Puttamonthon Park – Lizard Safari


Puttamonthon Park
Puttamonthon Park - Lizard Safari
Puttamonthon Park - Lizard Safari
Puttamonthon Park - Lizard Safari
Puttamonthon Park - Lizard Safari
Puttamonthon Park - Lizard Safari

We creep slowly through the forest, taking care to tred lightly and not to make even the slightest sound. All is still; the only sounds the faint rustling of the leaves in the trees.

Suddenly, my friend stops and motions for me to stand still. “There!” he hisses, pointing to the river bank. “Can you see it?”

All I can make out is an empty patch of grassy bank splashed with shadows. Suddenly, one of the ‘shadows’ moves slightly and I can make out the long, scaly tail of a large monitor lizard. I want to rush forwards for a better look, but my friend holds me back and we watch in silence as the mighty beast suns itself on the bank.

We remain that way for several minutes, the three of us, one oblivious to the rapt attention of the other two. Then suddenly the monitor lizard sees a fish splashing in the river and slides off the bank to retrieve it. There is a short struggle, then both fish and lizard disappear from sight.

Stopping frequently to spy on the huge reptiles, my friend and I walk quietly and carefully through a large bamboo forest. It is hard to believe that we are just a short bus ride from Bangkok.

The intensely beautiful park of Buddhamonthon is located in Tambon Salaya, part of Nakhon Pathom Province. The park covers an area of about 1,000 acres and is an important religious site.

The park was built by the government in 1957 or B.E 2500 by the Thai calendar to commemorate the 2500th year of the existence of Buddhism. One of the main focal points is a bronze-gold standing Buddha image, which measures a colossal 15.8 metres. The Buddha image was named “Phra Sri Sakkaya Thosapol Yan Phratan Buddhamonthon Suta” by the current King, His Majesty King Bhumibhol Adulyadej.

Around the magnificent statue are four commemorative sites concerning Lord Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, the first preaching sermon and his death. There is also a Buddhist museum nearby, meditation halls, a university and a large library.

The park is highly revered and popular during religious festivals such as Visaka Bucha Day, Makabuscha Day, Ananhabucha Day and the Loy Krathong festival, when tiny candle filled vessels are set onto the river.

In addition to being a sacred site, Buddhamonthon is also a place of extreme natural beauty. Filled with pretty ornamental gardens, bamboo forests and sparkling streams and rivers spanned by stepping stones and cable bridges, this is a great place to go for a walk or meditate in the shade of one of the mighty trees.

Because this is a sacred area, the wildlife is protected and the rivers and streams are teeming with fish. A peaceful pastime is to buy a bag of food from one of the vendors who wander around the park. As soon as the food touches the water the stream comes alive, the fish writhing so closely together that it seems as though the stream were made of fish rather than water.

You can buy almost anything to feed the fish with; from pungent fish pellets to brightly coloured corn snacks. My favourite fish treat is a huge bag of popcorn, which not only smells better than some of the alternatives but also seems to be very popular with the fish.

Among the other wildlife in the park are turtles, which splash happily in the streams and small canals and you will also see a range of brightly coloured bird in amongst the trees.

It can be quite hot and humid in the park, especially in the bamboo forest. Luckily, there are public showers next to the toilets and this is a great opportunity to cool off before getting the bus back to Bangkok.

Information:

Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!

Erawan Waterfall, Erawan National Park

Erawan Waterfall, Erawan National Park
Erawan Waterfall, Erawan National Park
Erawan Waterfall, Erawan National Park
Erawan Waterfall, Erawan National Park

It’s a beautiful sunny day and I have decided to hire a motorbike to drive the 65 kilometres from Kanchanaburi to the enchanting Erawan National Park in the west of Thailand, near the Burmese border.

The journey takes me just over an hour and is mostly flat, before leading me up a winding tree-lined hill. On the way up the hill I stop to buy petrol from a small stand and get talking to the owner, a friendly robust woman called Pim.

Pim laughs when she hears that I intend to climb to the top of Erawan Waterfall, the majestic seven-tiered fall that is about 1,500 meters high. “You cannot do it,” Pim grins – “you are much too fat!”

I thank Pim for her kind words and continue my journey, noticing how empty the road is and how beautiful the scenery. Before long I have reached the park and leave my bike in the car park.

