Travel Report Pa La U – and Kaeng National Park                                                               August 2008

One of my trips took me to the south of Thailand, to the Kaeng Krachan National Park, to be more exact to Pa Lao U, 14 km away from the border to Myanmar, and in the Kui Buri National Park, aprrox. 70 km away from Prachup, Khiri Khan.

I took the bus from Chiang Mai to Hua Hin in the south of Thailand, to one of the most beautiful beaches in the gulf of Thailand, the king also resides here.

In Hua Hin I started looking for the next close by tourist office, which I found right by the bus station. One of the employees of the office told me that there is a resort in Baan Pa Lao U to stay overnight, and some restaurants to get something to eat.  Unfortunately she didn’t have any phone number, and the bus only goes in the morning hours down there, and an eventual trip back would only be possible in the morning of the next day. Alternatively I could rent a motorbike do the 75 km long trip myself. If I want to do that then I need to leave immediately, since the road crosses the national park and when the dawn sets, the elephants that live in the national park use the road, which means if I departed to get there and the resort is closed, I wouldn’t be able to return easily. I decided to rent a Honda dream 125 ccm from one of the numerous motorbike rental places, and immediately got on my way.  The rental price in Thailand is at about 150 to 200 Bhat, which is approx. 3-4 € per day including insurance.

Passed some paddy and pineapple fields, after 35 km I reached the forest and mountains. After 40 km I saw the first elephant dung on the side of the road, which meant they were not pulling my leg when they told me that the elephants use this road. A little bit later some upcoming signs reassured me this.  Dead scorpions and snakes in the middle of the road were signs that there was a rich fauna there. To be honest I have never before seen a road where so many snakes and black scorpions at the size of the palm of a hand were run over.

Just before dawn I reached the outskirts of town, where they had a market day. On the left hand side was the resort; it was open and still had accommodation. I rented a little bungalow 4x4 m with a bathroom, and a small terrace for about 500 Bhat, which is 10 € per day.

One of the co – workers told me that the elephants would come by at night, which I approved of with an inner smirk.  After I looked at my room, I went to the close by market, right next to it there is the office of the national park administration.  The marketplace had some snack bars and restaurants, many of them made of bamboo cane and bamboo netting, the roof consisted of mostly dry leaves, or a reed looking kind of grass. A lot of fruits were being sold. Pineapples, mangos, oranges, bananas and everything else you need for a simple life. Depending on the season, one kg of bananas or oranges cost about 20-30 cents which is about 10 to 20 Bhat.

 After visiting the market quickly, I went to the office of the national park. In an instant I got into a conversation with one of the officers who spoke English well. His name was Thongbai, he was 35 years of age, a civil servant and he was from Bangkok. Here in Pa La U he was teaching and supervising every 14 days the local farmers.  In what exactly I will talk about later. At first we talked about the Green Peafowls and Great Argus that used to inhabit this area a few years ago.

Aton, a civil servant who by now receives his retirement pension, also took actively part in the conversation. He told us that 30 years ago the whole area which consisted of rolling hills and a very beautiful course of a river was covered in lush jungle and the flora and fauna was still intact. There were many Green Peafowls then, Great Herons and other game birds still inhabiting that area. I couldn’t find any of that during my stay here; they were all gone due to hunting and illegal land robbery, or migrated over the nearby border to Myanmar.  Thongbai told me that he takes care of the elephants around here.  The elephants were put under nature protection after the king and the government had pressured them to do so.  The elephants would always try over and over again to cross the river valley on their old walking paths and at the same time would ravage the farmers’ crop out of anger about what the people had done to their land. The older one, Aton, told us in detail that the elephants come by from 10 o’ clock at night, break into the fields and play soccer with the pineapples. They root them out with their trunks, and kick them away. In more extreme cases they go and grab the stilts of the bamboo huts with their trunks and shake them strongly, which makes some of them collapse. Luckily no one has ever severely been damaged. It is certain that this is the elephants’ revenge for so many other elephants that were killed in the past.

