January 25, Day 3: Pak Chong
Yet again, I woke early as today it was time for me to leave Bangkok and begin my journey to Pak Chong. I took the skytrain to the Moh Chit BTS station, but then still had to make my way to the Moh Chit bus station, which was a ways away from the BTS station. I hailed a taxi, and then asked the driver, successfully, in Thai, take me to the bus station. I got to the bus station and then headed inside to buy a ticket.
The guesthouse I was traveling to told me to buy a bus ticket from window 4-50. Most places in Bangkok had English as well as Thai on signs, so I thought I wouldn’t have a problem finding a window in which to buy a ticket. When I showed up, I realized I was wrong.
After staring for a few minutes, a man approached spouting Thai. I just said Pak Chong, which was the town I was headed to. He ushered me to a window. Again, the lady spouted off in Thai and I again said Pak Chong. She then showed me how much (150 Baht, less than $5) and a timetable. I bought a ticket, grabbed a quick breakfast, and boarded the bus.
The bus itself was more luxurious than I expected- plush seats and an interior that curiously had a repeating Statue of Liberty pattern.
There was also a toilet on board and they passed out water and snacks to the passengers. When we left the station the bus was nearly empty but as we pulled into stations north of Bangkok it began to fill quickly.
After attempting to leave the bus of the wrong station, I finally arrived in Pak Chong. The station consisted of a ticket counter and a few bucket seats along the main road. I handed over a piece of paper that had the Thai translation of “I need to call this number so they will pick me up.” A woman used her cell phone to call for me and I was told to wait. Five minutes later a driver picked up and took me to the lodge.
The Greenleaf Guesthouse, listed as a top pick in the Lonely Planet, is located right along the busy highway, but the simple rooms are in the back along a peaceful garden. For 200 Baht I got a private room bathroom with electricity, a fan, and cold water.
After I checked in, I had lunch at the lodge restaurant and then met other travelers in our group: four Englishmen, one Canadian, one South Korean and myself. We packed into the open air back of a truck and then headed off for a half-day tour.
Our first stop was at a spring for a swim, an area that was packed with locals. The women were told that it is Thai custom for women to swim with aT-shirt over the swimsuit, so I jumped in with my shirt on. We swam for about 20 minutes (I sculled the whole time to try to squeeze in a workout!) then headed back to the van.
After a long, dusty ride, we reached a monastery. Our guide explained that there is a cave here that the monks used. We excitedly descended into the cave and were greeted by a giant Buddha. We spent nearly an hour there and saw three species of bats as well as spiders, centipedes, and other cave creatures. I was in a biologist’s heaven.
After the cave we got back on the truck for another long, dusty ride.
We were headed to the entrance of the cave that housed over 1 million bats. We arrived just in time. As we were walking our guide shouted “they’ve started!” We looked up and saw a line of bats overhead. Suddenly the sounds were nearly deafening. The whoosh of the wing beats of thousands upon thousands of bats permeated the sky. Opportunistic hawks swooped in and out of the river of bats, plucking individuals with their claws and taking them to nearby trees to devour. The bats moved with the wind and it was utterly fascinating to watch the bat ballet. We watched for nearly 20 minutes as the stream of bats ebbed and flowed and danced across the sky.
And then, suddenly as it began, it stopped. We made our way back to the lodge and I dined on green curry with fellow travelers while we drank beer and swapped stories. Just a truly amazing day.
January 26, Day 4: Pak Chong
Having not run one bit since I came to Thailand, I was beyond antsy to pound out a few miles. Figuring the major highway would be calmer in the early morning, I decided to give it a go. I set my alarm early and anxiously waited for just enough light to hit the road. I began on the major road and then turned up side road. It reminded me a lot of Hawaii- roads where if you think about it you realize that if you died no one would find your body for days, but if you didn’t think about it becomes a peaceful experience.
I slogged out four easy miles and happily returned to the lodge for breakfast before departing for our daylong tour.
We boarded the same open-air truck as the previous day and drove to the Khao Yai National Park. Since it was a weekend, it was packed with locals- more crowded than I expected. We drove to a lookout site to snap some photos, then headed to the interior for some trekking. During our multi hour hike we saw Macaques, a Blue Bearded Bee-eater, Great Hornbill, Black Giant Squirrel, and a White-lipped pit viper.
We ate a simple lunch on the trail of rice, vegetables and tofu that the guesthouse prepared for us, then continued on our journey. We stopped at the waterfall but were underwhelmed by the combination of crowds of tourists and lack of water (I guess that’s what you get for visiting a waterfall in the dry season).
We then drove around a few more hours trying to find elephants but were unsuccessful, and ended our day with dinner and more beer at the guesthouse.
I had to figure out how to get from Pak Chong to Chiang Kong, my destination before crossing into Laos. After a lot of discussion with the guesthouse staff, and nearly booking a ticket for Chiang Khan, which would have put me in a very different part of Thailand, I finally determined my route: 1 hour bus to Khorat then a 16h bus to Chiang Rai and then a 3h bus to Chiang Kong.
I stayed up late giving biology lessons to some of the guides and made plans with a guide for a private tour of another Bat cave the following day since my bus didn’t leave until the afternoon.