Warning, long post ahead, but plenty of pictures to get you through!
For the sake of making this post shorter, details about how we got to the park and where we stayed can be found at the end of the next post!
We ate breakfast at Green Leaf Guesthouse (the place we were staying) on Sunday morning and climbed into the back of a truck with a couple from England and two solo backpackers at 8am.
We left the hotel and journeyed into Khao Yai National Park, where our first stop was a viewpoint that happened to be occupied by a pack of very cheeky monkeys. One stole a whole bag of bananas out of an unguarded truck and climbed to the top of a tree so she wouldn’t have to share. There were baby monkeys playing in trees and clinging to mothers’ bellies, and older monkeys jumping around in the trucks searching for food.
Our next stop was a sudden swerve off the road as Lek, our guide from the guesthouse, leapt from the truck and grabbed a scorpion out of the road and brought it on board. He calmed it down by covering it with his other hand to warm it up, and then let us pet it and touch its stinger. This one, at about 5 inches, was not as big as the giant scorpion species can get, and it had been displaced by the recent rain.
We heard some gibbons in the forest so we pulled over to trek for a little while. We did not find any gibbons, but we did find a hornbill, which our guide located after we heard the sound of its wings as it landed, a sound not unlike a blowtorch or what I imagine a jet pack would sound like.
The great hornbill’s 2-meter wingspan pushes a lot of wind. Daniel got up close and personal with a couple of small leeches that found the half inch of exposed skin on the back of his knees between the leech socks we were wearing and his shorts. The guide told him to think of it as a blood donation – a leech can live 6 months of their year long life span on just one feeding!
Another swerve off the road a little later brought us up close and personal with a long, thin, white whip snake, that our guide somehow saw from the road and distinguished from the vines and branches. He once again leapt off into the brush and managed to grab the snake, so we all took turns holding it. It’s crazy to feel how powerful they are.
Our next trek brought us quite far
from the road, and we explored the dense jungle, admiring enormous bugs and twisting trees, reaching up toward the sun as they have done for centuries. We reached a river and walked out across the rocky exposed riverbed, pockmarked by years of fluctuating water levels. We snuck up to snap a few photos of a water monitor lizard sunning itself on the warm rocks, and gaped at a swarm of some of the largest butterflies I’ve ever seen, each delicate and colorful wing seemingly the size of my hand.
We drove on to the waterfall Haew Suwat, most famously known for Leonardo DiCaprio (or at least his stunt double) leaping from it in the film The Beach. We got up as close as we could, clambering over slippery rocks, laughing as we climbed through the perpetual rainbow created in its spray. It was beautiful.
When we got back to the truck, our guide had found and caught a flying lizard for us to admire before he carefully placed it back on the tree, and it virtually disappeared because of its excellent camouflage.
We got back in the truck and as we drove south, the road seemed to dip into an entirely different microclimate, the air thickening with moisture and the intoxicatingly sweet scent of some unidentified tropical flower. It got wetter and colder, and though it had been all sunny skies where we just came from, it was apparent that rain had fallen recently, as the road was wet. A long, wet drive brought us to the walking path to the uppermost observation point for the tallest waterfall in the park, the stunning 150 meter Haew Narok. We hiked a kilometer from the road to the overlook, crossing several bridges and scaling many steep stairs of questionable reliability.
We also passed many interesting plants and bugs, including a tiny spider that was weaving the biggest web I had ever seen. This little fingernail sized guy was making quick progress on his ambitious web – must have been 2-3 meters across. Unfortunately on our return journey, he looked all forlorn in the corner of his web, gazing with anguish at his lost productivity in the form of a gaping hole in his silken masterpiece, probably due to an inconsiderate bird. Okay, I’m anthropomorphizing, but still, I thought it looked sad.
Anyway, yes, the waterfall. Only the first stretch (about 50-60m) was visible to us, and our guide told us that after the rainy season, the lower viewpoints were closed off, due to rockslides and unsafe conditions. Stunning waterfall. Why are waterfalls so beautiful? It’s just falling water. This one didn’t even have any playful rainbows dancing through the spray at the bottom. Maybe something about the power of it, the water pounding away at solid rock for so many years, carving this immovable substance into an advantageous form… I don’t know what it is, but something about waterfalls just takes the breath away.
We drove back from the waterfall slowly, hugging the edges of the road, peering into the dense trees and brush, hoping for a glimpse of a wild elephant. After creeping along for most of the return journey, we were brought to a halt by a long line of cars stopped on the road. Our guide popped his head out of the window and turned back to us excitedly, “big animal on road!” he chirped, and before he could even fully get back into the car, our driver took off down the wrong side of the road cutting in front of the line of vehicles to bring the line of wild elephants into view.
It was a group of 15-20 mothers and children, crossing the road. They had apparently been there for quite some time, because as we were watching, an official park vehicle came to try to clear the road. Flashing lights and revving engine attempting to bully the pack off the road. One elephant reached into the truck’s window with her trunk, but eventually the road was cleared to let the flow of traffic continue. The elephants watched, indifferent, from the side of the road, as engines restarted and these strange metallic animals roared past them. That was the full day tour, and I will post another blog about the half day, but I will leave you with this video taken of that herd of elephants shortly after we left them, terrorizing a man on a motorcycle. Our guide showed it to us at breakfast the following morning.