the highway, some making camp in the woodland by the road.

The park includes a section of the death railway, the remains of one of its bridges. Eerie to think that there were many hundreds of British men here before me toiling, getting bitten by bugs, beaten by Japanese, building something that has long since disappeared once more back into nature.

This is my third day in kanchanaburi province.

Day 2 got off to a slow start and once more began in On's restaurant, where once more I met Jo. On made him cook his own meal on the wok in front of the shop. I watched her make my rice soup. She's good at what she does, but to be honest I think with the same availability of ingredients I make a pretty good fist of authentic thai food too.

After lunch I cycle around and visit the jeath war museum. It's on the grounds of a temple, pretty scruffy and in a reconstruction of a pow hut. The place was founded by a Japanese man who was sent to thailand to act as translator at the end of the war. He was so shocked by what he saw that he converted to Buddhism and founded the museum. Anyway it was poignant and saddening.

On the bank of the Kwai at this end of town are scores of floating restaurants. Later I see one being towed up and down the river for a private karaoke party. At the end of these places there is a modern road bridge, under which I spend a while nosing around some dilapaded old floating bar and watching some poor local guys trying to fish for their supper.

I spend a long evening with an Austrian woman who I meet in on's. She has cycled down from chiang mai via mae sot. She is very interesting and has had a full life. Lived 20 years in India, worked with mother Theresa, caring for the dying, which sounds gruelling. Teaching massage and yoga wherever she goes. She tells me about how the prayers broadcast from the Hindu temples every morning pissed her off so much that she ended up cutting the cables to the tannoy speakers one day. We switch to Italian when she learns I lived in Italy. I would like to say my Italian came flooding back, but it didn't. Enough to talk about my experiences in Bologna and Sicily. The she tells me she lived on a beach in Sicily, and of the strange protection rackets and organised crime. We have a drink at her guest house which has a nice vibe apart from the ubiquitous karaoke on this stretch of the river.

M

So where are these bats??

I can't wait any longer. Back to the waterfall that empties into the Kwai river. Lots of floating houseboats. Kind of tranquil twilight. I don't enjoy the ride back 100km in darkness. The thought of getting a warming curry at on's spurs me on.

 

 

 

Christmas Day in Koh Muk, Penang and return

I start the day quite early and walk around the headland to cut across the island to Find Sabai beach. The path climbs through rubber plantations. The trees have a groove spiralling down which channels the white dripping sap into half dried coconut shells tied around the trees with wire. Loads of bright beautiful butterflies, a zipping green grasshopper the size of my big finger. A rustle in the trees and I spy the face of a macaq. The path turns into jungle, the track about a metre wide, yellow rutted path used by the motorbikes of planters. No other foreigners. Palms with leaves up to 3 metres long. Dead brown palm leaves hanging in swathes, dry and brown and rustling loudly in the breeze. Past some rubber planters houses, crudely shaped white sheets of pressed latex hanging on lines to dry. Under the house I can see a couple of hand mangles. The path peters to breaks in the bushes and navigation is a bit harder. As I pass another house A voice cries out ” hey my friend, where are you going?” I look up and see a cropped grey head, brown shoulder, brown-orange robed monk. He beckons me over. His friend is swaying next to the house ( it is his house). I join the monk, Ajairn and spend the next hour or more gazing out over the jungle and talking about the directions we have chosen in life. He tells me to be careful not to get lost. I tell him, philosophically that you never get lost. You take paths and the path is either the right one and you continue or you realise it is not the right one, so you choose another one. He is 55 Has been a monk for 5 years. Is from Chang mai and travels Thailand. He works in a foundation that promotes Buddhism to foreigners. He has been sent to Koh Muk to serve the island. One temple, one monk. The island doesn’t seem too interested in Buddhism. I see no shrines, prayer houses, wai-ing. He has had a normal life of working for an airline company in hotels, marriage, children, money, divorce. Turned to drink and women. Says he did bad things and he was damaged. Becoming a monk meant he gave up and away everything, and was supported by his family totally. He has a new name, as do all monks, and even his family must dress him with a higher more respectful language. His friend has also been a monk. He is now married and living on this hill in the forest. I notice a long scar with stitch arcs right down his belly from his navel. He goes down to the neighbouring house where his wife is, and comes back with a flask of hot water and some cups and sachets of instant sweetened white coffee. After a while we go down the hill to a bend where he sends me on my way, suggesting a mark my path with scratches on trees. He invites me to his temple in the evening.

