Before we went to bed on Saturday, Saleem and I looked at the Khao Yai National Park map. We decided we definitely wanted to see the three-tiered waterfall near the southern entrance of the park. We also wanted to go to a viewpoint, which is the highest point in central Thailand, but it seemed a ways off the main road so we didn’t know if we could successfully hitchhike there. We figured we would visit the elephant salt lick in the morning, hitchhike to the Heo Narok waterfall, make our way to the southern entrance and somehow get to the Prachin Buri bus station by 2 p.m. since it would be a long bus ride home.
We checked out of ‘The Guesthouse’ and picked up some peanuts, cashews, cookies and juice boxes for breakfast. While walking along the highway I had my thumb out hoping a pickup truck would pull over. After about ten minutes, I had finally given up because my arm was tired. A second later an SUV pulled over and motioned to us to get in. The driver was a young Thai man named Mik. He was going camping in Khao Yai and offered to take us into the park. We showed him where we were headed, a road a bit past his campground, and he smiled and shook his head, yes, he would take us. What a great start to the morning. At the entrance we flashed our passports again, but the guard had remembered us anyway, so Mik drove on through. Mik tried a bit of English and I fumbled through some phrases straight from my book. It was funny to hear myself read a Thai sentence and then see the blank look on Mik’s face. Eventually he understood what I was saying and he would say it back to me correctly and completely differently from the mess of syllables I had delivered to him moments earlier. He turned up his Thai music as we cruised with the windows down. He was a genuinely happy guy, like all the other Thais we had met the past couple days. When we got to our road I honestly didn’t want to get out. He was so kind. We said our goodbyes and I said, “It was a pleasure to meet you,” in Thai and he understood right away and laughed. As he pulled away he was waving and smiling, I hoped I would run into him again.
Saleem and I pulled out the map and headed down the main road looking for another ride. About five cars later, a little white Honda civic pulled up and a young attractive couple asked if we wanted a ride. We showed them the elephant salt lick we wanted to go to and in true Thai fashion they both smiled. Then they popped the trunk and they both got out and started grabbing armloads of camping stuff from the backseat and transferring it to the trunk. We really didn’t want to be a bother to anyone, but neither of us knew how to say, “it’s ok,” or “don’t worry about it we will find another ride.” So we just stood there with dopey smiles on our faces thinking, ‘is this really happening?’ We got in the backseat and we zoomed away. A couple minutes later we were at a checkpoint. The couple asked the guard where the saltlick was that we wanted to go to. The guard explained that it was 13 kilometers down the road. Fame, the driver, turned to us and asked with gestures if it was ok that we go to the lookout first to take a picture. It was in a different direction, but it would be quick. At that moment I wished I knew how to say, ‘perfect!’ in Thai, I wanted to hug them both. We were on our way to the highest point in central Thailand. I still can’t process how perfectly everything worked out that morning. Running into Fame and his girlfriend Uw made my trip to Khao Yai. I’m not sure what I did to deserve such good karma, maybe it was Saleem that had it saved up, either way I was speechless. I just kept looking over at Saleem wanting to squeal and jump up into the air, but instead I just smiled and put my window down and enjoyed the view of the jungle that was speeding by.
The road up to Khao Khiao viewpoint was a bit bumpy. The rainy season had just ended so I figured a lot of the damage was pretty new. Fame’s little Honda was low to the ground so we took it slow and at some points Uw jumped out to direct him where to go. At the viewpoint we all took photos of the Khao Yai forest and Prachin Buri plains and of each other, we all seemed pretty psyched about making new friends. On the way back down we stopped at Pha Diao Dai viewpoint. I enjoyed this even more than Khao Khiao. We parked on the road and then walked through the woods on what resembled a mini boardwalk in the middle of the woods. It was a narrow walkway of platforms and steps, I counted 105, until we reached Pha Diao Dai Cliff. The view was breathtaking and I loved the outcropping of rocks. It was nice to sit and hang your feet over the ledge of the cliff. After enjoying the view, breeze and morning light for a bit we headed back to the car. After about a half hour, Saleem asked Fame if they were planning on going to Heo Narok. Fame said yes and once again we settled into our seats and enjoyed the ride. I remembered saying something to Saleem the night before about how it would kind of suck to walk with our packs on out to the falls and now here we were with a safe place to leave our stuff and new friends to walk with. We even ran into Mik on the way. He introduced us to his friend and we smiled and continued on. Fame, Uw, Saleem and I walked on a paved path for about 800 meters and then we came to the steepest stairs I’ve ever encountered, 201 of them. They had to be less than eight inches wide and they were straight up and down. It was impossible for me to get a realistic perspective with my camera. It was almost scary to take a photo. If I had had my pack on I think I would have chanced leaving it at the top of the stairs instead of risking my life by carrying it. After descending the stairs you get to a big deck that looks out towards Heo Narok. The falls were enormous. I was wishing I had a wide-angle lens on my camera to get the view I wanted. November is a relatively dry month, but there was still a lot of water, I couldn’t imagine how loud and lovely they would be in August during the rainy season. Fame asked us if we wanted to hike a bit further to get a different view and of course we agreed. Twenty minutes later we were on higher ground experiencing a totally different perspective of the same falls. I really loved this viewpoint because it allowed you to see the windy path of the river on the top of the mountain before it spilled over the cliff to form the Heo Narok. The bugs were really biting so after a few minutes we headed back down to the car. Fame said he was headed to Prachin Buri because that’s where Uw lived. That’s exactly where we were headed too. We told him we wanted to catch a bus from the station there. We tried explaining to him that he could just drop us off at the entrance or anywhere along the way and we would find a taxi or songtow, but it was all lost in translation. I was nodding off on the way to the bus station, but Saleem nudged me and pointed to Uw. She was using google maps to find the bus station. They were going out of their way not to mention getting held up in traffic just to take us, two strangers, to the bus station. We were so grateful. We pulled in and looked around. This was definitely not the bus station we were thinking of, but we figured we would thank them and take a taxi to where we needed to go. Fame and Saleem got out and talked to a driver at the station. He showed us a bus we could take to another station where we would then take another bus to Chonburi. We were all set. I looked at my watch, exactly 2 p.m. It was uncanny. I felt like we were in a video game and we were being controlled by some nerdy kid that kicks ass. We thanked Uw and Fame as much as we could although there was no way for us to repay them for our perfect day. We had just spend four hours with them, I kind of had a major crush on both of them. They were adorable, nice, young, cool, just perfect. The best.
We got on the bus and a couple hours later we switched to another and after only five hours we were home in Chonburi. It only costs us 75 baht on the way home compared to 277 on the way there and it was 3 hours shorter. Again, just perfect. Saleem and I parted ways to unpack and shower and then met up again for dinner to discuss or really just smile in silence about the wonderful weekend we had experienced. Khao Yai you set the bar high, really high, so high in fact that I might stay close to home in Chonburi this weekend for fear of disappointment, actually I’m just tired and have a whole semester’s worth of lesson planning to do. The last four photos were taken by Saleem Ahmed. He knows how to a click a shutter, see what I mean here: http://saleemahmed.tumblr.com/