One of the great things (or not so, depending on how you look at it) about marrying into a Thai family is that you end up getting taken to places on the spur of the moment, totally indifferent to where or what the destination is. And this turn around, during a visit to the wife’s hometown in Nakhorn Sawan, was no exception.
After spending the New Years in the concrete jungle of Bangkok, and next, only one night in the wife’s house, I was informed the very next morning that we’d be venturing to a national park in Kamphaeng Phet province not too far away. On hearing the news I was actually pretty chuffed, as in all my 13 years or so in the Land of Mangoes & Manholes, I had never been to Kamphaeng Phet. In fact, I had never even thought about visiting this somewhat ‘unseen’ province.
So, there we were with bags packed (and I mean ‘we’, there were over 10 of us) and told that the destination was going to be Khlong Lan National Park about 50km away nearing the Burmese border and not too far away from Thailand’s most beloved waterfall, Tilosoo in Tak province.
Now, the turn off to Khlong Lan on the main Nakhorn Sawan – Kamphaeng Phet – Tak road is certainly not an eye-catcher and there we were driving at snail’s pace before we finally found it.
Pretty jammy like, but my brother-in-law used to be the Chief of this park (now something like…Chief of Forest Fire Protection in the region) so the car received a password to get in for free…. and us too. If they had tried to stitch me for 200baht (entrance fee here for foreign tourists) I would not be writing this blog! Anyway, brother-in-law would like to assure readers here that as chief he had no powers over the two-tier pricing system. It’s standard national regulation, but did say that if the foreigner speaks a bit of Thai and/or lived here for a while, he’s not considered a ‘tourist’ and so pays the Thai price of 30baht, or ‘bath’ as they often like to spell it in Thailand.
After getting out the car at the main parking/lodging area, I was confronted with Khlong Lan Waterfall, by far-and-away the biggest waterfall I have ever seen in Thailand, pretty amazing – over 100meters high and 40 meters wide. The brother-in-law asked if we fancied doing the one hour nature trail to the top of the waterfall, but instead I fancied more the idea of tucking into the huge pile of grilled chicken and sticky rice which was being laid out on our mat. Not forgetting the Singha Beer too like!
Khlong Lan Waterfall is not the only waterfall in this national park, there are three more smaller ones Khlong Nam Lai, Lan Thae & Wang Lan waterfalls. There is also a impressive ‘khlong’ (wide stream) called Khlong Suan Mak where there is full-day hiking route and a cave with stalactites and stalagmites and a Chom Chan Cliff with a panoramic view of mountain ranges (some lingo there straight out of me Khlong Lan brochure!)
Well, after stuffing meself with tasty homemade sticky rice I popped into the park’s museum (all right, nothing special) before being introduced to the park’s chief – who was more than happy that a farang writer was gonna write a story about the park! (In fact, that day, I saw only one other farang – also with his Thai in-laws). Anyway, the chief informed me that the park was home to six different hill-tribes: Yao, Hmong, Karen, Lahu, Lisu and Akha. Unbelievable! I had never thought previous that there was such a diversity of hill-tribes in Kamphaeng Phet. The chief also told me that the park is home to lots of activities such as: trekking, hiking, rafting and bird-spotting (the type with feathers and beaks that is, not black mini university skirts).
Just before sunset, we were taken to our abodes for the night – tents. As in all national parks in Thailand, if you have your own tent it’s 30 to park it, or if not, small / large ones can be rented along with sleeping bags etc… (park rangers set it all up for you). Small = 150 and large = 300. The chief showed me up to the park’s 10 chalets which looked lovely, only 600 baht a night.
(Hoping to see some real Hmong New Year celebrations next year!)
After dinner and not much to do, we were told about the Hmong New Year festivities at neighboring Hmong villages. “Now, this sounds cool” I thought, and rekindled Lisu New Year festivities I had witnesses before in Chiang Mai which were pretty awesome. So, knowing I was gonna write about the park on the Net, brother-in-law said “Let’s go”. Arriving there at Talat Hmong Village, I was sorely disappointed that there was hardly anyone there – an empty stage, a few food vendors and some prize stalls with the usual ‘Chuck the darts at the balloons’ game. But then we bumped into the MC for the night who assured us there were gonna be Hmong shows in an hour or so. I asked him about the festivities and he replied that all of them were during the day (Hmong celebrate New Year over a few days). So, with a wait in hand, it was out with the darts!
I was disappointed again with the so-called Hmong sing and dance. Ok, the MC spoke Hmong and a lot of the audience wore semi traditional Hmong dress (none of the Hmong hats or anything like that), but apart from that all the Hmong songs totally sounded like your typical Thai pop tunes. As for the dancing, that was no different (besides the Hmong costumes) to usual Thai country music ‘Luk Thung’. The MC did promise me however, that the Hmong festivities during the days were definitely worth seeing. He also went on say that the reason for the public Hmong festivities was to teach the new generation of their roots, traditions, culture and language.
So, after spending the night there in the sleeping bag with the wifey, it was back home to Nakhorn Sawan the following morning. Summing up in a single sentence – if it’s an off-the-beaten-track destination you are after, then I would recommend Khlong Lan National Park (preferably with daytime Hmong New Year festivities!)
To book on the lovely chalets in advance call 055-766-022. Khlong Lan National Park is 60km before Kamphaeng Phet off the main road from Nakhorn Sawan – Highway #1117. It is approximately 370km from Bangkok.