The path to the beach is indeed almost invisible. After anotherc20 minutes it arrives under a pineapple tree at a stagnant pool of flotsam and jetsam which I negotiate on a wobbly plank bridge onto the beach. It’s about 100 metres wide flanked by craggy mountains on each side. Accessible only by boat or by my path . There is nobody there. The plan had been to have a final dip in the sea. Though the beach is soft sand the edge is littered with sharp protruding and underlying rock. I test the water. It’s a bit unpredictable to negotiate the sea bed. I walk in a little way, the sit down, letting the swell wash over me. I spend. A little more time on the rocks then begin my sweaty return journey. A startled dog runs back into the bushes. There are some beautiful flowers, in 2 parts. A red thing like a rubbery red open pine cone and out of the top a delicate long white trumpet of a flower with a yellow stimen.

When I get back to my beach the sun is out, it is around 3 pm. Actually I have no idea, and don’t care. Though hungry I lose myself on the beach. The tide is way way out. You can walk about 500 m out over the sand and rocks. There is a popping sound. I think it’s the crabs, maybe the shell fish. Hoi nam (sea snails), dap (starfish). Little bright sand crabs scampering around and back into the myriad of holes in the sand. Women are banging rocks, and collecting shells, big inky blue grey long legged birds with yellow feet swoop down and wade the pools looking for dinner.

I go back to the Coco Lounge for an excellent green curry with tofu and aubergine. Perfect level of spiciness. The lady asks me about why I’m vegetarian. It’s a question I never know the answer to. Every year in October there is a vegetarian festival in Phuket and Trang. I really should plan a trip around that. At dusk I go to find the wat. It’s actually behind Coco Lounge. And next to the health centre, in front of which teenagers are playing volleyball and a group of older guys are playing a game with a wicker ball. Standing in a ring and passing it around in the air by foot and head. The wat is an open modest affair, in a little square surrounded by houses and sitting next to a diminutive red Chinese temple which only opens for Chinese New Year. Ajairn is sitting freshly shaven and in brighter orange robes. I remember him joking about different types of Buddhist monks. Red shirts and yellow shirts! He is at a table with a small boy who is a tiny 11. He immediately notices me and calls me over. Delighted to see me.

He sends the young boy off to buy him some cigarettes. The boy comes back with a slightly bigger one and they have some fire crackers,which they take glee in tossing in the bushes to bang loudly. They play with a box of matches and I film their antics.

From then on the iPad takes over the evening. Suddenly it is dark and the mosquitoes are ferocious driving us into the temple where the 2 boys and a little sister cluster around the iPad looking at pictures of places faraway and of houses and faces they know. They watch the film I made of the boys playing football. They know them all. Interesting to see how intuitive and easy it is to use this iPad. The younger boy picks up navigation, zooming, speeding up and slowing down film very easily. This evening Ajairn doesn’t make too much sense. He asks me to help him with a website. I will do, but I’m not sure how. He insists I come by tomorrow before leaving to donate a coffee. I say I will, sadly knowing I won’t have time. We say goodbye.

Back at the beach the tide is very very high. I chat with William about my day, then pack. Later in the evening I go to the bar by the beach. There is some live music, a few foreigners, William and some locals. There is a mixture of pro performers, marked out by their sunglasses after dark and long hair, who play a couple of covers including Hotel California, but much much better are their Thai songs, many of which the locals know. They sing about the islands and the sea. The show is interspersed by some of the locals who sing and play too. Very talented and mournful lilting voices. These rough moustached guys by day are fishermen. William takes the mic to sing to some of the tunes. Everyone gets up and dances, the beer flows and some strange crunchy sweet cookies are passed round. It’s a beautiful night, and I’m reluctant to say goodbye and goodnight.

Boxing Day

I wake up with a cold, oh my god. It doesn’t seem to get worse during the day. I have my last breakfast as the sun comes up then walk with Dada to the pier with bags following with her husband in the motorbike and sidecar. At the pier I meet one of the singers from last night. He works the boats lugging boxes. He has a cowboy hat and looks funny lassoing the rope to tie up the boat. Waving goodbye to Dada and husband from the deck of a heavily laden ferry boat. Koh Muk slowly receding, sun beating down, exhaust belching noise and smoke. Lulled into a reverie, next to some weather beaten brown locals and a young lugger with the eyes of an old man. We are transferred to Trang where I go back to Rungtip travel. The girls remember me and I buy them some mangosteens from a very friendly fruit stall. Share a ride with some Dutch girls full of stories about Koh Muk to the bus station, where I kill 20 minutes buying sweet meals. Each bus counter has big bunches of bananas which they hand out to the waiting passengers. The minibus is piled high with bags and the stereo booms past my own headphones. Wafting smell of those menthol nose sticks so many Thais sniff obsessively.

