Staying in the Hills – Khao Yai National Park, Thailand

The full moon rising over Sala’s parking lot

Very rarely, when we are traveling, do we ever splurge on a luxurious place to stay. We usually look for those small, comfortable places where we can find some down time after a long day of touring around the area where we are. We don’t go travelling for the hotel. We rather go out to experience the world, and see what different cultures have to offer to us. But we were not travelling just the two of us this time. We were off with Christine’s parents which caused us to make different decisions when it came to accommodations.

The view from my room when I opened the blinds

After a long day of riding around in a song tal (a covered pick up truck with two benches in the back to sit on) throughout Khao Yai National Park, we drove thirty minutes through the countryside, avoiding the big town, to find our really nice hotel, Sala. Very rarely do I talk about hotels during my adventures, but this one was exceptionally nice. It sat on top of hill that looked out over the valley that we had just travelled through, and was far away from the hustle and bustle that we had grown accustomed to by living in Bangkok.

The sunset over the pool on the back porch of Sala Hotel

We arrived just in time for the sunset, and as it sank below the horizon, it left a beautiful scene over the pool that sat on the edge of the deck. While we checking in, we were able to take a couple of pictures and make a reservation at the restaurant. We really didn’t need to make the reservation because there were only seven tables in the restaurant and there were only seven rooms in the whole place. People still came out from the city to dine here from time to time, but it was not a regular occurrence, and we were the only people at the restaurant for dinner. It was a great meal too with many options from both western and eastern cuisine.

The lived in look of the room at Sala Hotel

The room was even really comfortable. The bed was just soft enough to give the perfect night’s sleep. Sometimes in Asia the beds are a little too hard, but this was not the case at Sala. The room had two walls that were basically windows that when opened gave spectacular views of the valley down below, and because the hotel sat on top of a hill, there was a cool breeze that made me want to cozy into that warm bed.

It was a great way to end a great day, and Sala was the perfect place to stay when visiting Thailand’s oldest National Park. It is a little ways away and there are a couple of surprises along the way to get there, such as a golden wat on top of another hill and reproduction of an Italian village with its own leaning tower of Pisa, but it was worth the forty minute drive to make to this great accommodation.

Thank you, Sala.

The Big Mountain – Khao Yai National Park, Thailand

A swing at the gate to Khao Yai National Park

One of the bigger draws of Thailand lies outside of its bigger cities, and long white beaches. There is a whole ecological playground out there for people to enjoy, and the most popular spot is only a two to three hour drive away from Bangkok, and is the oldest National Park in the country, Khao Yai. The name basically translates to big mountain, and though it spreads itself over a very hilly terrain, it is more of a tropical forest out in the middle of the farmlands. It is a beautiful place with many varieties of animals all over the place, and you never know what you will find with every corner you take.

The view of the landscape, and as close as I got to the horn-billed birds

The most famous of the animals that live in the wild in this place are the elephants and the horn-billed birds. The elephants are in the wild and allowed to roam freely among the 300 square miles of the park, and during the dry season they are often seen taking mud baths, and heading to the many waterholes to get a drink of water. Unfortunately, I did not come across any of them during my time there, but they are doing well especially after the devastating news about them the previous year. There was an accident involving a baby elephant, and its parents as they went over a waterfall in the park, but measures have been taken to try to prevent this from happening again.

A stuffed horn-billed bird at the visitor’s center

I did get to witness the majesty of the horn-billed birds. There was a flock of them flying off towards the distance from the road we were on. They are huge birds whose wings span out to almost 180 centimeters, and their bright colors bounce off of the green landscape of the trees that populate the park.

People waiting to get their picture of the horn-billed family during their meal time

I was lucky enough to witness them from the road, but there is one spot where many photographers go to try to snap a shot of these birds. There is a nest in a hole in tree where one of the female birds was raising a couple younger birds until they were ready to fly out on their own. Basically the female bird will tear out her wing feathers to keep her young warm and feed. They eventually grow back, but during the time she has to wait until they return, she is completely reliant on the male horn-billed bird. The male goes out for food and returns to the nest to feed the young ones and the female bird. If anything happened to the male bird, it would be the end for the whole family as the female and the young ones cannot leave the nest to fend for themselves.

This is one of the problems that come with the park. Many people come and visit the park, and are looking for that perfect picture to bring back with them. Some of the more ambitious visitors will set up camp with their cameras waiting for the perfect time to get that picture. Sometimes they get a little too close to the nest which scares away the male horn-billed bird. Rangers visit this spot constantly to ensure the survival of these birds, and make sure the place remain amazing for other visitors who come back generations later.

Haew Suwat Waterfall, the one used in The Beach

Another popular spot in the park is the waterfall where they filmed the Leonardo DiCaprio movie based on Alex Garland book, The Beach. Even if the movie had not immortalized this location, it would still be the perfect place to hike down to. It is only a hundred meter down some strange stone steps, but there are many places to nestle among the stones down there to enjoy an afternoon next to the cool water.

The park is a must see for anybody coming out to Thailand. It really demonstrates how diverse this country actually is, but I would highly recommend hiring a tour guide to take you around. There are only a couple of roads through the park, and if you do not know what you are looking for, you will miss a lot of what this park has to offer.

Of course, you will still be able to see the occasional deer, and spot the elephants at some of the hotter spots. There is also many monkeys that come out of the forest looking for a free handout or something shiny to steal from unsuspecting travelers.

But our guide was able to show us the more hidden treasures like the vipers hanging from trees that we would have only found by accident.

And I don’t think I would have enjoyed the surprise we would have had when we came across one of these dangerous snakes.

She was also able to look into some of the pools in the river to show us the animals that lives under the rocks there.

And the craziest one that I would never have found in a million years. There is a spider on this tree that blends in perfectly because of its camouflage. If she was not there to point it out, I would have never seen it. I’m looking at the picture right now, and know where it is, and I still have a hard time seeing it.

The viewpoint half way up the mountain

It was a nice way to get out of the smog and heat of Bangkok for a couple of days. The clean air, the cool nights, the amazing views, and the fun of seeing all of the wildlife in the preserved spot in Thailand worth the trip.

I still wish I could have seen the elephants though.

Top Posts from 2019

Well, it is the end of another year, and this one has seen some really exciting changes in my life. I moved from South Korea to Thailand. I took two voyages back to the United States, one in the beginning of the year, and one during the summer break to get everything in order for the move. I got to visit Japan during the Sakura festivals and see what the hype was all about, and I got to fulfill a long dream of mine of spending Christmas in Germany. It has been an exciting year full of highs and lows, and I want to thank all of you for being along for the ride. I thought I would take the time to go through the posts that you enjoyed the most this year and list them in order according to their popularity.

#10 – Cherry Blossoms in Our Winter

This is the first poem to make this list, and it is actually one of my favorite poems that I have written. It really captured the moment that I witnessed during my trip to Tokyo, and I think showed why the Sakura Festival is so important to all of the people who live there,

https://johncollings.com/2019/04/21/cherry-blossoms-in-our-winter/

#9 – Being Indiana Jones – Hua Hin, Thailand

Even though this experience was more of a day trip from Hau Hin, it was still close enough to the place where I set up my base to include it in this area of Thailand. I had a lot of fun on this first trip out of Bangkok, getting to explore the country a little more, and it just showed me what little treasures I could find as long as I took the time to find it.

https://johncollings.com/2019/10/13/being-indiana-jones-hua-hin-thailand/

#8 – The Journey to Ring in the New Year – The Holidays Day 13

This was actually the first post I had during the 2019 year, and it told of the story of the struggle I had making it to my brother’s house for the New Year’s Eve celebration. Snow can be a beautiful thing, but not if you have to travel through it dumping down out of the sky on a holiday night known for people drinking too much and taking unnecessary risks.

https://johncollings.com/2019/01/01/the-journey-to-ring-in-the-new-year-the-holidays-day-13/

#7 – How is This Not a Thing – Itaewon Day 2

I had many unique experiences during my time living in South Korea, but one of the most unique experiences was being sat down in an enclosure with a bunch of meerkats in a cafe in the middle of downtown Seoul. The Meerkat Friends has been in operation for over a decade and it is easy to see why so many people enjoyed a post about cuddling with a bunch of the furry creature.

https://johncollings.com/2019/02/03/how-is-this-not-a-thing-itaewon-day-2/

#6 – Massive Explosions – The Move Day 15

Only one thing can beat cute, furry creatures, and that is blowing things up. It is kind of a tradition in the United States anymore, and it is always a fun to be able to spend it with my family. I was especially impressed with the creativity that went behind some of the fireworks, and I am also impressed with how big, and loud they have gotten over the years.

https://johncollings.com/2019/07/05/massive-explosions-the-move-day-15/

#5 – Ice Cream Asian Style – Back to Japan Day 1

Who knew a pair of chopsticks and a small cup of Hagen Das would have been so intriguing? It was another one of my posts inspired by my trip to Japan and this was even before we were able to experience the sakura. Funny thing about this post was we found a small little spoon in our bag from the store after we finished eating our ice cream.

https://johncollings.com/2019/03/23/ice-cream-asian-style-back-to-japan-day-1/

#4 – You Can’t Go Back to the Green – The Holidays Day 20

I am always surprised by what posts connect with people and which ones do not. This post was supposed to be a throw away about a day at I had to spend on campus of my old college getting some paperwork taken care of, but for some reason, people kept coming back to it over the year. I guess they feel the same way about that lyric to that Billy Joel song that I do.

https://johncollings.com/2019/01/09/you-cant-go-back-to-the-green-the-holidays-day-20/

#3 – The Legacy – The Move Day 1

This was my final farewell to a country that I had lived in for four years. It was a bittersweet departure. During my years at the school, there was a lot of talk about “Leaving a Legacy” behind, and this was my response to that idea while saying goodbye to all of the people that I had met and grew with during my time there.

https://johncollings.com/2019/06/20/the-legacy-the-move-day-1/

#2 Downtown Bangkok

Making the move to Bangkok has given me an opportunity to explore a new corner of the world, and the city of Bangkok has so much to offer that it might take a couple of years to get to it all. This was my first attempt at making a dent into seeing what this city is all about, and I am sure there will be many more to follow.

https://johncollings.com/2019/08/12/downtown-bangkok/

#1 – The Arrival- The Move Final Day

There is nothing like moving into a new place. It is full of excitement and potential, but the only way I could share this moment with my family and friends was to write this post about it. The amount of people checking into it was almost like having a house warming party except I had not quite unpacked yet. It was still fun to show everybody the interesting artwork that was found in my bathroom. He has got a name now too, Smoke.

https://johncollings.com/2019/07/30/the-arrival-the-move-final-day/

Honorable Mention – Bend Sucks! Move Somewhere Else – Around the World Day 39

When I published my first book, I was told that you would never know what would take off, and what would die in obscurity. This post has found a life of its own. There is hardly a week that goes by when I do not have a person look at this post about a funny bumper sticker I saw while in Bend, Oregon a couple of years ago. It has turned into the most widely read piece I have ever written, and I am interested to see if it continues to make a presence in the coming year.

https://johncollings.com/2018/07/25/bend-sucks-move-somewhere-else-around-the-world-day-39/

Thank you for visiting me site this past year, and I look forward to seeing more of you next year.

 

The Holidays in Thailand

Thailand is definitely a Buddhist country. Yes, there are hints of other religions represented in this country, but most of the citizens give their faith over to the man under the bodhi tree. The image of Buddha is everywhere and might even be more prevalent than images of Christianity in America. I like to point this out because it has come to me as quite the surprise when the Christmas season came around and I saw all of the decorations that were being brought out to prepare the people of Bangkok for this great holiday.

It is weird to see how much the people in Bangkok really get into Christmas. They obviously do not celebrate it for the same reason that many Christians supposedly celebrate the holiday, but they like the idea of giving each other presents and getting together at the end of the day to have a meal with their family. It does not matter what religion it comes from, it just matters that it gives them another reason to celebrate.

Of course, the Thai people put their own little spin on it. I still have run across the usual snowflakes, and pictures of Santa Claus. They have even brought out the big fake plastic pine trees to decorate them with lights and little baubles, but they have also added a menagerie of animals all painted in pastel colors that I do not usually associate with Christmas, but it does not really matter because it is still festive in its own special way.

I am not really sure I know why it happens out in Thailand. It could be that the companies like to promote the holiday to pack people into the malls so they can make a little extra money, or maybe it is there to respect the cultures of other countries around the world. It could be a combination of both of these things, but I think the real reason is that they just want to celebrate, and this gives them a reason to do so. It is a lesson that the rest of the world could learn from. Does it really matter why we celebrate Christmas anymore, or is it more important that we do celebrate? Should we discourage other cultures because they do not celebrate the same holiday that we do, or should we join them in their celebration? It might mean that we might get fatigued by celebrating too often, but in the long run is anybody ever really sad when they celebrate these holidays? We might be a happier world because of it.

I know it is the beginning of the holiday season, and no matter holiday you celebrate, I hope you have a happy one, but please take the time wish everybody else the same thing. Share in that kind of joy.

Traffic – Downtown Bangkok

Traffic coming into downtown on Sukhimvit Road on a Friday night.

Bangkok has become one of the premiere destinations in the world to go on vacation to. It is a big, exciting city with many cultural sites worth visiting, and a lot of great food to experience. Once you get to the downtown area, it is a lot of fun to travel to all of the spots and to enjoy the nightlife. As a city, it is constantly growing, and because of this, there are more and more vehicles on the road. The city did not really plan in advance for this kind of growth, and because of this, a trip downtown on a Friday night could turn into a nightmare stuck in the backseat of a cab. The traffic jams that happen in this part of Thailand make moving from one place to another almost impossible, and it is the biggest headache that this city has to offer.

One of the many klongs that can be found in Bangkok. This is another option for getting around downtown.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that Bangkok is an old city that was designed with canals, or klongs, that would be used to transport people from one place to another. They are still in use today, and if you go down to certain spots, you are still able to catch a water-taxi that can take you to many of the sights that you will want to see. It is part of the appeal of this big city, and part of its charm. It is not the fastest way to get around normally, but during the snarl of rush hour traffic on a Friday, it could save a person an hour of time that could be spent doing something more productive like eating pad thai or have a drink with friends.

The Jim Thompson house, one of Bangkok’s many sights and is easily accessible from a klong, or the BTS.

Bangkok is doing a lot to modernize the city so it allows visitors to get around more freely, but they are still in the process of making this happen and it has not quite been completed yet. They have two line of elevated trains that are called the BTS, and yes, they are the original BTS, not the boy band from Korea. It will take you to many of the bigger sights, but it is situated only in the downtown area, and has not made it out to the suburbs yet. They are working on bringing the line all the way down to Min Buri right now, but until it is completed, it is just causing the road that it follows to be a bigger mess than it usually is. They also have two subway trains that will take you to many more locations. The only problem is the BTS and the subway system are owned by two different companies which makes transfers between the two a little difficult. Despite this small problem, it is helping with the congestion problem in Bangkok, and taking the BTS is a great way of getting a bird’s eye view of the city while traveling from place to place.

The sun setting over Bangkok from the view of one of the many rooftop bars in town.

Bangkok is a great city that blends old Siam culture together with the conveniences of modern times. It is going through some growing pains right now as it tries to figure out all of the intricacies to put it on the map as one of the greatest destination cities in the world, and even though the traffic is its biggest problem, it should not discourage people from coming out here and enjoying everything that it has to offer. If you do, just make sure that you understand that you will not always get around as fast as you would hope, and a little patience is in order.

The Mythology of Thailand – Chiang Mai, Thailand

One of many elephany statues found in Chiang Mai

When most people think of Thailand, they think of all of the exotic animals that can be found here. There is a plethora of birds, monitor lizards, monkeys, and tigers, and it is impossible to talk about this part of the world without bringing up the elephants. Many people travel to Chiang Mai just to spend some time with these majestic creatures, but if you do come out here to do that, please make sure you do your research first, and find the places that treat the animals well.

A statue of a horse found at Wat Phra Singh

And yes these types of animals all exist out here, and in the short time I have been here, I have been able to come across most of them as well as some that you would expect to see in other parts of the world as well, such as horses, water buffaloes, cats, and dogs. Yes, there are plenty of dogs all over the place. Someday, I will have to do a post dedicated to the soi dog epidemic, but that is not what this post is really about.

A naga at the entrance of the shrine at Wat Phra Singh

One of the reasons I became an English teacher was because of my love of mythology. I have always been fascinated by the stories that were told by the greatest of mythology, but more importantly the mythical creatures that I have come across throughout my travels. I knew that there was a mythology associated with Thailand that takes from both Hindu and Buddhist traditions, but it wasn’t until I made it out to Chiang Mai that I was able to fully understand that rich history behind this mythology and how it is still ingrained within the culture of Thailand.

