After awhile, let’s talk about camping again, in Thailand again. It was March and it was hot and dry. I was determined to go out to nature after inhaling city air of Bangkok for quite sometimes (too long) after my last outdoor trip. Go to nature for me mainly means going camping. There were some interesting reviews about this place called Sam Lan National Park in the internet, a place of which my Thai colleagues knew nothing about. It was said that the place offered camping ground, lakes, and waterfall. The latter was the one that I would question later on. Attracted by the cluelessness of my friends and the lakes and waterfall, I took a train and headed there, didn’t really know how to get to the site after reaching Saraburi train station two-and-a-half hours later.
It turned out that train was not a correct mode of transport I should take. I mean, yes, the train took me to the city of Saraburi. But from there, I had no choice but had to take motorbike taxi to the national park office. That was what the motorbike taxi driver told me. Well, with my little Thai vocabularies, what could I do? So one of the drivers took me to the national park and made me pay for THB 200. Later, I knew that there was actually songtheaw (truck to carry humans) for as much as THB 20, from near bus station to near national park. I would have taken that one if I knew it earlier. Of course I would’ve also taken a bus if I knew it.
But the THB 180 difference was almost paid off by two things: the freedom of seeing around while back riding on the motorbike, and the short duration of the bike trip to the national park office (that I wouldn’t get from songtheaw). There were parts where we passed a large military base, the temple on top of a hill with monkeys around, inclining road with woods on both sides which eventually took us to the gate of the national park.
As always, first thing first: bargaining to get local admission fee (which is one-fifth lower than foreigner admission fee). Having ready with the copy of my working permit and few key Thai sentences for the situation, I made it. So, it was THB 40 and I was ready to camp overnight.
The lake was smallish, unlike the one in Kaeng Krachan National Park. It was about half kilo in length and some 200 meters in width. I thought it was a natural pond, yet it was indeed. The convenient road was on one side of the length, the one that I passed through. On the other side of the lake l could see 4 or 5 bungalows, enough for 6-8 people each, I later concluded. On the further side was the beach with grass on the open area and trees surrounded the curved beach. That, it seemed, the camping ground. No one was camping there though.
There were hills around the area beautifying the scenery. I walked through the asphalts road deeper to the forest and left the lake behind for awhile. It is my habit to survey the situation before I settle. At the end of the road, I found building and a military bus parked in front of it. It was then clear that the place was actually a military facility but was opened for public. I was just hoping that there were no bullets flying around the area.
I walked back to the lake. There were families with children swimming. I cruised pass them and found a quieter spot to set my tent. After having a meal (cracker and water), then I lifted my carrier and walked back into the jungle, deeper than the army bus was parked. The mission was to find the waterfall. A map of the national park from the office was now my guide.
I wasn’t too surprised to find another lake. It was there on the map. This one I found after about only 15 minutes walking was bigger than the first one (at the camping ground) with stones neatly arranged on the shore line. The water was dark. The darkness gave me impression that the water was deep, or, undrinkable. No one was there. I chose a shady place facing the water, sit there, and was slept..
I woke up and the day was hotter, about 35 degrees, I supposed. The water in the bottle was running out and it was time for me to find a running water to fill the bottle. So the next quest was the waterfall. I followed the track in the drying forest. The track was wide enough for a car to pass through. So following the trail meant exposing myself to the heat of the sun as the trail headed to the west. The last drip from the bottle fell to my tongue, not sure if it was then going to my throat. The need of finding natural water had suddenly taken over the purpose of the trekking.
A few hot minutes later (felt like hours, actually), I was stunned. There was a used to be body of water that few months ago, in the rainy season, called as waterfall. But this one, no water was falling. The body of water had dried almost completely. The trapped water on the ex-river base looked dark. It was not running and not enticing for drinking. But wait, I saw something blinking there on the hollow wall of the ex-waterfall. It were drops of water and looked save to drink. So I collect the water in the bottle for minutes (like hours) and the patience was paid off. A full bottle of drips of water was carefully placed in the bag and became the most precious treasure of the midday trekking.
I read the map. It said that if I followed the trail, then I would come back to the first lake but from the other side. So I followed it. Really, it was not like my trekking in Kao Yai jungle with thick canopy covering the track overhead, this one was like a Sahara trip with thin layer or almost none of leaves on both sides of the track leaving the track literally exposed. I questioned myself, did I make a mistake by coming here this time around?
To reduce the effect of the heat (even it was falling to afternoon, it was still hot!), I stopped and took shade often. With water supply running low, I started to think to go back to where I came from. There was no clue on the simple map where I was and how long again the track would end. The situation was actually amusing on one side. I mean, I started to feel like, man, this is a real situation where I have no water and have no clue when I can drink a lot! Maybe this is what I expect, stranded in the jungle with no water with me. I then started to recall how Les Stroud and Bear Gryll managed to find water I the wild and was ready to imitate the techniques.