27 December and my time has taken a whole new slant and perspective.

Arrived in Georgetown around 9.30 and the Hang Chow hotel had kept me a room but it was seedy, grotty and on the ground floor. I look at a couple of other places and remembered my trudge 2 years ago trying to find a room. I end up at the Hong Ping hotel, a big place on Lebuh Chulia. Chinese, smells a bit smokey, lacking in atmosphere but ok. I shower and get the long wished for masala dosa and mango lassi.

Phone and meet E and this is where things change. After some stalling he tells me about his illness and I still can’t take in it in. Sitting in a Chinese temple, a chanting cd and on the verge of tears. Slowly now I’m uncovering his layers. Layers he is ashamed of. Man, he has done some bad things and I can only begin to imagine how he is dealing with this. Can’t tell his family. He called it the death sentence.

What else is there to say? The minibus from Hat Yai was driven by a git who spent several stops smoking and chatting to his mates, leaving us waiting. He even got a bit lost. Hat Yai had rows after rows of stalls of dried nuts, porn DVDs, and I ate some vegetable rice salad. The waiter was gay. Shit, so what? Who is reading this? I want to change as a person, but I don’t know what I can do. I love E. What can I give him?

The afternoon ends with heavy rain and I edit pics and doze. I arrange via dodgy Internet to meet Eyrique for dinner at the food court near his hotel. His mum and brother and sister will be there. On this day the 15 th of the lunar month, his mum is vegetarian. Se treats me to dinner, rice, aubergine with garlic, water spinach, we have some beers. The entertainment on the stage is 3rd rate karaoke Carpenters style. Eyrique and I go off on our own initially to find a gay bar, but Georgetown has none. We sit in the side street at the Monkey Juice bar. Same guy, same menu, same prices as 2 years ago. We have a juice, Eyrique eats more, I photograph an old guy with his poodle. We leave as the market is closing. Back to my room. Eyrique has already picked up my cough.

The next day we were going to spend together, but his mother wants him back with them to do family stuff. We have a dosa for breakfast. Seems to be some tension around him being with me. We say goodbye, I’m a bit tearful. Weird how little we know each other, how fleeting our meetings are, how big an effort it is to reach each other. Funny how much I like being with him.

Final 2 days

Yesterday I walked around, hung around some temples, chatted to an old Chinese lady in her medicinal tea shop. Walked the malls, bought nothing. Oh, I forgot about meeting William Orchard from Singapore. A small guy in a baseball hat guarding a pile of flight cases next to the row of ruined heritage buildings I investigated last time round. They are still there, but I think the row behind has vanished. The is still one occupied by a Chinese grocer. He insists they won’t pull them down. Doesn’t seem to be much substance to rebuild though. The guy from Singapore is there making a film. He is the producer and it’s a self financed student film. A sci-fi ghost story and they have come all this way for these cool locations. We chat quite a long time, then they load up their fancy coach and drive off.

That was the day before yesterday. Back to yesterday and my wandering. I don’t see anything new, just enjoy the familiarity of the place. Have several lassis at various cheap Indian restaurants, and buy a big bag of fresh samosa and bhaji for the homeward journey. I browse one of the several used book stores and chat to the missing toothed Chinese owner about my travels. It’s amazing anyone buys anything in these stores, and this is better than most. Sun-faded, sea-water-curled trash best sellers probably from airports around the world. I do manage to find Memories of a Geisha and hope I will get round to reading it. I’ve got money to burn and I find myself in a crockery shop buying discounted Japanese plates and bowls. Quite cheap, but no haggling possible. For dinner I go back to Sri Amman…whatever it is called. No free tables so I’m invited to share a table with an Indian looking guy who is actually British. Quit his job as a banker in Canary Wharf and travelling Asia. His travels are a bit mainstream, and he isn’t too keen on experiencing the real Cambodia I tell him about. Anyway, he is ok company. We share a passion for vegetarian food and fruit, but his comments about missing uk, eg soya milk irk a little. Soya milk is easy to find and deliciously fresh here. Hope he will discover this. When we part I go back to Monkey Juice bar for a series of juices, each different, each refreshing. Suddenly remember to print my boarding passes, then go back to Hong Ping to sleep.

