On Thursday a group of CIEE students decided we wanted to take advantage of our free weekend and leave our new home in Khon Kaen, Thailand. We found a national park a two and a half hour bus ride away with waterfalls and wild elephants and booked a bungalow that fit nine people.
When we arrived at the Khon Kaen bus station early Saturday morning station we found out that we would couldn’t buy a round trip ticket but we figured we could just buy it at the bus terminal on the way back.
Flash forward two and a half hours and we were nicely deposited at the sign for the entrance to the park on the side of the highway. No bus terminal or place to buy the return ticket in sight. But the bus had already left so we went up to the park rangers dressed similar to American military and asked about a return bus. There are two, we were told, at noon and 3pm. You catch them by flagging them down on the side of the road. With the happy knowledge we could indeed get back to Khon Kaen, we got lunch and went for a three hour hike to a “view point”, keeping an eye out for elephants as we were continuously warned by signs.
One of the many warnings of elephants.
While we were taking in the cool breeze and swinging in hammocks, a group of around fifty high schoolers walked up with their one teacher. Once we said “Sa wa dee ka” (hello in Thai) the students got really excited and giggly. One of them came up to Anna in the hammock and told her she was beautiful and could be a movie star. The student then asked if she could take Anna’s picture. Around twenty of them (my photo doesn’t include everyone), including the park ranger crowded in for a group photo.
We headed down the hill as a big group, and I fell in step with the teacher who attended Michigan State for a year. He told me about his time in America and also his students, many of whom were hiking for the first time as they photographed different plants for a biology project. We passed the group as they pulled off to take another group photo, and as we passed at least five of the students turned around and took selfies with us in the background. So who knows, maybe I’ll become an Internet sensation. The headlines will be along the lines of “Farang spotted hiking!” (Farang is a common word I’ve been called, meaning foreigner).
After the best night of sleep I have had in Thailand, we set out Sunday morning to find a shuttle to take us to the waterfalls, ordinarily a twenty mile round trip walk along the freeway. Turns out the waterfall is dry this time of year, so we went for a beautiful hour long hike instead.
Along the hike!
We then left the park/main area and walked the mile or so to the side of the freeway where we were to flag down the returning bus. We got there half an hour early, just to be safe, and started waiting.
Then the bus came!!!!! Unfortunately it was a wee bit crowded on the bus. In other words, all of us sat squished ourselves into the aisle along with about five other people. In Thai culture it’s improper for strangers to touch, especially between genders. I found myself sitting next to a Thai businessman in a collared shirt and tie in the ground in an open area at the back against the hot engine. After a brief moment of panic I decided it would be better if my backpack was wedged against him rather then my leg. Which left me hugging my knees to my chest and one arm half around my backpack in a desperate attempt to not touch anyone, including the people sitting on the hard plastic bench right behind me. Fun fact: the musical Hamilton is a great thing to listen to in every circumstance, but it really makes the time go fast. I would highly recommend listening to the entire musical should you ever find yourself on the floor of of a bouncy bus.
After another hour of traversing through heavy traffic in Khon Kaen in a Song Tao (a truck-like form of public transportation), we made it to the university and celebrated with watermelon smoothies and a fireworks show, courtesy of the university in a celebration of the end of the month-long agricultural fair.
Overall it was an amazing trip full of laughs and spontaneous adventures. And even though we only saw signs to beware of elephants and and pictures of waterfalls, it was fun to explore a Thai national park and bond with fellow program mates.