A Travellerspoint blog

In search of gibbons

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One of my (unstated) aims with this trip is to find out how much wildlife there is in Northern Thailand and how easy it is to find it. Everybody knows about hill tribes. But what about animals? Gibbons (and orangutans) are one of my favourite primates (apes not monkeys). Do any exist in the north?

First attempt at finding wildlife: boat trip on the Salawin River. I asked our guide Un what animals existed in the park. The answer was monkeys, gibbons, small (civet) cat, and a few other animals. Most big animals like tiger and gaur have gone now. I looked but saw nothing. The animals are hiding in the depths of the jungle or have been eaten. Wildlife count from the Roadside Guesthouse: one humungous brown spider (not poisonous), one humungous cockroach (not poisonous but very ugly), a frog, a shiny green beetle, two common birds and a million ants.

Second attempt at finding wildlife: bus trip between Mae Sariang and Mae Hong Son. I dilligently looked through the trees for signs of birds (even though I was tightly gripping the seat in front of me) but saw nothing. Wildlife count from the Fern Resort: one yellow bird with a black head and cute little tuft, a few birds (heard but unseen), a few more birds (seen but not clearly), two squirrels, at least six different spiders (mostly huge) and a million and one ants (varying sizes).

Third attempt at finding wildlife: Cave Lodge near Soppong. Apparently there is a family of gibbons that sometimes hangs out near the exit to Tham Lod. John, the guesthouse owner, says he heard them in the nearby hills a couple of weeks agon. It seems that the wildlife in the north is quite dispersed. The forest is vast and the wildlife can travel, unlike in Khao Yai national park, which is like an island of jungle surrounded by fields - the wildlife has nowhere to go so is concentrated, hence easier to spot. I have already seen some squirrels here and several birds. The birdsong and cicada song is deafening in the morning.

More when I see it....

For the record: best places to spot wildlife in south-east Asia that I have been to are:
1. Khao Yai National Park, Thailand
2. Uncle Tan's jungle camp, Sabah, Malaysia
3. Taman Negara, Malaysia

Posted by pythagnz 06:31 Archived in Thailand Tagged animal Comments (0)

Be Still My Beating Heart

I get to 69 (and back again)

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Mae Hong Son is a pretty little town nestled in between forest-covered mountains. It doesn't take long to walk around the main streets and it is very quiet at this time of year (especially on a Saturday afternoon). Unfortunately, if you are not into voyeuring in other people's villages or visiting countless wats there isn't that much to do. As I am Little Miss Action Girl I need to create my own fun.

Yesterday morning it was simple - walk around the town searching for vegetarian restaurants that weren't there, fail to change travellers cheques as I'd forgotten to bring my passport (the Thai banks are charging huge fees for withdrawing cash from the ATMs now so you get hit twice), tap on the internet and (finally) eat. Yesterday afternoon was also simple - read and swim by the Fern Resort swimming pool. Until it was time to ride to the viewpoint behind the resort to see the sunset. The road started steep, like this <hand points towards ceiling> and became steeper! I was on a mountain bike rustled up by the resort. It had gears, but only 5 of them worked. Luckily it was the 5 that enabled me to get up the hills! It was still hot and it didn't take long before the sweat was dripping off me. I needed to stop frequently to rest and let my heartbeat drop (hence the title of this blog entry). I cycled from corner to corner until the gradient flattened out. I didn't know exactly where the viewpoint was and I could see big, grey clouds forming nearby. When the road turned into a dirt road I decided it was prudent to turn around. I made it to the 69km marker (counting down from the main road) so I had only biked 4km from the resort and the viewpoint was another 2-4km away. The downhill was pretty sweet and I was glad the brakes on the borrowed bike were ok.

This morning my activity was biking again. This time a flatter ride (though still a bit hilly) back down highway 108 to the Pha Bong Hot Springs. These were so inconspicuous I also missed them. In fact, as a park and semi-developed area they were rather disappointing. Such is the way in Thailand sometimes. There was plenty of hot spring water but the surroundings were not pleasant. I backtracked a little way before turning down a side road. An English sign said there was an aboretum 1km down here. When I found it I boldly biked through it including the middle of their nursery. A little bit further along I came to Ban Huey Deua where the boat trip to visit a long-necked Karen village starts from. Not really our cup-of-tea especially after seeing a documentary about how the Thai government exploits the women. Some of them remove their rings in protest and some have come to New Zealand as refugees. Technically, these people have no legal status in Thailand and the government likes it this way as they get money from the tourists who some to see the women. At the boat landing I rested while watching a boatload of Thai tourists unload and another one start their trip. We had considered just doing a boat trip on the river but after seeing the lack of shade on the boats and the seating arrangements (cross-legged on the floor of the boat), I decided it wasn't for us.

This afternoon we repeated yesterday's afternoon activity - reading and swimming. Ahh, such lovely surroundings. This evening I intend to have my first massage of the trip.

