Feature Khao Yai experience
Our van arrives at 8am and we four American city girls begin our journey to Thailand’s Khao Yai National Park, along with three of FREELAND’s finest. None of us know exactly what to expect, besides the inevitable leech encounters we had been warned about.
As we enter the park, we realize just how beautiful Khao Yai’s mountainous green rainforest is. We’ll be hiking into the forest later in the afternoon.
Heading to our jungle cabins, it’s clear that we will be living (as harmoniously as possible) with the many different species that call Khao Yai home. Some of us adjust to these creature discomforts better than others. Either way, it’s time to get changed and prepare for our hike… and the leeches.
Read on to find out if our American visitors survive the leeches…
Hiking into the forest
Covered from head to toe, leech socks and all, our “short hike” turns out to be a mere five kilometer hot, humid, and rainy adventure. There are a few leech attacks, though we all come out alive.
Taking in all of the fresh air from the forest turns out to be somewhat meditative. Plus, seeing the forest from the perspective of the many different wildlife that live there is a very unique experience, to say the least.
Tired and sweaty, we wash up, get some dinner, and meet up at the spotlighting truck in hopes of catching a glimpse of some animals in the night. Things start out slow, but eventually we see some deer, jackal, and even a slow lorus up in the tree top.
We’re told that if we wake up at the right time tomorrow, we have a chance to see a group of gibbons near our hut. That wraps up day one, as everyone scurries to their beds for some much needed sleep.
“Knock, knock, knock!” We awake to an unfamiliar banging noise along with strange howling sounds circling our room. We are immediately convinced that a crazy clan of gibbons is attempting to take over our forest home. When one of us works up enough courage to slowly open the door, we discover that it’s really only someone coming to lead us down the road to where the gibbon howling is coming from. Perhaps our alien surroundings have made us slightly paranoid?
Unfortunately, we arrive a few minutes too late. The gibbons have already made their way back into the forest. A disappointment, but we’re glad that we did at least get to hear their astounding calls.
We eat a quick breakfast in the park and then hop in our van with a guide and make our way to one of Khao Yai’s gorgeous waterfalls. We’re informed that this particular waterfall was featured in a Leonardo DiCaprio movie, “The Beach.”
Once we get there, everyone understands why. The waterfall is so breathtaking and picturesque. It’s almost hard to believe it’s real. Sadly, we don’t run into Leo, but the waterfall made our trek down some very steep stairs completely worth it.
Kuman and his village
After lunch, everyone collects around the van and we’re off to one of the several village communities scattered on the outskirts of the park. At the village, we meet a large group of ex-poachers, including a man, Kuman, a wildlife poaching expert that has changed his ways completely.
FREELAND has addressed not only the problem of poaching wild animals and endangered species, but they’ve given the people who used to make their living committing these crimes a positive alternative. By giving villages of ex-poachers soft loans, the men and woman can begin the necessary processes needed to start and maintain small businesses. It’s really interesting to see the many different things these people have done after being given some incentive. Kuman shows us the many newly dug fishing holes the community is setting up. Each fishing hole will hold around 400 snakehead fish and help the villagers earn some honest money.
Kuman also leads us to their many hydroponic farms where they produce a vast array of organic herbs, spices, and mushrooms. These will generate additional income and allow for the expansion of their business. Seeing this simple way of life leaves us all more humble.
Pow-wow with the rangers
Our next stop is the rangers’ station. We sit down and have a chat with some of the rangers that monitor poaching and protect the park. We’re able to ask questions and hear the rangers’ views on various issues. We learn that the poaching of gaur has gone down significantly, good news to hear. They have come across only one poached gaur within the last year in this area – evidence of a job well-done.
Observing these positive changes first-hand makes us feel more optimistic about the many problems being addressed about wildlife poaching. However, it is more than clear to us all that much more needs to be done. Without additional funding, the money used to support the fight against animal poaching will eventually fade away and the crisis will undoubtedly continue.
Leaving Khao Yai with hope
We make our way back to Bangkok, never to forget Khao Yai’s unique animals, people, and overall experience encountered at such an amazing place. It would be such an enormous shame to see the downfall of this extraordinary environment, knowing that it could have been prevented. We can only hope that individuals will start acting quickly, before it is too late.