I don’t think it’s possible for me to just have a “chill” day off.
In just one day, I managed to survive the 45 km. ride to Tai Rom National Park while it was “pissing down;” got a flat tire (thankfully near a repair shop); explored the most beautiful cave ever; and wound up (accidentally) nearly taking off the heads of a few Thai kids in a water park.
I ventured to Tai Rom Yen on my trusty pink scooter since there are no buses that go out to that area. It helped ease my paranoia about driving (maybe/not really – I’ll always hate driving anything), since the highway was just a straight shot for a drive a little under an hour. Even in the rain, I gained enough confidence to be pushing 80-90 kph (probably not the wisest, but it’s really easy to go fast without even realizing it). It’s so freeing to cruise on a motorbike alone and to watch the beautiful green hills whizz by.
After all the work of maneuvering through mud, potholes, and steep hills, I got to Dat Fa Waterfall only to be shooed away (“Close!”). Worst luck. It didn’t say anything about the waterfall being closed online (but then again, Thailand never updates anything online – they’re stuck in the paper/pre-computer age), but the good thing is that I still have another four months to go back. I should have known, since it’s the worst of rainy season right now…
Not to be deterred, I drove onward to Khamin Cave, which looked absolutely stunning in photos online.
It was only a 10 min. drive from the waterfall – and after accidentally pulling into someone’s driveway (happens at least once every day off for me) – my hopes were shattered of seeing the inside of the cave.
“No, no. Cannot.”
That was apparently the only English the lady at the info booth could muster up before calling a tour guide and having him explain to me in (broken) English. Apparently, since I was alone, the cave wasn’t open, since they only tour groups of 3-4 daily.
Well, damn. In all honesty, in the past two years, I’ve never had issues or been turned away from things solely because the fact that I was just one person, by myself. In fact, most companies were grateful I was only one body – even though that meant less money for them, it usually allowed me to squeeze into someone else’s group without them having to alter plans.
I felt frustration rising up in my chest, especially after 2+ hours of driving up and down, inside and out of muddy passageways while being pelted with rain (which, by the way, feels like being shot with BB guns continuously). I understood that I couldn’t argue with the policies (this isn’t my country, after all). However, I was exhausted and hadn’t accomplished anything except using a full tank of gas and seeing absolutely nothing I wanted to see.
So I decided to break the rules (cue the “Dumb ferang!” remark here).
The lady at the info booth wasn’t even paying attention, so I walked past her and up the steep stairs leading to the cave. I just pretended I was taking pictures while edging my way up subtly. Before long, I made it to the viewpoint…
… and then found the way to the entrance of the cave, which was pitch black. It was an enormous cave, the biggest one I’ve ever seen in Thailand so far. I wasn’t stupid enough to explore it on my own without a headlamp, but I did walk through the first part of it where the footpath was still visible from the light coming from the outside.
This was the third Thai cave I’ve been in – and the only other cave that compares was one in Punakaiki, New Zealand (and Waitomo Glowworm Cave doesn’t count because that’s in a league of its own). This was the most beautiful cave I’ve ever seen, and it wasn’t even in full effect – I’ll have to come back for that in proper high season to see it like this:
When I (nonchalantly) made my way back down the stairs, I drove to the main office for the national park and ran into a local who apparently lives or works (or both) across the way. He barely spoke a few words of English but just pointed back toward the cave, so I drove back and followed him. Much to the bemusement of info desk lady, he spoke to her in rapid Thai, I paid her the national park fee, and she reluctantly gave me a ticket to go up to the cave with him.
Yeah, I think I guilt-tripped a local into giving me a private tour of Khamin Cave.
So up the stairs I went again (my thighs were on fire later that evening). The cave was still pitch black, but a guide and flashlights obviously was better than what I had before. The stalagmite and stalactite formations were incredible – I’ve never seen anything like them.
There was even an abandoned jeep inside, and my guide pointed out a few words in English while shining his light on formations (“old lady,” “elephant,” “pink color,” etc.). The amazing thing was that all the formations really did look like everything he pointed out.
We even crossed under the rope at one point to get a better look at a white snake (not sure what the species was, but he deemed it that). I was fascinated, but I’m pretty sure my GoPro didn’t catch very good footage of it. There were giant spiders (see below – they bigger than our hands, and I’m NOT exaggerating) and tarantulas everywhere we looked. Hundreds upon hundreds of bats also lined the caves (they’re adorable up close), and the coolest thing was hearing (and feeling) them whoosh past us as they all flew to a different part of the cave. Basically, if you’re squeamish about those things, don’t come in here. 😉
After giving my thanks at the Buddhist mini shrine in the cave (for letting me see this after all), I zoomed out of there only to get a large screw wedged into my tire. My bike broke down a few meters away from a car repair shop, so it was fixed within 30 minutes (but not before all the guys howled with laughter and showed me the giant screw that was wedged inside the skinny tire). It ended up only costing $2.75 USD to get a brand new tire, and they all ran away and refused my additional tip – something I’ll never understand here. In America, that tip would be snatched without even a word of thanks (I’m joking, but really…).
When I was finally up and running again, I drove no more than 20 minutes before stopping again at Surat Water Park – something I couldn’t pass up on an incredibly humid day.
It was the silliest, smallest water park I’ve ever been in. There were at least 40 kids there, and when I rolled up to the cashier, she simply laughed out, “I think you biggest one. Where from?” All the parents of the kids were glaring (but still smiling), probably thinking I was a giant loser for being at a water park alone (yeah, and what?!).
The largest water slide yielded an amazing panoramic view of the lush forest both bordering and in the distance. I love water parks, but I’ve never been in one in a foreign country – let alone one in a country where English isn’t the native language. I was about three feet taller than every kid there (obviously). When they all got to the top of the slide, they stared at me while laughing and speaking rapid Thai to me.
It took me a good 15 min. to get down the slide, since I was letting every kid cut in front – but it never seemed to end, since kids were constantly running up the stairs. When I finally decided to go (and I thought I was in the clear), I screamed since I ended up going way quicker than everyone else. I obviously built up more momentum than everyone else since I was the Jabba the Hut of the bunch.
Before I knew it, I barreled straight into three or four Thai kids at the bottom of the slide who were lingering. I screamed my head off to try and warn them since I was going way too fast to grab the edges of the slide to stop myself. All my video caught was, “SORRYSORRYSORRYSORRY!” as I rammed into all of them and sent them flying into the water with me. Just imagine a giant boulder tumbling down a hill and plowing down trees in its path – that was the scene. I’ve never laughed harder, yet also felt more embarrassed and guilty, in my life.
Thankfully, they found it in good humor as much as I did, even though I’m sure every single one of their parents must have been watching in horror on the other side. Thankfully, there weren’t any newspaper headlines translating to “FERANG WIPES OUT KIDS AT WATER PARK,” either – at least, not to my knowledge (I don’t understand Thai, so I’d never know). To top it off, there was a guy with a DSLR camera at the bottom of the slide as well, and I swear that his mouth was open when I resurfaced after almost killing those kids. The remainder of my time in the pool was spent swimming underwater, on the neglected edge of the pool farthest away from the slides. Obviously.
I don’t think I’ll be showing my face at that water park again, but at least I got some photos out of it. For 60 baht ($1.12 USD), it was well worth the experience. Just another day in Thailand…