Tag Archives: elephants

Koh Lanta, Day 5: driving around and a crying elephant

I love travelling during low-tourist season. This way you can expect a friendlier, or at least a more open service with fewer fake smiles. Of course it’s not fun being served by grim staff, but I much prefer that than a fake smile –I don’t know what it is, but I like the real stuff. Many people who come to Thailand for a holiday say the service is amazing and everyone’s friendly and happy. Living in Thailand, especially working in language environment, made me realise how low most of the people’s level of English is, so they use very few words and top that up with a smile.

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Also they cannot ‘lose face’, a.k.a. mess up, especially in front of other Thais. My theory was that when happy chatty tourists ask for whatever they want from service staff/vendors, if a Thai doesn’t understand he or she will hide it with a smile and will go an extra mile to fulfill their request just for the sake of looking professional. But that’s just my theory. And there’s always the other end of the stick – not all Thais are Buddhists, and not all Thais have patience as many think. If you make a Thai lose face, it sometimes ends up in taxi drivers dumping passengers on highways, getting into fights and even murder! (many times on islands)

So here’s Day 5 on the island (if you missed the previous stories you can catch up here: Day 1Day 2 and Days 3,4). At 7 am we got on our beautiful rented motorbike (Yamaha mio FINO, which reminded us a little bit of Vespa). Slowly we headed south, not wearing much clothing and enjoying a cool morning breeze, driving no faster than 30 km/h. At around 9 am we had to wear our long-sleeve clothes to avoid putting on loads of sun lotion later which doesn’t feel comfortable when sweating. And to be honest doesn’t help in general when you’re in the sun for 10+ hours.

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It was the first time I drove a motorbike for such a long time, so for me it was the highlight of the day and partly of the whole holiday, it was so much fun learning how to drive! When we rented it I didn’t even know how to start it. We signed the papers, got the key, and sat down. The guy was like “You OK?” . No… So HE started the bike for US, meaning we couldn’t press a button ourselves…But I was never into motorbikes. The bike allowed us to see many beaches we wouldn’t have reached by bicycles. Also we reached the southernmost part of the island (National park), but there was a fee of 200 or 400 baht, so we decided that seeing a lighthouse – the major attraction in the area – wasn’t worth it, as the views were pretty enough with lots of wildlife everywhere else. We saw lots of monkeys in many places, some of which weren’t friendly at all and scared me a little bit when approaching to take a photo!

Throughout our little drive-arounds on the island we haven’t seen a crowded beach. Most of them were cosy and isolated, without a person, or even a boat in sight. Some beaches had perhaps a couple or two enjoying the sun and the tranquil waters. Honestly, most beaches were so quiet, that you could sunbathe naked. Not that you should, I’m just saying.

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On a more serious note, even though Koh Lanta is a beautiful island with exotic flora, fauna and all the amenities to have a great holiday, it is like many other places in Thailand with unaddressed issues. Just driving along the main road our eyes caught something worth stopping for – a cute little elephant! We parked immediately, as it was the first baby elephant we had ever seen, oh the joy! Unfortunately all the excitement vanished in an instant, when all the surroundings suddenly made sense:

Look, this baby elephant has a little bungalow, a concrete well, some trees, oh wait.. the well’s empty, and he’s chained to the bungalow. That’s strange. Oh… he’s… got… tears running down his eyes. What?! Is he  really crying? But look, he’s playing with some sort of twig or a piece of wood wrapped in his trunk, striking it against the dusty brown well. Ohhh nooo…. he’s trying to show he’s thirsty!

Being animal lovers it was truly heartbreaking. We could only empathise how painful this baby elephant was feeling inside, not just emotionally, but physically too. We wanted to give him water, but kept the distance as there was a mahout (the owner?) at the back, carving something with a pocket knife, watching us closely. There was a big banner at the entrance: “Swimming with the elephants”. That explains everything… They deprive the elephants of water and then of course the poor creatures are delighted to swim with the tourists. I felt ashamed for being part of human race.

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Back at our hotel we bought ferry tickets to Phi Phi, which included a pick-up, and that worked out much cheaper than buying it from the actual pier. So don’t fall for all the reviews online that 3rd party sellers rip you off, as the ones we came across so far were value for money (booking through our accommodation).

We also stopped at a café for a hot dog without the dog, which was basically two pieces of bread with some salad inside. It was pretty good though. And we had pretty expensive coffee, like 120 baht for an ice coffee at some fancy hotel’s bar by the beach. Our hotel’s bar was also fancy, but in a different way. There was a cat so friendly and oh-so confident that he walked into OUR room, enjoyed OUR water, drinking from OUR glasses… They trained him well.

ginger cat jpeg

Luckily we had a nice hotel for our last night in Lanta as the weather which had been perfect the whole time suddenly changed. When we went out for a meal we got caught in a storm, which lasted nearly all night, putting on an impressive show across the sky. It was also interesting to see so many crabs combing the beach after the rain – a sight that reminded me of my childhood where you see hundreds of snails sliming their way on the pavements after rain. It was the first time we had eaten dinner wearing rain ponchos. BEST tempura vegetables ever!

