Conquering My Fears One Butterfly at a Time at Khao Yai National Park
Ever since I was a child, I’ve had an inexplicable fear of butterflies and all animals that fly. I’m not sure if something happened at some point – if I was attacked by a bird or had dreams of swarms of butterflies – but I am legitimately afraid of them. Suddenly, I find myself at Khao Yai National Park in Thailand, walking amongst birds and butterflies, of all shapes and sizes, spiders and insects, gibbons and monkeys – and I think to myself, what the heck am I doing here?
But then I look down at my leech socks and I remember that this is quite possibly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Khao Yai National Park is in the Nakhon Ratchasima Province, in the town of Pak Chong, and is easily accessible from Bangkok. From Mo Chit station, I took a bus for about 300 baht, round trip. Prices will vary depend ending on whether you take a local or direct bus. On the way there, I took a local bus, which made frequent stops and turned the two-and a half-hour trip into four hours, but the ride home was direct.
To get to the waterfall, we walked through, alongside and under hundreds of butterflies. They were all different sizes and colors and very beautiful. It’s a silly fear, but not too long ago I would have turned around and refused to walk that way
Khao Yai is the third largest park in Thailand, covering 300 square kilometers with forests, jungle and grasslands. There are 3,000 species of plants, over 300 species of birds and over 60 species of mammals. Our tour guide, Mr. Nine, took us on a three-and-a-half-hour trek through the thick of the park’s jungle.
My friend Niya, who was visiting from America, and I booked a guided tour through Greenleaf Guesthouse. We stayed there as well. The place had very basic accommodations. For 300 baht a night, you can get a room with a fan but without hot water. It did its job and the fan was more than enough at night. The area itself is a little barren with a few restaurants around and not many stores. It is not very touristy, which some guests can appreciate. The main part of town is out of reach without a car.
The tour was 1,300 baht and included the 400 baht entrance fee. (Tip: If you work in Thailand, you can show your work permit for a reduced entrance fee of 40 baht). It also included all transportation, snacks, water, lunch, leech socks, and an unforgettable experience. We were in Khao Yai for a full day, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., which ended in an hour long, unfortunately fruitless, drive searching for wild elephants.
Mr. Nine speaks great English and is wildly enthusiastic. He confidently led us through the jungle, stopping where he knew we would come close to creatures, setting up with a telescope and camera, eager to zoom in and get the perfect photograph. He took amazing photos on our iPhones through the telescope, and so we all have detailed photos of birds and monkeys.
We saw a Great Hornbill feeding its young in a nest and heard its thunderous wings flying over the canopy. We spotted a white gibbon, which looked just like it was stuffed, swinging over top of us, and we drove by what seemed like hundreds of wild macaque monkeys hanging out on the side of the road. Not to mention, we saw various insects, thousands of plant and flower species, barking deer, and gaur, and followed elephant footprints.
I learned that I really don’t enjoy trekking, and honestly don’t plan on doing it again anytime soon, but marveled in the fact that I saw animals that I may never see again.
After the trek, we had a lunch of steamed rice with a tofu stir-fry before we visited the Haew Suwat waterfall. To get to the waterfall, we walked through, alongside and under hundreds of butterflies. They were all different sizes and colors and very beautiful. It’s a silly fear, but not too long ago I would have turned around and refused to walk that way, but I guess living in Thailand has made me a bit braver. At the waterfall, I got into conversation with a group of monks where I showed off my very limited knowledge of Thai. We had some more snacks and prepared to end our day. Never once during the tour did I feel rushed or bored – it was truly a well-planned experience.
The group included four Australian women traveling together, a young man from Malaysia, and my friends and I. During our trek, we crawled under vines, hopped over logs and slid between trees. It was hot and humid, and we were sweating profusely, but we unanimously appreciated that this could very well be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I learned that I really don’t enjoy trekking, and honestly don’t plan on doing it again anytime soon, but marveled in the fact that I saw animals that I may never see again. It was an experience that I will forever appreciate and recall with pride.
Did you ever trek for three hours through a Thailand jungle? Oh, well I did.