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Kayaking the Ping River, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Towards the end of the summer holidays we travelled up to Chiang Mai in search of some more active adventures. Given that it was the middle of rainy season we figured that kayaking would be great fun so we booked a 2 day trip.

Cindy and Liz had never done kayaking before so we opted for the 2 day river Pai adventure, as it was mostly flat but fast moving water with a few class 1/2 rapids thrown in.

The route started north of Chaing Mai, on the way to Chiang Dow, and meandered its was down through the valley all the way back towards the Chiang Mai.

We kayaked pretty much the whole way back (55kms+ in total), stopping overnight at a local campsite near the river.

Dangers

The only major obstacle on route was the weir, which was far too dangerous for us to attempt to run, so we got out above the weir and this was the end of the first day. We camped the first night next to the River Taeng, as tributary of the Pai and launched directly into the river from the campsite next morning.

The trip was run by Chiang Mai Mountain Biking and Kayaking

Khao Yai Jungle Adventure Day 2 – Trekking, Waterfalls and all the bats

I woke early, or rather was awoken by nature’s alarm clock. I left the window open the night before to keep the room cool and the jungle birds were enthusiastically announcing their presence to the world. I was tired and refused to get out of bed so I just laid there for an hour listening to the racket from outside and watching the shadows cast on the wall opposite slowly fall as the dim sun rose in the morning sky.

Eventually boredom got the better of me, so I got up, packed what few things I had bothered to unpack, and headed outside to see what was happening on the site. As it turned I need not bother because nothing much was happening at all. The rest of my jungle trekking party were still in bed, including Deaw who was snoring away in the front seat of his pickup. The porcupines had retreated back to wherever they called home and the campground was silent.

After a brief mooch around the site I decided to rest against the trunk of a tree. I checked that there were no ants’ nests or other obvious hazards and sat down, resting my back, soaking up the early morning sunshine. It was going to be another warm day (only 28C) but at present it was still cool enough to sit in the sun without roasting to death, so I sat their and did absolutely nothing.

Half an hour passed and finally there were sounds of life from my companions in the lodge next door – the usual stomps, crashes and mumblings of people still half asleep. Fast forward 20 minutes and bodies emerged into the sunlight – hungry, tired and aching by the looks of it. The noises had evidently woken Deaw as well and he emerged from his car. I asked him how he slept and he replied ‘like a baby’ – well that made 1 out of 4.

Breakfast over in the restaurant was a simple affair – a choice of noodles, soup or rice, but there was coffee – result! I chose rice and fried egg and I was quite happy until Andrew’s food arrived – His soup came in a massive bowl and was loaded with goodies – damn you food envy!

We finished up and before we left we picked up some snacks for the day. The aussie couple had forgotten to bring for snacks the previous day and Andrew had suffered in silence for quite a while until I realised has was struggling and gave him a spare Country Crunch bar I had kicking around in my bag. Today he was intent on not making the same mistake so he bought enough food to feed a small country.

We loaded our gear up and headed out for our second trek of the trip – this time setting out from the car-park nearest to the viewing tower. The first half hour followed the dirt path over the grassland hills.

Hiking along the fire scorched grassland in the heart of Khao Yai

After a while we veered off the path and headed for across the grassland, scorched black by the recent controlled burning conducted by the park rangers to encourage new growth.

Soon we were venturing back into the jungle again and it was a great be back under the protection if the canopy – it was only 10am but it was already roasting out in the open!

Deaw soon discovered elephant track and he decided to follow the tracks into. We made slow going through the thick jungle bush, it was very different undertaking compared to the previous day’s established path networks.

The tracks meandered steadily downwards to a stream at the bottom of a small valley. Every so often we would hear the deep whooshing sound of the huge wings of a horn bill high above. I tried in vain to get a good shot but alas they were too high and I could only manage a quick snap, my 200mm lens struggling to make out any real detail.