When I was thinking of that, I saw something on the ground in front of me: wheel track. The initial conclusion was that civilization is around the corner. So I walked forward to figure out if the conclusion was right. It was indeed. Amazingly, I saw a jeep parked in front a building which turned out to be the building at the trekking start point. The military bus was still there. There was tap water and I was saved.
I was back to my tent and found that the lake was quiet that late afternoon. The people had gone. It was now just me camping there. After praying in the open, I kicked back on the grass and enjoy the serene surroundings. The Sahara was left behind, the water drama was gone, and now it was cool and heavenly. Nothing to worry about, I told myself.
Night fell fast. I made fire and cooked noodle and made a cup hot tea (teabag was available in my backpack). It was the point of camping: in the dark, watching the reflection of the crescent on the lake surface, enjoying food you make on the open fire in the light and warmth of the fire itself, while listening to the crickets singing their monotone songs. Beautiful night.
When I was ready to sleep, a funny thought slipped in. How if the lake has a monster Loch Ness? How if it finds me sleeping in the tent in his territory? Will there be an epic battle between me and him? It’s gonna be great, I thought. Too bad I didn’t meet the Loch Ness in my dream, and in the reality, that night.
The morning was magical at this place. The calm water, the bodhi trees (Ficus religiosa), other trees (the trees looked greener here near the lake compared to those in the forest), the hills, the grass, the temperature, everything was prominent. It is so quiet, so peaceful, and the whole drama the day before: the relatively expensive motorbike taxi, the disappointing diminishing drying water-not-fall, the shortage of water to drink, was all wiped out by this magical moment. The morning, I conclude, was the strongest part of the whole experience. It was weird I said that, because I was just sitting there when I made that conclusion, not in the epic energy consuming trekking or in the adrenaline rush caused by elephant or crocodile sightings.
I closed the morning by swimming in the lake. Loch Ness was nowhere to be seen and there were no Jeremy Wade’s river-monsters, so I came back to shore one piece. The calories burnt in the swimming across the lake caused me starving. The biscuits didn’t serve the hunger well. So I looked around there if someone offered som-tam (papaya salad; Carica papaya) and pladook (roasted catfish; Ictalurus Punctatus I suppose). Please note that it was not a survival trip, so I was ready to buy food, not to catch one. There was a canteen building nearby, but no one and no food in sight.
So I came to the park officer and told her that I need food. She said there was a village near here where I could find foods. How could I come there? I asked. She paused a moment, reached her walky talky and talked to it in Thai. A moment later, a man on a motorbike came. I could catch the talk that the woman told the man that the farang (foreigner) needed food and you should bring him to village. He nodded and we went to the village.
Minutes later, I got my som-tam, pladook, and happily got rambutan (hairy fruit with scientific name of Nephelium lappaceum) as well. The kind national park officer took me back to the park. I said thanks and handed THB 50, but he refused and smiled politely. I insisted and he took it. Moment later, I had my superb somtam breakfast on the grass while enjoying the beauty of the nature.
I spent the whole morning near the water reading Three Cups of Tea (again) and when the midday approached, I was ready to head back to Bangkok. I got info from the park staff that I could take songtheaw from nearby village. I could walk to the village which actually the one I bought my brunch. It took me about a quarter hour to get to the village and there I saw a big red truck at a temple’s parking lot with few people on the back. After checking with the driver, I hopped on the back and waited for fifteen minutes before the truck moved slowly to Saraburi.
The truck stopped not at the bus station but at its own waiting spot in front of shops on the Saraburi’s main road. I couldn’t recall the name of the road, but I guess it was Pahonyotin road which led to Bangkok. From there I walked few minutes to the bus station, and my trip was practically over.
Conclusion is, this place is nice for camping as long as there is no crowd around. You can see it from the picture I post in this blog. But if that’s the case, we can still ‘hide’ from the crowd at the farthest corner of the lake but we’ll miss the view of the lake. For best experience to see the lush of the forest and the falling water at the waterfall, try the time after monsoon has finished. We don’t want to camp in the rain and don’t expect to dehydrate in the dry season. Monsoon finishes in October so we can come there in November or December. January is probably still good. Avoid April as this is the hottest month in the country. Better to spend April downtown Bangkok shooting water to people with your water gun in Songkran Festival.
There are 2 or 3 trails in the national park. All are medium in length so you can actually explore all of them of you have good time management. Weekend is actually enough. I’m not sure if fishing is allowed, but I did see an abandoned fishing line at the second lake. As far as I concern, hunting and fishing are prohibited in Thailand’s national parks.
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