Hitchhiking to the Um Phang Wildlife Sanctuary
I shook my head in disbelief. I’d came all this way, over hills and hills of forest to the sleepy town of Um Phang only to be greeted by thirty British school kids on what seemed to be some sort of package tour. “I’ve gotta get outta here,” I thought, mentally crossing of the guesthouse as possible accommodation. I was soon a happy camper with my tent pitched up on a patch of grass alongside the river. The owner has agreed to let me camp for a small fee in an area surrounded by beautiful wooden bungalows. I took a walk around town stopping for noodles and the essential Cornetto ice cream before heading back just after sundown. A hundred metres in front of my tent came the blur of rap music from a local bar. Likewise just across from my tent came a blur of drunken British teenagers moving back and forth between the bungalow and the bar. “You gotta be fucking kidding me, it’s Monday night!” I said out loud. There was no way I could sleep through the noise so I went over to investigate. As the night unveiled I sat witness to their loud, reckless behavior with no respect for anyone or anything around them. I was shocked but more so embarrassed to be British that night as there were a group of Germans sitting nearby. I couldn’t think of a more suitable punishment than to drink all their alcohol and steal their teabags. “That’ll teach ‘em,” I thought, as I crawled back into my tent, checking around nervously for ants. It was the coldest night I’d ever experienced in Thailand but luckily I was prepared as I hid inside my enormous sleeping bag almost scared to get out and fight the cold.
The damp morning air clung to my tent leaving little droplets of water trickling down as the rising sun gave warmth to my little “waterproof” house. I sat down for breakfast of bananas, rice porridge – basically rice drowned in hot water – and a cup of stolen tea which obviously tasted better than if I’d bought it. My plan for the day was to head “into the sticks” – so to speak – by hitching a ride into the Um Phang Wildlife Sanctuary. I could have gone as part of a package tour but then I would’ve lost my sense of free will and adventure which didn’t sound like fun to me. The Um Phang Wildlife Sanctuary is home to the Thi Lo Su waterfall -Thailand’s biggest limestone waterfall – and it was that which I’d come to experience. My hitch was easy; I asked some guy if I could jump in the back of his truck, and lucky for me it turned out he was going the same place. For some unknown reason he wouldn’t take me down the final 30km of dirt track, and instead dropped me of at the park headquarters where the ranger tried to get me to rent a car for twelve hundred baht – nice try. I literally ran out of the office and flagged down a passing truck which took me the remaining way down the dirt track to the camping ground. I pitched my tent under a tree only to find out later than I’d pitched it between several nests of red ants – what is it with me and ants?
The nature trail leading to the waterfall created a nice build up of anticipation with little streams and lagoons trickling and forming just beside the trail. Progressively, the sound of the forest was overcome with the crashing of water, and then there it was, falling with tremendous power in the distance, cascading to form children of its own. I bathed in one of the pools which cooled my body from the scorching heat of the day.
This was the first time I had camped so far from civilization, it was truly in the middle of no-where. Without light pollution the stars came out to play, shooting across the sky in dazzling performances. It was a special time of solitude for me. This entire universe before our eyes – interconnected. Engineering beyond comprehension? Or just plain coincidence? My thoughts were soon disturbed by the arrival of a group who I later found out were part of a trekking tour. I won’t lie, it was nice to have a few people around; I even got the opportunity to play chess. To my amazement, I discovered the next day that I could take a small trail up towards the face of the waterfall which I previously thought was beyond reach. I was so excited to be there; an amazing location. Here’s a video I shot from a nearby viewpoint.
I was struggling for a hitch back as it was late and nearly everyone had gone home. I sat playing rummy with some of the park rangers when one of them offered me a ride. It was hands down the best hitch as I got to stand up on the back of the pickup whilst holding on to a metal frame for support – what a journey that was, king of the world! After arriving back in town I had a great feeling inside. When I get that feeling I know I’ve just done something pretty cool. For me, that’s when I know I’m truly living for adventure, life on the road at its best. Another songthaew lay ahead which was taking me back to Mae Sot to celebrate Wendeth’s birthday before continuing north to Mae Sariang. Another great adventure under my belt, and many more to come.
Peace and love, Jonathan x
Backpackers Tips and Advice
In Um Phang, I camped at Garden Huts which was fifty baht including breakfast.
I would recommend hitching to the Um Phang Wildlife Sanctuary and exploring in your own time.
There’s food and drink available in the camping area of the Um Phang Wildlife Sanctuary. Food consists of ready-made noodles, chocolate, and crisps. Hot and cold drinks are what you would typically expect.
Camping in the Um Phang Wildlife Sanctuary is free but entry to the park is two hundred baht. I’m not sure if you can rent a tent.