Posted by pythagnz 02:35 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Mode of Transport: Rollercoaster

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My life was in the hands of the gods. Or at least a crazy Thai bus driver and I hoped they (his hands) were placed firmly on the steering wheel and his eyes were wide open. Today's bus trip was like a rollercoaster. It was more exciting than the rollercoasters at Movie World (have you tried the Superman rollercoaster? It's awesome). The scenery was even more spectacular than the already good scenery we have already seen.

The bus trip took 4 hours and was meant to be by the 10:30 air-con bus. Instead it was the 11am natural air-con bus (ie windows and fan). It's actually cooler than the air-con bus and Katherine got to spread out for a change so we were happy. The lunch stop (noodle soup) was at Khun Yuam and we were impressed with the shopkeepers' English. After all, I can't say 'bean' or 'coconut' in Thai (but I can say 'bicycle').

We are also very impressed with our lodgings at the Fern Resort. It has very beautiful surroundings with many trees and a creek running through the grounds - right outside our bungalow. The first thing I did was splash in the pool briefly. We have taken the free resort minibus into Mae Hong Son for dinner and had a fabulous meal on the other side of the lake from the twin wats. Dining by simultaneously listening to monk's chanting and Thai-acoustic folk music is quite pleasant.

Posted by pythagnz 06:16 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Who's been sleeping in my bed?

A rundown of our accommodation

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I thought I would write a blog entry about ordinary stuff that usually gets overlooked in the telling of activities. This one is about our accommodation.

At the Roadside Guesthouse I have a cute little room with a double bed, fan and mirror. It's pretty dark but the lights are strong enough to read by. At night I sleep the wrong way round on the bed so I'm not disturbed by the curtain wafting in and out from air disturbance caused by the fan. We had rooms 4 and 5 in a large old wooden house and on the last day discovered the location of rooms 1-3 and room 6. Aekkasan, the owner, says he has plans to build bungalows on the rice fields out back. On the second day Katherine pointed out that I was using the men's toilet. I continued to use it though as it had more room than the women's toilets.

We are impressed with the wildlife around the guesthouse - a huge brown spider (as big as my hand, not poisonous), huge cockroaches, a green beetle, frogs and a couple of birds.

The Fern Resort is about 7km outside Mae Hong Son. The surroundings are gorgeous. It borders a national park and they have taken care to plant special trees to attract the birds. A stream runs through the grounds (right outside our bungalow). Some of the bungalows are in rice paddy fields (small ones). Since it's dry season not much is happening on the rice farming front. There is a swimming pool which is as good as it looks (when I post the photo) and several terrace bars. Only the main restaurant is open at the moment as it is low season. The bungalow is very nicely decorated and has a small balcony. There is a mango tree nearby - so close I could reach out and pluck three mangoes if I wanted. The staff are lovely. They conjured up a bicycle for me and they have a complimentary shuttle service to town and back.

Posted by pythagnz 00:36 Archived in Thailand Tagged lodging Comments (1)

Roundabout Mae Sariang

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When we first arrived in Mae Sariang I wondered whether two days were too many. Most people seem to stay only one. I wondered how we would spend our second day here. The answer was obvious really - I would go for a bike ride and Katherine would shop.

Last time we travelled together through Thailand Katherine was shellshocked. There was a lot of new sights, smells and experiences to take in. This time she has a lot more confidence so she is more relaxed and enjoying it more. She even managed to get fleeced in the market all by herself. Go Katherine! So Katherine wandered around town doing what she likes best.

And I did what I like best - I biked to one of the entry points to Salawin National Park. There is a park headquarters on the Salawin River, north of Mae Sam Laep where we were yesterday. There is a road to it too I discovered today - 37km through the park itself. No, I didn't bike all the way there, I just did a short trip out to the closest park headquarters. And despite being on a borrowed bike that was too long in the reach and had seen better days, I enjoyed myself immensely.

I stopped at the visitor centre to look at photos of the park and read the only two paragraphs of English I could find (apart from some signboards). The park headquarters was a further kilometre down the road and I was the only visitor. I located the nature trail and had a happy hour traipsing through the forest looking for snakes. I didn't see any but did see a few geckos and a couple of birds. The nature trail had 15 stations and if I could read Thai I could tell you all about them. It actually took some time to walk the trail and just as I was wondering whether I was going to turn up several kilometres from where I'd started I popped back out to the park headquarters.

Next I biked through some rice paddy fields to a wat with a building on a hill. It provided great views over the valley and was a peaceful way to spend a few moments, contemplating the world. I could have visited a couple of Karen villages too but it was lunchtime and I was thirsty and I feel a bit awkward walking through villages looking at people's lives. I think I have seen plenty of villages now, like I have seen plenty of wats, so I don't feel the need anymore.

Later today I'm going to put my sweaty clothes back on and bike to another wat for evening sunset views over the valley.

I'm looking forward to the next place we are going to in Mae Hong Son as it has a swimming pool! Cool.

Posted by pythagnz 00:17 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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