A fleeting glimpse of a hornhill flying noisily tree to tree high in the canopy above.

The tracks reached the valley bottom, where they dissapeared into the tangled mess of plants that were growing in the shallow, muddy river that spanned about 10 metres.

This place was leech central so treading across the river would have been a disaster. Fortunately Deaw had a better idea and we turned left and heading parallel to the river for a few minutes.

We were stopped by a large fallen tree in our path and as we were climbing on it Deaw told us a story about how he once almost walked straight into a bear that was busy eating and didn’t notice his party until they were within 3m. Both bear and humans had the fright of their lives and retreated as fast as possible…

It turned out the tree was key to us getting across the river. It had fallen right across the riverbed and was large enough for us to clamber across to get to the other side.

Crossing a natural bridge in between jungle sections, in search of elephants and buffalo. No leeches for us!

The rest of the group headed across the tree bridge and I took up the rear guard, keen to get a video of us all crossing the river. Half way across everyone stopped and there was some commotion and pointing of cameras. I headed over, keen not to miss out on what are often very temporary sights.

It turned out I needn’t have bothered, because there in front of me was a large tortoise chilling on the tree in the shade between the branches and he was interested in going anywhere, even with a group of trekkers literally walking over the top of his head!

We carried on up the other side of the valley and down into a trough on the other side. Here we stopped for a few minutes while Deaw took out a huge bag of salt from his rucksack and poured it all over the ground. Afterward he poured a whole bottle of fish sauce because elephants and other animals loved it, apparently, and could detent the scent from up to a mile away.

Detour complete, we headed through the jungle once again, ascending the side of the valley along a narrow track. A few minutes later we reached the edge of the jungle and burst out into the open grassland.

Once my eyes had adjusted to the glare of the midday sun I took in our surrundings. We were on the top of a grassy hill, overlooking a small lake. It was a gorgeous view and and I paused to admire it. Sweeping grassland to the front was flanked on all sides by jungle, with tracked meandering down towards the lake.

We trekked on down towards the lake and soon a watchtower came into view. Deaw informed us that the top of the tower was our lunch stop, and almost immediately everybody started to pick up the pace. I guessed my stomach wasn’t the only one complaining!

We stopped and ate lunch in the welcome shade of the watch tower, sat on benches that looked out over the reservoir on one side and over towards the jungle on the other. Somewhere in the canopy a family of gibbons were having a discussion and their cries carried audibly into the tower.

Bellies placated we set off along the final stretch of our trek, following a well used footpath through the grasslands, back towards the car.

The path was busy with tourists, being one of only 2 hikes that can undertaken without a guide and as such I resigned myself to the fact that the wildlife spotting opportunities for our trek were pretty much over – more people equalled fewer animals.

As the car came into sight however, so did a my favourite bird – an eagle soaring effortlessly overhead, using a thermal to gain altitude – what a brillant way to end the trek!

The plan for the rest of the afternoon was to visit some waterfalls, so we hopped in the pickup and Deaw drove us down to Haew Suat, a small waterfall with 5m drop, whose main claim to fame was being the waterfall that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character jumped off in the movie ‘The Beach’.

Like most Thai waterfalls in close proximity to roads, the place was rammed with tourists of all nationalities. I stopped to take a video and a few photos but didn’t linger for long, given how busy it was.

Haew Suwat Waterfall, featured in Danny Boyle’s movie ‘The Beach’

Next we drove towards the southern entrance of the park and after half an hour arrived the carpark that serves Haew Narok waterfall.

This carpark, though far larger and more spectacular, was quieter than the previous one, on account of the waterfall being a 2km hike away and it being located much farther away from the northern entrance of the park where all the main hotels were.

We strolled down towards the waterfall, glad to being only carrying camera equipment and a bottle pf water each. About 300m from the falls Deaw veered off the main pathway and asked us to follow him. We headed up until the jungle for the final time on the trip and along a disused footpath.