Next day, ie today. Breakfast is impossible to find even at 9am. For a city so keen on eating and with a Chinese population so geared to making money I can’t believe there is absolutely nowhere open. I settle for snacks from the 7-11. The minibus picks me up and takes me to the bus station where I board a luxury cruiser with remote controlled footrest and massage controls. I actually only discovered this by accident. I must have leant my elbow on the button, as suddenly I felt a trembling vibration on the left side of my back. First I thought it was the throbbing of the engine, but then I pressed a few more buttons and found more areas to vibrate. The journey was longer than promised. That’s no surprise, and the traffic was snail-like. The bus got hot and the air fuzzy. I chatted a little to my neighbour, a Malaysian kid of 19 who lives in Penang and studies in KL. To my relief the bus goes to KL Sentral, which means an easy connection to the airport. However, the bus takes me to the Airasia terminal. Why didn’t they tell me? I wander around the terminal a while and only when I ask for help do I realise my mistake. Sweltering sun. Waiting for a connecting bus. Once at the right terminal the rapid drop in queue doesn’t move as a family of Arabs are checking in about 20 pieces of luggage. One of their kids opens a Coca Cola bottle which sprays sticky brown sugary goo all over the counter and floor. Once through to departures I get some Mango Absolut, and the girls in the duty free shop are in a quandary about whether I am allowed to take it into Abu Dhabi where I have to transfer. I buy it anyway, and later am told at boarding that it will be ok. The airport book shop has many peculiar looking books on Malaysian politics and social commentary. I would have bought one if I hadn’t changed the rest of my ringgit back to pounds. My media research continues with buying some newspapers to analyse.

That takes me back to last night. I don’t usually have any interest in tv in my hotel room, but I thought I would check out what is broadcast here. It was an English language news channel from Malaysia. Interesting coverage. No Chinese faces or Indians. Lots of minor dramas, deaths, incidents, all involving Malays. Crimes such as gang robbery of a tanker, a crime of passion involving a woman, her husband, her lover. An overturned pick-up which mowed down a couple of electricity pylons. Floods on the east coast, army rescues. Education reforms. The deputy PM emphasising mastery of Behasa Melayu and English. There were complaints and suggestions by Dong Ping, a Chinese campaigner for Chinese education, for inclusiveness for all students with the new policies. The deputy PM made some comment to the effect that “we cannot please everyone and these policies are not going to be changed just for Dong Ping”. Then he made some speech about how we must curb text language as it is destroying the beautiful Malay language. Basically we saw a portrayal of a single race nation, with a single language. All smiles and silk.

I saw many of these people in the evening, yesterday. I walked up to the town hall and the harbour wall near the fort. This is a Malay area. Funny how segregated they all are. Promenading families, headscarved mothers. Everyone creating meaning and moments by snapping each other on their phones over and over, silly poses, poor light. Rituals that give shape to their evenings. I dangle my feet over the wall and watch a mammoth container ship glide slowly in, then like a mirage a brightly lit blue and white ferry positively motoring into to the port.

Even on the plane, the guy near me. A black African snaps himself several times on his Blackberry. Why oh why? To show he is on a plane? Meaningless.

My god, what a long journey. Arriving in Heathrow at 6.30 am local time. I decided not to change my watch since leaving Malaysia. Time means nothing. Except I’m tired. I can see I have lost a day, or is it 2 and I have been travelling for 30 hours now. By my reckoning it. Will be 32 by the time I get home, mid-morning, and go to bed. It’s cold here, maybe 8 degrees, my sleep on the planes was drowsy and hypnotic due to my iPod streaming whatever it liked on shuffle mode.

Uk transport….well the District line isn’t running from Hammersmith, necessitating another change. The train from Victoria to Brighton should be quick and reliable. Crawling to East Croydon, taking half an hour. This journey is costing 25 quid. I just want to get home. Uk is miserably frustratingly crap.

Surat Thani to khao sok, day 10

 

As it turns out its not the greatest hotel for sleep. I woke up thinking it was daylight, only to find that the room has a big window above the door and the corridor light is on 24 hours. I really can’t make out the lobby. Is it a shrine, eccentric decor or part of some Buddhist relic antique shop?

