Khao Yai National Park - Part I

Leech species count:
1 species:
Haemadipsa interrupta
1 species:
Haemadipsa zylanica subspecies 1
Language lesson:
Terrestrial Leech
Malay - Pachat
Thai - Taak
Freshwater Leech
Malay - Linta
Thai - Pling
Sawat dii kha (=Hello)

Early that morning I checked out and needed to make my way over to Mo
Chit (Northern Bus Terminal – pronounced ‘moe shit’). I wanted to get an
early start so I could get into Pak Chong early enough so I would be able
to get to my lodge (Khao Yai Garden Lodge) before the afternoon tour began
(2pm). Luckily there was a taxi waiting just outside the door of my
guesthouse, so I got in. In my Rough Guide of Thailand book it warns about
certain things that can happen to you when dealing with Bangkok taxis. You
never thinks it going to happen to you (don’t worry its not serious). So I
get in and I tell the driver ‘to Mo Chit, please’ and the driver responds
‘200 Baths.’ (It’s the equivalent of 5 bucks). I asked him ‘and what’s
wrong with your meter?’ He says ‘no meter, same price.’ At that point I
should have got out of the taxi, but I didn’t. It was 7:30 am and I just
wanted to get to the bus terminal. So I agreed (with much hesitation) and
I prayed the entire way that he was actually going to taking me to the bus
terminal. To make matters worse, his taxi ID card looked nothing like the
driver. Also, I could not follow where he was driving to, since I
couldn’t find most of the names on the road signs in my book without a
detailed road map. The book had warned that sometimes these taxi drivers
refuse to turn on the meter and advises to simply get out. So there were a
million things going through my head. All of a sudden I began to see
signs for the Northern Bus terminal and my nerves calmed way down. Surely
I was worried for nothing, but again you never know. I was mad at myself
for not responding more forcefully, but what was done was done. Once
again, I learned from yet another mistake. I guess I was lucky.

Mo Chit Bus Terminal
I followed the signs to the Ticketing area and arrived to an area with
like a million window/counters side by side. I figured that buying a
ticket here would be like in Penn Station: you walk up to any window and
buy your ticket. So that’s what I did. The woman behind the counter
giggled at me and pointed down the row of windows and she said something
in Thai. Luckily I ran into some Info People and they pointed me in the
right direction. I found window No. 50 for Pak Chong and purchased my
ticket. The ticket was all in Thai, so it was very pretty, but I really
didn’t know which platform I needed to go to. It was too early in the
morning, I hadn’t had my coffee, so my brain wasn’t fully functional yet.
For whatever reason, even though there was the number 78 on my ticket in
between all the Thai writing, I assumed that the window number I had just
visited corresponded to the platform number. I made my way to platform 50
to find a bus that was not going to Pak Chong. It must have been very
obvious that I was confused. This dude looked at my ticket and handed it
back to me with an underlined 78. I thanked him in Thai, ‘khap khun ka’
and weaved my way in and out of people to make my way to the platform
position number 78. I finally got to the right place.
Pak Chong and the Khao Yai Tour
3 hours later I arrived to the town of Pak Chong, which lies 37 km north
of Khao Yai National Park. I was almost there! My ride picked me up and
took me to the lodge, which is surrouned with beautiful gardens and small
waterfalls. It was quite peaceful. I met my tour guide "M" promptly at
2pm. He told me to call him "M" because his name sounded too much like
Hong Kong. I don't know.
He informed me that I was the only one that had signed up for the day and
half tour package, which meant I was getting my own personal tour. Cool
right! So the first thing that I asked him was, ‘How are the leeches?’ He
smiled, but I quickly told him that I was looking for them. He just looked
at me and started laughing. He told me that no one has ever, in his 10
years working as a jungle guide, requested to see leeches (Tak). Birds,
monkeys, elephants, yes, but leeches? Never. He told me not to
worry…tomorrow, the leeches will be out.

Today's itinerary includes visiting two caves. The first cave was
actually a Buddhist temple. Apparently, some hermit retreated here for
meditation and the temple was designated in commemoration of this monk.
The limestone cave was huge, I mean there were several tunnels and rock
formations that had been carved out by water that once flowed through
here. In different parts of the cave there were various shrines and
places for meditation. The place was quite massive. We came across a
pile of dirt where a species of ginger was growing from it. This was in
the middle of the cave. So other than the florecent bulbs there was no
natural light. We also saw some fossil snails. Compared to the first
cave I visited in Malaysia, getting around was a piece of cake, although
it was easy to lose you footing on the rocks. They were pretty wet. I
admit slipping once and falling on my ass. The last thing we ran into
were some bats chilling on the ceiling. They were pretty high up so all
you say were some black blobs and the occasional squealing that bats do.
So we left the cave temple to make our way to the second cave, which we
were not going to enter. The cave is found on the side of Baby Elephant
mountain (Khao Luuk Chang), 6 km north of the park. Apparently the smell
of ammonia from the bat pee is awful and makes it impossible to breath.
Fine with me, I didn't need convincing.

So we drove up to this open field with a wonderful panoramic view of the
landscape and the mountains of Khao Yai National Park. From here we would
be looking for the insectivorous wrinkle lipped bats which leave the cave
by the millions to make there way to the mountains at sunset to feed. So
we waited on a hill to get a glimpse of the bats. All of a sudden, there
was a dark thin swarm streaming from the side of Baby Elephant mountain.
Today they decided to travel in a different direction so we had to drive
and move to another position. We got on the road and all of a sudden M
tells the driver to stop. He tells me to get out and makes me run through
some cornfield, cross a log "bridge" and climb under a barbed wire fence
so we could get a closer look at the bats. It really was an amazing
sight. The bats looked like a stream of smoke spiraling through the air
in unison. When the wind would blow, the bats moved together. I watched
in awe and tried to take pictures but it's impossible to capture this on
film. So we watched them for about 45 minutes and then realized I was
being attacked by hungry mosquitoes. That was our cue. Today's tour was

For the evening, I had 2 choices: Have dinner by myself and lock myself in
my room or go to Pak Chong with M to go eat and see the night market.
Guess what I chose?

After we got back from bat watching, M offered to go into town. So
we got on his motorbike and headed to Pak Chong to visit the night
market. It was booming with people everywhere. I was surprised that I
didn't see any farang. There were vendors selling clothes, music and food.
I think he was trying to test my 'fear factor', so he dragged me directly
to a table selling deep fried grasshoppers, crickets and silk worms,
sautéed in onion and garlic. He hands me a grasshopper, but I just stood
there cracking up for a few minutes, then just popped it in my mouth. It
was crunchy on the outside and kinda squishy on the inside. You have to
make sure you remove the hind legs, because they are kinda spiky. It had
a good taste, so it really wasn't bad at all. We then walked around
looking for something a little more substantial for dinner. I decided I
wanted some curry thing, so we came upon a vendor selling pots of various
curries and soups. I chose the coconut soup with vegetables and chicken.
So you get this served in a bag, plus a second bag with your rice. All
this for 50 cents. Nice right. So we sat down and I poured my soup in a
bowl and started to eat. Then all of a sudden I pick out a chicken foot.
I just stared at it. At least they clipped off the toenails. I asked M
if he ate chicken feet. He told me yes as he plucked the foot out of my
bowl and dismembered a finger and put it in his mouth. He tried to push a
finger/toe my way. I told him this is where I draw the line. He just
laughed. It's a texture thing for me. Maybe if it was fried it would
have been ok, but a boiled chicken foot. No thanks!
I will end my tales for now. I still have my leech stories to tell. Don't
worry it gets better :)

To be continued.....