Salawin National Park
The Salawin National Park, named for the Salawin River that flows through it, covers 720 square kilometres of forest and mountains in western Mae Sariang District. We drove the 8kms from Mae Sariang town to the Park entrance and were waved under a barrier before being directed towards the visitor centre. A signpost indicated a 100 Baht fee to enter the park but no one appeared to collect it so our visit was free. We’d read about a 2km long nature trail near the entrance of the park and thought that sounded ideal to do with the kids, so we found the starting point and parked our bikes. There was a large signpost indicating all the points of interest along the trail, and they sure did sound interesting!
I dunno about you, but I for one was looking forward to seeing the Abnormal cell division and the Stumps of dead. Seeing a Russian city in the middle of a Thai National Park also piqued my interest.
We set off along the trail which immediately started climbing up steps set into the hillside. We made it about 30 seconds into the walk before we hit our first stumbling block. Ants. Red Ants, to be precise. Chloe really doesn’t like red ants. Like, really, really, really doesn’t like them. Getting bitten by some in Don Det didn’t endear them to her. She started running up the steps in an attempt to get past them. There was no getting past them. The forest was, as Ben would say, an Ant Party. She was freaking out and nothing we could say would calm her. So Alex and Ben continued on while Chloe and I turned around and went back to the bikes having walked the shortest nature trail ever.
Chloe and I decided to drive into the Park and just see what we’d find. We found a road that wound upwards, tarmac crumbling in places before in stopped altogether and a two rut dirt track continues onwards. The ground was dry, the path looked firm so we just kept on going.
The road just seemed to be going, and going. It was clearly going somewhere, but that somewhere was far away. After half an hour I decided to turn it around. We were in the middle of nowhere, on a dirt track up a mountain without any means of communication and I really didn’t fancy dealing with a puncture up there.
We made it back down to the head of the nature trail only to find that Alex’s bike was gone. So either someone had nicked it, or Ben and Alex had finished that 2kms quicker than I thought they would. Assuming the latter, Chloe and I headed back towards Mae Sariang. When we met up with them a while later we discovered that they had managed to make it as far as Point of Interest number 4 (Termite) before being forced to turn back when the path disappeared into impenetrable undergrowth. They hadn’t been able to find Point 3, so I never did get to find out what Abnormal Cell Division was. Pity.
Wat Prathat Chom Thong
After staring up at the golden Buddha for several days, I finally made the trip up to see it. I tried to convince Chloe to visit it as we were driving back from Salawin National Park, but she was just “not feeling up for it”, in her own words. So I headed out solo later that afternoon. I drove up to the wat and parked in the grounds. As I passed the main temple buildings all was silent except for the rhythmic sound of the sweeping of leaves by monks in the grounds. I approached a stair, the concrete steps painted red, Nagas with deep green and ochre scales flanking me as I ascended.
The late afternoon light was soft and warm, the Buddha rising majestically above me as I reached the top of the hill. I circled around it slowly, in silence and solitude. I took my time, feeling a calmness and quietude in the moment.
I lowered myself to the marble floor and sat at the Buddha’s feet, closing my eyes. I listened to the birds, felt the warmth of the sun and the tickle of the breeze and took some moments to acknowledge my gratitude. After some time I heard a motorcycle engine growing louder as a local arrived on his bike. I opened my eyes, looked up at the Buddha and said a silent goodbye, then slowly got up and stretched my legs.
I wandered over to the balustrade and looked out over the valley, smoke rising from the settlements and farms below, mixing with the hazy softness of the ending day.
I left the wat and stopped on a bridge to watch the Salawin flow lazily past as the sun set, before heading back for an awesome Hot Pot dinner at a packed roadside restaurant near our bungalows. Does it get much better?