Last year, I visited Khao Yai as part of a tour and, though it was a pretty good trip with knowledgeable guides, I felt things were missing. Things like stake-outs and rising at the crack of dawn, but then again this was a classic case of tourist vs wildlife enthusiast; for one group, 7 AM is considered the boundaries of a reasonable start, staying in the same location for more than three minutes is a waste of time and they don’t care if that’s a white-handed or pileated gibbon; for the other, as you may have guessed, it’s the opposite, as though they’re on the crew of Planet Earth without the filming. I guess I fall somewhere in between. I love my lattes, and can only take so many hours for a stake-out before I start wondering if there’s more going on next door to my silent corner.
Anyway, enough rambling. As you may have guessed, I was going back into the jungle, and I was going to do it in backpacker style. Khao Yai has no public transport of any kind, but I was able to get from the gate to the campsite with a ranger. I was, temporarily, in a “now how do I get out of here?” scenario, but I decided to place my faith in my ability to meet new travellers, and literally get a free ride. Which actually played out well; I met a guy from Israel, and another from Cambridge, who had their own set of wheels and were more than happy to get me where I needed to be. In any other case, I was told by rangers that walking was perfectly safe as long as it was along the main road during the day. And of course, as long as I didn’t approach elephants.
I got my tent pitched fairly quickly, even if it was different from the DofE models I had worked with before, and after establishing important bits of information like when the campsite’s shop closed, what time the office opened and where I could see animals, I began going on various trips from my base, so to speak. My target was the Asian wild dog. Called Ma Naa around here, it looks like a fox but is built like a wolf, hunting in packs by chasing deer til they’re out of steam, nipping at the legs til standing becomes a chore, then going straight for the jugular. Sorry, I’m listening to some cheery music just now. Anyway, unlike leopards and tigers, which are here but there’s no hope in heck of finding them, with Ma Naa there’s a reasonable chance. I’m going to end this story quickly; I didn’t find any. I had a couple of stake-outs at dawn and dusk, but nothing worked. I found out that Cambridge had seen some not far from where I had been waiting and watching, so I may have been successful had I explored a little. Darn it. Oh well, I guess it’s all pot luck. That leopard in Sri Lanka was luck of the Irish, as were the orang-utans in Borneo.
But enough negativity; what were the highlights?
-I made a new friend in the Israeli, a guy who proved to be very good at identifying and spotting new species. Thanks to him, my list is now a little longer. Also, he told me to let him know if I ever went birdwatching in the Holy Land. A local contact is always an asset, and Israel has some fine birds at the right time.
This is a wildlife blog, get your head out the gutter!
-I saw some new things. I saw a millipede eating a dead frog, which I had no idea was possible; a beetle the size of my hand; lots of new birds including a pretty huge eagle that actively hunts snakes; I found a couple of gibbons and the male very graciously posed for a shot with my very basic equipment – think a mobile phone pressed to my binoculars; and I got . On the first night one came to the campsite, but it was pretty shy and scarpered rather quickly. But the second, four came along, and two of them just shuffled right by me. Aside from hoping I didn’t trip of my feet and fall into that cluster of pricks (I had already been in one known as school), I was giggling away. They grunted with each step they took, and I walked alongside them, just over a metre away.
-I camped out in the jungle. Scottish camping always feels a bit tame due to the lack of bears and wolves, and contrary to what Shallow Grave fans think, we’re not that full of serial killers either. Admittedly, this was by a river on a mown lawn, but there was nothing to stop any psychopathic members of Khao Yai’s 400 elephants or 20 tigers. And I slept well each of my two nights. What kept me from staying longer was the lack of decent food. In a place like Thailand, instant noodle dinners are a pretty heavy downer.
-I did everything right when looking for the wild dog. I looked in the right places, using the right methods, and it was merely the absence of luck this time that cost me.
-I didn’t spend too much; I’m going to do another, much longer post of how much this trip to Asia has cost me, but this two night stint itself cost a grand total of 1390 THB (a little less than £35), which is good going considering I spent that on the tour last year.
Khao Yai is definitely a place I would highly recommend you go to, almost order even, if you have a few days near Bangkok. It’s main gateway town, Pak Chong, has several daily trains and buses to the capital, and if you don’t fear me judging you, you can even do it as a day trip. But the camping was actually much better than I expected; the elevation meant heat was not too much of a problem, as did the shops fridge full of pineapple fanta, and there was a charging point for phones. 4G coverage was also pretty good, and there was an American guy who did nothing but watch Netflix each night. I guess anything sounds better when done in the jungle, even binge watching 13 Reasons Why. Adding to all this, there were no mosquitos. Maybe I was lucky, or maybe it wasn’t the season, but I’ve officially had bigger problems with the blood-suckers in Spain than a jungle!
Oh, but there wasn’t any beer in the shop. We can’t have everything, you know.