Can’t find any breakfast at 7am. This town could certainly do with some food outlets for travellers. Now sitting outside a scruffy minibus booking office. The woman at the desk is eating super noodles and her baby is rolling around on a PVC mat on the floor. This is where they live and sleep. I think the photo describes better than I can do.

Now at khao sok national park. There are clusters of bungalows next to a small river looking onto to craggy jungle clad peaks. The road over the river takes you to the park entrance. Arrived here at around midday. The bus is quite relaxing and the journey is through awesome countryside. I’m met at the bus stop by a hotel hawk. He takes me by pickup 5 minutes to a scruffy unfriendly resort. I don’t like the bamboo hut, though its cheap at 300 baht. I check out some more to find the price and standard is quite similar. The one I choose is really based on wanting to to put an end to wandering around and the guy who calls out to me is quite friendly. But actually he becomes a bit annoying. They hit is ok, and I’m happy to find mosquitoes are not a big problem in the evening. After checking in I have a nice masaman curry and shake. I want to get going fast so I gather myself together and stroll to the park.

Here is a trail that is well walked and follows the river taking in a number of pools and cascades. It’s all very clean and feels like real jungle. The sound of the insects is deafening, and I’m sure the sonic trills pierces my brain, as I do end up with a headache later. There aren’t too many people in the park, and I spot a few interesting plants, many butterflies, a monkey by the river and a spider the size of my hand. Black and yellow, hanging on his web, missing a hind leg. Doesn’t twitch or move at all. I swear he must be dead. I film, shoot pics, record some sounds, taking my time. I do about 4 km, then decide to turn around so as to avoid trying to find my way back in the dark. Coming the other way I meet a young Dutch or German guy who is crazily, or maybe not, on his way to camp in the jungle….I kind of admire this, but do wonder how scary and full of bugs the place will be in the dead of night. Back at Ning house I have a shake and am dismayed with the other guests hanging out there. All are German couple and with young kids in some cases. I go back to the road to a restaurant I spied earlier called thi herb. Great range of vegetarian dishes….I get a strawberry shake and m waiting for a spicy red curry. Damn more Germans, they re smoking too

 

 

Day 28 – Taman Negara

Writing this from notes and memory, now I’m back in the chilly brightness of UK, but at least I have a quick responsive Mac to type on again.

We got up with early intentions but not early enough to have the jungle to ourselves (wishful thinking). The park in the morning was full of chattering groups and so the magical silence was absent. After spying a very tame mouse deer at the resort we headed the same way as yesterday to get to the now open canopy walkway.

After 1km or so we climbed some steps to find the platform at the start of the walkway. In fact we heard it first. Due to the fact that the walkway bridges can only hold one person at a time, there is usually a queue to start the walkway. Today there was a group of Dutch and the Arabs from the boat. I suggest going for a trek and returning at lunchtime hopefully to miss the crowds.

Bukik Teresik is a 344m climb in 100% humidity over tangles of roots and leaves us soaked with sweat.

The summit is a cluster of boulders with a great view over the river and jungle. but too exposed and hot to linger.

I was right: when we get back to the walkway we are the only people there. It’s much longer and much more exciting than I imagined. There are around 7 rope bridges including one which is a ladder taking you higher, suspended 30-40m up in the tree canopy. The views are amazing, and Cyrus is having to deal with a fear of heights.

We walk back and cross the river for a mediocre lunch at the LBK jetty then rush back to change our clothes “prepare to get wet” for a “racing the rapids” trip: a hurtle along the river in a motorised sampan riding 5 series of rapids, where the maniacal driver rocks the boat from side to side getting us drenched. Cyrus again is inappropriately dressed, wearing canvas shoes which end up taking a couple of days to dry out. Exhilirating and fun. Safety is not really on the agenda: no compulsory life jackets or hard hats. Anyway nobody falls in. Oh, and I spy a kingfisher. The skipper takes the boat to a flat bank where there is a rope swing and drop into the river. He builds a little platform and then does the first swing and drop, egging us all on to try. I’m one of the few not to. Even Cyrus has a go. It looks fun, but I know I’ll get scared by the deep water. We have the option to stay with the group (European couples) but by now we are shivering a little and I don’t want to watch natives demonstrating traditional skills, and anyway we were just tagging along for this activity, and don’t feel like we are part of the group. We’d rather be alone. So we head back to base.

