The morning after our Siem Reap to Bangkok bus debacle, we were up early and off again…this time slightly smarter. We caught a metered cab to the bus station and bought our 2nd class tickets to Pak Chong. We were headed for Khao Yai national park for two days and one night. Compared to our trip the previous day, this one went without a hitch. The bus operator was helpful and sweet, and our guesthouse was very prompt in picking us up once we called from the station. I fell in love with Thailand quickly as we passed the country side, and by the time we arrived in quaint Pak Chong, I was head over heels.
We stayed at Greenleaf Guesthouse and participated in their half-day tour that afternoon. The next day, we went on their full-day tour. At $2 per night for each of us, it was definitely the cheapest place we’ve stayed so far, but it was also one of the best. The staff was eager to help, knowledgable, reliable, and friendly. The food was quick and delicious, and the rooms, while simple, were everything we needed. They had enough room for us to sleep, a cold shower, a toilet that flushed, and no visible spiders. We were in heaven. The entire establishmend exuded charm and efficiency, and we were all reminded of the summer tour companies of the western US – where the staff all love their job and are experts at what they do. The mood is jovial and expectant, and we wouldn’t have stayed anywhere else. They provided a fantastic place to stay, and the guesthouse was only the beginning.
That afternoon, their half-day tour took us to a natural spring where we swam, held snakes and millipedes the staff russled up, and (some of us) scraped our knees on the bottom of the pool after jumping in off a too-high rock. Oops. I cleaned it, don’t worry.
We traipsed through a bat cave where the staff immediately set off to find creepy-crawlies to show us and explain. The fruits of their search were a scorpion spider – the same as in Harry Potter, when the fake Moody demonstrates the Unforgivable Curses! I’m a nerd, leave me alone – and a poisonous centipede. Not to mention all the bats and guano. (Our guide: “Yep, bat sh** for sure!”)I was doing well until the tarantula at the stairs. I didn’t look at that one. The day was capped with a gorgeous sunset and the view of 2 million bats exiting their cave for the night’s feeding. It was an incredible experience, and Greenleaf fed us fresh cut pineapple. I was livin the life, man.
The full-day tour started bright and early. We grabbed a quick bite to eat, piled into exciting looking trucks, and drove up into the mountains toward the national park. The air grew cooler and mistier and the views grew more spectacular with every meter we climberd. At the top, we made a stop at a great lookout spot to put on our leech socks.*
The rest of the day was filled with trekking, more creepy-crawlies, delicious Thai snacks, gibbons, hornbills, lots of stairs, and an unfruitful elephant search (sad). On the plus side, I only fell on my butt once! Still, by the end of the day, I was exhausted, satisfied, and filthy. We’d crawled under vines along a barely visible jungle path for hours, climbed to two different waterfalls, held scorpions, and met some great new friends. Our tour guide was so enthusiastic about all the animals we were seeing that he almost…almost…made me excited about the large spider he found. He even caught three tiny fish in a puddle at one point with his bare hands. Those fish were thanking their lucky stars that we had other lunch plans.
After the tour we made a quick stop at the market to get a cheap dinner and climbed on yet another minibus for the trip back to Bangkok. We returned to our hostel in significantly more positive spirits than our first arrival. First great experience in Thailand down, many more to go, I’m sure!