We wanted to hitchhike across the park to a highly recommended trail near a river. Our plan was to hitchhike to the trailhead, hike through to the waterfall at the opposite end, then hitchhike back to our place before dark. That, um, didn’t work out as planned.
We got picked up by a truck early, but it only took us halfway then dropped us off on the road, so we had to start walking. The sky was clear, the forest was beautiful, and we were enjoying our walk. After a kilometer or so I noticed movement high in the trees. I looked up and saw…gibbons!!! A whole family group (1 male and 4 females/young) swinging around in the trees! We both love these guys, they’re one of my wife’s very favorite zoo animals, and it was just amazing to get to see them in the wild, moving through real trees and being…natural. We couldn’t believe our luck that no one had picked us up for this stretch of the trip. We were able to watch them for some time, and it was one of my all-time mammal watching highlights.
White-handed Gibbons (Hylobates lar)
A few minutes later, I walked to the side of the road to look at a little creek, and was surprised by an explosion of red. Three beautiful multi-colored birds started flying around me. They had green and blue, but were most striking for their bright red that seemed to cover the underside of their bodies and wings. They kept flying and perching, flying and perching, but didn’t stay still long enough to get a good picture. This was the best I managed:
Red-headed trogon (Harpactes erythrocephalus)
A bit later we got picked up again and that truck took us to our trailhead. Again, we couldn’t believe our luck that the little stretch of road we walked gave us two awesome sights!
The river trail was quite beautiful. It was a different-looking forest than the one we had explored earlier.
Between the muddy trail, our break for lunch, and our careful inspection of the trees (looking for flying dragons and other agamas), logs (looking for water dragons and vipers), and river (looking for crocodiles and otters), we made very slow progress. Unfortunately, even though we took 3 hours to go 2 kilometers, all we saw in those first two kilometers were some streamside skinks and sapgreen stream frogs, and I was getting discouraged. This was the good reptile trail?
And then, just like that, I spotted it. One of the crocs! It was sunning on a massive log stretched out across the water.
Siamese Crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis)
Siamese Crocodiles are in a perilous state in the wild. There are only a handful known in Thailand, and only a few hundred left in the wild worldwide. Most of the crocodiles you see in the parks are hybrids bred for their skins, not the pure native Siamese Crocodiles. The two individuals at Khao Yai were not seen until recent years, and thus were most likely introduced hybrids. In fact, Siamese Crocodiles had never been known to be native to this park.
In order to get a decent picture I moved close to the water. I was thinking “So where is the other one?” and images of it bursting out of the water towards me flashed into my head. I tried to hug behind a tree on the water’s edge to keep from offering a direct line to the water as I snapped my pictures, when suddenly a large object on that tree came to life. A massive water dragon! I only got a quick picture as it shambled away, but it stopped further out for some good pics. It was easily 40” long with a big body. I didn’t even know water dragons could get so big. What a spot!
Indo-Chinese Water Dragon (Physignathus cocincinus)
After getting our fill of crocodile and water dragon photos, we moved down the trail, and soon found two more water dragons.
A little later the trail split. A cable bridge stretched across the river, with red arrows pointing towards it. I knew the road and parking lot would be on our side of the river, but we figured that the bridge and arrow must indicate something important, so we decided to cross. The steel cables were pretty spooky for me to have my wife cross – they swung a lot and she could barely stretch herself enough to reach at the end. I kept staring at the fast current and imagining the huge waterfall that was only a little ways downstream. However, she was loving it, and actually called that crossing one of the highlights of her trip.
Unfortunately, the trail on the other side was less appealing. It headed steeply uphill and was muddy, an unpleasant combination. Leeches swarmed in great numbers. At one point we had to leave the trail and fight through vegetation to get around a pond that had formed across it. We saw several frogs, but the only real notable find was this turtle on the trail:
Asian Leaf Turtle Cyclemys dentata
After a kilometer of that we gave up and turned around to cross back. Later we wished we had that 1.5 hours of our lives back…
When we got back to the trail, the parking lot was only a little bit ahead. And there we found…no one. It was empty. It fact, the gate was locked. We were at the end of the road, 14 kilometers from our dorm, dusk was coming, and the day’s sunny skies were being replaced by ominous storm clouds. Suddenly we were regretting the day’s careful pace. We made a beeline down the road with the hopes of intersecting a vehicle as soon as possible.
Well, not quite as quick as possible. First I flipped a couple promising rocks, and found an adult collared reed snake.
Collared Reed Snake (Calamaria pavimentata)
Then we made our way down the road. Unfortunately, the rains hit a few minutes after we started walking and darkness came down only half an hour later. We kept going through the dark storm with only a flashlight beam ahead of us. We did see a number of frogs crossing (sapgreen stream frogs, darkside narrowmouth frogs, cricket frogs, and a northern treefrog), and I was amused to see a crab run across the road in the rain! I began to think about the worst possible places to run into an elephant.
Three kilometers and 45 minutes got us to the first camp and the first signs of people, but no cars were on the road. Another two kilometers of pouring rain got us to the next camp, but still no one moving. Finally, a couple kilometers later, a spotlight truck came past us and let us jump on! That was a welcome sight, and a nice end to a very exciting day. Gibbons, trogans, crocodiles and water dragons…what more could you really ask for?