Kanchanaburi

White Elephant Mountain – เขาช้างเผือก

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White Elephant mountain is the highest peak at Thong Pha Phum National Park on the western border of Thailand. I went there last year with some friends to do a really cool hike. The park is heavily protected and you can only hike for a couple months per year.  On top of that, they only allow 60 people per day on the trail and you must go with a military guide because it’s right on the border with Myanmar. It’s also VERY Thai; there is almost no information about it in English online.  In fact, it’s so Thai that when we got to the gate of the park, they didn’t know how to charge Neil and me to enter because the rangers had never had to deal with a foreigner.  The price was supposed to be higher for us, but they were so confused that we just got the Thai price.

Sunrise in Kanchanaburi

Sunrise in Kanchanaburi

DSC_0547We spent the night outside of Kanchanaburi before entering the park and went to a little local market in the morning to watch the sunrise. The road to the park is really windy and dangerous with like one guard rail. To add to the danger factor, we let the guy with the least amount of driving experience (Bom) drive the car. The night before he hit some rail road tracks going about 75mph and kept the car in control when we landed on the other side, so we figured he could handle the switchbacks. Upon arrival, we paid our Thai entrance fee and stopped at the rangers’ station to get set up with a guide. I’m not really sure what happened here because it was all in Thai. I spent most of my time looking at the terrarium full of dead beetles and this diagram of footprints. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any wild elephants or sun bears, probably because they are all dead.

Village

Village

Village girl

Village girl

We drove to the hillside village where we met our guide, porters and a couple other people who were in our group.  We saw our guide like three times on the whole hike because the other people in our group were so slow that we hiked away from them like 2 minutes into the trek.

Strongmen

Strongmen

We hired porters to carry our food, water, tents and sleeping stuff.  Technically we could have carried all of it ourselves, but when it’s like $15 for someone else to carry it up and down, it’s tough to turn down.  They also set up/broke down our tents. These guys were unbelievable.  They carried 50 kilos each (over 100 pounds) wearing a pair of old broken Crocs and did the whole thing in about half the time it took us.

We hiked through forest, grassland, tall reeds, and scrub.  The temperature was great and there was a nice breeze all day. It took us about 4 hours to hike up to our camp. In the picture you can see our camp in the small clearing on the bottom (with all the tents already set up by the porters) and the path up to the summit along the mountain ridge.

Camp at the base of the summit

Camp at the base of the summit

Happy hiker

Happy hiker

We took a short break at camp and took a nap since we’d only gotten about 4 hours the night before. We planned to hike to the summit to see the sun set. It’s hard to see from the picture, but on either side of that path, it is a steep drop off to either side, so it was fairly challenging.  There were also some sections that we had to climb up the rocks.  The guides had ropes tied up to the rocks so that made it easier.

Rock climbing

Rock climbing

The last part up to the summit was really steep and was all loose soil. Prim, Neil and I were fine, but Bom was wearing Converse with no tread.  For the parts that he wasn’t crawling on his hands and knees, the guide literally had to drag him through the dirt. That guy earned his fee on this section of the hike.

The little engine that could

The little engine that could

We got to the top right on time and were able to watch the sun set over the Thai/Burmese mountains.  It was so peaceful. Then it was time to hike back down to camp and cook dinner. Bom slid on his ass for most of the way, but we all got down safely.  I brought stuff to make s’mores. These things are so American, it was even a first for Neil.  I couldn’t find graham crackers, but I found something that was close enough.

Victory

Victory

Prim and I were fine in our tent, but they were definitely not made for someone Neil’s height so he had a rough night. We started the next day pretty early, and it was cold so it was nice to hike.  Luckily our only job was to wake up and go.  The porters took care of everything else, and then blew past us on the trail on the way back down.  The return trip was obviously way easier and only took about 2 hours.

Camp in the morning

Camp in the morning

This was a really cool experience and I definitely recommend it if you can figure out how the heck to get there and arrange it.

Wilderness

Wilderness

Categories: Camping, Hiking, Kanchanaburi, National Park, Nature, South East Asia, Thai Jungle, Thai Mountain, Thailand, Travel, Trekking | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Death Railway and Tiger Temple

Chooooooo Chooooooo

Chooooooo Chooooooo

On my trip to Kanchanaburi, I accomplished 2 things I have never done before: I pet tigers and I projectile vomited into a squat toilet on a moving train (more difficult than it sounds, especially if you lack experience).  BUT, I did not projectile vomit on any tigers, which, at the time, was a legitimate concern.

Modern comforts

Modern comforts

The trip started out innocently enough.  Bom and I went to the train station early in the morning because it is about a 4 hour trip to Kanchanaburi.  I was running late, as usual, and I left without eating breakfast.  Next to the train tracks, there was an old woman cooking Jok in a big cauldron over a fire.  For those of you who don’t know what Jok is, it’s a rice soup that Thai people eat for breakfast.  I remember thinking to myself “I’m so smart, good thing I brought that granola bar, because that soup would have made me sick”.  20 minutes later while sitting on my comfortable wooden bench on the train, I made my fatal error.  Bom had gotten some Jok and I asked to try some.  It was delicious, so I ate some more.  Then I got greedy and took the bowl and traded half my granola bar. About 90 minutes into the train ride, I started to feel a little motion sick… but I don’t get motion sickness, at least I haven’t since I was about 5 years old and barfed all over the back seat of my aunt’s literally brand new car that I went to the lot to pick up with her.  But I thought, ok maybe it’s because this train is chugging along tracks built during WWII and I am on a wooden bench and it’s 100 degrees.  So I took all the precautions and looked out the window a lot and took deep breaths and sipped water.  At about 2.5 hours, we stopped at the Kanchanaburi station and I felt like I wasn’t going to barf on myself for about 7 minutes, so I concluded that it must have just been motion sickness, when in reality it was the calm before the storm.  We were en route to cross over the famous River Kwai, which is basically the whole reason to take the train and not just take the 1 hour van. 30 minutes later, I looked like this:

