Friday, March 09, 2007


Loei (pronounced a little like lery, or if you speak German, its like an o with an umlaut) is the coldest city in Thailand. It is in the northeast, and they were clearly not as used to tourists as other places in Thailand. This was one of the first places where people asked us (in Thai) if we could speak Thai. We had really good banana roti here and also some really good pork with rice. The pork tasted like it was slow cooked with soy sauce, molasses, and lots of anise.

The big story of this city was Phu Kra Deung. Our Lonely Planet told us that this park was fairly easy to get to and had a nice, paved, 6 km hike with stops for food along the way. This sounded like a perfect day trip for us and we decided it would be worth the steep 400 Baht entry price most national parks in Thailand had. We had to take a bus to a bus stop a few kilometers outside of the park and then take a songtao (pickup truck taxi) the rest of the way. The lonely planet told us the bus would cost 30 baht each and the songtao should cost 10 baht each. The bus ended up costing around 60 baht each and the songtao ended up costing 40 baht each. We weren't too surprised, since the lonely planet is pretty much always wrong about prices and distances.

It turned out that it was a 6 km hike one way straight up a mountain along a sometimes rocky and sometimes slippery dirt path. It had makeshift stairs in some of the steepest places, but I would hardly call the path paved. We stopped along the way to drink some young coconut juice and the lady seemed to be telling us that there was no way we could just hike up and back down, that we had to camp up at the top. There were tents and bungalows available, but you had to make reservations at the bottom, plus we didn't have time or equipment to stay at the top. We realized there was no way we could make it and we were both very angry at our guidebook. It was a cool park because as you hiked up you could see a transition in vegetation with the altitude change. It started off as dry, deciduous, dipterocarp forest and slowly became greener and cooler. At the very top of the mountain (more like a plateau I guess) was pine oak savanna and lots of beautiful waterfalls. Unfortunately we did not have time to make it to the top and had to turn around. Our legs were very tired and sore for several days after rushing up and down that trail. Here's what we did see of the park, from bottom to top.

On the way back, we figured all the transportation prices would be the same, or less. We got on a songtao, but they didn't leave right away. We figured they were waiting for more people. They told us it was 200 baht for 10 people. Some people who spoke some English came over and talked to us. They talked to the songtao people and we told them we needed to leave soon so we didn't miss the last bus at 6pm. Our translator told us the last bus left at 2pm and that they would take us all the way to Loei for 200 baht. This seemed like an okay deal to us. About the same price, just a bumpier and windier ride. The songtao instead took us to the same bus stop and let us off just as a bus back to Loei was pulling it. Lyndsay and I were very confused. It was past 2pm. Obviously there was some miscommunication. So the songtao still wanted 200 baht, but we couldn't pay that because we wouldn't have enough money for the bus then! We gave him what we could and I think he understood (plus he was overcharging us). We had no money for food until we could get to an ATM. We literally only had 10 baht in our pockets (enough for a drink or some green mango, but not for a meal). We found a bank, but neither of our ATM cards worked. We tried two more banks with the same result.

We went back to the hotel and with some skillful pantomiming to a girl that didn't even make an effort to understand us before, we explained that our ATM cards didn't work and that we had to call our bank and pay her tomorrow. Then we couldn't figure out how to call our bank. There was an emergency number on the card, but we had to figure out how to make an international collect call and how to dial a number outside of our hotel.

We went back downstairs and three of the employees all tried their hardest to understand us. They even called English speaking friends on cellphones, but I think "international collect call" is a difficult concept to explain, plus even if someone asked you in your native language, would you know how to do that? I mean, I would have no idea how to call Thailand collect from the US. We eventually had to give up and went to spend our last 10 baht on an internet cafe which really didn't help us at all. We decided to try the ATM once again on the way home and miraculously it worked! Woo!

This was our second very scary moment in Thailand. Thank god it was just a temporary problem with the ATM.

No comments: