I often have expectations of how I think a certain day or trip should go, and our recent adventure was no different. Nik and I have been planning a trip to Doi Inthanon National Park to go camping. We do not have camping gear, but I had done a little research and found that they rent tents and blankets at the Park Headquarters. They also provide free fire wood and have several restaurants throughout the park to eat at. Perfect! Nik and I could make the 1 1/2 hour drive in the morning, rent and pitch our tent in the afternoon, then have the rest of the day to see the highest peak in Thailand and sit around a campfire. The trip would be very inexpensive (500 baht max) and simple. Here was our chance to reconnect with nature and leave our cushy amenities behind!
Well, as with most expectations, mine weren’t met. We didn’t leave Chiang Mai until 12:30, so we had to find lunch half way to our destination. This was difficult because there weren’t many towns, and we didn’t see any street side vendors. We finally went through a small town, and I had to convince Nik to make a U-turn to go to a small soup shop.
When we made it to the park, we were slapped with a 400 baht/person plus 20 baht/bike entry fee. I guess I missed that in my research, so there goes my cheap getaway.
At the time, the weather was beautiful, but we could see storm clouds rolling in. We decided that we should go on to the top to get the best views, and as we reached the top, the clouds met us there. We could see to the north, but not to the south. Ugh!
The Highest Spot in Thailand*
We left the summit after some dilly-dallying around 4pm, and if the park headquarters was anything like the ones in America, they would be shutting down in about 30 minutes. The clock was ticking. We made it to the headquarters and they were still there, but they don’t rent tents. The man at the information desk was very apologetic and told us that there were some bungalows just around the corner. I was insistent on the tents, so he made a call and found out that someone had tents in a town called Ban Mae Klang Luang. On our way to the village, the sun was setting, and a nice yellow glow was cast over the rice fields. To me, this meant it was going to be dark soon, and we still didn’t have a tent or fire, so we better hurry up. To Nik, this meant we had to stop and take photos. We stopped. But that view wasn’t perfect. We stopped again. Daylight’s fading….we need to set up camp!!! Nik finally got his shot.
The Shot: Rice Fields at Sunset
We made the turn toward the village, and saw a small snack stand with 5 or 6 locals sitting around drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. This must be it because there wasn’t much more. We stopped and asked about tents. I’m not sure anyone understood our question, but they pointed to another building 100 meters away that looked like the rec-lodge at summer camp. This was promising, but no one was there. We looked around for a minute and noticed that there were also bungalows. The bungalows were simple, but they were at sitting between the base of Nik’s rice field and a large stream. Slightly defeated, we agreed that a bungalow could be nice.
Eventually one of the locals came over to offer assistance. He obviously didn’t own or work at the place, so he made a call on his cell phone. I assume he was calling the owner, but no one answered. Then a silver pick-up truck pulled in next to us with 5 men in the back. One of them with a green t-shirt wrapped around his head seemed to be a friend of the original guy, and he started acting as the interpreter. They were both laughing a lot and didn’t act like they knew what they were talking about. The first guy went up to the desk at the rec-lodge and found a book. He looked in it, then the guy in the truck said, “500 Baht for bungalow.” I’m guessing the book was nothing more than a guest book, so I don’t know where the 500 baht came from. Nik and I talked a little by ourselves, but 500 baht was more than I was willing to pay after the 820 baht hit at the entrance. So we asked, What about tents? He looked in the book again, then they talked and laughed back and forth a little more, and the guy in the truck said “250 Baht for tent.” At this point I felt like I was being had. It seemed like these were just two random guys trying to get us to give them money, so we walked away. As we got back to the main road I asked Nik, “Did I really just make us turn down a comfortable bed in a quaint bungalow at the base of the most beautiful rice field in Thailand because it was $15/night???” Nik said, “Yep, you did.” But he backed me on the sketchiness of the situation.
Defeated, we went back to the park headquarters and checked into a bungalow there, which was 600 baht/night and didn’t have anything close to the atmosphere. Ugh!!! What a day.
Eco-Lodging & Cafeteria
But it wasn’t over. We still had to eat dinner, and I still had hopes of being one with nature. One way we could do both of these would be to go to the fresh produce market that we passed earlier, then we have a nice picnic in the park. Sounds good, right? As I suggested this, Nik informed me that we didn’t have any gas. Neither of us remembered how far away it was, but we decided to risk it. We’ll walk. We were tired and hungry, but fresh produce would be worth it. Luckily, we didn’t have to walk very far!!! Horray, maybe this day wasn’t a complete failure. But wait. The market stalls are there, but there’s no market. It was closed. Back to the park headquarters to have dinner at the soulless cafeteria that is probably going to rip us off even more.
The cafeteria wasn’t that bad. We both had Pad Siew for 30 baht each, but we weren’t any closer to nature. We bought a few sweets at the little convenient store, went back to the bungalow, and sat on the porch and read while listening to frogs and crickets. Me and nature….I guess.
I’m not exactly sure why, but we went on a walk. It was pitch black outside, and it took our eyes a while to get used to it. We found a stream, then we saw something glowing in the field on the other side. It looked like a long white illuminated tunnel, and that’s exactly what it was. Most of the farms near us were flower farms, and these white tunnels were made of translucent white plastic stretched over bamboo arches with compact florescent bulbs hanging from each arch. During the day, they weren’t that spectacular, but at night, they looked like enormous glowing silk worms crawling through the valley. We walked around for about an hour trying to get a good view so that we could take a photo. We never found the right shot, but the adventure was worth it. I even took us hiking up a drainage ditch! Finally, me and nature!!
Flower Farm: Day | Night*
We had a satisfying night’s sleep, and woke up this morning with a new take on life. We had no expectations, and just rolled with it. We filled up the tank before visiting most of the park’s waterfalls, and had lunch on a bamboo platform floating in the water! After lunch it rained and rained and rained, but as I have mentioned before, escaping the rain has created some of the best moments on our trip. Our lunch host offered us a dry seat in her kitchen, and we happily obliged. Then we made our way up to a hillside picnic shelter where Nik read “The World according to Garp” and I read “Invisible Cities”. The rain calmed down and we headed home. It was a long ride, and we were exhausted. It was very nice to finally take the hot shower I had been anticipating the entire trip home!!! Wait…I thought I was done with expectations?
Mae Klang Waterfall*
Dining Room with a View*
Nik’s Blog: Trip to Doi Inthanon National Park, Thailand
*These photos were taken by Nik.