As we walked along on our right we were flanked by a wall of 6 foot high concrete posts that ran unbroken through the jungle. Curious, I asked Daew their purpose.

He explained that they were installed a number of years ago to stop elephant families from venturing too close to the top of the waterfall, after 5 elephants fell down the waterfall to their death.The pillars fulfilled their purpose, with no more elephants dying for years afterwards.

Unfortunately this all changed 2 months prior to my trek, when a baby elephant got swept away in heavy rains. The remaining elephants waded in to try and save the baby but in the end 11 elephants went over the falls and sadly died.

I mulled over this rather depressing tale and carried on along the narrow path until we finally reached our destination – an isolation outcrop high above the falls.

The route down to the cliff edge looked seriously dodgy – there were steps, just a slippery path, and the only safety feature was a rotten piece of wood jammed between two bamboo trees to form an improvised rail.

I would normally pass on going down such a route but I had a feeling that this was a sight I didn’t want to miss. A bit of shuffling later and I was stood overlooking the massive waterfall, taking in the gobsmacking view.

Far below the two lower tiers of the waterfall looked deceptively small but it was clear that elephants wouldn’t have stood a chance once they went over.

Haew Narok Waterfall, Khao Yai, Thailand. In October 2019 11 elephants died after wading into flood waters above the falls to save a calf in trouble.

Bats streaming out of Khao Luk Cave, North of Khao Yai National Park, Thailand.

To the Bat Cave!

Khao Yai Jungle Adventure Day 1 – Trekking, Night Safari and all the animals

2 days in Ho Chi Minh City and I was done. The non-stop pestering from hawkers, combined with the constant pipping of horns, was enough to drive me to breaking point.

So I hopped on a flight back to Bangkok and by 9pm I was sat at home on my pc, researching what to do for the rest of the week.

The idea of jungle trekking in Khao Yai had been rattling around in the back of my mind ever since I went camping there with friends the previous month, so after a bit of googling I found a company that offered the kind of experience I was looking for – a small group with more time trekking and less time visiting Khao Yai’s tourist traps (which admittedly are still very beautiful).

I sent the company a Whatsapp message asking about their next availability for a 2 day trek, hoping that there would be something in next few days and I was somewhat shocked when I received a reply back almost immediately with ‘tomorrow morning, 6.30am’.

My mind raced – it was now approaching 10pm and I would have to pack all my gear before going to bed and setting an alarm for 5:45.. should I ask about other dates?

Balls to it. “Excellent. Book me in. I’ll get packing.”

Fast forward 12 hours and I stood inside the reception area of the Khao Yai visitor’s center, attempting to wake myself up, while Deaw, our guide, showed us round a taxidermy display of the different animals we might see on our trek if we were very lucky.

It turned out that Khao Yai was home to a wide range of animals, far more varied than I expected, and hardly any of which I had seen in my previous camping visit (I had only seen Macaque monkeys and some deer). Wild elephants roamed freely through the jungles, two species of gibbon lived high in the jungle canopy, and there was a reclusive family of tigers that lived in one of the more remote valleys (their location is a closely guarded secret).

Macaque monkeys live all over Khao Yai and are an almost certain sight on any trip to the park, even if you don’t go trekking.

Tigers have been hunted almost to extinction in Thailand, partly because their body parts are highly sought after in chinese traditional medicine and partly because tigers are rather adept at killing people. Deaw recounted the story of the last fatal tiger attack in the park, back in the 1980s. A little girl who lived with her family in the park was writing in a book when her pencil fell through the floorboards. She went outsde the house to retrieve the pencil but was attacked by a tiger that was hiding under the house.

The girl’s screams woke the other occupants of the house and the tiger ran away, but the girl died the next day in the hospital. Rangers set up an ambush for the tiger but the tiger managed to claim one more life (one of the rangers in the ambush itself) before it was killed.

The tour of the visitors’ center ended and after a well needed coffee break we headed out on our first trek, towards the north end of the park.

