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Salawin National Park Travel Blog

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Not the best night's sleep to start the trip - I couldn't shut the windows in my room on the river and I was freezing my tits off. I never realised how chilly the Thai highlands could get.

Presented myself at Mr Salawin's office - twenty yards from my guest house - about nine o'clock, to meet my trekking companions. There was R and S, an Aussie couple in their mid-fifties, too young to have been proper hippies but still veterans of the overland trail back in the day. They lived somewhere in tropical Australia; S was a primary school teacher and R built boats and fished. Seemed like they'd done pretty well out of life. Then there was a couple of young Kiwi musicians, J and D, and a 50-year-old Danist guy, T, who would have enjoyed his trek more if there were any other Danish speakers among us.

We took a sawngthaew - covered pick-up truck with benches used in south-east Asia by people who think buses are flash - two hours west into the national park, towards Myanmar. Stopped at a washed-out bridge and started walking along a paved road. How very disappointing.

Disappointment didn't last long, cos soon we were off into the jungle. After an hour and a half on narrow tracks we arrived at our first village. Pigs, chickens, dogs and small children scurried about under our feet and the houses were all made of wood - teak, as it turned out. A single plank of this wood would fetch several hundred dollars in Australia and every house in this village was built from it.

I'd had the wrong idea about these villages. I'd worried that they each be a big craft market, where I'd have to pretend to give a toss about local weaving and then politely decline to buy some beads that I could have bought for half the price on the Khao San Road if I was daft enough to want them in the first place. And the thing is, if you go on a crap trek I think that's exactly what the villages are. Here... I couldn't have been more wrong. We were novelties to the people we met - there were a few teenagers at one village who'd never seen real-life white people before - but we certainly weren't cash machines. I didn't spend a singe baht during the trek; I didn't see a single item for sale.

The wasn't much to explore but we looked around a bit before sitting in someone's living room to eat lunch. Each house had electricity from solar panels, and a phone; the walls were decorated with pictures of Jesus and the King of Thailand, and New Testament messages in English. Lunch was noodle soup, as cooked by one of Salawin's two nephews who were walking with us. It tasted great.

After lunch and a rest, Salawin lead us straight up a hill behind the village. It was beginning to dawn on me that I wasn't very fit. In the heat, walking on dusty soil that gave a little bit when you stepped on it, it wasn't long before I was knackered. I spent a lot of the trek knackered, being shown up by Australians thirty years older than me. Once at the top of the hill we set off down the other side, but the track quickly petered out into thick, impenetrable jungle. Mr Salawin didn't really know where he was going but somehow this was a good thing - he was playing it by ear. Much more fun.

Shoving our way through dense forest, we made it to the bottom of the hill and followed a small river to the village where we were staying the night. The path along the river crossed and re-crossed it; the locals walking along it were happy to get their feet wet, but we trekkers in our hiking boots were having to ford the river with rocks and logs every time. And on the last river crossing of maybe a dozen I lost my footing, stepped backwards off a river bank, and sat down in the water with my camera in my pocket. There went the first of four cameras I lost or killed on my trip - it never worked again.

We arrived at our destination, where the villagers again welcomed us as novelties and as guests. They were espcially interested in T and the pipe he was smoking. Plenty of the hill tribe elders smoked pipes but clearly they'd never seen a pipe-smoking farang before. One guy came up to us; he knew half a verse of some Christian hymn in english and he wanted to show it off. Also to swap baccy with T. Seems he enjoyed T's smokes much more than T enjoyed his: homegrown somewhere near the village, but harsh as. Dinner was stir-fried chicken and vegetables with rice; all ingredients locally produced. The rice had been harvested about a month before; apparently the stuff you eat in England might have been out of the paddies for three or four years before it arrives on the plate. I'd thought rice was rice but you could taste a difference here.

Our bed for the night was the floor of a big empty room, with a rattan mat each. Asleep by nine thirty.
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Salawin National Park