Khao Luang trek

by Marc Deschamps
Marc Deschamps

Thailand holiday a bit different.

We all heard it before: “My holiday in Thailand was great!”. Many tourists and other travellers refer to islands, beaches, palaces, temples, street food, tuk tuks, parties and friendly local people. But there is much more to explore in Thailand. Let me share with the more adventurous amongst you a very different way to explore this wonderful country. An exciting visit you will describe with words like jungle trekking, sleeping in hammocks, exhausting ascents and descents, blood sucking leeches, stunning nature, backpacks and hiking boots, a team experience, local culture with, local food, an unforgettable experience for sure.

We, my friend and I, decided to join a ‘four days three nights’ trek organiszed by Bangkok360 to climb Khao Luang in Nakhon Si Thammarat National Park in South Thailand, organised by a licensed local tour guide in May this year. A small team of nine friends, locals and foreigners, mixed gender, from young to a more experienced age.

Khao Luang is the highest mountain in South Thailand and the summit stands at 1835m above sea level. The trek is the only way to that mountain top and it starts at near sea level, so you know what to expect. A flight or drive to Nakhon Si Thammarat is how you get to the starting location. A one night’s stay to get to know each other over a delicious local Thai dinner at Pi Bao’s guesthouse in the “Tea House in Rain Forest” follows. He offers very simple but coszy accommodation and sufficient time to prepare your gear and back-pack for an early rise the next morning.

Khao Luang trek group pic 2019
blood sucking leeches

But wait! You need to consider a number of things before you embark on such a trek. Are you fit enough? Can you take your kids? I suggest not younger than 14 years of age, or when ‘are we there yet?’ is not used anymore. Do you have the right equipment? You sleep in your own hammock, with or without a mosquito net is your choice. Do you have good hiking shoes or boots? You will be wet and so will your shoes. How much can you or should you carry?

I suggest not more than 15kg in a 70 litre backpack. It is humid and hot when you start. It can be cold, wet and windy on the top. You will meet leeches regularly along the way. You get used to them, no worries – and you wear leech socks and long hiking pants. You will be drinking water from natural streams. A filter bottle is a good idea. Water will be essential. There is no light switch in the jungle at night, a headlamp helps. Your toilet is the forest.

Sleeping in tents in the jungle.

You have no phone signal either. Use the phone purely for photos. Power bank? Think it through, get packed and get excited. And The local tour operator can help you with advice and material if needed. After breakfast on day one, you load up for a short pickup car ride to where you meet the local team and park ranger at the National Park entrance. The local guides show us the way, carry food for the group and will cook most outstanding South Thailand dishes for us during the trek. The team pose for the compulsory ‘tai roop’, the first team photographs (we are in Thailand – remember) to document the moment for all.

Thailand jungle

Now you make that first step and cross the line into the jungle. The lush green of a most wonderful and ancient tropical jungle immediately embraces you and reveals its beauty, step by step. Fern trees, waterfalls and small cascades, delicate moss on tree barks, natural water streams with whitewashed stones to cross, hidden or more visible paths where you walk in line. The further you walk, the humbler and more silent you become as the forest and nature here has their own language and your senses start to listen. You feel the sweat dripping off your forehead, you feel the smile on your face grow and you start to see the glow in the eyes of your team members when you look at each other. You stop for necessary breaks to catch your breath, drink, assemble your strength, adjust your backpack or shoes. You are getting more experienced by the day. Four days to go, only forward, upward, then steep downward.

Lunch breaks are most welcome. Lunch is usually a small portion of rice with a smaller portion of meat or vegetable. You sit quietly or you talk with your friends, you enjoy the stunning views from the heights you have already climbed, you sometimes drop all but your swimming gear and sit in the stream just to cool down. You filter stream water and all fill their water bottles. Then, refreshed, you choose your position in the gang again – the fastest at the front, the more relaxed back of the line. Your personal energy balance must be measured and all will reach the night camp for sure. You slide back into the jungle’s green, grabbing stones, tree trunks, roots, anything when it gets very steep. You focus on your breath, you stop to take the most incredible pictures of landscapes, your friends in front or behind you, plant leaves, caterpillars, spiders, flowers of wild jungle orchids, the light beams entering the jungle, also of yourself sweating but still smiling, feeling free and happy. In these four days, nature will change from hot humid deep tropical jungle to fresh mountainous brush land with steep drops towards the top of your trek.

You will have 360 degree views with early wake up hilltop sunrise opportunities, you will have steep declines in the forest, partly sliding on your bottom or crawling on your knees. You gear up when it rains, you remove layers while moving down the mountain. You respect nature and the local cultural ways of living in the jungle, appeasing ghosts who allow you to visit their jungle and you do not name danger by its name to not jinx it. You learn to live the moment and to judge danger and act together, all depending on each other.

Every day, you will reach a night camp location. It is called so just because we stay here, though it is in the jungle still. Welcome to another great experience. Your legs are tired; your senses are wide awake. A first action is called for – you need two trees now. Which two trees are yours? The distance between them is relevant, the ground surface as well since your hammock will hang above it. What if it rains at night? Where do you put your backpack? Can you hang it up? It is day one and if you are not a usual hammock trekker, expect some learning curve. It is great fun and satisfaction once your fly sheet (your roof) is fixed, your hammock solidly mounted and tested. You are now ready for a wash at the stream flowing through your camp, while dinner is being prepared in a makeshift kitchen by your experienced local guides.

Dinner time! You can eat a whole bear, your body tells you that your batteries are depleted for today. New energy is needed. The team huddles under a large fly sheet roof, sitting on a plastic sheet on the floor, enjoying the most incredible Thai food dishes, prepared with skill and containing added fruits, vegetables and local plants collected during the trek in the jungle. Incredibly delicious and in a quality and variety which deserves Michelin stars. You lean on backpacks and watch the sudden sunset in the jungle, the change of lights, from sunlight to red to grey to pitch dark. You enjoy these views, you talk, share and hang around with the gang until you feel it is time to slide into your prepared sleeping bag inside your hammock. You view the pictures of these unforgettable memories each day pass through your mind. Your eyelids get heavy and you glide into sleep, satisfied, tired but happy.

The new day starts with the first light. It is a relaxed getting up, sometimes showering, brushing teeth or bathing in the stream, filling water bottles, packing up your ‘bed’ and your backpack, having another exquisite and fully cooked Thai multiple courses breakfast with multiple courses, coffee or tea. You will need the energy. Then you lace up and when your backpack goes onto your shoulders and you hear the click of the straps, your eyes start to shine, the smile slides back into your face, your eyes scan the environment and the beauty around you and there it is again – the first step of the new day. All in our team feel it!

Leave nothing but footprints – take nothing but memories.

Useful Links:
FB Posts Marc Deschamps
Khao Luang National Park
TeaHouse in Rain Forest (Host is Pi Bao)

Bangkok360 (English)
Bangkok360 (German)
Bangkok360 FB

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