Trekking was a two state affair. Most of the time I was half-bored trekking along, following our guide as we meandered seemingly aimlessly through narrow jungle paths. Every so often Deaw would stop to point out some interesting feature on the ground, such as termite mounds, or elephant dung.

Alternatively he would have us crane our necks up to look at the impossibly tall trees as he explained the important features of the eco system. Deaw explained how one tree started life in the high boughs of other trees and then cascaded multiple trunks and roots downwards until they finally reached the ground. The tree would then slowly grow around the host tree until it finally, after many years, killed the host. Every so often we would pass these trees and you would see the rotting corpse entombed within the tendrils of the parasitic tree.

A huge fig tree, with its strangling roots trailing down to the floor

About 30 minutes into the trek we had our first encounter with animal life, a Banded Kingfisher, chilling out on a branch only 5 metres from the track. This beautiful bird is unique amongst kingfishers as it doesn’t need to live near a pool of water to survive.

A Banded Kingfisher, chilling out on a branch

What amazed me was how our guide was able to spot the bird. Even after he told me exactly where to look it took me over a minute of staring before I was able to see the creature. I had already come to the conclusion that trekking without a guide would be a terrible idea due to navigation through the jungle paths being near impossible, but I was beginning to realise that without a guide I would have walked past most of the wild animals that lived in the canopy without ever noticing their presence.

It was early afternoon when we spotted the rarest prize of the trek – A family of endangered white handed gibbons feasting merrily on the fruits of a fig tree. These gibbons live in small family groups and roam across large territories, swinging effortlessly from tree to tree with their elongated arms. I stood transfixed and watched the group for about twenty minutes until my neck was stiff and sore.

A White Handed Gibbon, swinging from branch to branch.

Eventually neck ache got the better of me and I decided to lie down on the ground to continue watching the gibbons. Unfortunately the colony of ants whose house I had just sat down on were less than impressed with my home invasion and decided to evict me forcefully. Within seconds I was a ridiculous screaming mess as I attempted to dislodge the angry ants, most of whom were busily biting my bottom. The rest of my trekking group looked on in shock as I desperately dropped my shorts and undies, and proceeded to whack my bottom with great enthusiasm.

Once I was certain that all the ants had been removed from my bum and clothing, I pulled my shorts back up and apologised to the group, all of whom were in fits of giggles, for my impromptu strip show. The experience had certainly taught me a lesson and I spent the rest of the trek avoiding sitting on the floor…

The final hour of the first day’s trekking was pretty quiet and we didn’t see any more interesting animals. We followed the path back to the road and then were driven up to the campsite where we could check into our accomodation and grab some dinner at the local restaurant, ready for the evening’s night safari. The group I had joined (consisting of 2 Australians) had chosen to stay in huts for the trip rather than stay out in the jungle in hammocks and I didn’t want to cause complications – I would have much preferred to camp in the jungle but that could wait for a future trip.

By the time we arrived at the campsite the sun had set and I was starving. We sat down and ate dinner, a simple Thai affair with dishes of rice, noodles and a curry. Half way through dinner I heard a rustling sound from behind me and was shocked to see a huge porcupine bumbling around on the grass behind our table.

Soon the porcupine was joined by others and they seemed to be everywhere, crashing about in search of food!

As we were finishing dinner our transport for the evening’s night safari arrived, a Toyota Land cruiser, and on top was a little old lady wearing a woolly bobble hat. I was somewhat amused that the lady was wearing the hat, given that the temperature back in Bangkok rarely dropped below 20 Degrees C, later on in the evening I would understand!

Our night safari guide wearing her impressive bobble hat

We piled onto the back of pickup truck and headed out into the darkness, back along the park roads that we had travelled along earlierĀ  in the day, but now they were transformed by the night.

There were no street lights in the park and there was almost no moon, so the only illumination came from the pickup trucks two dim headlamps and from the high powered spotlight in hands of the little old lady stood up at the front. The light swept slowly from left to right, searching for the nocturnal animals that command the park after night falls.