As I walk through the forest to the first level of the waterfall, I pass by a guide giving instructions to a group of brightly-clad tourists. “Remember, the monkeys like to bite. Last week a monkey bit of someone’s hand!” the guide grinned at the look of alarm at the tourist’s face. “No, I am joking. But take care.”

I pass the group and reach the first level, which is stunningly beautiful. Although only a shallow fall, the water is clear and inviting and the forest backdrop is very pretty. Several people are already at this level, splashing in the water, balancing on logs or eating picnics.

I continue up a flight of steps to the second level, which features a deep pool filled with cool water. It is a long climb up to the third level, and I am hot and breathless by the end of it. I remember Pim’s words and wonder if I will make it to the top.

The fall at level three is much larger and extremely pretty. This seems like a good place to swim and its not long before I’m splashing about in the crystal clear aquamarine water. But I am not alone. After a few seconds I am attacked by a school of fish, who are intent on eating my skin. Luckily, these fish are only about an inch long and simply want to feast on my dead skin cells, so I’m safe enough. Still, the fish are persistent ands swimming with them is like being struck by a series of minor electric shocks.

Erawan falls is situated in Erawan National Park, which covers 550 sq kms and receives around 60,000 visitors each year. The falls are named after Erawan, the three-headed elephant of Hindu faith as the falling water is said to resemble the mighty beast.

After sitting sunbathing on some rocks to dry off, I embark on the challenging climb up ton level five. Sweat is pouring off me as I struggle to climb the steep hill. Luckily, there is a lookout point halfway up and I take the opportunity to rest as I enjoy the spectacular view across the lush landscape.

My spirits are lifted as I reach level five and am greeted by the sweet sounds of singing, music and laughter. A group of Thai teenagers have somehow carried their guitars up the mountain, and I rest for a while enjoying the way the light blends with the sounds of the birds and the breeze in the trees.

The climb to level six is equally challenging, but once there I am greeted by the sight of a large waterfall and deep pool. This level is completely deserted, and I welcome the opportunity to wade in the waters once more.

After I have rested, it is time to ascend to the seventh and final level. I search in vain for a pathway, finally realising that to reach the top I must climb the steep rock face to the left of the fall. Expecting to stumble at any moment I eventually make it to the top, cross a stream and somehow manage to climb the last 100 metres to the summit.

Hot, sweaty and breathless, I stand and look around. To my surprise I am actually above the level of the jungle and can see for miles in every direction, where varying shades of green mix with bursts of bright colour and the sparkling blue of distant rivers.

Finally, it is time to descend from my lofty perch. On the way back down I am surprised by a group of monkeys, who climb past me down the rocky path without even giving me a second glance. I look jealously at the effortless way they scamper down the mountainside, feeling slow and heavy in comparison.

Finally I am at the bottom and climb aboard my waiting motorbike. On the way back I stop to tell Pim about my adventure. The friendly woman looks at me in surprise. “Maybe you are like an elephant,” she tells me. “They look slow but are very powerful.” I grin at Pim, realising that this is as close to a compliment as I am ever going to get.

About the author:

Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!

Loy Krathong – of Light and Water


Loy Krathong - of Light and Water
Loy Krathong - of Light and Water
Loy Krathong - of Light and Water
Loy Krathong - of Light and Water
Loy Krathong - of Light and Water

“November full moon shines, Loy Krathong, Loy Krathong, And the water’s high in the river and local klong, Loy Loy Krathong, Loy Loy Krathong, Loy Krathong is here and everybody’s full of cheer, We’re together at the klong, Each one with his krathong, As we push away we pray, We can see a better day.”

This is an English translation of the song sung by Thai students to celebrate Loy Krathong.

Quite the opposite of Songkran, Loy Krathong is by far my favourite Thai festival. In Thai, Loy means “to float”, whilst krathong is the name of the small lotus-shaped rafts, which are specially constructed for the occasion. Loy Krathong is held on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the lunar calendar. This usually falls in November and is celebrated this year (2007) on November 24th. Loy Krathong is long anticipated all over Thailand and especially in Bangkok, where people gather in their thousands on the banks of the Chao Phraya River and take boat trips along the intricate canal network.

Last year, I took a small ferry boat across the Chao Phraya River after dark. The sun had only just set, yet there, near the Phra Pinklao Bridge, several hundreds of people had already gathered.

