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Cascades, Caves and Canoes

By Pipit Tai

....the majority decided to soldier on risking life and limb.......

On 24 Oct., 14 of us in 2 MPVs set off on an adventure trip to Thailand. This trip was classed "exploratory", so we had to expect the unexpected, changes in plans, long waits and difficult conditions. We were not disappointed. A planned 4 day trip turned out to be for 3 days only, but what 3 days it turned out to be!

The early part of the journey was uneventful enough, but soon, after a mouth-burning Thai meal in a restaurant next to a bird sanctuary and a logistics stop in Satun, beautifully paved Thai highways turned into potholed country roads. We finally arrived at our first destination, the Wong Sai Than waterfalls. At first sight, the falls looked a bit of a let down, but venturing farther into the tree cover, we soon realized that we were faced with something quite rare. A series of naturally terraced ponds very much like terraced padi fields greeted us, water flowing over the brim of each pond. Those with thick layers of fleshy insulation braved the cold water to soak themselves, imagining, no doubt, to be bathing with the fairies. The water, it was reported by braver souls who investigated its source, came from a hole in the ground. With limestone hills all around us, this was not a big surprise.

After what seemed an eternity of communicating on different channels, dinner was negotiated. It turned out to be a gastronomic adventure. The Thais served up what we thought we did not order, probably thinking we had no idea what to order in the first place, but the meal was delicious all the same. Thai rangers offered us the floor of their office as sleeping quarters, so we did not have to erect tents. In this remote part of Thailand, it seemed the natives were as much bewildered to see us as we were to be their guests.

The next day, after another marathon round of talking on different frequencies, the patient and hospitable Thais took us on a tour of the Cave of Golden Bells. The caves are populated by monks, with the many nooks and crannies serving as private meditation quarters for the occupants. The Thais probably wanted to show us what is very much a part of their everyday lives, but we were much more interested in visiting the Sakais. This is the northern most boundary of the range for the aboriginals who are more often found in West Malaysia. After about a kilometer of trudging a laterite road with leech socks on, we were shown our next quarters for the night. Half our party spent the night under a concrete bridge, while the other half, taking advantage of the charity of the local policeman, spent the night in the verandah of his house. This was the closest we could get to the Sakais� camp which was another kilometer away. They were only two families living under A-frames of coconut fronds and banana leaves. I can only say I am constantly amazed by the cultural diversity that blesses the human race. It was a profound and moving experience. I was equally amazed by the friendliness and tolerance of the Thais who seemed to interact with the Sakais as equals and friends. We could learn a thing or two from the Thais about respect for human dignity and cultural diversity. That night, we had a high-tech dinner using bottled propane gas stoves to cook plastic packed instant noodles.

The next day, we were picked up by the district�s tourist assistant for a canoeing adventure. It was like leading lambs to the slaughter. At the cast off point, it looked suspiciously like most in the party were first timers to canoeing. This was confirmed after the first rapids 30 yards on, by boats adrift, oars and slippers floating down current and spectacles and head lamps lost. However the majority decided to soldier on risking life and limb. After a few more dunkings, this time with less mishap and cold water and ice cold fear more of a familiarity, life actually became quite exciting and enjoyable partly also due to the titanic efforts of the Thai guides. The leading canoes even saw an 8 foot cobra sitting at the end of a sawn off fallen tree trunk that jutted out into the middle of the river.

At the half way point, we landed and assembled at the mouth of a huge cave. With whatever torch lights and lamps that survived the river, we canoed through the cave in a massed group. As we paddled on, the half light turned into eerie darkness punctuated only by the beams of the torches, the canoes wending their way through the pitch black belly of a limestone hill for the better part of a kilometer.

The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful. Most people were quiet after the excitement of the day. Those who had lost gear and equipment bore their loss with courage and dignity, a sign that danger and sacrifice often repays our losses with something many times more valuable in the form of a strengthening of character and of maturity. We definitely hope that there will be many more "exploratory" trips to come.

Note : This exploratory trip to Khao Banthad's Wildlife Conservation area was led by Forest & Jungle. Exploratory trips are organised with flexibility in itinerary. We provide the best in exploring the wilderness - Ed.


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