Camping in Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park
My hair blew violently in the wind; the smell of the countryside filled my nose with a sense of freedom and adventure; an escape from the noise, the crowds of people, towards a place of solitude and discovery. The bus was making its way towards the small village of Nakhon Thai, passing through valleys of lush, green forests. From there I had to somehow make my way thirty kilometres to Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park. I only spent one night in Phitsanulok, enough time to take a long walk down the river, and to visit a few of its temples. I also visited the Tourism of Thailand (TAT) office to get more information on local national parks after reading of them in my Lonely Planet guidebook. I left the office with a detailed map of highway twelve which joins Phitsanulok to Lom Sak providing access to many national parks, waterfalls, and other places of interest. I hadn’t even paid for my bus ticket; I only asked some guy if I was at the right bus stop, and he saw me all the way onto the bus to Nakhon Thai, paying for both that, and the local bus, ignoring my insistence on paying. The care and generosity I’ve seen so far has given me a lot of respect for the Thai people. As the bus rolled into Nakhon Thai bus station I got off, and started my enquiries for continuing onto Phu Hin Rang Kla. Two hours later after a lot of waiting I decided to give TAT a call who told me that the only way to get there would be to organise a pick-up from one of the park rangers which would cost six hundred baht including entry – thanks for telling me that in the office guys… I finally did manage to get there but then the ranger tried to charge me an extra three hundred baht meaning I had to haggle him down to the original price – nice try.
I rented a tent; sleeping bag; and pillow which the rangers setup for me in the woods. Once all my things were organised in the tent I was so happy – I’ve been wanting to go camping for ages in England – it’s funny how I’ve chosen to do it here in Thailand. I started exploring immediately, following a trail into the forest just off the road. After five minutes I was completely surrounded by trees and plants, all new to the eye, stuff I’d only seen on documentaries of the jungle. The sounds of wildlife; the smell of the forest; it was like being born again. I felt like a true adventurer in a world civilisation had not yet destroyed. Darkness soon loomed on the forest, creeping through the leaves like a spider prays on its victim. I headed back to base, back to safety; the only possible threat being a fear of the dark woods; luckily I overcame that fear a long time ago. I spent the night writing for my blog in between chapters of a fantasy novel my mate Dan gave me to read on my travels – it was hard to put down!
Waking up with nature is one of the most beautiful experiences in life, and I was lucky enough to experience it in the wonders of another country. Unfortunately it was coupled with the sounds of kids screaming and shouting who I quickly found out to be from a local scout group. They couldn’t help but introduce themselves at the sight of a foreigner. “Hello, Hello” they said excitedly. “Hi” I replied beaming with their enthusiasm. “What’s your name?” they asked in quick succession. “Jonathan” I said, replying slowly so they could pronounce it. “Jon San, Jon San, Jon San” they screamed with joy. “Ah what the hell, Jon San is close enough, and it kind of sounds cool”, I thought acceptingly. They all challenged me to a race which I quickly won – I take no prisoners when competition is concerned; kids, or no kids.
The national park had two restaurants on site which also provided food for hiking rations. I stocked up in preparation for my adventure paying particular attention to the chocolate section. After breakfast I set off on the long road towards the first trail, sticking to the cool shade which blew a welcome breeze over my body. That chocolate was really weighing me down, I thought, satisfied as I munched my way through half the chocolate cakes. The first trail was by far the most popular in the park as it was easily accessible from the visitor center. The trail looped a circle around the park’s most popular attractions. Lan Hin Pum was the area that interested me the most, particularly because of its sweeping views of the surrounding forest. The area is covered with boulders which have bubbled from the ground. Apparently this is due to a movement in the earth’s crust which also created huge cracks in the ground of un-estimated depth. A lot of scouts were hanging around sneakily taking pictures of me, too shy to ask. I invited them all for a photo to their surprise – I’ve never felt so famous! I spent a lot of time around that area enjoying the cool breeze whilst delving deeper into my fantasy novel, fighting the many battles on the field of my imagination. Huge rock formations stood nearby providing areas of cover which were used as air raid shelters. As I passed through like the hunchback from Notre Dame, I saw a group of ants transporting a grain of rice across the rocks – even the ants are on it here!
I did a lot of walking that day, and visited all of the places I considered “within walking distance”. It’s funny because I don’t think walking has really kicked off in Thailand’s national parks. All the visitors tend to use air-conditioned cars, even if their going just down the road. You can imagine the look of surprise on people’s faces when they realised I’d walked six kilometres to a place they had driven – like I had a choice anyway.
That evening whilst back at camp, I became acquainted with my new neighbour who had pitched a tent alongside mine. He was half Thai half English, and his name was Tanapon which I quickly shortened to Pon for obvious reasons. You know when you meet people and you feel like you’ve known them for ages, well that’s what it was like with him. He was young but had an adventurous spirit, and no longer after we had met, we were swapping travel stories over a game of chess. In fact, we spent the whole of the next day together hitching rides to attractions further afield whilst playing chess on the side of the road – how geeky does that sound. He had already pre-booked his travels for later on that day, but our adventure had left him pushing it pretty close on time. As if by magic, a young Thai boy called Charlie pulled up on a motorbike offering us both a ride back to camp, and even took Pon all the way to the bus stop in Nakhon Thai – what a legend. Before going, Pon gave me his mum’s telephone number, and assured me it would be cool to stay at his house in Chiang Mai – it’s all been confirmed now, and I’m really excited about going; she said we can cook Thai food together!
Not long after his departure Charlie came back and invited me to eat at his family’s house in a local village within the park. It was one of many meals that week as I become friendlier with him and his family. I tried lots of new dishes which were always heavily laced with chilies – not like I was surprised. I also got to taste the traditional sweet tamarind which I couldn’t get enough of. One night I sat in a circle, and took part in a typical Thai drinking session involving copious servings of food accompanied by a shot of locally made white spirit – what seemed like every five minutes – as the glass shot made its way around the group. I won’t lie, I got absolutely wasted, as did everyone else. I remember making them all laugh with some jokes, and having some sort of dance off to what sounded like Thai RNB. I quickly become known around the park – I had been there for five days – which kind of made it sad to leave, but I knew the journey must go on. Charlie offered to take me on his motorbike back to Nakhon Thai bus station. As we made our way down the hill I glanced back at the distant forest, I knew it wouldn’t be long until we met again.
Catch you soon guys,
Backpackers Tips and Advice
Pon told me that a songthaew can take you to the park entrance. It cost him four hundred baht. How much you can negotiate off that I wouldn’t know. If you don’t plan on camping, you have the option of renting a bike in Phitsanulok, and visiting that way. I’ve also heard that some tour companies in Phitsanulok run buses to the national park. If anyone has any more information involving easier/cheaper ways of getting to the park, please let me know.
There are two restaurants on site which close around 7:30pm
Near all the park’s main attractions there are food stalls where you can buy rice dishes meaning you don’t have to stock up on tinned foods, etc.