Stickman Readers' Submissions July 23rd, 2008

Time out – Part 2

Rain, normally, is something which is a guaranteed occurrence between the months of June and October on the west coast of Thailand. Looking out of the hotel room window I could see that the mountains to the east were largely cloud free. It was a surprisingly clear morning and hopefully we would be in for a good day.

The breakfast was another buffet type affair with just about everything on offer in a state ranging from lukewarm to cold. I looked at the congealed fried eggs sitting on a plate and decided that some cereal and toast might be a better option. There was another farang eating his breakfast, the first I’d seen in a couple of days, so we sat down at the table next to him and I struck up a conversation. He was another expat residing in Bangkok and, much like myself, was taking some time out from the big smoke, with his Thai girlfriend, to have a look at some of the scenic beauty of the country. Unlike me though, he was being a bit more adventurous when it came to getting to the attractions in the area. He’d come down from Bangkok in a car and was, at that very moment, checking a map to decide on his travel routes for the day. It probably wouldn’t, in hindsight, be all that difficult as I’d noticed, on the day before, that most of the roads and tourist attractions were signposted in Thai and English. I wished him luck and we made our way down to the lobby to wait for the arrival of our tour guide.

Our guide and taxi arrived at 0930 a.m., only today it wasn’t a twenty something female that would be showing us around, it was a forty something Thai male. Introductions were completed and we were on our way. Our destination this time was an area tucked in against the mountains, inland and to the south of Trang. There were three or four waterfalls bunched together with the furthest, and our first stop, being about 45 clicks from town.

On the road heading out of town the driver pointed out the residence of Chuan Leekpai, the former Thai Prime Minister. Chuan had a sizable property; approximately ten rai (according to our driver) which was still well within the city limits. Apparently, Chuan was a fairly low key figure these days and, if you can believe the wealth of info coming from the driver's lips, wasn’t really considered very much of a mover and shaker in the business of government anymore. In fact, according to our insightful driver again, Chuan wasn’t really held in much regard at all because the only thing that he seemed to tell the local constituency, during his time in office, was to plant more rubber trees. Well it certainly worked because, from what I’d seen during my brief time in the province, there were rubber trees for as far as the eye could see. These days, once again according to our very knowledgeable driver, (ex) dear leader (aka Thaksin) was still the man of the people; he was the guy that had gotten things done. When I enquired what it was that (ex) dear leader had done, the only thing that the driver could think of was that there were now more shopping malls. I didn’t want to get into a discussion about (ex) dear leaders’ tax evasion skills so I just looked out the window, watched the rubber trees gliding past and thought about something the girlfriend had confided in me yesterday. The ‘ahaan talay’, we’d eaten down at Pak Meng Beach, had been a lousy meal and a rip off, for the price charged, and I’d felt compelled to do the disgruntled farang thing – voice my disapproval. The girlfriend advised me not to as ‘Thai people in south not friendly like Thai people in north and that, if I make ‘plomplem’, maybe they boxing you’. Furthermore ‘south people jai lai’. When I asked where the friendliest people in Thailand are living; the answer I was given was hardly surprising, considering that she originally hails from that part of the country – it’s Isaan of course (how silly of me to even have to ask that question).

Ton Te Waterfall

The road rose steadily into a mountainous area as we got closer to our intended destination. There were some picturesque little villages scattered amongst the rubber plantations and the increasingly denser vegetation. Everywhere was green and lush due to the recent heavy rains. The road started to narrow noticeably and then we saw a sign saying ‘Nam Tok Ton Te’. The driver turned to the right and, after another two clicks, we were there. There was a gate which was locked and the place was deserted. The driver told us that the government wouldn’t provide money for the upkeep of the area and, therefore, no staff could be employed to take care of the place. We ducked under the gate and walked towards the river. Looking around I could see that everything, pretty much, was in a state of disrepair and overgrown. There were picnic tables that were lying broken and corroded.

With the driver leading the way, we walked on towards the starting point of a paved path which ran parallel to the stream and rose steadily up into the jungle. I stopped to take in the surroundings. Apart from the sounds of the jungle – the cicadas and birds – and the sound of water flowing steadily downstream, the place was absolutely silent. It was brilliant. There was no man made noise at all to be heard – no vehicle noise, no loud Thai music and no loud Thai voices yelling at each other. I just stood there and soaked it up. My appreciation of this quiet moment was broken when, out of nowhere, a young Thai male came bounding down the trail looking like he’d seen a ‘Pii’ (ghost). The driver asked him what the problem was and it transpires that he’d seen a large snake lying across the pathway, further up, and had decided to turn back because he was ‘glua’ (scared). On hearing this, the girl immediately latched onto my arm in a state of fear. The ease with which a state of fear can be invoked in a Thai is almost something akin to the Australian Aboriginal and their ‘pointing of the bone’. You’ve only got to mention large snakes, or ghosts for that matter, and there’s an immediate psych out. I just stood there wondering why this young bloke didn’t just apply a bit of common sense and simply pick up a rock, or a stick, and shoo the bloody thing off the track.

