Having explored some of rural Thailand for a few days we were ready to hit the big hills and head towards Kao Yai national Nature reserve.
We had both been looking forward to this for a long while. One of the things we’ve both enjoyed most about the trip so far has been the amount of time we’ve spent outdoors. The nature reserve is a UNESCO site and boasts some spectacular scenery, wild elephants, gibbons, guars and in the more remote areas, tigers apparently.
We knew it would be a tough day of continual climbing to reach the campsite situated at the top of the reserve. It was also Paddy’s birthday but he said he was very happy to spend it waking up in a Buddhist temple and climbing a huge mountain! 🙂
We had an early start thanks to the temple schedule (4am prayers and 6am breakfast!) and with our bellies full we headed north out of Prachin Buri towards the south entrance of the park.
Thanks to Paddy’s navigation app we made good headway for the first 15km and took the scenic route across a huge reservoir, the nature reserve dominating the skyline beyond.
We soon found ourselves in a tricky spot when the ‘road’ on the map turned into more like a dried up stream. We ended getting off and pushing/lifting the bike down this bumpy track.
Back on the road we rip up a few more miles just as the sun really starts to break through the morning mist. We both automatically reach for our cycling glasses but with horror realise we have lost them somewhere along the bumpy track (groan). We retrace our steps along the road and while I hold the bike (that kick stand can’t come soon enough!) Paddy runs up to see if he can find them. 20 minutes later he scampers back down looking triumphant.
The glasses mission lost us an hour and by the time we reach the entrance it’s already 10.30, but anyone who knows us will know we’re used to losing our possessions like this.
At the gate we meet a friendly Thai cyclist who is out for a Sunday morning cycle from Prachin Buri. We explain we’re heading for the top while jealously eyeing up his unloaded lightweight road bike.
We grudgingly pay our 400 baht each to enter the park (locals only pay 40!) and start the 35km climb.
It’s tough going, some of these inclines are 11/12% and our legs soon become aware of the 34kg of luggage we are dragging up with us (that’s not to mention the weight of the bike and ourselves!)
Paddy attempts to give me a boost by quoting motivational phrases at me which he apparently picked up in Scotland while doing a rowing race. ‘Pain is simply weakness leaving the body’ he tells me… I reply by telling him to ‘simply sod off’.
Despite our legs regularly screaming in pain and our painstakingly slow ascent (6km/h up one incline) we do make good headway. The route is obviously a popular one for road cyclists and we pass big groups of them streaming the other way. It’s nice to receive their supportive and empathetic cheers as they zoom past us.
We stop for lunch at a waterfall having done a third of the distance but two thirds of the overall climb. As long as the road doesn’t have too many down sections it should be easier from now on.
We fuel up on rice and meat and take half an hour out to walk to the waterfall.
Back on the bike we continue to climb, we see lots and lots of elephant dung but unfortunately no actual elephants. 😦
There is lots of up and down sections, the road is CRAZY! We climb a steep hill and to our dismay are met instantly by a downward stretch… However, we finally reach the campsites (there are 2 to choose from) and settle on the second. As we drive into the entrance a Dutch couple are sat waiting with their two bikes. It’s always nice to meet other cycle tourers and we exchange stories for a while before we pick out a spot to pitch up.
We choose the liveliest section- although it’s Sunday evening the site is full of lots of Thais – one group can be herd singing along to a guitar. It’s just like being in a festival back home! Perfect!
Once set up we realise that it’s not possible to get our hands on any beer. Alcohol is technically prohibited in the reserve, but all the Thai groups have brought their own and are happily sipping away at ice cold beverages. Damn, we should have done our research!
Once showered we enjoy watching the wild deer roaming the campsite and while taking a few photos we get chatting to the friendly group with the guitars who, on closer inspection, are all wearing t-shirts saying ‘Gang Zu Club’ on them.
They have a great camping set up and are SO FRiENDLY! We love chatting to them and they invite us over so we take up the offer but in exchange, insist they have to teach us some Thai.
We end up having a terrific night with the ‘Gang Zu Club’ who are here for the bank holiday (it turns out it is a Buddhist holiday in Thailand). We eat steak, drink beer :-), and share songs. Hilariously the first song they choose to play to us is Zombie by The Cranberries!
They teach us Thai and in exchange we teach them the dice game 5000.
It was the perfect evening for Paddy’s birthday and we sleep soundly looking forward to a good jungle hike the next day!