24-Dec-2004 -- This is the third in a series of six confluence vists/attempts during a trip to Thailand in December 2004/January 2005 (Start).
After spending the night in the Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park close to 17N 101E we retraced our steps to Nakon Thai, filled up the truck and had some breakfast. After that we headed to Chat Trakan where we turned north on Hwy 1237. From here on the roads are narrower and see not much through travel. Only people living or trading in the villages in these northern provinces are traveling here. At one of the military/police check points a surprised officer asked us why we would want to travel to this remote area. Progress was relatively slow since the roads wind through very mountainous terrain.
We took a break at a waterfall in the Phu Soi Dao National Park. We saw some pictures of the spectacular backcountry; this is a place to come back to and do some overnight hiking. As we continued up north on Hwy. 1268 we came across a large group (>100) of monks. It was quite a sight to see all these men in orange robes walking down this narrow mountain road. We later learned that they were on an annual mission that took them across hundreds of kilometers of northern Thailand. They did this barefoot or in flip-flops.
Eventually the paved road took us to a village and within about 3.5km of the confluence. There were numerous dirt tracks leading in the general direction of the confluence. We just picked one and followed the GPS. After several dead ends and about 2.4km from the confluence the roads became trails and too narrow for our truck. We stopped close to a farm house to inquire about possible roads or trails in the direction of the confluence.
Fortunately someone was home. The lady we talked to knew about longitude and latitude, she had a University degree in agriculture. She told us that there are really no roads towards the confluence, but that walking 2.4km in that direction was no problem and that she would join us. So while we put on our hiking boots she went back to the house to lock up and change.
Walking through the fields and hill was indeed not very demanding at first. We were following very faint trails. After we closed in on the confluence to within 1.3km the hills became steeper and higher and our guide got tired, so we decided that Chris and I would continue while the others waited with our guide.
When we were about 500m from the confluence we found ourselves on a hill with a fairly deep canyon with steep side walls in front of us. On the other side of the canyon we faced another hill. The confluence is somewhere on that hill, but possibly on the other side. We were sure that it could be reached since the vegetation looked the same as what we had been dealing with up to this point. We estimated that it would take us 1-2 h round trip from where we were. We were both down to less than half a liter of water and we still had over an hour to hike back. With the rate of perspiration we were already cutting it close. So we made the difficult, but smart, decision to turn around and leave this spot for another time. Given enough water and time it should be no problem to reach this confluence.
After we returned to the guide’s house we visited a little and enjoyed fruits (pineapple, tamarind) that she grew around here house. Since we were in an area that rarely sees tourists there was no accommodation near by, our best bet was to drive to Nan. We asked about the roads and were assured that they are in good condition, i.e., paved which would translate into about a 3h drive. Well, turns out all is relative. Since the roads here see so little traffic the jungle is taking them back. In many places parts of the road are missing due to small landslides, in other places grass and bushes are narrowing the road to just one lane. As it was getting dark we reached a small mountain pass and a military check point. The border patrol officers (we were only a few kilometers from the border with Laos) were happy to see someone pass their lonely outpost, foreigners no less! They gave us the full treatment: checking of our luggage and paper work. That is they wanted to see my drivers license and passport, they didn’t care about the others passports. Most of the time we didn’t have to show any paper work when we got stopped and if we had to show something it was always only the driver who had to show identification.
Done with the checkpoint we were looking forward to another hour or so of driving before we could end the day with some cold Singh beer. Alas, it was not to be that easy. Just a couple of kilometers after the checkpoint the road made a sudden right turn down a hill and pavement ended. It was like a scene from Twilight Zone: A happy group of travelers suddenly got quiet when the road changed and the light beams from the trucks headlights hit the trees and bushes of the jungle which now was really close to the single track dirt road. We went from a nice paved road to a dirt road with ruts and wash outs in no time. 15km later the pavement returned as suddenly as it had vanished and we arrived in Nan after not too much driving in the dark. (Driving in the dark in these parts is no fun with animals, people, little motorcycles, cars, etc. on the road without proper lighting or even reflectors)
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