The young fellow moved off towards the park exit and we had a bit of a conference. The driver was trying to convince the girlfriend that it might not be a good idea to continue up the trail because, if the snake was still there, it would be ‘antarai’ (dangerous). After a bit of negotiating we moved on up the trail. I told them that I’d go first and take a big stick with me just in case we see the snake. Obviously, that was agreeable to them – much better to have the silly farang bitten rather than one of them. After another three hundred meters, and no sign of a snake anywhere, the paved pathway gave way to an overgrown dirt trail. I pushed on with my intent being to work my way up to the head of the waterfall. About ten meters up the trail I heard the word ‘teeruk’ – spoken in that tone which Thai women reserve for those times when you know that there’s, more than likely, not much chance of compromise. I stopped and looked back to see them standing at the beginning of the dirt trail.

‘Driver say not much to see up there teeruk’. ‘Dern mai dee teeruk’. I walked back towards her and resigned myself to the fact that there was no chance of getting her to go on. The driver was beginning to annoy me. He was becoming more of a ‘tour restrictor’ than a tour guide. He was a Thai male that had got himself into a nice comfortable line of work where he didn’t have to over exert himself or get his hands dirty. He wore nice clothes each day and he was a bloody dandy. The idea of getting hot and sweaty, while pushing up an overgrown jungle trail, was the furthest thing from his mind for the day. I was in that frustratingly no win situation that we (farang) so often find ourselves in, when paying for a product or a service in this country, and things aren’t up to scratch. You can bellow, rant and rave all you want but if the Thai digs his, or her, heels in there’s not much you can do about it.

I wasn’t beaten yet though. It was about a ten meter drop down the bank towards the stream and there was a bit of a trail leading down. I pushed a branch aside and started to work my way down to the stream. The girlfriend said ‘bai nai’ but I didn’t answer as I’d had enough of their Thai procrastination and it was time to get wet and grubby. Where I come from – New Zealand – the whole point of going to a waterfall is that you try to climb up the bloody thing as far as possible because, at the end of the day, that’s the only way that you’ll be able to get some decent photos.

I got to the edge of the stream and looked back up to them. The driver had decided to sit down on a log and have a cigarette. The girlfriend, being originally from Nongkhai and a country girl at heart, saw that a bit of adventure would be ‘sanook’ and started working her way down the bank towards me. A couple of minutes later she was standing next to me, smiling, and just said ‘farang baa’.

We moved off, rock hopping across the stream. A lot of the rocks had moss on them and they were slippery. I decided that the best approach was to get into the stream and that way get a firmer footing. Unfortunately I underestimated the depth of one of the pools and went in up to my waist. Eventually we worked our way across to a large expanse of exposed flat rock, sitting in the middle of the stream, with small waterfalls above and below it. We sat down on a rock in the middle of the wide expanse of the stream bed and took in the surroundings. It was the natural beauty of Thailand at its best. It made me realise that there’s so many good things about this country that a lot of blokes just don’t get to see, or know about. Each to their own of course but, for me, being in some smoked filled beer bar getting inebriated while some third rate slapper goes to work on you for her rent money, just doesn’t measure up any more.

I took out the camera, fired off a few shots and then we started back towards the trail. The driver was still sitting there puffing away when we came up the river bank. I was still dripping wet from my unplanned swim in the stream and was thankful that I’d bought an extra pair of shorts along. We moved off back down the trail towards the parking area.

Our next location, according to our driver, was about twenty minutes back up the road towards Trang.

Phrai Sawan Waterfall

The parking area at Nam Tok Phrai Sawan had a number of ramshackle food vendors stalls. They were made of the usual rusty corrugated roofing iron and rough hewn posts. No one was in attendance as; once again, it was the wrong time of year (the low season).

There was a wide track which followed the course of the river and rose up into the peaks. It was wide enough for a vehicle to drive on so it was, more than likely, being used on a regular basis. There were rubber plantations bordering the track on the opposite side of the river bed. I asked the driver how far it was up to the waterfall and was told it was ‘about two and a half kilometers’. I was keen to get on with it as it was an easy walk and we could get there in reasonable time. We hadn’t gone more than a kilometer when I heard that dreaded ‘teeruk’ again.