I walked around the small park area, where groups of people had gathered to celebrate together. Folding metal tables and chairs had been set up everywhere, the tabletops already covered with bottles of Sangsom whiskey, glasses and buckets of ice. All around, stalls were set up selling krathongs in every size and colour, fireworks, toys and even baby turtles as many people believe that it is good luck to release turtles into the river during festivals.

At around 8 pm the boat parade began. I found a spot on the river bank and watched in awe as about two dozen elaborately decorated barges glided down the river. Each barge was strewn with coloured lights and decorated in a certain theme. Of particular note was a barge bearing an enormous saxophone, a tribute to His Majesty the King’s musical talent.

There was a spectacular fireworks display at the end of the parade. Several children joined in by firing tubes containing small rockets into the air with reckless abandon.

Then it was time for me to launch my krathong. I patiently waited my turn at the water’s edge, then lit the candle and incense sticks in the center and lightly placed my krathong on the water, making a wish as I did so. Many people believe that their wish will come true if their candle continues burning until the krathong is out of sight.

I watched in wonder as my krathong drifted into the river and weaved amongst the hundreds of others already floating there. The flickering lights of the candles on the water created a magical atmosphere.

The Loy Krathong festival dates back about 700 years. Coinciding with the end of the rainy season and the rice harvest, it is a way of apologizing for polluting the water. Thai people float a krathong on the water to thank the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha. The act of floating away the candle raft sybolises letting go of anger and grudges so that a person can start life afresh.

Another symbol of Loy Krathong are the beautiful kom loy lanterns. As I wove my way across the park once more, I came across a group of students holding aloft one of these large paper lanterns and waiting for it to fill with air. When inflated, a candle was placed inside and the lantern was released, rising high into the air to become another flickering point of light.

Another interesting event during Loy Krathong are the beauty contests, known as “Noppamas Queen Contests” after the consort of the former king of Sukhothai, King Loethai. Noppamas is credited with starting the tradition of krathongs when her beautiful tribute caught the attention of the king as it drifted down the river. Loy Krathong is a great opportunity to experience a Thai festival. Whether you choose to do it simply as and onlooker or get fully involved, Thai people are extremely found of this festival and pleased to share the experience.

About the author:

Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!

The Beauty of Big Mountain: Khao Yai National Park

The Beauty of Big Mountain: Khao Yai National Park
The Beauty of Big Mountain: Khao Yai National Park
The Beauty of Big Mountain: Khao Yai National Park
The Beauty of Big Mountain: Khao Yai National Park
The Beauty of Big Mountain: Khao Yai National Park

“I think I’ve spotted one!” Mr C gives an ecstatic gasp, before plunging into the undergrowth, leaving my new friends and I feeling confused and bemused. Suddenly, we hear hooting and whooping noises as our guide trying to communicate with a white handed gibbon. Next thing we now, Mr C appears, beaming broadly. “I’ve found a gibbon,” he announces in awe. “Come and see, quick!” We quietly follow Mr C into the undergrowth, where he has set up his tripod and binoculars. Sure enough, through the binoculars we can clearly see a group of gibbons playing in the treetops. I have traveled to Thailand’s Khao Yai National Park for some relaxation and a much-needed break from the city.

Khao Yai is Thailand’s most popular nature reserve, and it is easy to see why. With 2168 square kilometres of lush forest, the park is a real Eden for the 300 bird species and 20 species of big mammals which shelter within its boundaries. Khao Yai means Big Mountain and the name refers to the Phanom Dongrek Mountains that make the park so special.

I had left the neighbouring town of Pak Chong early that morning, expecting to explore Khao Yai on foot. Catching a songthaew from the center of town, I arrive at the park just before 8 am. I am dropped at the park checkpoint, where I pay my 200 baht entrance fee and wait for a lift to the visitor’s centre.

After a couple of minutes, a jeep rolls down the road towards me. The driver greets me warmly and agrees to take me to the visitor’s centre. The two passengers, Fiona and Henry, also greet me warmly.

Along the way, the driver stops several times to point out macaques, kingfishers and other interesting wildlife. He introduces himself as Mr C, but it is not long before I have dubbed him ‘Mr Crazy’. Mr C is like the Thai version of Steve Irwin; he is incredibly passionate about wildlife and sometimes his enthusiasm seems a little goofy. Still, you couldn’t hope for a more knowledgeable guide.

