After that great spot at the info station near Wang Nam Kieaw I headed back west a little and north to wards Sai Tong Nat'l Park. Other than the people working there, I had the whole park to myself and spent 3 days in quietness and visiting some beautiful places nearby. One of which was a huge tree with lots of offerings all about it. I sat by that tree nestled in the forest twice for a good long while.
I haven't been buying water at my camps but rather using my water filter from the tap water. The water is very clear and clean I expect mostly coming from very pure sources but I filter it anyway just in case. I'm not using a 'Brita' type filter that you might use at home but a real camping one that takes out gueardia (sp?) and other bacterial things. So far so good. I figure that if it can filter the water out of a nasty old rank slough in Saskatchewan and not kill me, it'll be good for this as well.
So. A couple of peaceful days (peaceful being the main motivation of this journey it seems) there, I made my way to Phu Kradeung Nat'l Park and a somewhat less peaceful though quite fun stay. I was tenting at the base of the mountain for two days and decided that I should climb up on my second day. Usually people climb up, camp up top (you can hire porters to take your stuff) then come back down on the next day, but I sorta wanted to get the hell out to I went up and down in one day to the surprise and admiration of quite a few. I understand now as my leg muscles and joints are just now starting to feel like i could walk on them a good week later.
I walked 20 kms in total and 12 of those were either going up a, at times, very steep trail and then of course coming back down that damn thing after a half hour break for lunch (which was by far the most expensive meal for me so far - 200 baht/$6.50 - It may not sound like much to all you N. Americans and Europeans but earlier in the week I had grilled chicken, sticky rice and samtam for a whopping 40 baht. It was reasonable of course as all the food has to be carried up by aforementioned porters. I keep thinking that that was too much money for lunch, but legs keep telling me that I got a good deal of it.
From there it was off again, still in Leoi province to Phu Rua Nat'l Park 60 kms west of Loei town. Wher I got there there was only 1 tent up, soon to be 2 with mine. This was about 1 in the afternoon and by the time 5 rolled by with everyone off work, it being a friday, there were HUNDREDS!, of tents all over the place. It was like that for the 2 days that I was there. Basically, party time. It was fun, but I was glad to get out on my own on the road once again and on towards Phu Sai Dao Nat'l Park in Utaradit province and once again all on my own. Lovely.
At this stage I was bouncing along the Thai/Lao border and will continue to do so for quite a few more days.
This is pretty much out of way country and I often will bike along at my 60 km/hr for 30 or even 60 minutes without seeing another vehicle. I stayed 2 days over at Phu Sai Dao much to myself.
Now I find myself at Sri Nan Nat'l Park in Nan province. The motorbiking (a small 125cc manual bike that my brother Mike has lent me) has been absolutely spectacular following mountain roads winding their way north. As I crossed into Utaradit and northern Thailand I notice a real change in the landform. More forest, less large farms (as there were more of as I travelled along the western edge of Isaan/N.E. Thailand) This is the country of my dreams of which I have deep memories from my other, shorter, motorbike trips 2 and 3 years ago.
My friend Ong, of Compeung, suggested Nan as a place to journey to and I can't thank him enough for that suggestion. I keep thinking that if I do end up in Thailand that Nan could well be the place for me to be. I seem to be comforted by the thought that I could always hit the mountainous bush if things to completely awry and this place has that feeling in spades to me. I love it here.
Maybe I should mention things that might seem to counter what some people might have in their minds eye about what it is like in this part of Thailand. For one, it's been bloody freezing, especially at night. I'm sure there were some nights that got down close to freezing. Indeed, the recorded temps of the top of Phu Kradeung was a few degrees below zero. As I went up the mountain, one group coming down commented to their great delight that there was frost on the ground in the morning. People come to these places to experience cold. It is only now starting to worm up at night. Up until last night I was sleeping in a long sleeve wool undershirt, wool sweater, a touque (which I bought at Phu Kradeung) and a scarf and I was still pretty chilled at 4 in the morning even with my summer weight down sleeping bag.
The other thing is that because of the varying elevations there are times where I am surrounded by pine trees with a smell that reminds me of northern Ontario or the Alberta Rockies. Of course there are lots of other forest types as I go up and down that are all so very beautiful. Right now there are a lot of teak trees dropping their huge leaves to the ground soon to be bare. There is another tree dropping leaves when the wind comes up with small yellow twirling leaves settling to the ground in great washes. Lots of big bamboo groves as well that make an deep almost scraping sound against each other as a breeze shifts them a little here and there.
The sunsets here at Sri Nan are incredible with the sun quickly rising around 7 over 4 ridges of mountains to the east.
I've been camping at what might be a sort of overflow camp spot. It doesn't have the instant view of the upper place (it's only a nice 10 minute walk up which I have been doing at 6:30 in the morning to watch the sun rise) but it is quiet, with no lights or electricity and in a really beautiful, fairly open grove of trees with denser forest (jungle, one could say, though I seem to try to avoid that term applicable though it is. I think that there is too much weight put to that word from a 'western' context. As in, deepest, darkest Africa were the jungle looms mighty and where all living persons must quake in terror at the horrors that surely will befall them. You get the idea)
One of the park guys came by to explain that I could camp up top, but I said to him that I like it here. Peaceful and beautiful in the trees and cooler too in the mid day sun. I better mention that there conversations all take place in the beautiful Thai language which also means that they involve a lot of gestures, time for them waiting while I look in my phrase book to look up a word and then try to splice it into a sentence that makes some sort of almost sense. It's pretty fun and thank god that most Thai people have the most awesome patience. I have definitely been speaking more Thai than English over the last few weeks. These places that I have been going are pretty far off the tourist trail and almost all the visitors are people from Thailand enjoying their natural wonders.
I have been practising my Thai daily including learning to read and write. This latter part can come in very handy reading signs on the roads though I have to say that what usually happens is, being what you might call a slow reader, I see the sign and recognise one or two 'letters' before I blast by on my bike wondering what village in actually is. Mostly it works out fine though on the way here I blasted by and ended up adding 70 minutes to my trip. So all in all my Thai language skills are progressing well and if you happen to have a microscope handy it would be readily apparent to all who happen to be reading this diatribe.
One caveat on this subject. Though I have great faith that things work out in the long run, I am actually finding that over the last fews days my Thai skills are getting worse. Way worse. I hope that this is not a trend.
So tomorrow, I'm off to Nan city where I'll post this for a couple of days then heading north to end up at Mae Sai to activate my 2nd entry visa and then heading back south towards Chiang Mai.
p.s. as always please excuse any mistakes and awkwardnesses in this post. I am, after all, writing on my phone (though I do have a keyboard) and at this stage I can't be bothered reading over what I just wrote. So there. xox