Every so often a pair of small round reflections would give away the presence of the animals on the grasslands and the torch would stop. Samba deer and Barka deer roamed freely at night and we passed dozen of them, together with plenty of meandering porcupines.

One of the many samba deer that we saw on the night safari

I had originally hoped that we might see the odd elephant, as they were more frequently seen in the evenings, but half an hour into our safari and I had all but given up hope – we were already past Sai Sorn reservoir and were nearing the northern end of the park.

We rounded the final bend and headed towards the edge of the jungle. The the little old lady swung the beam round the left and homed in a large animal abound 100 yards away, standing in the middle of a salt lick – a large male elephant!

Excitedly we stopped and watch the huge beast as best we could from the distance as it feasted on the salty earth. Needless to say I was chuffed to bits! I tried to take a photo of the elephant but it was too far away and the photo turned out too blurry and noisy…never mind!

After a while we turned around and slowly headed back to our base. By this point our tour guide, Deaw, was absolutely freezing and was huddled in a ball on the floor. The temperature had dropped to 12 degrees and combined with the wind chill and humidity it was very chilly indeed.

I would have felt sorry for him but I had asked him why he wasn’t bringing a jacket as we were setting off and he replied ‘I am from Khao Yai and don’t need one’ – I think he regretted his choice! I was toasty warm wrapped up in my duck down jacket (these sorts of adventures were the reason I bothered to bring it Thailand) but the wind on my face was enough!

The return journey was pretty uneventful and the day’s activities were starting to catch up with us – everyone was knackered! We arrived back at the campsite, bade farewell to the safari guide ad heading for our lodges and well deserved slumber!

Day 2 – Trekking, waterfalls and the batcave

Packrafting the great glen canoe trail

Great Glen Canoe Trail

In the last week of May 2019 a friend and I completed the Great Glen Canoe Trail in Scotland, our first ever long distance water adventure.

To read my blog about journey click here to go to day 1.

What is the Great Glen Canoe Trail?

The GGCT is an 80 km long coast-to-coast route in the Scottish Highlands. The route begins on the west coast at Fort William heading north eastwards through to Inverness and the North Sea. The route normally takes hard canoes between 3 and 5 days to complete, depending on fitness and weather conditions. In our pack-rafts, which are a little bit slower, it took us 6 fairly leisurely days to complete the journey. The route runs the length of the Great Glen and combines:

  • Sea lochs
  • The Caledonian Canal
  • Fresh-water lochs (including Loch Ness)
  • Optional river runs with grade 2 rapids.

Most people who choose to do the Great Gen Canoe Trail (GGCT) do so in an open top canoe, paddle board or sea kayak. Just to be different we decided to see if we can manage the whole route pack-rafting instead.

What’s this pack-rafting thing?

Mark in his inflatable pack raft

Pack-rafting is where you combine hiking and canoeing, carrying all of your gear with you as you go. Specialist lightweight inflatable canoes are used, usually weighing between 3 and 5 kgs.

The combined weight of the pack rafting equipment and normal hiking gear is usually around 20 to 25kg. Whilst significantly heavier than a normal hiking carry weight (9 to 14 kgs), it gives you the ability to move between different bodies of water easily, including over hilly and difficult terrain – something near impossible with standard canoes.

Pack rafting is generally slower than canoeing in open top canoes or sea kayak due to their less streamlined hulls, however in bad weather it gives the group the option of simply packing up gear and hiking a section instead of paddling. We also carry small popup sails that allow us to take advantage favourable wind conditions.

Equipment

First full kit test – 23kgs all in. Hopefully get it down to <20kgs…

With pack-rafting you have to take all the equipment required for both hiking and canoeing. Typical equipment includes:

  • Full normal hiking gear
  • Inflatable Canoe
  • Wetsuit / drysuit
  • Bouyancy aid
  • Paddle
  • Sail
  • Pump / Boat repair kit.

