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Trekking and forest camping in Khao Yai national park (11 - 12 Dec 2004)

Camping in the wilderness Without any forest walking experience I arrived into Khao Yai national park on one Saturday morning with two friends. It was a long weekends (10 to 13 December) and there were many people at the visitor center and the restaurants nearby. Parking lot was full of cars including a couple of large 40 or more seator air-con tour buses.

People were eating, taking photos, looking around in a small museum, and making arrangement for their camping at the camp yards located somewhere beside the roads. Some tourists would stay in the park's bungalow houses.

After our lunch at an restaurant we went to a trail head on highway 2090, two kilometers to the north of the visitor center. Our gear consisted of two tents, ground sheets, backpacks full of clothes, toiletries, torch lights, a medical kit, and some dry food with drinking water. We did not have sleeping bags; however we managed to obtain 5 blankets from a park officer. One of us had been to Klong E-Tow, our intended night stop in the forest, but he was not sure whether he could remember the trail.

From the trail head to Nong Pak Chi wildlife watch tower was a very easy one kilometer dirt road. We met with a group of foreign tourists returning from the watch tower with their Thai guide. After the watch tower we came close to the secondary forest where the trail leads to an animal salt lick. We had to find a left-turn trail before reaching the salt lick, and continued into the wood. It was cool and windy, full of forest smell fresh with pure oxygen that I could never have in Bangkok. From time to time we heard sounds of animals on the trees but could not locate them.

The way to the canal at Klong E-Tow station
The way to the canal - Klong E-Tow station

After walking on what my friends said was an relatively easy trail of total four kilometers for one and a half hours we emerged into an open meadow with a two storey wooden house in the middle. It is Klong E-Tow ranger station or guard unit. It was around 4:30 pm. We dropped our gear and went to talk to the couple and their little child staying there.

The wooden house has a bed room and an open deck under the roof on the second floor; open space with tables and benches, a kitchen corner and a store room on the ground floor. There are several water tanks, a flag-pole, solar power generator which was not working at that time; and a row of two toilets and two bathrooms behind the house.

There were cooking equipment such as pots, pans, jars, plates, spoons and forks, and some food ingredients. All were very basic, old and worn-out, and not so clean - I must say. The station collects water from the rain and from a canal called "Klong E-Tow" located 50 meters behind the house in the wood. In the dry season water must be carried in buckets from the canal. Fallen tree branches are used to make fire for cooking and heating. All our mobile phones worked at the station yard and we did call our homes.

Klong E-Tow canal
Klong E-Tow guard station

After the toilet we had a morning nature walk into the forest with the ranger of the station. The ranger led us to animal salt licks in the jungle where elephants come and dig the ground to find salt. Various animals come to get salt intake necessary for their lives. Close to a salt lick there was a bamboo deck built high on a tree for wildlife watching. We came back to the station for another delicious meal of four dishes. We helped carry some water from the canal to fill up a tank.

After the breakfast we headed for the seven kilometers trek to another guard station called Bung Pai in the north. This time we did not dare walking ourselves. The ranger had to go with us. The trail passing several streams, most of them were almost dry, was marked with red paints on the trees. But at many places we could hardly find the paint marks. Since only some people had walked there each year the trail almost disappeared at some points. It was a bit difficult trail to follow for a newbie. The ranger talked about his experiences in the forest. He showed us the trees that produce oil, and plants that could be used for healing wounds. We walked pass fallen tree trunks and mostly dry river beds in the deep jungle. Finally we hiked through a tall grass field before arriving at Bung Pai station. It took us two hours and fifteen minutes to cover seven kilometers.

Wild elephant
The wild elephant we saw in Khao Yai national park

After a chat with the Bung Pai station ranger and a short rest we continued the remaining two kilometers to the road. On the way we met for the first time in two days two tourists who happened to walk from the road to Bung Pai station. Dirty and smelling we waved a pick up truck for a free lift to the visitor center where our car was parked.

After a night escape from the crowd we were again in the middle of hundreds of tourists. Most of them were preparing to return home. We return the blankets and went to have showers in the bathrooms near rows of dormitories and bungalows a few kilometers south of the visitor center.

On the way to the park's southern entrance gate we saw a baby wild elephant near the road.

Map of central part of Khao Yai national park Map - not to scale

1 = Visitor center
2 = Lam Ta Khlong river
3 = Nong Pak chi wildlife watch tower
4 = Klong E-Tow ranger station
5 = The trail to animal salt licks
6 = Bung Pai station
A = to Pak Chong
B = to Prachinburi

During the rainy season (April to November) there are leeches in almost all forest trails. One way to protect from the leech bite is to wear leech socks available at the park vicitor center. However in the dry season (December to March) leeches are rare.

Forest trails
When you get to the visitor center ask for a map, or purchase a map. The map shows the trails with marks that tourists can walk without a guide. However walking on the difficult trails such as the one we did and many others need permit from the park officers. You might be requested to walk together with a guide. Walking the trails that need two or more days to finish must be accompanied by at least two park's guides.

In rainy season you need rain coat and a pair of strong shoes to walk in the muddy and wet ground. Many of the tents you could buy from a department store are not water-proof. Bring extra canvas sheet to cover the tent. Also bring a good length of small rope with a swiss army knife to use as clothe lines, for packing your stuff, and tying and even setting up a tent or a cover. Torch lights and spare batteries, a medical kit, sandals, a map, and toiletries are the must.

Weather and safety
Check weather and traffic conditions before you go. If the cold weather is expected bring a ground sheet with good insulation property, good sleeping bag and warm clothes including head cover, gloves and socks.

Keep a number of important phone numbers such as nearby hospitals, office of the national park and its officials, your home and office, car driver, etc.

Sai (30 Dec 2004)

Salawin river, Mae Hong Son province, northern Thailand
Hike & Hilltribe village homestay to Salawin river, Mae Hong Son

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