Meanwhile a thunder storm was closing in, and the strong rainfall seemed like never ending, and the water was flooding the market. The sellers started putting the stalks of bananas under the terrace of the forest administration office, which did not interrupt our conversation .Thongbai from Bangkok then told me about his work. They convinced the farmers not to kill any elephants anymore. Every 200-300 m they had positioned security guards who keep watch under a thatched roof. A post consists of a few people who change their shifts nightly. Along a certain area they have so called “stumble-wires”, 3 of them which cause sirens and signal horns. In case that’s not enough in order  to frighten the elephants there is a 4th wire tightened which is connected to an electric fence with approx. 8000 V output voltage and low amperage (also known to us breeders in German as “Hütebub”, we use them as a defense against foxes and martens.) If this still shouldn’t be enough to keep the elephants away, the farmers are equipped with slingshots (in the Rhineland we call them “Flitsch”), so they can shoot at the elephants with them. Usually the electric fence is enough to keep the elephants away, but if big boss, a massive elephant bull wanders with the herd he destroys all the safety precautions, even the slingshots don’t impress him. All of this to me sounds very adventurous kind of like the fight between David and Goliath. I couldn’t really believe it.

Meantime it was 9:30 at night, the market stands were being dismantled as far as the rain would allow them to, and the people except for a few had all left to go home. It was also time for me to go to sleep. I said goodbye and made my way back to my bungalow.

After the long drive I had, I immediately fell asleep. At night, at about 11:30 I was woken up from a very loud noise, people were bawling and firecrackers exploded. At first I thought: what a nice greeting, but then I remembered the elephants and the conversation I had earlier. After 15 min. everything was over and I fell asleep again.

The next morning I made my way again to the forest administration office. Earlier I had made an appointment with one of the co- workers, whose father had given him the name “bird”. He wanted to show me a waterfall right by the border to Myanmar, and the jungle. At the office they told me that the elephants came to visit the market stand at night. They had crossed the lines and ate all the banana stalks that were put under the terrace. That’s where all the noise came from at night. You could recognize their route from the footprints they had left in the soaked soil. But other than the missing banana stalks and some chairs which were moved around, there was no other damage. Thongbai from Bangkok, who was also there, invited me to visit one of the posts of the security guards. With Bird I made my way to the waterfall. When we crossed the valley, which had a width of about 12km, I could see what the population had done to it. I understood the elephants and inwardly wished them good luck for their fight against the humans, since many areas lied fallow and were completely cut over. At the end of the valley the mountains and the jungle began and within the jungle the Pa La U waterfall. From far away you could already hear the gibbons and many birds chirping. Here the world seemed in order.  However, unfortunately there was still no trace of pheasants or peafowls anywhere. Maybe they live in Myanmar as “refugees”, just like the Karen, an ethnic group from Myanmar, who vice versa came to Thailand.

After we had visited the waterfall and a small part of the jungle, in which I also saw some snakes, amongst others a 4-5 m long python, I returned back to the village. In addition to the python I have to say that I had never touched a snake. But since I knew that it is a constrictor snake and I wasn’t by myself, I put my hand on the backmost end of the snake. With a loud hiss she turned her head towards her tail end in my direction. I pulled my hand and then my whole body back, phew, she was fast. Later in Chiang Mai I bought myself a book about snakes. In case you ever get bit, at least you can determine what kind of snake it was. Above all a cobra also crossed my way a little later.

They advised us not to go deeper and higher up into the jungle. There are still fights going on here and there between the drug mafia and the Thai army. Later on I’m going to look over that area from Burma, since there are some larger wildlife stocks in a wide compass to see there. 

At the break of dawn, I went to one of the security guards post.  There were 5 Thais sitting around a campfire, armed to the teeth with slingshots, sharing a bottle of beer, giving themselves Dutch courage. One of them showed me a little bit later the protection device which is made of electric and signal wires. 60 m from there the government had built a huge pond for the elephants to bathe in, approx. 150 x50 m big, I’m pretty sure as a substitute for the river which is not accessible anymore.

With a little bit of English, a little bit of Thai, and using our hands and feet we communicated. That’s how I found out that the elephants come here every evening around 9:30 to take a bath. We sat down by the water’s edge, but I had a queasy feeling. Was I really going to be able to see a wild elephant, that doesn’t live in one of the dozens of elephant camps? If so, perfect, if not it doesn’t matter either, my day was exciting enough.

