Tag Archives: nature

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.

 

Advertisements

Yala national park

What did I see in yala?
Leopard x 3. Lounging on a rock like something out of Kipling. Sprawled on a tree camouflaged almost beyond recognition. I wonder how aware they are of us? Sitting there in our jeeps, forbidden to step on the path, straining with our underpowered lenses to capture a woeful and disappointing faraway shot. Something to show friends. Look I did see a leopard. The jeeps converge en masses each time one is spotted, drivers liaising by phone then putting their foot down on bumpy rutted muddy paths ignoring the deer, peacocks and whatever else may be in the undergrowth to get us to the place in time to catch a glimpse of the big cat. The 20 or so jeeps vie for position reversing, squeezing together. It’s a circus and exactly what I hoped we wouldn’t be doing.
The park is extensive and very beautiful. Big rocks. One that looks like an elephant. One with hundreds of black faced monkeys scampering around. Lakes, wetland, filled with storks, hornbills, crocodiles blending into the rock, pink lilies. Herds of deer, males with metre high antlers, another spotted breed hanging out at the edge of the forest. Peacocks display their plumage to disinterested females. Eagles swoop, a serpent eagle squats on a mount looking for prey. Wild boar moosie along the path. A stray baby elephant stumbles through the bush then behind our jeep to find its mother on the other side.
Birds are in colossal abundance. Little yellow green and orange kingfishers, cormorants, cuckoos, ones I don’t know the names of. I should try to research these.
By the beach is the base of an ex-bungalow. All that remains from a camp from before the tsunami. There is a memorial to the 40 or so tourists killed on that day.

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 seeĀ  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.