September 15, 2008
On Friday night, a group of ~10 exchange students decided to head down to Pat Pong, which is Bangkok’s red-light district. It was quite the experience and one of the most fun nights I’ve had in Bangkok. Highlights include:
- Witnessing a very blurry Ping-Pong Show.
- Almost beating the high-level of Snake on my phone.
- Peeing in an alleyway.
- Demanding it is time to go home until Abby says “We’re going to go dance at a club”, to which I respond “OKAY!! Let’s dance!”
- Watching the sun rise from the roof of my apartment complex with my friends, but not before taking a detour at my apartment to grab ice cream sandwiches.
- Seeing a women pee on the street I walk on every day, at 5am.
Khao Yai National Park
After arriving home from Pat Pong at 6am, I wake up at 7:30 a.m. to head to Khao Yai National Park with Sofia, my Swedish friend.
The brilliant plan? Camp during Thailand’s monsoon season. Every action has a reaction, which Sofia and I quickly found out…
Khao Yai National Park is 2.5 hours north of Bangkok and it was quite the journey to get there. I first grabbed a cab and headed to the skytrain, about 20km from my apartment. I took the skytrain to Mo Chit, and met up with Sofia. Sofia and I pushed through the throngs of people at the Chatuchak weekend market in Mo Chit, and then grabbed another taxi to get to the northeastern Bangkok bus terminal.
From there, we get on a bus to Pak Chong, and after 2.5 hours, the bus driver yells at us in Thai to get off the bus, and we get dropped off in the middle of the street, with no idea where we are. Luckily, a Thai man directs us across the street, where we wait for another 30 minutes for a truck taxi, which takes us to the entrance of Khao Yai National Park.
Once at the park, Sofia and I attempt to sneak in to avoid paying the 400 baht foreigner entrance fee. After twenty minutes of walking, the park ranger picks us up and takes us back to the entrance and makes us pay. Darn good try though! I flash my Thammasat University ID for a good old fashioned student discount.
To get to the top of the park, which is 14km from the entrance, Sofia & I stick out our thumbs and hope to catch a ride. As luck would have it, we are picked up by Katchaloyaman (or a name similar to that), a 60 year old man who immediately takes a liking to Sofia, as he has spent some time in Sweden. He takes us to the visitor center and tells them we want to rent a tent and camp. The ranger tells him we cannot camp, as the campgrounds are much too wet. Um duh, who goes camping during monsoon season?? We do.
Without any hesitation, Katchaloyaman (I think I made his name up) states he is going to take us to his lodge, where we can stay free of charge. He takes us to this beautiful, clean room with a queen size bed, blankets, pillows, a hot shower, and even toilet paper in the bathroom (fancy!). At this point, Sofia and I are quite confused (what’s the catch, buddy?!), as we are not used to Thai hospitality. In Bangkok, true Thai hospitality is masked by the plethora of locals working in the tourism industry, attempting to extract as much money from foreigners as possible.
This incredibly kind man not only lets us stay in a clean, safe place for the night (we definitely would have drowned in the torrential downpour outside), but he also invites us to his 60th birthday/retirement party in the main lodge. We clean up and head down to the party, where we see absolutely no shortage of food. The table is lined with foods that include an entire fish, pig fillets, beef, peanuts, rice, noodles, and chicken, amongst many other unknown food items. Sofia and I spend the night trying new food and playing charades (I mean, talking) with some of the fifty Thai people there.
After a few hours, we head back to our lodge, take a hot shower (phenomenal), and walk around the area for a few minutes. This doesn’t last long, as it was 55° outside, which felt incredibly cold, relative to the tropical climate in Bangkok we have been immersed in for the past six weeks. The next morning we sleep in, thereby missing Katchaloyaman, as the crazy old dude has already headed home. Although, when I initially woke up, I saw him waiting outside our lodge, probably to say goodbye and offer us a ride home to Bangkok. What a sweet man.
Sofia and I go to the main lodge and enjoy a breakfast of sweet rice, cake, and coffee with some of last night’s partiers. After breakfast, we begin the 5km hike back down to the visitor’s center, where the hiking trail heads are located. After quite the journey, Sofia and I head into the jungle!
This was Sofia’s first hiking/camping experience, and she certainly had an interesting one. Since it was so rainy and muddy, there were leeches everywhere. I reassure Sofia the leeches won’t attack, so long as we kept moving. I was wrong. They attacked. Sofia spent a good portion of the hike screaming, and swatting at her legs and feet, as the leeches were all over her (and I). They are harmless but freakishly annoying. Once they latch on to you, it’s quite difficult to get them all off. By the end of the hike, Sofia and I had barely a square inch of skin free from blood trails. But, were we deterred from other hiking trails? Not yet. Soon, though.
We take a break, grab food, and head into another hiking trail. This one was exceptionally muddy and therefore, very slow going. After a half hour of hiking through this trail, we come to a point where there is a stream, with only a single branch going from one end to another. Sofia and I stare at it for a few minutes, and I hand her my backpack and begin to “tight-rope” across. Realizing I need a stabilization tool, I grab a branch and slowly make it across the stream. As I’m walking, I hear nearby branches breaking and leaves rustling; my first thought is “that’s a tiger.”
I successfully arrive at the other end of the stream, look at Sofia (who looks as scared as I feel), call out, “so shall we head back?” and she very enthusiastically replies, “YES!”
I travel right back across the stream I just traversed, and Sofia and I begin running out of the jungle, as we have an eerie feeling we are not alone. We finally make it out of the jungle, and look down at our feet and legs. A bloody mess indeed; we definitely need to clean ourselves up. We head to the cafeteria, find a water hose, and spend the next 30 minutes cleaning our feet and eating.
Sofia and I next visit the visitor’s center, take some pictures with the animals (which are thankfully not alive), and begin to head down to the entrance of the park. We stick our thumbs out to hitchhike back down and immediately get picked up by the sweetest couple I’ve ever met. And so we experience our second dose of true Thai hospitality.
When we reach the entrance, Red Bull (really, that is her name) and her husband ask us how long we are in Thailand and we reply five months, as we are studying at Thammasat University. Once I drop the name Thammasat, the couple gets very excited and asks “Ooooh, Thammasat! Where you go, were you go?” We tell them we are going to Bangkok, and they ask us how we are getting there. We reply we are trying to get to the Pak Chong bus station, but don’t quite know where that is. They very kindly offer to take us, and off we go, after picking up their dog, Gordon at their house. They take us all the way to the bus station (which Sofia and I would have spent five hours trying to find without them), and wish us luck in the future, as we bid adieu.
Red Bull and her husband were probably some of the sweetest people I have ever met, and Sofia and I realize how lucky we got this weekend. It had the potential to be a terrible, rainy weekend full of leeches, but instead we had an incredible experience due to the good nature, and generosity of Thai people. This really is the Land of Smiles.