Thailand: Lizards, elephants and primates!

Two posts for the price of one because we’ve had a busy week and I’m too OCD to put two counties in the same blog because they wouldn’t fit in the country categories! We’re having loads of fun and have already covered a lot of miles. We’re trying to adjust to the crazy weather: cloudy one minute, blazing sun the next, rain the next. Sometimes the rain lasts 2 minutes, sometimes 2 hours, flooding far and wide, and turning the roads into rivers!

So…here’s a bit about a rainforest trek/safari we did in Khao Yai National Park, Thailand last week, courtesy of Chris and Margaret, Suzannah and Lee. We were in a jeep-like vehicle with 6 other people and we were given leech socks to put on. The mood was low due to the awful weather, a 30 minute time-kill in the visitor centre and a rather incommunicative guide who left us standing in the rain for a good 20 minutes.

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We saw a few animals from the jeep: deer, hornbills (telescope required) and macaques. Once we started trekking, we soon found 2 green pit vipers, highly dangerous snakes, one of which had just eaten his lunch!

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There was also a large spider in its web hanging over the path (look away Scog!)!

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The guide seemed to only know the names of three trees: cinnamon, fig and sandalwood, the last of which is often poached. He showed us where the fig tree had strangled other trees. Here are a few pictures to give you an impression of the surroundings:

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It’s hard work concentrating on where to put each foot (and hand at times), especially in trainers so after a while, it was good to stop for a leaf full of sticky purple rice and a waffle-like thing containing sweetcorn. Then on we wandered, stopping every few minutes for the guide to listen for sounds of hornbills. Eventually, the sound of fruit or nuts dropping from a great height led us to a family of gibbons, some white, some black. We watched them for a while as the swung and grazed through the trees. Amazing! This is why I’m lugging my massive zoom lens around all year!

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Oh and here are some bear claw marks!

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I spent the lunch break lamenting the state of my wedding shoes (and removing leeches from them)!

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Next we drove quite a way to a waterfall. Rainy season seemed to mean the waterfall was very powerful but also full of mud. Not particularly wanting to photograph the water, I wandered off to see what else I could find. First I found some hairy black and yellow caterpillars, then a really big water monitor lizard which appeared from hiding to graze in the sun after the rain. He kept sticking his huge black tongue out to taste the air.

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Then I spotted a pink dragonfly, one of the most common insects we’ve seen so far, often in swarms!

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Back at the top viewing platform, I was already feeling like quite a successful wildlife spotter when I found a camouflaged brown praying mantis!

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Back in the van we drove incredibly fast so we assumed that the guides had received a tip off about the most desired sighting of the trip: wild elephants. The journey continued for some time, speeding along with the driving rain drenching Dean and I who had the mixed blessing of the end positions on each of the benches. I say mixed because, although wet and sometimes fearing we’d fly off the back on a sharp bend, we also had front row seats when we finally found an elephant! He appeared from some bushes, ate a few leaves by the side of the road and then returned to the bushes. We jumped out of the jeep and ran to a place we could see him from, thinking that brief encounter would be all. Amazingly, he decided to turn around and come back out to the road! This meant we had to leg it and pile back into the jeep at very close proximity to him. All very exhilarating! We then had the quickest few minutes ever, photographing and gazing at the majestic beast as he grazed and wandered at the roadside. We’ve seen a lot of elephants on our travels; we’ve ridden them, washed them, stood next to them for photos and watched them for hours. But there’s something much more exciting about being so close to such a massive creature who isn’t tethered, chained or subject to a whip or a stick from his mahout. An incredible experience all in all!

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