by Jacob Jarvis
Every time our guide heard the slightest noise he’d pick up his binoculars, change direction and hurriedly whisper, “come, come, let’s go”, before making us traipse endlessly through the muddy footpaths of Khao Yai National Park.
Generally, this amounted to nothing except ruined trainers, sore ankles and close encounters with repugnant arachnids. These disgusting spiders thankfully usually hung around eight feet above the ground, making them easy to avoid, but the odd one would dawdle at head height as if it wanted to surreptitiously stroke against your face.
Out of nowhere we came to halt, I was urged to come forward and look to my left, where I was in touching distance of the tail of a sleeping crocodile. Even though it was looking the opposite direction, I still barely felt brave enough to stay that close for any more than ten seconds. Hidden in the undergrowth, I couldn’t help but think how easily it could have creeped up on me if I was alone. It’s armour-like dark green scales were hardly visible as it rested their, presumably digesting a meal, or waiting for a new one to come along. After the whole tour group attempted to defy the sneaky predator’s natural camouflage to get a good photo of it, we were on the move again.
Filled with new motivation we continued with more purpose and soon enough we heard a sound I can only liken to a malfunctioning car alarm. A far off echoing whoop made us all stop, we told to wait and the head of our troupe ran off to see if the unknown animals were near. This unnatural wail turned out to be a pack of gibbons, causing chaos amongst the trees. They were too far away for us to reach without getting lost, but their sound honestly put me off anyway. Stupidly I’d bought along bananas in my bag as a snack, and I didn’t like the idea of these mischievous apes coming and tearing them out.
We spotted a few small lizards and tiny, thankfully not venomous, snakes on the way back to the transport, but nothing as scary or impressive as the croc. The main attraction for Khao Yai National Park is its herds of elephants which live in the grounds. Nobody I’d spoken to had been spotted them though, so I wasn’t expecting our ‘elephant hunt’, minus the killing, to be a success. The car sidled through the park and we saw nothing but the grey monkeys so common in South East Asia, a couple of small deer, and endlessly vegetation.
Pulling around a bend as the day was drawing in, we saw three cars parked up, and our driver banged on the side of the car and told us to stay inside. I though the large grey creatures would be easy to spot, but honestly it was more difficult to see than the crocodile. Obviously scared of the attention it was getting, our first elephant of the day munched its way through plants on the hillside, clearly hoping if it acted as normally as possible, we might go away. Unfortunately for the begrudging and bemused celebrity, little did he know that his shyness made him endlessly more endearing, as we peered out at this huge animal, somewhat succeeding to blend in between spindling trees and bushes. After the millionth holiday snap had been taken of it I was starting to pity the lone wanderer, and was glad when the car started moving again so it could be left alone.
Content with spotting just one of these dozy grey blobs on the landscape, it was an added surprise that as the light was about to go and bats were gliding over our heads, in the distance we spotted a whole family of them. This time it was clear taking photos was pointless, they were so far away. For me this was the best way to see them, completely comfortable, unaware of us, just living as they would.