Nagas can be found at most temples as the guardians to the images of Buddha. They appear as large snakes, sometimes with more than one head, and even though the legend tells of these creatures being born from the Hindu deity, Kadru, their legend is more associated with Buddha himself. When Buddha first reached nirvana under the boa tree while looking out at a river, he was protected from any interruptions from one of these creatures. It is the reason why many of the temples have them at their entrances. Beyond this, they are also associated with the Thai New Year when people will have the biggest water fight anywhere in the world. It is believed that the spraying of water into the air will appease these beasts and they will pop their heads out the many rivers, and the ocean to squirt water in the air and allow for a very rainy season.

The statue of the Three Kings with the royal seal on the building behind them depicting a garuda

The brother to the naga would be the garuda. This is the mythical beast most associated with royalty in Thailand, and is a part of the actual seal of all official documents. It is a creature that basically has the head and arms of a man, but the rest of his body is that of a bird. As far as the stories go, there is only one garuda, and he is the half-brother of all the nagas. They both have the same father, but the garuda’s mother was Vinata. The two creatures fight in an eternal battle with each other with the garuda consuming as many nagas as he can come across.

A yaksha

Though the brothers have some sibling rivalry to content with, they both are mortal enemies of the yaksha. This creature can be found at numerous temples and as stone statues in front of people’s houses. They carry around clubs and cause havoc wherever they go. They are considered demons and they are most closely related to the ones that Buddha had to contend with during his lifetime. They appear in many of the tales across Thai classical literature, and even though they take on the role of the antagonist in many of the stories, they are not always evil.

There are many other creatures that can be found at many of the wats and temples all across Thailand, and they each add a specific flavor to the culture of this country that gives the world a unique and varied mythology. It triggers my imagination, taking it to places that will allow for me to create stories and campaigns for games, and I am happy to be able to learn more about this culture, not only from its beautiful landscape and food, but also from the collection of stories that it has told.

 

A Land of Color – Chiang Mai, Thailand

The east wall of the old city that was once used to protect the city

I was doing a quick flip through the pictures I have taken so far this school year. They started in Oregon City, Oregon a day before I got on a plane to fly out to Thailand. There was a distinct change in the amount of color that was present in the pictures that I took before I left as opposed to the world of color that I live in now. To be fair, that last day in America was an overcast day which is part of the reason why it was not as colorful because Oregon is usually a beautiful place to visit. But it is not Thailand with its explosion of color and its expressive nature.

One of the wats in the old town that transforms itself into a market every Sunday evening

Now, I know that there are other places in the world where the colors explode much in the same way that they do in Thailand. From the pictures I have seen from India, I know that it is an even more expressive place and the colors cause a sensory overload. But every corner that I look down in Thailand I am able to see the same kinds of color showcased. From the temples to the markets, I never feel bored with what I see.

A display of lanterns used to celebrate the end of the monsoon season

It might have helped that I was in Chiang Mai during a Buddhist holiday. What would best be described as their Lent period ends in October to signify the end of the monsoon season. The monks have been sequestered in their temples during the last three months so that their wandering would not tread upon the rice fields and destroy the much needed crops, but now that it is about time for harvest and the rains will no longer turn the fields into the muddy environment needed to grow these plants, they no longer have a need to hide out. It is at this time that they receive their new robes, and there is much celebration that accompanies this moment. This helped add to the color, as the temples were adorned with yellow, white, purple, and red lanterns.

Even boa trees are decorated in a display of color for the holiday

Despite the temples, markets, and celebrations, there is also nature that adds to this color. Thailand in covered in trees and there are always various shades of green that contend with the landscape. There is also thousands of flowers all over the place that add to the color. And when it is not colorful enough, the people of Thailand know how to add their own touch so that it creates a harmony with the natural surroundings and makes everything look festive.

Even KISS does not look as drab in this environment, but then it might be because they are made to look like giant lego mice

It is this addition to the whole color wheel to the landscape that makes even the drabbest of color pop out when you come across it, it still seems to add to the festive nature. Black no longer looks like it should be associated with evil, but instead it just adds to how colorful the place can be.

Thailand is a land not afraid of color, and they love to display it in all aspects of their lives from their homes to their food. It is one of the things that makes this place such a destination for millions of people each year, and it is what makes it a fun place to live in as well.