I decided on a whim to head a few hours east of Ayutthaya to Khao Yai National Park! I stayed in Pak Chong, the closest town to the park, at Khao Yai Garden Lodge. They provided free transport to and from the train station (about 20 minutes away) and cost me 250 baht a night for a cute single room with a balcony. The lodge is surrounded by lush trees and plants, and even has a nice pool area! It was really relaxing and secluded, a nice little retreat.
Since the park is so large and hard to see without a car, I opted for an organized tour with a guide that set me back 1,450 baht ($40), the most expensive purchase yet. Let’s just say I’ll be eating packaged noodles from 7-11 for the next few meals. But it’s probably the bet way to see the park, as park maps are vague and it’s quite easy to get lost. And with all sorts of wildlife, you probably don’t want to get stranded overnight. I boarded the back of a pickup truck with the rest of the tour group. As we took off for the park, I looked around; It was just me and four couples. And as luck would have it, they all spoke German. Except me. It felt like I was crashing a bunch of honeymoons or something. #ninthwheel
We entered the park and began our ascent into the mountains. I was shocked at how many cyclists we passed, climbing such steep and narrow roads. Staring at their faces of determination and sweat as we passed, I was both envious of them and nostalgic for my 4K for Cancer trip. I would do anything to be climbing this mountain, struggling in the heat, with my 4K team. Alas, this is a different adventure.
We trekked through the jungle, hillside, and wetlands for about 3 hours. I should probably mention that maybe a half hour into the hike, while trying to climb a giant Ficus tree, my pants tore open at the crouch. But I didn’t even care. From the moment we entered the jungle, I felt at home. All of my worries about money (and this expensive tour), my future destinations, and life had instantly subsided. It was like I had no real problems at all (And maybe I don’t…). I felt at peace, content, and free to breathe in each moment, each step through the jungle.
We saw spiders, monkeys, deer, monitor lizards, a scorpion, and a ton of birds. I was just waiting for a wild elephant.
After about two hours in the jungle, we emerged from the forest and on a hillside, surrounded by tall grass. Every few steps, though, you could see flattened grass, presumably left by the weight of the elephants. As we reached the top of the hill, we could see well off into the distance. A few salt licks bordered a lake, and just beyond, a watch tower. I stared all around, taking it all in. Nature: everything was alive, yet nothin moved, just a few tree branches and blades of grass swaying in the occasional breeze. How still and peaceful it all was. And I felt at home, like it belonged to me and I belonged to it. “Everything the light touches…”
We had lunch at the visitor center and climbed back into the truck to see some waterfalls. The 1 meter step into the truck reminded me of my pants, as they had now ripped even more, exposing some upper leg. But I really didn’t care. If I wasn’t wearing the underwear I was, I would’ve ripped my past off. But I WAS wearing the underwear that I was, so…
The first waterfall we visited was featured in the film, “The Beach.” The second one is the largest in the park and stunning. We hiked about a kilometer, much of which was down steep stairs. At the viewing point, still somewhat far from the falls, mist from the impact floated past us. Both waterfalls were pretty cool.
It was about 4 pm when we began our trip out of the park. Our guide drove real slow; if we were lucky enough, we might’ve seen wild elephants… But no such luck. As disappointing as it was, I still left happy. After being in cities and surrounded by the chaos of modern day urban life, being in nature refreshed me. Just walking through the jungle was enough; no crazy rock climbing, zip lining, or rafting was needed. The stillness and simplicity of life all around centered me. I lost all of my baggage from the past and all my anxiety over the future. There were no distractions: no cars whizzing past, no schedules to keep, and no desires to be had. There was just nature: the gentle sounds of the wind brushing the leaves, the pure smells of the forest, and the sun beaming through the canopy whenever it could. How I’d love to just live out in nature.
I’m back at the Garden Lodge now, all showered and warmed up after we got caught in a cold rainstorm on the way back. For those concerned, my pants are done for, no saving them. At this point, the rip runs about halfway around my leg. (Dad – can you send me a new pair?)
Tomorrow, I’m leaving; though to where I’m not quite sure. That’s the beauty of solo travel: I’ll decide at the train station ticket window.
Pantsless but happy,