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Andy’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 19 Nov 2006

Location: Pho Hin Rang Kla, Thailand


Leafing through the registration book for entry into Pho Hin Rang Kla national park in north-eastern Thailand Leila, Alive and I were struck by the lack of visitors who used the Latin alphabet; not one, as far back as we could be bothered to search.

We were now Ďoff the beaten trackí.

It was a short journey from Phitsnaulok. We said goodbye to our new Israeli friends and caught a local bus to the station, from there a coach to Nakhon Thai and finally were carted into the back of a pick-up truck, rising a kilometre into the mountains and enjoying the amazing scenery of verdent rolling hills, monsoonal clouds and a honeyed light from the afternoon sun. It was all immensely satisfying.

Now the history lesson - between 1967 and 1982 the park housed the strategic headquarters for the Thai Communist Party and its insurgent tactical arm, the Peopleís Liberation Army of Thailand (not the Thailand Peopleís Liberation Army, the Army of Thai Peopleís Liberation, nor the Peopleís Front of Judea).

Spanning three decades the park and surrounding area provided the battlefield upon which Thai troops and Communists clashed. The camps activity and importance swelled after hundreds of students were killed by the Thai military in the 1976 student/worker uprising leading to an influx of recruits to the CPT. The September coup demonstrates how far Thai society and politics have come - though it can no longer be considered wholly bloodless, a taxi driver committed suicide recently to protest the takeover.

By 1978 the campís numbers had swollen to 4000, but by 1981 repeated attacks by the Thai military had succeeded in (re)capturing patches of CPT land. The government declared amnesty of 1982 for all students who joined after 1976 proved the straw that broke the camelís back and a final military push effected the surrender of the PLAT. Just two years later, in 1984, the government designated the area a national park. Sculptures of art constructed from downed Thai military helicopters dot the resort landscape and the receptionists all wore military (Communist?) uniforms. Perhaps sentiments remain. Unfortunately answers were unforthcoming, the level of English spoken matched my knowledge of Thai.

We booked into a luxury bungalow for two nights. After months of suffering (or revelling?!) in backpacker squalor you would be forgiven for assuming I was overreacting to a free bar of soap and decor which did not have a single theme revolving around mildew. But no, this was truly decadent, and surprisingly affordable. Bamboo walls, french windows leading onto a balcony, and a bathroom of wood, stone and slate. And duvets on the bed! The ecstasy of small pleasures is characteristic of life on the road. Itís noticeably cooler up in the hills and made a refreshing and welcome change to sleep under a duvet rather than a crunchy bed sheet (or nothing).

The beds were just too inviting and after a small nap we woke around eight pm with our stomachís reminding us we had not eaten since a small pad thai in Phitsanulok. Everything was closed. No shops, no restarants. So we gorged ourselves on a hearty meal of one small bag of crisps (my attempts to recreate a minor feeding of the five thousand failed miserably; we got three each), and finally resorted to a diazepam each. A combination of valium and stomach-echoing hunger drove us to eat paper. To distract attention from our grumbling bellyís we played cards and finally invented a word. Sawimble Weezybob (the valium talking i believe) which means a million to the power of a million.

Next day we spent most of the morning breaking our 24 hour fast and then began exploring the park. Weather looked ominous so we donned our waterproofs and set off looking like three walking binbags. Originally we intended to walk 6km around a circuit taking in all the historic and natural sites instead we set such a good pace that we made it to the first site only - such intrepid explorers.

The initial trek was uphill and difficult, fraught with trials and tribulations. Leila fell over on her arse twice. I dipped my feet into a brook and one of my flip flops (excellent trekking footwear andrew) drifted off my foot and bobbed away. Then we all spent ten minutes deciding how to cross a five inch deep stream that blocked our path. Ten more minutes were spent actually crossing it. By this point, after walking about twenty metres the cloud was starting to roll in and the whole park was thick with mist which did not bode well.

But we persevered and eventually stumbled across Lan Hin Pum, a strange field of nodulated stone roughly equal in size. No one is quite sure what caused it but theories tend to gravitate toward physical and chemical erosion.

The field was incredibly high up and relatively flat but fog obscured the view. Thankfully the clouds parted when we reached the edge. Suddenly, and without warning the rocks ended and we stood staring at a sheer drop down to a patchwork of green and blue rainforest one kilometre below. It was unlike anything i have seen before.

Darkness was setting in so we began the hike back. Thankfully some kindly locals offered us a lift in the back of their pickup truck. So we stood amonst the tools with wind and rain in our faces, content and fulfilled in a way that only an active and productive day can offer (or a day in bed).

And now to thank Leila and Alice for almost getting me killed! Girls, did you know about the wildlife which still prowls the forest? I recently read that tigers (!), leopards (!!), Asiatic Black Bears (!!!) are still common in the park. Iím not sure i would have joined you if i thought there was even the slightest chance i would return to camp with a toothy animal clinging to my head gnawing tenaciously.