Monkey business at Khao Yai National Park.
Great Thailand Adventure: Into The Wild
Morning brought with it a chill I had never associated with Thailand, and our guide, Jip, already waiting for us as we were finishing up breakfast. Tours normally comprised 6-8 people, but fortuitously, Daniel and I were the only ones who had booked a tour that day.
So off we sped, with Jip popping from the passenger’s seat into the back of the pickup just as we entered the gates of Khao Yai National Park. He handed us leech socks (Not essential during the dry season, but I was taking no chances) and then perched on a narrow ledge that extended behind the pickup to spot wildlife for us.
Jip completely fit the bill of a trekking guide. Stout, tanned and rugged, his cheeks and eyes creased with laugh lines as he bantered with us in impressive self-taught English. He wore layers of black shirts adorned with colourful indigenous patterns and chain-smoked throughout the day, but he knew the jungle like the back of his hand. Perhaps most telling was the fact that the index finger on his right hand was missing its topmost digit. We never got to ask him why.
In my head I had conjured up images of Jip battling the elements in his younger days, losing part of his finger in the process, a reasonable tradeoff in a bet with Nature. I think part of me wanted to keep that illusion intact. After all, when Jip stopped the driver at an unmarked spot along the road and declared that it was where we would begin our trek, we had no choice but to trust in his survival skillz.
I had imagined the treks to be similar to the mandatory cross country runs I had been subjected to in secondary school - tramping merrily along a path well-worn by countless joggers. But Khao Yai had other plans. There was no path to speak of, and only by keeping close behind Jip, who hurried along at an alarmingly quick pace, did we manage to avoid getting lost. Jip held no map, and there were no route markers of any sort in the jungle. To this day it befuddles me how he knew his way around, taking sharp turns along the way and leading us up and down the undulating terrain.
The ground was shrouded in orange brown leaves that crackled under our feet. Jip’s boots, dusty and well-worn, seemed far more suited to the jungle than my Vans shoes, which had never seen nature beyond the grass that lined Singapore’s pavements. Using our arms to brush away spidery branches that leaned across our path, we trooped along.
We were to complete three treks that day; apart from sighting a pair of squirrels in the treetops through Jip’s trusty telescope, we saw no other animals in the first trek. When the trail ejected us back onto the main road where our driver was magically waiting for us, I was relieved and rather happy to be back on four wheels.
We drove on for a while, then Jip stopped the pickup again. “Do you want to see a crocodile?” he asked. Of course we did.