I love to go to a place that I often saw in documentaries when I was a young girl. I loved watching very old episodes of Tarzan and hoping one day I could go to those places. Therefore it was a no brainer, that I would at some point have a journey into the mountains in Thailand. I knew there were plenty of out of the way places up north, however at the time I wasn’t going to go that far. So when I read about Thong Pha Phum National Park, a park that also stretched well into Myanmar, I was won over. The bonus, the park had tree house accomodation. This sounded cool, I did find a couple of You Tube videos and the images were amazing. Another tick was apart from a few paragraphs in Lonely Planet I wanted to challenge myself and explore a few places often only Thais who have transport could visit. Of course nobody seemed to know anything about the national park or how to get there. Even the locals including the girl at the tourist office in Thong Pha Phum were bemused as to why I would want to stay there. Without your own vehicle or the ability to ride a motorbike you are very limited. I was so nervous about this trip to the national park that I nearly stopped myself from going. However Bell the owner of the hotel where I stayed in Thong Pha Phum took me to the van stop and the lady who owned the food shop, where the van picked up passengers fed me and helped me with supplies which made me feel a little bit reasured that this wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
The two hour journey to the National Park started slowly, I was a bit disappointed as the road seemed in good condition. Maybe the comments I read about the dodgy road must be outdated as the ute was making good progress. When we stopped for a toilet break I noticed that the driver started tying things down. I don’t think I consciously knew at the time but in retrospect he knew what was coming. It was only a few minutes after our stop when the ute slowed down, I peered through the gap between the cab and where I was sitting to see the road narrow from three cars wide to a car wide. The ute was now laboring, women were using we what seemed to be smelling salts and some were huddling up to each other, it couldn’t be that bad could it? I think I could have walked faster than the ute, which was also swaying side by side, switchback after switchback. As the incline increased it also meant that we had to hold onto anything available, often squeezing my legs up under the seat and my hands gripping on for dear life. At times all you could see when weaving around blind turns was the edge of the mountain, no road barriers and eroded edges that led to the bottom of the mountain. God help us if we met a car or truck coming the other way, but I had trust in the driver. As we continued to climb the mist began to roll through the mountains. The stillness of the environment with only miles and miles of lush jungle was awe inspiring. It reminded me of the journey I took long ago through the African jungle and the Amazon, and I was thrilled that I could have another experience. There is something about an unlogged environment that makes the hairs stand on end. To think that there are very few places left on this earth. A bonus with this trip was that we had the pleasure of enjoying the company of an older lady who was sat in the cab and was from the e-Thon, a closed border town with Myanmar. I am sure she made the driver stop at the scenic lookout or he didn’t have any other choice as she had the ability of talking without taking a breath. (I think I saw a little of me in her) I also think the driver just needed a respite from the chatter. She was obviously well known through the community as she seemed to know every person getting on and off the van. She even took me to the police check point when I arrived at the National Park. Even with considerable language troubles we were still able to communicate. There was no way anthing out of the ordinary was going to happen at this police check point anyway. So with a hug and further chatter the ute drove around another bend out of sight. I paid my money and was given a key and that was it. I was like, where do I go, but without google translator or any other way of asking I picked up my bag and walked past the check point into the unknown.
I must have walked about 300 meters when I saw a sign, written in Thai but with an arrow and numbers, 400m. Oh good I thought, not a problem I’m sure this must be where the tree house is. I was really felling like was the first solo 54 year old out in the middle of nowhere and looking fwd to what would be a great place to stay. That was until I walked around the corner. I don’t know who designed the road, but I couldn’t see the top of it and suddenly 400 meters seemed like 10km’s. Luckily I bought my walking sticks, so with no other choice I began the climb. I think I must have been at a 50 degree angle, I was looking down and my forehead was nearly was touching the ground when I heard an engine. For a second I was like, hell now I have to try and not fall flat on my face and make a complete dick of myself. I dropped my bag and turned around to see a Ute slowly moving up the road and in the back a group of army cadets. As they drove past me, one of the cadets yelled out and the ute stopped. The next thing I know I was being carried and lifted into the back of the Ute. I clambered my way up to the front and held onto the bar with dear life. I sort of felt like a damsel in distress standing on the back with 1/2 dozen army cadets! I started laughing nervously as they were all staring at me and speaking in a quizzical tone. Then out of the blue someone says in english “you on your own, lady?” I didn’t know if that was good or bad so I smiled and said “Ah yeah I am, why is that ok?” I mean what the hell else was I going to say. “No, my husband is waiting for me in Thom Pha Phum so you better leave me alone.” They all turned and looked at each other in either horror or what the F, is she crazy kinda look. I started feeling a little nervous, I mean, I am on my own, I not what you would call ready to defend myself in shape wise and I don’t speak a word of Thai, let alone there wasn’t any telephone connection. However before I knew it the ute stopped, they grabbed my bag, picked me up and plonked me down in front of the tree house which faced the most amazing view I have seen in years. All good in terror and war, I thought.
