Monday, January 16, 2006

When Adventure Calls

A crazy sort of idea was put into our heads a few weeks back from the owner of Cave Lodge, John. He suggested that we get a few innertubes and float lazily down the river the goes through Um Pang and end up in a Karen village three days later. He said that the scenery is stunning and it would be an adventure.

Maybe its because John has been through so many adventures and life threatening experiences in his lifetime that we are reading about in his very interesting book, called Caves Coffins and Chaos (you can borrow when we get back) but the words "dangerous" or "rapids" did not really surface from his description.
We went into Um Pang with a mission, we wanted this trip if at all possible and determination proved an adventure for sure.

We met Tui on the five hour songthew ride into Um Pang that happens to include some 1200 stomach squeezing, head-spinning turns in 150km; that's an average of 8 curves per km! We ended up staying at a guesthouse that Tui helps run and this proved indispensable to us because of all the help he was in the days to come. The next day we caught a ride in to see Ti Lor Su waterfall and told of our plans to go down the river. Tui thought that we were crazy for wanting to go on the river alone, but was excited for us and helped us for an entire day to gather supplies.

Three innertubes were needed for the trip, one for gear, two for us but alas after visiting all the garages in town we could only find two tubes that were big enough. Tui convinced us to take a bamboo raft, hard could it be really...right...
After talking to some guides we planned our rout. Many of them were convinced that we could not do the trip alone, and that a guide would be much better. WE think well of course because the guides really want to sell us a trip down the river. They said that it could be dangerous and that there were four sets of class two rapids that we would have to go through. From our trip down the Pai river on inflatable kayak we knew that class two rapids really are not so big, and we thought if we need to we will just go around... Somehow. We were not wanting to settle and go on an expensive rubber boat ride down the river. It was difficult to trust the word of someone who is trying to sell you something, we wanted to see for ourselves.

The nervousness really started to sink in when we saw our ready prepared bamboo raft. It had to have been 7 meters long, seemingly much longer than the ones that we took through Cave Lod weeks before (that 20 minute stint sitting on the raft was the extent of our bamboo rafting experience). As we tied down our gear, the Thai guides looked on in amazement at what we were proposing to do. They did insist that we take paddles (we were very thankful later) and not just use the Bamboo poles that were quickly found useless when the river just downstream merged into the Mae Klong and our 3 meter long poles could not reach the bottom.

Excitement and adventure in our minds we pushed from the shore somehow confident even though we had no clue really what we were doing. The scenery was immediately awing but we also soon learned the unyielding nature of the bamboo raft. Steering was basically impossible with our non-existent skills, the current constantly pushing and pulling the raft sideways. We were doing ok until the river started rounding corners into overhang limestone rock cliffs. The problem was that the raft was being pulled into the cliffs' undercut-bank (the fastest part of the river in a meander) but the rushing water kept going under disappearing to re-emerge who knows where. Adrenaline racing through our veins we paddled as hard as possible to escape a possible-but not probable situation where the river sucks us under the overhang. Panicked we managed with some difficulty to come ashore downstream and weigh our options. We spent well over an hour on shore before building the courage to go back on the river, our goal for the day was to get to a waterfall downstream. In irony we got stuck immediately between a rock and the cliff overhang with the raft completely perpendicular to the river and threatening to flip us over but we dislodged and kept going.

When we got to the waterfall we were amazed. The small spout of water cascades over a limestone cliff to a mist in the river. Water dropped from hundreds of stalactites hanging almost eerily from the cliff wall. Breath-taking, this is where we spent our first night. Even stranger was the creepy sounds that occasionally came from the cliff sounding like thunder inside. It is very possible that there are caves inside but we could not explain the noise, it seemed that the whole thing may just give up and fall into the river. But this was just another factor that made our trip unique and exciting. The second day we only went down the river maybe 1 hour to some hot springs, a very nice spot but inundated with hordes of Thai tourists. Many Thais (mostly from Bangkok) make the river trip by packing into a rubber raft. Waking up on a Saturday at the springs dozens of groups of tourists are all over. We figured that at least 50 boats went down the river most would shout 'hello!' 'where you from?' or just cheer us on. We noticed enviably how easy the rubber rafts would steer. We found out on the last day that our problem was that not only were we trying to steer the boat backwards, but that we were in the wrong position to steer from. This news delighted us at the new possibilities of rafting. We also gave in and had two guides take us through the set of rapids just down the river from the springs. I thought we might flip but we were fine and made the rest of the day alone with hard paddling at parts but no incident or danger. We made it to Ta Pa Leut, a drop off point for the Thai tourists where the boats are then taken back to Um Pang, our ticket back.

We only went about half of the distance we intended, but to go more would mean to brave more rapids-alone and spend another night that we didn't plan on. I feel confident that we could have completed the entire journey even if we were to go for a swim but the pride of getting to where we were was enough for me. Especially as the Thai guides congratulated us with big thumbs up.

Not exactly the relaxing trip that I had envisioned but an amazing experience in determination and adventure. I could never forget this and I would not change anything.

Now for the visual aspect:

Squishy Squishy...the ride to Um Pang, now thats one full pick-up! The people you can't see are on the roof


The famous Ti Lor Su waterfall, it is much more impressive in the rainy season with twice the flow of water but the surrounding jungle is some of the thickest in Thailand and it was really neat to walk around in

Awww so cute

A part of Ti Lor Su

Jungle around the waterfall -check out that buttress!

The water was a gorgeous turquoise it reminded me of Seaton Lake in Lillooet.

Tarzan Dan!

Now for our trip, I was not able to take so many pictures because of the risk of my camera getting wet it was quadruple bagged and sealed in one of the plastic buckets-not very accessible.

innertube repair

Waiting (I just like this picture of myself)

Planning our rout, that's Tui on the right

Day one, about to depart

Ti Lo Jow Waterfall

A closer look

Cool stalactites

All this just across the river from our campsite


This is where I slept, by the way I love our hammock tents!

We actually managed to cook rice over the fire-not burnt or soggy!

'the beast' as I like to call it

It wasn't until after our trip that another person at the guest house informed us that we were not actually allowed to go on the river by ourselves, and that a guide was mandatory. He also told us that because the area is a large national park, many tigers still live here and he said that they can be a threat. However I do not believe that tigers in Thailand are a lot more of a threat than say bears or cougars back home (basically you would be lucky just to see them). Our trip would not have had the same adventure and discovery factor if we did have a guide and I feel very fortunate that we were able to do what we did.

So now we are back in stuffy overwhelming Bangkok en route to the south and BEACHES!! (I'm just a little excited)


At 12:37 AM, Blogger alter ego said...

omg breanne.

I think this is your best post yet. Man, what a freakin' amazing adventure you had! I'm picturing you rafting in a shitty bamboo raft down crazy rapids. Congratulations! That's sooo impressive!! I'm so happy to hear that you having such a great time.

Here's to more adventures for this year!!!

I miss you a ton!

love, Cathy

At 8:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Bree,

Love that you were on this long bamboo raft in a national park with no guide and tigers roaming. What an adventure! Glad you made it and look forward to seeing both of your pastey white Canadian bodies in future pictures on the beach!

Love you both lots!! Miss you!

Your sis


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