Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Thung Yai 2.3 - Maps

As do all the trips to Thung Yai, we used Lungpu Sakhon’s temple at Thong Pha Phum – Erawan -- as our staging area. From there, instead of going the longest route (the southern gate) or the less long western gate that we took in 2012, this time we took what I refer to as the northwest gate and the shortest way to get there. Here’s a map I put together of all three entryways and their respective routes to Washuku. They are not 100% accurate, but fairly close:

View Thung Yai in a larger map

The western portion of my Google Map is mostly based on this topographical map of western Thung Yai – the best I’ve found so far:

We left Wat Erawan with new sleeping bags – the warmest we could find; which had required a special trip to the next province (Udon Thani) from ours (Nong Bua). The bags are rated to 20-to-15 degrees Celsius (68-59 degress Farenheit) and it would turn out that we needed all of that, even with our lightweight bags stuffed inside and all our clothes on. It was, after all, the coldest time of year in Thailand and this year was colder than previous decades.

The ride north along Highway 323, from Thong Pha Phum to Sangklaburi is scenic, especially the are of houseboats that dot the upper end of the dammed section of the Kwai Noi (aka “The River Kwai”).

Just before Sangklaburi, we turned off east, making our way to the northeast gate to Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary at Sanepong.

After squaring our paperwork with the authorities, I took over as diver of one of the trucks which were now fully 4-wheel-drive engaged.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Thung Yai 2.2 - To Erawan

This second trip to Thung Yai, we went a different and quicker route. The area this route went through actually has some maps, so it’s been easier to reconstruct a more accurate personal map of the route than it was the first trip.

Here’s a basic map of the route we took from our village to our staging area, Lungpu Sakhon’s temple in Thong Pha Phum. The trip took about15 hours to complete, all on good roads and highways; tailgate eating at gas stations along the way:

View NBL to Thong Pha Phum in a larger map

Monday, February 17, 2014

Thung Yai 2.1 - Unexpected "Yes"

After my first trip to Thung Yai, in April 2012, I mentally swore an oath to myself never to go back. Not that I did not like being in the pristine and very remote Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary. It was just that, riding in the back of the trucks, I had too many near misses with bamboo of all sizes, on the side and even above the dirt road we travelled upon. Then, there was the real danger of knocking myself in the head against a roll bar… I just didn’t feel that lucky to try it a second time.

So, I surprised myself when our head monk Lunpaw Boon Long asked me to go on a work trip to Thung Yai in late December 2013. My wife was very surprised because I had already turned down two previous invites to go back to Thung Yai and she also knew my attitude toward the dangers I felt I could not put myself though again.

Yeah, it was a bit of a surprise to all us us – even Lungpaw Boon Long.

Thong Pha Phum temple, Kamattan monks putting risers on the truck I would drive

What attracted me to this trip was that I would be one of the drivers in and (if I did well) out. So, for me it would be unquestionably my longest 4WD trip and undoubtedly most adventurous.

Thong Pha Phum mountains above Lungpu Sakhon's temple, our staging area

Monday, February 10, 2014


December 2013 was a colder-than-usual winter month in the Isaan and January 2014 was the coldest January in the Isaan in decades. Instead of people greeting each other with:

Hawn, baw?” (hot, no?)

The usual greeting has been:

Nao, baw? (cold, no?)

And the reply is invariably:

Nao lie.” (cold a lot).

Many nights I’ve cuddled up to Thip with a long-sleeve cotton shirt, sweatpants, socks, cotton gloves and a hooded fleece jacket under two comforters. Thip has had pretty much all of that plus a sleeping bag.

Some mornings we could even see our breath. I know for many of you, this is not cold at all, but for me at 65 years-of-age and just getting used to the heat of Southeast Asia, the cold is just a difficult adjustment.

As a result of these cold days, my wife and I were usually in bed, after prayers and meditation, not long after sundown. In the mornings, we stayed in bed as long as we could – with just enough time for Thip to steam the sticky rice for sai baht. I had my jacket on, with krama, until late morning and then back on shortly before sundown. I missed taking my daily shower upon occasion, generally taking them in mid-to-late afternoon before temperatures started to drop.

Contrast this daily schedule with my usual ones for the morning, afternoon and evening.

About the only good part about the weather was that it was great for working outside. But – can you believe it? – my arch enemies, the nyoong (mosquitoes) have adapted to the cold and some still fly around, although far less in numbers.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Lao Trip #5

In December 2013, I went on my fifth trip to Lao. It was a bit of a hurried affair, as I took it “last minute” so that I would be sure to be able to renew my 90-day travel permit before it expired. I had been invited and accepted a second foray into the wilds of Thung Yai scheduled for the end of the month. As we would be in one of the remotest areas of Thailand, I was not entirely confident that we would make it back to our village before the end of the 90 days. So, I took the fifth Lao trip before I really needed to, in order to return to Thailand with another full 90-day travel permit.

My fifth time in Lao was my most laid-back, yet. I mostly just hung out in my favorite village/town of PL2, walk explored, and enjoyed karaoke which is so popular in that country among teens and young adults. Older people past their 20’s also enjoy it, but in smaller numbers and in more formal surroundings like celebrations, restaurants and parties. They don’t hang long in the outdoor beer-only bars that I tend to frequent.