I’m still toying with going for a night trek: Cyrus doesn’t want to come (I guess he is scared), and I decide that I don’t want to be with a group, who I know will be firing flashes all the time.

We take dinner at Momo Chop’s as the night trek groups assemble, and watch a documentary DVD about the park.

We sit on the river bank with an ice cream. The sky once more is beautiful, with a bright moon. An eerie black streak (a vapour trail) then rips the moon and the glowing halo of clouds in two. It widens, fades and disappears.

Day 27 arrival at Taman Negara

On waking my insides hurt a bit. Blame it on the raw chilli. Breakfast at the LBK cafe is early.

Then we take a 1 hour mini bus to the jetty (full of Saudi guys talking loudly). The trip in the boat is 3 hours, gentle, hypnotic and beautiful. We sit at the front of the boat and let the view of dense forest, walls of dramatic soaring trees, and very occasional passing boats slip by. Its hot too…

Arrival Kuala Tehan is low-key. There are a few guesthouses visible through the trees, but the settlement is very small. We land at one of the many floating platforms which serve as restaurants (which, we soon discover all serve the same bland and uninspiring menus of “western food” – burgers. fried rice, fried noodles, tom yam, set breakfasts and shakes with minimal fruit and maximum water content. the quality varies, but overall can be said to be very poor), booking centres for all the same trips: night safari, trekking, racing the rapids), and landing stages for the sampans which ferry you across the river to the park headquarters and the sites of all the activities.

Here there is also a rather gentile resort of chalet like bungalows arranged around neat paths and manicured lawns. Though even here there is wildlife: later in the day we see a couple of monitor lizards and also a mouse deer.

After crossing a wobbly plank and clambering over a river bank of sand and boulders we climb through and past some rather grubby and seedy looking guesthouses which must be rife with mosquitoes. One even has a disused sign hanging n a toilet door worded “do not enter – snake”. we end up on the only road in the town and climb a hill, pass the police station and find Tahan Guesthouse, set in a pleasant little garden with painted hippy slogans scattered around, where a laughing woman shows me the rooms. We take a first floor room. The walls are painted with large ladybirds, a sliding door opens onto a little balcony , which comes in useful for drying our soaking clothes after the rapids trip, but……there is a squat toilet, which I prefer not to use (I like to sit). The location suffers from its proximity to the mosque which has a deafening tannoy which wakes us at 4.30 each morning. There are also a lot of bugs and mosquitoes, so we sleep under a net.

Surprisingly it is cold there at night and we have to ask for blankets on the second day. The first night requires us to sleep under towels, fend off bugs and refrain from swearing too much at the call to prayer.

We have lunch at one of the floating restaurants. The service is also appalling. Waitresses sitting around plucking their eyebrows, watching tv (dramas – they even switched the channel when we were watching badminton. Who is the tv actually for?). Mama Chop turns out to be the slightly better restaurant. When we go there on the second night the waitress actually suggests that Cyrus doesn’t take the Tom Yam (we make it, but it’s not very good”).

In the afternoon we go for a walk/trek of a couple of hours into the rainforest. The path is well trodden and well-used, so it doesn’t feel particularly wild, but it is beautiful.

We see some ferns which are green and blue and are called peacock ?????.

We see  a black and white caterpillar, and an armour-plated one which is about 20cm long, and I find out later is poisonous.

Cyrus is edgy in the forest and is scared of the unknown. At one point he hears a sound which makes him think TIGER, the red caterpillar, is the turning point, as he retreats from it as I move in to take photos. He is also reluctant to walk beyond the sign which recommends the use of a guide. I try to reassure him that there is nothing to worry about. I guess this kind of adventure is beyond his comfort zone. He likes things to be more organized and more predictable. We bump into a German couple a few times on the trail, and chat at length.

The cold night is illuminated by a bright near full moon which breaks through a mackerel sky. The sky later is pitch black and full of stars and total stillness and silence when I wake up cold to close the sliding door. I wake up once more. This time, oddly, the silence has been replaced by the buzz and hum of a myriad of insects in the trees. The following night one of these makes it into our room. Cyrus hears a flap, I see a shadow and i gingerly investigate to find a moth the size of my hand settled on the water hose, brown, the same colour, obviously choosing this resting place as camouflage.