It takes nearly an hour to reach the visitor’s centre. Once there, Mr C offers to take me along on the tour for just 400 bhat for the entire day. He explains that many of the park’s features are as much as 20 kilmetres apart, making it impossible to cover them on foot. As I am already captivated with Mr C and Fiona and Henry seem happy to have company, I gratefully agree.

After a short break, Mr C Provides long, white canvass socks, which we put on over our trousers, feeling rather silly. They are to protect against leeches, and I notice most of the other visitors are also wearing these latest fashion accessories.

Back in the jeep, Mr C takes us on a short ride along beautifully forested roads. Suddenly, he pulls to a halt. “Did you see that?” he asks, before plunging into the undergrowth once more. This time he has spotted a hornbill. “Khao Yai is one of the best places in South East Asia to observe these golden-beaked beauties,” Mr C tells us proudly, before demonstrating their call.

There are four species of hornbill at Khao Yai. On a neighbouring tree we spot a pied hornbill. Fiona suddenly notices we are standing near a ‘Tiger Zone’ sign and expresses her concern. Mr C simply laughs; “I have been visiting the park for seven years and I have never seen a tiger,” he confesses.

After a few minutes, Mr C drops us at the edge of the forest where we are to begin our trek. We walk for three hours, but the pace is fairly gentle. Mr C stops every few minutes to point out woodpeckers, yellow-browed warblers and an extremely beautiful red-breasted flycatcher.

Just as my energy is beginning to fade, we reach the edge of the forest. It takes a minute for my eyes to adjust to the sunlight as we walk across a grassy plain. After a few minutes, we pass a small lake, which is a watering hole for many of Khao Yai’s birds and animals.

A short distance away is Nong Pak Chee observation tower, and we are all quite relieved when Mr C announces we will stop here for lunch. We climb a wooden ladder up into the observation tower. Already inside are two Thai men who are camping out, hoping that their patience will be rewarded with some animal sightings.

After lunch, Mr C directs us along a neat path leading away from the observation tower. Suddenly, he orders us to crouch down to the ground. Just in time; a swarm or big black bees cross our path, hovering above our heads for a moment before passing on.

Once we reach the waiting jeep, Mr C drives us to a caf?, where he buys us drinks to cool off. The four of us sit relaxing and talking for awhile. When we have rested, Mr C leads us down a short path, at the end of which lies the Haew Suwat Falls. This 25 metres high waterfall starred in the film The Beach. There is currently not much water flowing down the vast rock face as it is the dry season, but during the wet season many travelers take the plunge, fancying themselves, perhaps, as the next Lionardo Di Caprio.

When we have admired the waterfall from all angles, Mr C drives us to Khao Lem hill, where there are spectacular views over the park. Another short drive and a wander through the jungle, and we find ourselves perched at the very top of Khao Luuk Chang (Baby Elephant Mountain). As we sit on a rocky perch, we are actually above the highest treetops of the surrounding jungle, and the view is breathtaking.

Finally, it is time to leave Khao Yai, although I find that I am very reluctant. Mr C has one more surprise for us. On the drive back, he suddenly pulls to a halt. His sharp eyes have spotted a large scorpion sunbathing at the edge of the road; another trophy for our photo albums.

Getting There:

Khao Yai is 120 kilometres north east of Bangkok. It is best to make the journey to nearby Pak Chong first as the town can be reached by bus or train.

About the author:

Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!

Koh Phangan – a Magical Mystery Tour

Koh Phangan - a Magical Mystery Tour
Koh Phangan - a Magical Mystery Tour
Koh Phangan - a Magical Mystery Tour
Koh Phangan - a Magical Mystery Tour
Koh Phangan - a Magical Mystery Tour
Koh Phangan - a Magical Mystery Tour

Another lazy day on holiday and I am sitting at a bar on the beautiful Koh Phangan, waiting for the guide of the Reggae Magic Boat Trip to arrive. As I wait I watch in wonder as a Thai man tries to sell his tiny exotically coloured ‘pet’ bird. “Ha roi” (tasty) he announces to my indignation. “No! Mai arroy!” I cry, thinking the man has just told his friends that the bird would be delicious. “No, no,” the man laughs. “I say I will sell bird for 500 Baht, ha roi!” Just then the bird escapes from the man’s grip and flies out of reach onto a rooftop.

