A swim with the locals in a natural spring, watching as the adventurous locals dive fearlessly in off the muddy sides. The waters clear to the bottom, and Thai silver baht coins shimmer on the floors, probably dropped out of people’s pockets. The temperature was cool and refreshing and every so often, I would accidentally put my feet along the floor, touching the silt covered tree roots, slimy and weird on the toes, enough to make you swim squeamishly away! (well for me anyway)
Then to the caves where we enter a small locked black gate, screeching as it’s unlocked. The smell of ammonia striking your nose straight away, the floors covered in brown speckles, bat droppings, slippery on the rounded rocks. Two of us and the guide simultaneously shone our torches into the ceiling, where we saw nestles of groups of about 10 baby, brown faced bats all huddled up together. Leaving them be, we exited, to journey to the outside villages where here we would be treated with a sight so impressive I will never forget.
From the green hillside, bats pour out in their thousands from a small dark opening, filling the white skies. They fly as one, meandering like a Chinese ribbon, dancing in a ubiquitous line. Through my binoculars I watch closely and they look nothing more than small, black specks, occasionally the neat line dispersed by the threat of a bird of prey. After a good 45 minutes my eyes felt like they were deceiving me, as bats still trickled out in their masses. Astounding.
6.30am and the day is in full swing, heading towards Khao Yai National Park, packed into the back of a van with other nature enthusiasts.
Stepping off the smooth tarmac into the mud, engrossed by thick leaves and vines, was the point at which I realised we had entered new territory. One shared by numerous animals, lurking in places high and low, my eyes were straining to take in all the surroundings, whilst trying to keep a good footing, spot for camouflaged snakes in the thick undergrowth and also head height spider webs, threaded from overhead trees like large fishing nets.
The rustling of the branches high up above told us that we were not alone, as black, long armed, white faced gibbons playfully chased each other, leaves falling like brown confetti onto us all below.
The large fig trees were nature’s roots to the heavens, branching up like an entwined beanstalk .
Hornbills were disturbed and took off from their resting place making sounds like an old lawn mower at full speed. I could only just make them out as they flew across the tops of the tree canopy.
Walking with elbows tucked in and each foot trying to track the person in front was a true art. Spiked tree branches made the trek a challenge from the sides, low vines and whispy webs above, whilst fallen slippery logs and termite troops trailed beneath our feet.
Someone spotted a brown snake lying in the leaves, it was only after people were walking away after taking photographs up close, when the snake decided it wanted to slither with an intention of attack, that we all dispersed like frightened chickens, especially when it made a dart for the legs of one unfortunate trekker, luckily it seemed to back out of it’s lunge, giving him time to dash away.
Our guide took us down a path entirely steep steps first up and then down, which led to the main waterfall of the park. Viewing from the lower platform even at such a distance, you were being sprayed with water, as it plumetted down from great heights into the rocky swirling bottom, loud crashing, thundering power. We were told a sad story of 7 elephants who were recently lost to the force of the waters, trying to cross when the babies of the herd got into difficulty. Trying to save them the whole family lost their lives and were swept away.
This devastating event made the people here build a small crossing to help with preventing such a thing happening again, elephants valued both spiritually and as creatures important to the land and people. It was only looking into an elephant’s eyes in Ayutthaya for the first time that I encountered such a deep soul and feeling from an animal like never before, which made me realise and understand why elephants are so close to the people’s hearts here.
The last memories of the park were riding home, some people crashed out, others buzzing from the day. I looked back along the long roads as we left and thought to myself, how amazing the tree canopy looked in the lessening light.
Each tree was silhouetted and their shapes and sizes truly came into form, standing, stenciled beauties. The black, towering shapes sit prominently in my mind as the last ounce of sun took the world into darkness, nothing left but the red and white beams of urban, road light.