Day 31: Because Wild Elephants Will Kill You
Wild elephants kill a number of people in Thailand each year. Photo: Wiki Creative Commons
I MADE it to Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Reserve with plenty of day light. However, the park ranger – a middle-aged woman with graying hair and large glasses, who's wearing a polo shirt and camouflage pants – won't let me camp.
She speaks less English than I speak Thai, which in itself is an accomplishment. Despite the National Park's website boasting about camping and there even being a spot marked “camping area” on a giant map of the reserve painted on the wall we are standing next to, she's making it clear I'm not allowed to camp.
“Why?” I ask in pure frustration.
“Why” is often not something that can be easily communicated, even when you speak the same language. And in this particular case, the “why” isn't so important.
They won't let me camp, that's that.
For the next few minutes we are lost in a tight, frustrating loop of conversation, my vexation increasing by the second. The woman is unfazed.
“Why,” the woman parrots back at me as an answer, her eyes growing bigger and head nodding up, as if that is in fact the answer. Eastern religious doctrines aside, I'm not here for that kind of answer. I want to know why I can't camp and where the hell I'm supposed to go. They must have some sort of alternative, given that the park won't allow camping.
With a healthy dose of local news kicking around in the gray matter of my head and a couple key words the woman keeps saying in Thai, I finally get the picture: due to low water levels at the park, there is a high risk of me being trampled to death by wild elephants if I camp.
Well, that's not an issue we have back in the United States. Vicious raccoons and curious bears, yes; herds of wild elephants, no, no that's not something we have to plan around.
Despite precautions, number of people are killed in Thailand from wild elephants every year. So though the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Reserve is home to a large Indochinese Tiger population, it's the elephants that are the scary ones.
Fine. I can't camp.
Where am I supposed to go? Another round of banging my head against a wall commences with me stooping so low as to mimic her “you see” grunt with a sneer.
“Where?” I ask in Thai, miming sleeping.
She tells me I can't camp.
This I know.
We've established this, but are struggling to move beyond it.
Eventually, it's her turn to get it. She finds a business card for a nearby set of bungalows and has me call all three of the listed numbers. We get hold of someone who can help on the third line we call.
With only one option of where to stay, there isn't really anything to roll about.
Just as she pulls out on a scooter to have me follow her to the bungalows, another park ranger heading my way arrives on his scooter. He's given a quick explanation of where I'm headed. I'm to follow him.
He slings a small camo bag that has a patch of a peacock feather's eye over his shoulder.
I profusely thank the woman for her help.
The bungalows are pink cement squares in a large yard of short-cut grass. There is nothing particularly interesting or desirable about the place, outside its proximity to the reserve.
The woman attempts to book me into one of the free-standing, air conditioned bungalows for 700 baht, which is an outrageous price. I dig in my heels. It turns out the fan bungalows are just 350 and there are also non-freestanding rooms with AC that are 500 baht.
Despite being her only client, I'm not going to get a deal.
I take the room with AC, because I'm desperate for a good night sleep. With so much day light left, I consider juggling or getting the drone out for some practice flights. But first, I pull up some porn on the phone.
I wake up to the darkness outside several hours later.
It didn't seem like a particularly rough day, but clearly my body is still playing catch up.
That morning, I settled into Noom's guesthouse for breakfast and to wrap up some freelance work that I'm doing for the Phuket Gazette. Then it was time to make another run at the temples with the drone. But the battery wasn't charged. I hesitated, consider giving the choice to the dice, but thinking better of it and decided to book a pre-noon start to the day.
Mounted up, I head the wrong direction for a couple kilometers, before checking my phone. It's time to get away from the big highways and just enjoy being on a motorcycle, so I had given the die two options: Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Reserve, on the UNESCO World Heritage list, or the Mae Wong National Park.
Admittedly, I was pretty much bulling the die into a decision – either way, I was going to get some time in with Thailand's wildlife.
After being momentarily lost, I turn around, driving back past the three ancient prangs of Prang Sam Yot – the center of Monkey Town – and out of Lopburi.
The rain comes. The rain always comes.
Stubbornly, I refuse to pull over and put on my rain gear. Yes, planning a motorcycle trip through Southeast Asia during the rainy season is probably not the best idea, but there are supposed to be some dry days as well. Cruising through the rain, it's clear that all this water is really dampening my spirits.
When you're wet on a motorcycle, you don't want to pull over and check out this little temple or that little cave. You want to get to get where you're going, take a hot shower and put on some dry clothes. You are beyond the 40-60 per cent range that the dice are supposed to be dictating – you are at the 100 per cent let's-get-where-we're-going track.
The rain doesn't last. Soon, the sun is out and the wind blows through my jacket, cooling my body as the hot sun starts to bake everything beneath it.
Off the highway, the road is limned with tall, straight, broad-leafed trees. Cruising in the shade, I settle into driving – enjoying the beautiful piece of machinery between my legs.
I don't have the roads to myself, but they are empty enough that I can effortlessly pass paddy tractors and cars as I go. Past the line of trees are the raised ridges of rectangular rice paddies. Many are still mud and water, while others have already been planted and have turned a lush green. Water fowl hunt for insects among them.
Occasionally, the flat landscape of Thailand's Rice Bowl is broken by a dollop of a limestone outcropping or mountain. Clean rock faces are like bared breasts to me: I can't tear my eyes away from them and all I want is to feel them beneath my finger tips. However, I hold on to the handlebars of the bike and have to make due by stealing long, possibly dangerously long, looks away from the road to the beautiful rocks.
If the dice hadn't dictated a destination today, I'm sure I would be more tempted to pull over and explore a few of the temples. But finally making good time and enjoying myself, I stay on the bike until it's lunch time.
I'll stop at the next restaurant I see, I tell myself.
I zip by several place before I even recognize that they sever food. Slowing down, I try again – failing again. Then it clicks, it's not just that I'm struggling to recognize the restaurants quickly enough because there is nearly no signage, it's because my brain is attempting to evaluate them.
Despite having given it clear directions, there is a great deal of additional factors being weighed in without me having control of it. My brain seems to be doing all of this before allowing me to even be aware of the option.
Frustrated, I start an internal battle. I increase my awareness of exactly what I'm thinking about when I look at each building and shack I pass.
I've been programmed to quickly analyze the places: Do they have food? Is it food I want? Does it look good? Doesn't it look friendly? Does it look interesting? Does it look safe? All this buzzes through my head. However, because there is so little signage and the kind of information my brain is use to processing instantly when selecting a restaurant, there is a bit of a delay in the processing. Mix in a fast moving object, my motorbike, and suddenly my brain just defaults to continuing on the designated path – driving.
Eventually, I'm able to slow down enough and break the vicious cycle of pre-awarness indecision – something that even the dice can't help with. I stop at a large rickety supply shop that also serves noodles.
It's a small, delicious victory, but for whom? I can't say.