Sexy time

Sexy time

Jok, you are a formidable foe for my iron stomach.  We were nearing the bridge and I knew I was gonna barf.  I considered just barfing out the window, but then I thought about two almost certain consequences, decapitation by tree limb and decapitation by a Thai person after falling victim to the downwind + open window effect.  So I managed to drag myself to the bathroom where I was confronted by a squat toilet which is basically just a hole in the floor with a metal frame around it that goes right down to the tracks.  When I got into that hotbox bathroom with no windows, no hand holds and a smell that would make a non-food poisoned person barf, that did the trick.  Imagine trying to puke into a 6 inch hole in the floor on a train made in the 1940’s that is lurching left, right, forward, back every 2 seconds and NOT missing and NOT barfing on yourself, not even your feet.  This must be like what it feels like to win a championship ring.  I mean truly, it was an amazing accomplishment.  My mid-puke celebration was cut short by Bom banging on the door telling me that we were about 1 minute away from the highlight of the trip.  I busted out of that door hunched over, hyperventilating and drooling and bounced from bench to bench like a pinball until I got to my final resting place on my bench.  I looked like the undead.  But after all that, I was not going to miss that damn bridge.

The bridge

The bridge

Ok so why does this railroad matter?  During WWII almost 100,000 Japanese POWs died building the Thai/Burma railway, including 6300 Brits, and 350 Americans (there’s actually a movie out right now called Railway Man about this, and an older movie called Bridge Over River Kwai).  The more staggering number is that about 90,000 of the deaths were forced Asian laborers.  So it has rightfully earned it’s name as the Death Railway.

I got one photo.

I got one photo.

After stopping here for a photo op, we got off the train and went into a small cave temple that was filled with Russians yelling at each other.  It was hot and smelly and I started to feel sick again. We walked to the town by the station to try to find our driver to take us to the Tiger Temple.  He told us that since it’s a temple, I had to have my shoulders covered and wear long pants.  Awesome, so it’s already 100 degrees and now I have to wear a second layer of clothes.  So we went into a little tourist trap shop and bought me some hippie pants and the only T-shirt that would fit across my boobs.  I layed on a bench outside for about 15 minutes because I thought I was gonna barf again, and I was correct.  After puke episode 2 and 3, the lady who took money at the toilet offered me some mystery pill that would “make me feel better”.  When I (politely) refused to take it, apparently I was being rude, then I puked again.

My first love....

My first love….

When I was finally in stable condition, we got in the back of a pick up truck and headed toward the temple.  I was so weak and shaking and delusional by this point, but so help me God, I was going to touch those tigers and maybe barf on one if it was the last thing I ever did.  The jok was not going to beat me.  We got to the temple and I donned my new outfit.  It wasn’t as much of a temple as it was an open air zoo… as in wild animals roaming all over the place with no cages.  It was actually kind of post-apocalyptic. Finally, the tigers.  They are “domesticated” and the monks take care of them.  Environmental freaker-outers: I have said this before in other posts about animals in captivity like this. Sure, it would be great for them to live in the wild.  However, living in the wild is not an alternative for these animals.  The alternative is death.  I would much prefer that they be alive in captivity so people can connect with them in a way that makes them want to actually protect the wild ones rather than turn them into a rug on some rich Chinese person’s floor.

Is this for real??

Is this for real??

Let’s take a look at this tiger’s face as I am about to barf on him…

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This tiger is not impressed

rawr.

rawr.

They have a handler who holds your hand and walks you to each one to pet them.  These animals are unbelievably strong.  To touch them and feel the power in their legs, even the little ones is really amazing.  They also are not soft like a cat.  They are solid muscle and their fur is coarse and grows very close to their body.  I got to pet like 10 tigers and barfed on 0.

Warning.

Warning.

After the tigers, we went back to the town and went to the war museum.  It’s so interesting to see a historical event from another culture’s perspective.  Everything was pretty old and dusty and not particularly well kept, but it was still interesting to see it all.

Bridge over River Kwai

Bridge over River Kwai

We walked across the famous bridge over River Kwai.  Some people might recognize the name from the famous movie in the 50’s that won best picture.  It actually wasn’t filmed here though…

This is in Thailand??

This is in Thailand??

At this point I had kept things down for about 4 hours so I attempted some watermelon.  Victory.  After strolling the town for an hour or so, we went to the war cemetery.  I had no idea that a European style WWII cemetery existed in Thailand.  I looked for the American graves but found out after the fact that their remains had been repatriated. All in all, it was a really interesting day of train riding, tigers, WWII history and despite some early losses, an ultimate victory against the jok.

Categories: Kanchanaburi, Thai Culture, Thai Jungle, Thailand | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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