Wildlife in Thailand & Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Khao Yai National Park was a completely unplanned stop, but since we decided to stay longer in Thailand we asked the kids if they preferred more cultural sites, or a national park, and the response was unanimous. We booked in at a guesthouse and for about $18 a night the 5 of us stayed in a big cottage like room for 4 nights (no hot water and a 5am rooster wake up call but for that price we're not complaining!). They make their money off their 1.5 day tours which are also very cheap. A full day in the park, where we saw gibbon and macaque monkeys (many very close up), several snakes, scorpions, spiders, and the big prize...wild elephants. These are not seen everyday and on our hike we saw tracks and poop only, but at the end of the day they drove down a road where they often go and we saw several, young and old. The only problem was the traffic jam of vehicles in both directions which caused some stress on the elephants, but they eventually sauntered back into the forest. Léa was super hyped about elephant spotting...it made her day! The other tour we did was a half day including a swim in a natural spring by the road, a visit to a cave (where old monks meditate with the bats and insects), and the sunset viewing of more than two millions of bats coming out of their bat cave. It reminded me of a ribbon of northern lights...but black. Truly an amazing site. While waiting for the bats to emerge the super friendly and informative guide Jo kept finding non-venomous vine snakes and managed to convince the kids to hold them! First Amélie held a snake and carried it back to a tree then Léa decided it was safe and had one slithering over her head! We also got to hold a large millipede (about 10in long and 1in diameter)...they tickled like crazy crawling across us. Having had that experience helped us remain calm when we found a slightly smaller one in our room! The following day we spent at the guesthouse doing school work and Jo kept finding the kids to show them more critters around the yard.
We made our way back to Bangkok by bus for 2 nights. Visited a great park with large water monitors (giant lizards) where the locals exercise and do tai chi. There are awesome exercise machines for all to use...unfortunately it was to hot for us at 10am already! So we whisked back to the hotel on the efficient and relaxing subway (relaxing compared to haggling over taxi rates...but had no choice to overpay to get to the bus terminal to catch our bus to Siem Reap, Cambodia). We bid farewell to my mom who was flying back to Toronto that night, and prepared ourselves for a potentially stressful border crossing. Luckily we came prepared as the 5 border guards tried to make us pay for the kids at the full price. We said no and started pulling out our paperwork so they tried to negotiate a cheaper rate, then we said no again and then asked us how we knew kids were free (our answer: we researched and have it in writing with us), so they didn't push it further and let us through with the base bribe fee of 100B in Thai funds (about $3) for Steve and I on top of our legitimate $30 visas. From what we read ahead of time it would have taken a lot of arguing to get out of that one. Home school lesson about corruption yesterday!
Now we are settled into our $21US per night (including breakfast) guest house. Its a fan room only so pretty hot, but has a nice deck and friendly owners. First impressions of Cambodia...dirtier, poorer, and more chaotic then Thailand, but we haven't seen much yet and are in the most touristed city, where 3 million people a year visit the Angkor Wat temples, one of the 8th wonders of the world. Tomorrow we will join the throngs by bicycle tour.