Lesson #3: Google Maps tourism is totally a thing.
In my last week in my first stint in Thailand I visited two enchanting places which were selected for their location and general appearance on Google Maps. And I’m not talking Google Earth here – I mean the little blue splodges for lakes, and it worked a treat.
Last weekend I visited Lake Bhon in Sang Khom with Ivan and Oonagh (two fellow volunteers). We took a taxi there with no idea where we might go and stay, and upon being dropped off we found out it was a tiny town without many places to stay.
The locals were incredibly friendly and went out of their way to help us. The second person we spoke to instantly offered us a lift to a local ‘resort’ and the man who ran said resort then drove us around town playing tour guide. The icing on the cake was when a lady who worked in a coffee shop rang around several taxi drivers, passionately negotiating a good rate for our return. It highlighted how different people are when you go off the beaten track and end up in a quiet rural town, where children stare at you in wonder (or horror) and people bend over backwards to help you.
For many months of the year, Lake Bhon has floating markets on bamboo boots, where tourists come to eat fish, swim in the lake and have a whale of a time. Our timing was a little off, visiting during the 3 months when the markets are closed and bamboo repaired, but relaxing amongst the eery and tranquil boats was a much needed short break from the stimulation of staying at Openmind Projects.
After emotional goodbyes to our new family at Openmind, Ivan and I jumped on a train to Khao Yai national park in Northeast Thailand. Once again, we picked Khao Yai because of its appearance on Maps (look at that big splodge of green!) and its proximity to both Bangkok and Cambodia (our respective next stops); but it is also a UNESCO natural heritage site and the third largest park in Thailand.
We did a number of hikes but decided to get a guide for the most adventurous. I think of our guide as a Thai David Attenborough, with years of wisdom etched in the lines on his face and a trusty handgun, mostly for photos and picking up chicks, I’m sure. His English vocabulary was very specialised – only tiger, elephant, bear, pig, deer, gaur, hornbill and gibbon (those were the most noteworthy animals in the park, if you hadn’t guessed), however those words accompanied with passionate gesticulating gave us a pretty entertaining trek. He took us off the path several times following the tracks of bears, pigs and elephants and managed to find us some wreathed hornbills, which were pretty spectacular.
For accommodation, we camped in the park itself, which was an experience. Two nights during wet season in leaky tents and surrounded by animal noises felt pretty damn hardcore. Knowing that every noise and rustle could be a bear come to raid the camp, an elephant about to trample your tent or a tiger about to poop in your shoe made camping in Kent feel like the Ritz. But we made it through safely and loved the experience, with the highlight being a family of macaques joining us one evening and running off with someone’s Fanta (they got the cap off and glugged it down faster than it takes me to decide what to drink). Not for the fainthearted, but I’d definitely recommend.
Today I’ve had a warm shower, I’ll sleep in an actual bed and I probably won’t be eaten by bears #winning. Tomorrow – to Bali.
(written Friday 5th August)