Khao Yai National Park

Early morning*, trip to the train station, coffee at Mr Bun’s. This time we were travelling to Khao Yai National Park. 

*As always, leaving home later than we had planned.

Upon boarding the 3rd class train to Pak Chong we got slightly irritated by being asked to sit in allocated seats squeezed next to somebody, even though the rest of the train was almost empty. Believing it was common sense to sit wherever we pleased on a rusty empty train, we ignored the order. We felt a bit childish and pretended to be sleeping whenever we saw the conductor coming our way – things you have to do to make common sense common…

Landscape started changing past Ayutthaya. We noticed most train and bus staff take extra care of tourists, and always advise of stops and connections. Many backpackers don’t research enough I guess.

Khao Yai Thailand

Once at Pak Chong train station, 500bht van/tuktuk rides were on offer to Khaoyai National Park, but we had read we can get there by songhtaew (open-end truck). We had a quick meal at 7-11 on the main road, and within 3 minutes we found the big truck. We hopped on, and in 50 minutes we took off (GPS in hand just to track our location).

It was only a quick ride of no more than 20 minutes. The gloomy weather, local shops and surroundings reminded me of Lithuanian scenery during autumn. We pressed the buzzer around the area where we had to get off, and paid 40 baht each (Thais before us paid 30, but no biggie).

The market on the main road was very local, a big 7-11 and bars were also just there. I thought Khao Yai was a tranquil retreat, but that’s just in the actual National Park, the surroundings are mostly residential areas, shops and hotels.

Khao Yai

Just after we had checked-in, the friendly owner arranged for us to join the evening tour for observation of millions of bats leaving a cave. We were late so we missed the swimming part, but we were taken to a cave to see some giant insects and bats (which was pretty cool), and then to some potato/corn field to watch the bats, which turned out to be nothing exciting. It was dark, and we could hardly see the bats, let alone take pictures/videos. The most exciting part was seeing the insects! And of course, 7-11 sandwiches. And bed.

Khao Yai Thailand insectsKhao Yai Thailand insects

The morning was spectacular due to the sun shining on the huge garden with rocky peaks surrounding the hotel area. Promptly at 8.30 we were picked up by the tour company (Green Leaf Guesthouse and Tour) and were driven to the park. We saw deers, watched gibbons for a bit (that was fun) and stopped at the information centre for a coffee. We found out that campsites cost 60-90 baht per night, 230 if you don’t have your own tent. The park opens at 6am, and closes at 6pm. Bungalows were offered from 800 baht per night for two. Check out the DNP website for prices and accommodation reservations in Thailand’s national parks.

Khao Yai deer

The ride in the truck was fun with great views. We stopped at one of the peaks and were given ‘leech socks’. Luckily we didn’t see any, but we brought a mite back to Bangkok, so be sure to check yourself  once you’re back!

Khao Yai snake

Now the 4km trek to the waterfalls included a snake crossing our path (scared us), spotting of a Siamese crocodile, a glimpse at a roaming elephant family, and a scorpion “show” at 2pm – we were basically walking through the jungle and the guide took us to a spot where it felt the scorpion was just placed there! But he knew his stuff and the poor little creature “entertained” us for a good 10 minutes, probably thinking “If I follow the script, they won’t fry me on Khao San Road”.

Khao Yai Thailand scorpion

On the day of check-out we had good continental breakfast again, and chilled-out in the garden. We took the truck back to Pakchong and there was only a 3rd class train available – it was packed! So if you do want to travel with air-con get your tickets in advance. The view from the window was nice. At 12pm all the Thais started eating. I even saw some people who had brought their own travel containers for rice and they just ate everything with it – meat, fish, fruit…

Khao Yai Thailand elephants

 On the whole:

The experience was pleasant because of the educated and fun guide(s). Even though we generally don’t like organised tours we’re happy we booked one as otherwise we would have never stepped into the jungle – it’s just not our thing. Forests were just like in the UK but with lots of creatures. We don’t really enjoy constantly focusing on insects and stuff, we much prefer European forests and nature, perhaps just because we know it better.

The downside is that the tour guides only give you a little time to see the waterfalls (pretty typical for tours), which are beautiful! So if you want to chill out or take photos, you’re better off going by yourself and taking your time. We only had one day though, and we were staying outside of the national park, so getting the tour was the most reasonable option for us. 

Khao Yai waterfalls

I’d say the best thing is to rent a motorbike in Pak Chong, drive (straight down the road) to the national park, pay the entry fee and either camp properly for 200 baht, or stay in a fan room for 800, which in our opinion may have more bugs and stuff coming in through holes, whereas a tent would hopefully be seamless. The whole park is very modern with roads nicer than in many parts of Bangkok with easy access to waterfalls, viewpoints and wildlife watching towers.

Khao Yai butterflies