Jungle Hell

If I had my dream job I’d be at national parks every day, unfortunately our visits are limited to the weekends and recently our weekends have all been taken up by work or things we didn’t have time for in the week. It seemed like forever since we’d been to a wild area and I was dying to go out and explore somewhere new and exciting.

I hit the internet looking for a new wild area to visit and after scouting all the green areas on google earth I found what seemed to be a decent sized national park called Khao Sip Ha Chan National Park. The name roughly translates to ‘The hill with 15 floors/ levels’ but after a little more internet sleuthing I found out it was the hill with 15 waterfalls. I checked with Carly and we agreed that the next free weekend we’d head out to see if it was any good.

Finally we had a weekend free of work, chores or any other weekend destroyers and we headed out to the park. It was a dusty two hour drive away but as we got closer the dry rubber trees and pineapple plantations gave way to lush green jungle the likes of which I haven’t seen since we lived in the South and I was relieved to see the drive was worth it.

As we neared the main gate we began to see signs for wild elephants and I was beginning to get excited that we could actually see some cool wildlife at the park.c13.jpgWe payed our entrance fee (100 baht each) and began the drive from the main gate, through the jungle, to the second car park at the foot of the trail. We presented our tickets to the ranger and he lead us to a small notice board at the start of the hike. There was a map of the path that lead up to each of the fifteen waterfalls and back in a giant loop.

Below the map there was a warning which read:

‘The hike is 6km long’ (nice walk we thought)

‘Hikers are advised to wear suitable sturdy footwear’, (common sense, Carly was in Hiking shoes and I was in comfy trainers)

‘The hike takes at least 3-4 hours’, (we’ll have a slow walk and make it back in 4 hours)

The park ranger could not speak English so using our limited Thai we surmised that he was asking if we wanted a guide and he was telling us not to go off the paths. We told him in Thai don’t worry we don’t want a guide and set off down the path.c5Not far down the path we noticed ranger was following us, must be because of the animals we thought, wouldn’t want to come too close to some wild elephants. A few minutes later there was the sound of a motorbike rattling up the rocky path and a new younger ranger joined us at the top of the first hill where the road stopped and the hiking trail began.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe introduced ourselves to our new hiking companion who was called Fang, he seemed nice enough and gave us space to explore by ourselves mostly. As we got deeper into the jungle the paths became harder to follow and Fang would have to point the paths out to us a lot of the time.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADespite having company we were enjoying the hike which was a rollercoaster of hills leading past each of the waterfalls. Soon there was no discernible path and Fang had to take the lead as we walked up the river through the jungle. Fang radioed in to his colleagues regularly at each waterfall we got to letting them know everything was ok which also let us know where we were as he’d say in Thai which level we’d reached.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEach waterfall was different and eventually we reached the 10th waterfall. I could not spot any path so I asked Fang where we were going and he simply pointed directly up at the waterfall. The confused look on my face prompted him to begin doing his best rock climbing impression. Gulp!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe climbed the right side of the waterfall with Fang in the lead doing his best to point out the best route for us and although it was quite steep we managed to make it up ok. Looking back down we were glad we wouldn’t have to come back down the slippery rocks.

So far our hike had been quite pleasant despite being almost all up and down steep hills. Unfortunately from this point on our hike began to become more, and more hellish, and here’s why…

The Path

We began to realise that not many people ventured up the waterfall this far as Fang was having to use his machete more and more to clear a path for us. The steep roller coaster paths were littered with fallen trees which created an awkward obstacle course we had to climb over or crawl under. Climbing under trees was the least of our worries though, as every waterfall after the 10th also involved climbing and each was progressively taller and more challenging than the last.

The Flora

On some of the steep hills there would be nothing to hold onto to help you up or down them. Surely there would be something to hold onto in the jungle you’d think, well you’d be right, there were lots of plants lining the path. Unfortunately some of these plants turned out to be rattan palms and snake fruit palms. If you don’t know these two plants, do me a quick favor:

Google ‘rattan plant’ or ‘snake fruit plant’ and you’ll see they are EVIL plants covered with three-inch long spikes that snap off in your skin when you bump into one or make the grave error of reaching out for something to stop you from falling.

The Fauna

Another aspect to our hike was the insects. It was too dry for leeches, instead we were swarmed by bees that were after the salt rich sweat that drenched our bodies. How they could stand the smell I have no idea, after 3 hours of hiking we were ripe!