After roaming around the park for a couple of hours I decided have a bite to eat. Nothing like cold curry and rice, a few choclate biscuits and warm mango smoothie. What else did one need as I watched the sunlight slowly disappear from the mountains. As darkness took ahold I sat and listened to the night animals take over, sort of eery on your own. So I decided that I would hit the sack, I sealed my food and hung it up on the hook. I know from my experience in Tassie that you should never leave food around, but that is another story. So I tucked mysef in with some background music for company. I am not sure what time it was but I did wake at sometime and hear some noises, I tried not to freak myself out and went back to sleep. I am not sure how long I was asleep for when I was again woken to scratching sounds. I froze quickly trying to think what the hell it was, then I suddenly realised, for some reason and I don’t know what I was thinking but stupid me did leave some some food in a bag on the floor next to my bed and I totally forgot. Yeap, you guessed it Mickey mouse and probably his family decided to befriend me during the night and decided to head into my bag. It’s funny how during a moonless night, in the middle of a strange land, on your own, the million thoughts that go through your head. There was no way now that I was going to sleep in my bed. So I grabbed the blanket, locked the door and sat on the balcony looking out at a moonless sky. It was when I had to go to the loo that paranoia really did creep in. I decided that it was better to go down the stairs from the tree house and relieve myself on terra firma than using the pretty primitive loo in the tree house, plus I would have to go back through the bedroom. So as I climbed down with my trusty light, which I still didn’t know how to use properly yet, I noticed a car parked behind the tree house. My initial thoughts were guards sleeping and protecting the area. Of course I still don’t know what the guards were thinking when I got my lift. So I flashed my bright light around and tippy toed around to find an out of view location. Suddenly as I was relieving myself I heard the car doors open and shut. Bloody hell, so with half my pants down, I quickly made myself back to the tree house. Who were they, what do they want? Suddenly Mickey became the least of my worries. I listened and crept around the balcony to see who they were. I heard the doors open and shut again however, after a few tense moments I composed myself and decided that the best course of action was to stay up and wade through the night. At least if something did happen I had my camera for evidence, a headlamp, a bottle of water and food hanging from the hook. So for the next 4-5 hours I made myself busy hoping no-one was going to climb the stairs. I learnt a lot about using my video on my camera during a dark night and how to work my headlamp, whilst listening to a podcast I downloaded from the Record Doctor, the unhcharted hits from Madonna. Nothing like listening to, “I F’ed up, I did it again, nobody does better than myself” to make you feel at home.
When the sun started to rise I noticed that it wasn’t guards or even some crazed madman but two women sleeping for the night in their car. I think they were scared also because when I made my way down and they saw I was just a little old lady, they started laughing hysterically. For Mickey, he enjoyed my biscuits, thankfully he wasn’t anywhere to be found and he left no trace in my bag. As the dawn became daybreak I realised I had to get transport back to Thong Pha Phum so I made my way back down to the police check point. This time without a lift, but at least it was down hill. So with my limited knowledge of Thai, and my horrible drawing skills I asked the police what time the van came, 7:30 the young man wrote, great I thought only a 15 minute wait. What a joke, either they had no idea what I was asking or they really had no idea when the van came. I spent the next two hours watching ants disect and carry a dead cricket away, what amazing little creatures they are. When the transport did arrive I was thrilled (for a minute anyway) to know I was going back until I realised that there wasn’t any room inside. I spent the next 2 hours, going down the mountain hanging off the back of van with my backpack wanting to pull me down with it. The exhaust spewing carbon monoxide my way whilst the van weaved its way down the mountainside. To say I was excited about returning to the bus stop was an understatement. Let’s just say I got a lifetime of carbon monoxide, until I returned to Bangkok. After a 10 hour journey back to Bangkok, I suddenly realised what an achievement. Sure not everything went to plan, but having the opportunity to give it a go and to spend 10 days traveling to areas outside my comfort zone and without the use of a guide book was rewarding. The moral of this journey was having a dream, ambition, hope and a goal. What would life be without it?