With the rising of the darkness we returned to the post. Here I was told more stories about the elephants. In the meantime Thongbai had also arrived. That way I could witness how he briefed the farmers who had to be at their post in the evening hours and who were proud of their new tasks.

Around 11 o’ clock at night I left on my Honda Dream, again with a queasy gut feeling and made my way 3 km on a bumpy road back to my cottage. I hardly had made it to my bed, when I was startled from the noise of the slingshots and the yelling of the people of the village. I walked quickly, with only a towel around my waist, outside on the terrace. Here I could clearly hear the trumpeting of the elephants. In the light of a flashlight, which was shining from the street, I was able to see him: my first, wild, alive, elephant. Even if it was just a moment and from far away it was a nice feeling. This evening the elephants left as quickly as they came. Passing the fences they had “marched” on the main road into the village.

The next morning, after I had said goodbye to my new friends, I made my way back to Hua Hin. In my mind I was still reminiscing on the last few days. Suddenly, after 8 km, I was taking a turn; when a huge elephant was standing in the middle of the road. I slammed on the breaks, looked for the first gear, made a 180° turn, caught my breath and pulled out my camera. After 2 min. everything was over, and the elephant left silently back into the jungle. I was even able to take a picture and film for 20 sec. with shaking hands. I had come across 2 pickup drivers 15 min. earlier, who were waving to me in a friendly manner, flashing their lights but I didn’t take them seriously since nothing was happening until then. I was thinking “o how friendly they are”!!

These elephants you couldn’t compare to the ones held in captivity. His body was well nurtured and of big build, that’s how they were described to me. It was a beautiful substitute for the peafowls that I never saw.  On the rest of my way to Hua Hin I was twice as cautious. After I returned the Honda Dream, I made my way to the bus station. After waiting for 30 min. a bus took me from here to the South, to Prachup Khiri Khan, approx. 100 km away from Hua Hin at the price of 150 Bhat=3€.

In this place, which is yet not touristy developed, I stayed overnight in one of the few hotels for 800 Bhat= 12 €. But without breakfast, which is not offered in many hotels, or which has to be ordered separately. I was lucky, I could also rent a motorbike directly from the hotel.  The following morning around 6 o’ clock I left from here to get to the Kuri Buri national park which is located 70 km from here.

The park administration gave me willingly information on the animal population, which, by the way comes up to the one visited earlier. Just to name a few: Many birds, amongst them some hornbills, pheasants, junglefowls, leopards, tigers and elephants. Here they offered me a guided ride into the park to the watering place for the elephants at the price of 1000 Bhat, approx. 20 €. That’s a lot of money. Never had I paid so much just to get into a national park.  But I still took the offer, who knows if I will ever come along this way again. Meanwhile more people had joined us, which reduced the price for the vehicle. In a restaurant we waited until 3 o’clock for the pickup truck, we drove through the jungle which, the first 5 km consisted of lower trees. The reason was that the king and the government had stopped the land robbery. The farmers had to leave their land, grow the forest back and give it back to the elephants and the other animals. It was a very joyful sight to see, especially when I also got to see 2 elephants, in this new, or rather to them “old” home. After 3 km we reached a hill. There was a small building and some well –kept clean accommodation, not too far away from one of the elephants’ ponds. 3 civil servants watched over the flora and fauna. One of them showed us, a little further away on a forest glade a small herd of wild buffalos. There were about 15 of them with deep black, muscular bodies, the legs as if they had white socks on that we could see well from 350 m distance with binoculars which we brought in order to do so. A little bit later I could also hear the cark of the junglefowls, which should be species-pure since they are in a remote area. I didn’t hear any peafowls. They hadn’t been sighted before either, but instead there were pheasants, a kind that usually is not supposed to inhabit this area. They are the reason for me to come back here and stay in one of those little guesthouses. At 7 o’ clock the pickup truck took us back. With beautiful memories I made the rest of the trip on my Honda back to Prachup Khiri Kahn. The next day I visited a Wat, which had a small zoo, and an isolated yet beautiful beach.  The day after  I left from Bangkok to get back to Chiang Mai. For a trip like this one you need  7 days and costs of about 130 €.

Thanks Selly for translation