It seemed like every branch was covered in small biting ants and what’s worse is they were on the branches on the sides of the waterfalls where you had no choice but to hang on and try to ignore them. Every time Fang cut through a dry piece of bamboo huge black ants would fall out on attack mode looking to exact their revenge on whatever they could find nearby……. usually us!

The arduous trek had taken its toll: the sole of my left shoe had detached, we had finished our water, our energy levels were waning fast and I was developing homicidal thoughts towards the incessant insect life.

Just when we were nearing breaking point we reached the penultimate waterfall and we began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. After this we’d be at the last waterfall and could begin the second half of the loop leading back to the head of the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 14th Waterfall was the highest yet and was 2-3 times bigger than the 10th and before we even asked I knew we’d have to scale it. I asked Fang to point out the route and this time his finger traced a zigzag up the right side of the waterfall and then through the waterfall from the right side, through the water to the taro plant  (the one with heart-shaped leaves) on the left side of the waterfall.

I spoke to Fang and he told us that after climbing the waterfall there’d be more climbing after and the return loop was definitely more taxing than the trail we had taken so far. The rocks were slick with algae and we decided that it would be foolish to push any further and instead to head back down the path.

How the hell were we going to do all the steep waterfalls in reverse? Our spirits were broken, we’d been so close to the last level and now we were going to have to go back the way we’d come.

The first few waterfalls weren’t too bad to climb down but when we reached a waterfall and Fang took out the rope from his backpack we knew then, it was going to be challenging.

I made it down the waterfall ok and then stepped out onto rock which turned out to be slick with algae and came crashing down on my elbow. The impact sent a weird involuntary moan out of my lungs which Carly still teases me about. I found myself on my back in the river with a searing pain in my elbow and a very bruised arse. I manoeuvred myself into a more dignified position and gave my self a once over. I wiggled my fingers, stretched my arm out and everything seemed to be ok. Fang had come over at this point, probably to see where the dying animal was (Carly says the moan was really that weird) and sprayed something on my elbow which numbed it and then helped me up. I had to pay more attention, I was tired, and making stupid mistakes which was not helping.

Carly was the next to take a spill and landed awkwardly on some slippery rocks in the river twisting her knee and bruising her back and bum quite severely. It looked awful but she brushed it off as she always does but I could tell it had really hurt her.

We were both now sore, bruised and thoroughly fed up but thankfully we heard Fang radio in that we were at the 5th level and now he was on his radio more and more and we wondered what was going on, we heard a child’s voice so we guessed maybe he was talking to his son we’d seen back at the checkpoint near the car park.

Finally we rounded a bend and could see the very first hill we climbed. When we reached the top we saw 5 park staff all waiting with their motorbikes. This is why Fang must have been on his radio so much, we imagined he’d radioed in something like: “these Farangs (foreigners, in Thai) are dying you better pick them up with your motorbikes.”

We must have looked like we’d been in the jungle for weeks, our clothes were filthy from sliding down steep paths and waterfalls, the sole of my shoe was barely hanging on our pace would have fit in better in the walking dead than a Thai jungle!

We thanked the staff  and tried to tell them we’d walk the last 15 minutes ourselves, we might as well finish, we’d come this far. The park staff looked at us in disbelief and insisted we get on the motorbikes. We thanked them but insisted that we’d finish the walk ourselves and began walking back down the path.

The staff passed us on the path and again offered lifts as they drove passed and we once again politely refused and they smiled at us and drove on.

We made it to the end of the trail after 6 hours of walking and we went to find Fang to thank him.  We thanked him for his time and for the first time the whole day I noticed that Fang was looking a little fatigued, his face was flushed and hot and he was quite sweaty, I felt a little less pathetic now as even the expert was a tired by the hike.

We bought a few bottles of water from the small shop in the car park and sat down at a picnic table to drink them. We couldn’t help but laugh about how our relaxing weekend had turned out and how achy we’d be at work the next day.

This was one of the most hellish hikes I have done but it was a great reminder of what my body is capable of when pushed. Believe it or not I’d like to return to this park again not to walk to the entire trail but to explore more and take some more photos. The hilly hike meant that we’d had to have our hands free and the camera spent most of its time in the bag. These three butteflies are the only wildlife shots that we got that day.

So in summary, we had a hellish day but it makes for one heck of a story! We sweat, bled and almost cried but the feeling at the end of it all was one of accomplishment (and pain). Thailand never ceases to surprise us and I think after eight years of being here we’ve learnt to expect the unexpected, roll with the punches and go with the flow. Our lives are certainly more interesting for it and our bond with each other grows stronger with each crazy experience. TIT (This is Thailand 🙂 )

 

 

 

 

 

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