I’d heard the driver rabbiting on about something and was in no doubt that he’d, once again, planted some ridiculous idea in the girlfriend's brain to subvert my enthusiasm for walking the full length of the track. I turned back and looked at her. She explained that the driver had told her that it wasn’t safe to go too far up the track. I was expecting to be told that there were dangerous beasts, or wild animals, to be encountered. What she next told me was complete and utter bloody nonsense and I was getting to the point where I was just about ready to run our driver off. It turns out that he’d convinced her that there were a lot of bad people living in this area and that, if we went too far up the track, a gang could catch us, rape her and kill all of us. This driver was, to put it bluntly, your typical example of a lazy Thai male. The bottom line was that he didn’t want to over exert himself by walking too far for the day. It was time to change tactics and stay in front of our driver's schemes for doing as little as possible. It was time to put him on the spot. I asked the girlfriend to ask him where we can go to see one waterfall. The thought processes clicked into gear and we were told ‘Nam Tok Sai Rung’. I turned, gestured back down the track and said that I wanted to go there now.

On the way we had a change of plan. The driver asked if we’d like to go for lunch first. It was getting near enough to midday and, I figured, he must be absolutely famished from his strenuous morning. He said he’d take us to a nice Thai restaurant at the top of the road that goes over the mountain to Phattalung. It sounded like a good idea so I said ‘yeah, why not’.

The road was the main artery which, pretty much, joins the west coast area of Trang to the east coast. At the top of the pass was a nice outdoor style Thai restaurant, built completely of timber, looking out over the jungle.

The food was the normal Thai fare with a couple of interesting jungle dishes available to try if you were feeling adventurous. I was feeling adventurous so I ordered the ‘pad phed gop (fried spicy frog)’ and the steamed wasp larvae. The ‘gop’ was another fiery southern dish which had me reaching for the jug of iced water with every couple of mouthfuls. The wasp larvae were woody and bland. There was an interesting display board, at the restaurant's entrance, showing very old black and white photos of the construction of the original road over the pass. The photos were taken one hundred plus years ago and showed various stages of the road building with the king, of the day, being involved.

Sai Rung Waterfall

After the lunch break we drove back down the road we’d come up on and after a twenty minute journey we arrived at Nam Tok Sai Rung. It was a short walk from the car park to the edge of the stream. On the way I spotted a sign which had been the same as I’d seen at the previous two waterfalls. There were photos of an over flowing river and what looked like people in various modes of a rescue operation. I couldn’t read Thai to save myself so I asked the driver what the signs were. He told us that they were warning/danger signs for flash floods. Apparently, about two years earlier, a lot of people, including tourists, had lost their lives when unseasonal rains had created flash floods. Thirty two people had died and the greatest loss of life was right here at Sai Rung. It wasn’t hard to understand why. The stream is bordered by steep banks and it’s only a short hop to the main waterfall which, unlike the gradual gradients of the previous two we’d been to, rose high and steep out of the gulley. He then pointed out a bull horn that was sitting on top of a tall wooden pole. It was meant to be a warning device in case of flash flooding. In my estimation anyone who was wandering up the gulley would have all of about thirty seconds to try and scramble up to higher ground if the siren ever went off. Flash floods move very rapidly and it’s highly doubtful if a thirty second warning would do much good.

Due to the steepness of the sides of the gulley I could see that the trail probably didn’t go too far. We followed it for about one hundred meters and it petered out to a dead end next to the stream. There was a bit of a clearing there so the girlfriend and the driver sat down seemingly knowing that I was going to push on. I stepped out into the stream and saw that I already had a reasonable view of the waterfall which was only a couple of hundred meters further up. There were some fairly fast flowing rapids and a lot of large boulders to be negotiated to be able to get up to a large rock plateau further up. I waded through a thigh deep pool and clambered up onto a slippery rock. There wasn’t much in the way of toe holds so I removed my sandals to afford a better grip. After a few more minutes of slipping and sliding over rocks, and wading through rock pools, I was up on the plateau.

I thought about pushing on to the pool, which I knew would be at the base of the waterfall, but decided not to, purely for safety reasons – I was out of sight of the girlfriend and the driver. I banged off a couple of photos and sat down for a while to appreciate the surroundings. I was hot, sweaty and wet but it had been worth the effort. There was a small pool there so I stripped off and jumped in and thought that a cold Heineken would’ve gone down nicely.

The climb back down was the reverse of the ascent with lots of slipping, sliding and the picking up of a few grazes for good measure. I arrived back at the clearing and checked my watch; I’d been gone about forty minutes and I was dripping wet. The girlfriend looked at me and just said, once more, ‘farang baa’. We moved off towards the parking area and I told the driver that we’d go back to the hotel.

Despite the driver's lack of enthusiasm for taking us all the way up the trails, I’d had reasonably decent day out in the end. We’d visited some really scenic spots and had an interesting lunch. If I was going to do it again though I’d try and arrange a proper guide. Even though it was the rainy season it was, in my estimation, the best time of year due to the fact that there was plenty of water flowing.

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Stickman's thoughts:

That guide sounds like a pathetic excuse for a human being. That fool aside, a very nice trip report.

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