Just then, the enigmatic Thai man who calls himself Peter Pan strides around the corner. Dressed in yellow shorts, a patch work shirt streaked with gold and a brightly-coloured scarf, the man’s colourful costume matches his personality perfectly. “It’s OK, I am here now,” he chirps. “We can go!”

The relieved Israelis, who have been impatiently waiting, and I follow Peter Pan to a large wooden boat with a large group of relieved Israelis. There are 22 of us in all, including Peter and his two helpers, but there is plenty of room for us all.

Like a genial genie, Peter Pan sits cross-legged on the cool box, smiling down on us. “Now, we must balance the boat, otherwise we will flip over,” he tells us once we are all aboard. “I not care if you drown, but I love my boat, you know?”

It takes about an hour for us to reach our first destination. I lounge in the boat, lazily watching the scenery and the sun sparkle on the idyllically blue water.

Finally, we reach the beautiful beach of Haad Sadet and the boat shudders to a halt. The boat rocks violently as all the passengers race for the shore, eager to explore.

Once on terra firma, we pile into a waiting truck and are transported along a steep, treacherous road. Then, on foot, we follow a winding jungle path.

Suddenly, I emerge from the trees to find myself at the foot of the enchanting Than Sadet waterfall. Carefully climbing over huge granite boulders and navigating pools of fresh water, I make my way to where the others are waiting.

Than Sadet is Koh Phangan’s most famous waterfall. This 3km fall has had its share of royal attention. It was first visited by King Rama V in 1888. The magnificent waterfall clearly crept into his heart, for King Rama V visited the fall more than 10 times. The current monarch, King Bhumibol, has also visited Than Sadet and its waters are used for royal ceremonies.

After about half an hour, we begin to make our way back to the beach. Back in the boat, we sail for another 30 minutes or so. I sprawl on the deck, basking in the sun’s rays.

Soon enough, we reach Haad Khuat, also known as Bottle Beach. “You know why we call it Bottle Beach?” Peter Pan asks from his perch on the cool box. “Because that’s its name?” I chime in before I can stop myself. “No,” peter Pan grins. “Because it is shaped like a bottle.”

We climb out of the boat once more and onto the deserted golden beach. The only sign of civilization is a small restaurant, where we are scheduled to eat lunch. After perusing the extensive menu, I decide on vegetable pad Thai, as I don’t want to be too full for swimming.

After eating, I have half an hour to entertain myself and immediately head for the warm, clear water. Peter pan and his colleagues, I notice, are already snoozing in the shade.

When it is time to leave, I dry myself in the sun and join the rest of the group in the boat. Peter Pan is continuing his rest, softly snoring under a blanket.

This time, we are treated to a short ride around the coast to Mae Haad. Peter Pan’s colleague, who I am told is called Wendy, explains that this area has very beautiful tropical fish and coral. He hands out the snorkels and one by one we plunge into the waiting waters.

As I lower my face into the sea, my gaze is instantly met by several dozen fish. Striped black and white with yellow fins, these are known as Sweet lips. Deeper down, close to the beautiful soft coral, I spot the odd Hexagonal Grouper and exquisite exotically coloured Blue Ringed Angel Fish.

When I eventually surface, the other assistant – Tinker Bell, presumably – hands me some bread. As soon as I bring the bread beneath the water, dozens of fish surge towards me and begin to nibble the bread right from my hand.

After an amazingly timeless period, I pull myself back into the boat. Peter Pan is finally awake and is handing out chunks of pineapple for us to munch on. The fruit tastes wonderful after the saltiness of the sea.

The boat hand starts the engine once more and begins the journey back to Haad Rin, completing a circuit of the entire island. By the time we arrive, I am glad to be getting out of the hot sun.

At 7:30 pm, I return to a bar for a feast. My companions and I hungrily devour a delicious dinner of rice and vegetables with chicken curry for the meat eaters. Once the meal is finished, Peter Pan gives someone a guitar to play. With a happy belly, I sit back in my chair and sleepily listen as Israeli music floats out on the night air.

Information:

Tours start from 12 pm and cost 500 baht for six hours. The bar is situated on Haad Rin Noi (Sunrise Beach) just around the corner from Same Same Lodge.

Getting There:

The nearest international airport to Koh Phangan is at Koh Samui. From here the island is an hour ferry ride away. Joint bus and ferry packages are available from all of the travel agencies on Khaosan Road and take 12-15 hours.

About the author:

Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!