Our full kit list can be found here.

Preparations

All 8 of the 1:50 000 OS Maps printed out and ready for laminating!

Mark and I have pack-rafted previously, however a journey of this length presented a number of challenges.

The biggest challenge we face was coping with the unpredictable and volatile Highland weather, especially on Loch Ness and Loch Lochy. Due its sheer size Loch Ness often exhibits sea like conditions out on the water, gusting wind and high waves. With hard canoes this would mean choosing between braving the poor conditions or simply waiting out the bad weather. Fortunately in pack rafts we could simply choose to hike a section until the weather improved.

Pack-rafting with pop up canoe sails

When a tail wind was blowing we took advantage of our pop up sails. These little sails are excellent for pack rafting – low weight, small pack size, but highly effective in the right conditions. Throughout April we tested and improved our setups. In the video below I tested out the first rig using the sail and a couple spare guy lines to act as ties.

Food

The other big issue was the food to take on a 5 day adventure. Due to the extra weight of the pack-rafts we couldn’t take wet rations, so we had to focus on dehydrated rations to reduce weight. Here are the details of the dehydrated food that we will be brought with us. Of course we believe it is important to support the local economy wherever we go, so we also ate in pubs and cafes where possible!

Water

Me taking water from a stream ready for filtering

We took Sawyer Squeeze filters to filter water from streams running into the lochs

The Battle of Kinder Scout

Cover photo credit : Stuart McLaughlin

Kinder serves as more than just a convenient and picturesque first ascent for the Pennine Way, in fact it played a pivotal role in the formation of the Pennine Way itself.

Britain 1932: The county is still reeling from horrors of the great war and the great depression that followed – unemployment is high and poverty is rife, but underneath the surface improvements were slowly trickling through – a 6 day working week is now the norm and living standards were slowly rising, especially in the eastern areas of Manchester – one of the leading industrial centers of the world. Workers had more leisure time and disposable income, with many of the workers choosing to spend their free time enjoying the fresh air outside of the heavily polluted cities, rambling across the nearby hills and moorlands.

 I’m a rambler, I’m a rambler from Manchester way
I get all me pleasure the hard moorland way
I may be a wageslave on Monday
But I am a free man on Sunday

Ewan Maccoll, the manchester rambler

The hills however were owned by wealthy landowners for grouse hunting and they weren’t keen on ramblers invading their land. Large areas were fenced off, with ‘Trespassers will be Prosecuted’ signs in abundance. When ramblers ignored the signs they were then often met be angry game keepers, some of them armed. Standoffs between ramblers and landowners became a regular occurrence and matters came to a head on the in April 1932 when a mass trespass on Kinder Scout was organised by ramblers. Upwards of 500 ramblers converged on the summit of Kinder where they met by an army of gamekeepers.

Ramblers meeting at Bowden Bridge Quarry at the start of the trespass. Source: View Ranger

Violent clashes followed as the ramblers tried to force their way through and by the end of the day 6 ramblers were arrested for violence against the gamekeepers. Lord Cavendish, the landowner and staunch opponent of the ramblers, lobbied hard for their prosecution and the ramblers were convicted and sentenced to up 6 months in prison.

The convictions caused a national outrage and there were more mass demonstrations, this time attracting upwards of ten thousand of protesters. The Kinder Scout incident, together with the long running media campaign that followed arguably led to the Nation Parks Act 1949 and eventually the 2000 CROW act, enshrining ramblers rights to roam into English law.

In 2002 on the 70th anniversary of Kinder Scout Trespass Andrew Cavendish, 11th Duke of Devonshire and lord Cavendish’s grandson , traveled to the site to commemorate the events and issued an apology over his family’s part in the jailing of the ramblers.

“The great trespass was a very shaming event for my family. But from that great evil and those appalling sentences has come great good.”

Lord andrew cavendish,The Guardian, 2002

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