Sunday, December 9, 2007

Khao Yai National Park

After a long bus ride north, we arrived in Pak Chong just outside of Khao Yai National Park. Khao Yai was established in 1962 and is one of Thailand's major natural attractions. It is Thailand's largest park, covering 2,168 square kilometers. The park's evergreen forest is home to tigers, gibbons, bears, elephants, hornbills, and a lot more. After dealing with southern Thailand's heat, the average temperature of 23 degrees celsius was music to my ears (not so much to Laura's). Due to the enormity of the park, we decided to sign up for a day and a half guided tour with Greeleaf Guest House.

We spent our first half day exploring a local cave. The cave was near a Buddhist wat and used by monks for meditation. There were a number of religious icons left from previous visitors. Our guide's interest focused on the local cave dwellers, bats! During some months of the year, the cave is home to hundreds of bats. For our visit, only some stragglers were still left. From extremely close quarters, our guide pointed out four different species of bats dangling from the cave ceiling. They seemed content to have visitors. One bat, the guide called a wrinkle-faced bat, was one we'd see much more that night.

We left the monastic cave for another cave high up in a nearby mountain. Everyday, around 5:40 pm, millions of wrinkle-faced bats exit the cave for their daily meal. As we waited at the mountain base, we realized we weren't the only ones waiting. Six to seven raptors soared above waiting for their daily bat burger. Suddenly, in a black wave, the bats left the cave for the Khao Yai forests. Hundreds, thousands, millions of bats.

We watched for 45 minutes as the wave of bats left the cave, its direction shifted east to west, north to south, up and down. Our group maneuvered under the wave to listen to their wings sift through the air. They hunt for up to four hours alone in the forest and always return to the cave. They exit the cave in unison using the "safety in numbers" theory against their predators. Each of the raptors enjoyed a bat burger that night.

As we returned to the guest house, we got gecko training. Laura was selected as the guinea pig to kneel on the ground while the gecko got placed behind her ear. Amazingly, the gecko froze behind her ear for about one minute until the guide plucked it off her. We each got our turn with the gecko ear dressing and some held the frozen heart-pounding gecko in their palm.

Turns out the geckos "play dead" when threatened and after a minute or so, make a break for it.

The following day we entered Khao Yai for a morning hike. During our macaca-filled drive to the trailhead, our guide exhibited his amazing spotting skills by spotting a water monitor sunning himself high in a tree.

Our hike was three hours through Khao Yai's spectacular evergreen forest. The guide focused on sounds, stopping and looking based on noises I could hardly hear, let alone identify. On one tree, he snatched a flying lizard, who played dead similar to the previous night's gecko.

The lizard uses its wings to sail from tree to tree.

We continued on, eventually getting interrupted by shaking leaves high in the forest canopy. Our guide took off into the forest only to gesture "COME HERE! COME HERE!" A female gibbon with her newborn was perched above us with a curious stare.

For about one hour, we watched a family of four gibbons with a newborn leap tree to tree, cleaning each other's fur, eating, and just monkeying around. This was a Khao Yai highlight!

In the afternoon, we traveled to Haew Sawat waterfall.

This waterfall has created more tourism to Khao Yai National Park than anything else and it isn't even the park's most spectacular waterfall. The movie "The Beach", starring Leonardo DiCaprio, used the top of this waterfall for a major scene in the movie. A little Leonardo goes a long way...

The late afternoon game drive was uneventful until our master spotter spotted the first wild python I have ever seen. Through the amazon forests, Rwanda's Volcano park, and Thailand's Khao Sok, I rather happily never stumbled upon this.

Our game drive ended with an elephant road crossing and another elephant enjoying a salt lick. Overall, an excellent experience with a top notch guide.

Now, a break from the travel blog to comment on everyday life in Thailand. Thailand is a contitutional monarchy. The current king Bhumibol Adulyadej just turned 80 years old and has been on the throne for more than 60 years. He is the longest reigning Thai king in history and longest reigning current monarch worldwide. To say he is revered by Thais is an understatement. Thai people credit him with the modernization of the country (American Vietnam dollars probably didn't hurt). His image is unavoidable on a daily basis; it's in central city plazas,

posted above and beside roadways,

on advertisements, on banks,

even on every bill and coin.

If you accidentally drop a bill and step on it to prevent it from blowing away, you'll be arrested and jailed. The bright yellow royal flag flies wherever the country flag is.

People wearing royal yellow t-shirts are a daily sight. Pink t-shirts, signifying good health for the king, and blue t-shirts, signifying support for the queen, are also a daily sight.

Each guest house we have stayed in contains numerous images of the king. This obsession has turned into a major business as stores in all cities specialize in selling only royal-related paraphenalia. Could you imagine if Americans treated George W. Bush this way?

I can already hear the suicidal gunshots going off in Massachusetts.

We travel to Ayutthaya, Thailand, the Thai capital from 1350 to 1767 and a UNESCO world heritage site, to view the remains of historic temples.


Anonymous said...

don't think Mom wiil be able to read all the way thru this blog entry; she hates snakes and seeing that geco on your ear will turn her stomach too. good pics of this trip as usual and thanks for the political update too--am looking to invest in the company that starts producing Bush Dollars and Hillary Pennies.

Anonymous said...

Strange, but we just had quite a discussion about million dollar bills after a fellow back in the states tried to open a bank account with one... :-)

As only Jeremy could imagine, there was much commentary in our little group about the incident, followed by a raging debate about whether the fake bill picture looks more like Taft, or Al Gore...

I'm going to link you your blog as it'll no doubt rev up that discussion again...


Greg said...

Can relate to your liking 23C. Arrived home last night from a week in Fla at 26 C to VT at minus 5 C. And snow up to our butts. But made it up the drive.

Great mix of animals both natural and political. Really enjoyed both.

still snowing here in Vermont
on sunday morning.

The Football Fantasy King

J.Pallotta said...

Hey JV2.0, great link. I miss those stimulating Ball discussions that fill your inbox with humor. Thanks for all the comments and updates on CO.