The hunt for the crocodile salamander (amongst other things)

Chiang Mai Travel Blog

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Misty mountains Doi Inthanon national park

Another bloody bus journey, we continued north to the famous city of Chiang Mai. We spent a relaxing couple of days checking out some more wats and browsing the markets of which there are plenty. We even visited the museum of world insects and natural wonders and met the eccentric owner who nearly put suzan off the next stop on our travels (Doi Inthanon national park) when he explained with great glee about the jumping leeches which live in the forest, great! The musuem was pretty cool and there were bizzare paintings of nudes and giant mosquitos - not to our taste but whatever floats your boat I guess.

So, next stop Doi Inthanon national park, Thailands highest mountain and one of the few places in Thailand that is home to the crocodile salamander and we decided we would try and find this little critter.

Meet Borris the crocodile salamander (Suzan thought Borris was a strong salamander name!).
We got various local buses up into the mountains, luckily we befriended a Thai lady and she helped us a long the way otherwise we would have never made it! The national park office tried their best to persuade us not to camp due to the rain etc but we were pretty adament (the bungalows were too expensive). I got directions and we set off to pitch the tent. We found the spot with some delapedated toilets over looking polythene tunnels, not the mounatin vista I had been anticipating, I was a little dissapointed and I could see Suzan was feeling the same. I thought maybe we had made a mistake and pitched in the wrong place. We started to hike up the road, I saw a signpost and decided to run on ahead and check whilst suzan waited with all the gear. After about a km our friend from the bus came screeching round the corner on a moped and asked me where I was going, I told her and she said her friend would take me on the back of her bike, I hopped on and we set off up a series of hairpins winding up the pine cloaked mountains, the view was stunning and the vegetation a mix of temperate and tropical.
The head of the caecilian
Apple, cherry and Mulberry trees grew along side palms and guava. Below us on the valley floor were small rice terraces and fields of flowers covered by polythene sheeting. After about ten minutes I was quite concerned about how far the campsite was (and poor suzan at the bottom of the mountain!) and so I motioned us to stop and asked where the campsite was - they didnt know! we set off back down the mountain and I was finally reunited with a worried looking Suzan.

I should never get directions, I dont know my arse from my elbow at the best of times, we walked back to the national park headquarters and asked for directions. It turned out I had gone up the road instead of down it and just happened to follow the directions the opposite way round and find a campsite - bizzare! The new campsite was much better and by now we were pros at setting up the tent in the drizzle!

After a very late lunch we decided to take a hike to a waterfall. It was cloudy and dreary but we were determined not to let this dampen our spirits, after all we hadnt encountered the fabled jumping leeches, nor was it pissing it down as everyone had said it would, things can only get worse......

So far no sign of the illusive crocodile salamander, there was plenty of suitable habitat. We spotted our first amphibians! scores of road kill caecilians (legless amphibians) and  then our first clue to the whereabouts of the crocodile salamander - a dead one squashed on the road. We thought of Wendy and about how she could do a bit of moonlighting on the side here in Thailand. The waterfall was spectacular and situated in some lush tropical gardens. We hiked back through a village. The slopes of the National park are inhabited by various hilltribes and many of the older generation were wearing traditional clothes with bright floral cuffs and hats. The locals zoomed past on mopeds with huge bamboo baskets containing a variety of things from huge bunches of flowers to families of chickens.

At the campsite we asked the rangers how easy it would be to find the Salamanders, they said "very difficult it would be a very lucky day if you see one". We were dissapointed but tried to remain optimistic. We took a look around the campsite in the dusk, making our way into the flower fields and then sauntering across the road we saw a crocodile salamander! about 6 inches long and nobbly all over with a clown like grin on its face, it was so cute, I guess it was our very lucky day!

We continued our search around the campsite and surrounding forest as there were many animals that are known only from this mountain that we wanted to see. Under a huge slab we found a great big chocolate coloured skink which posed for photographs like a pro! We also encountered a couple of snakes hunting for the same thing as us - frogs! one was black and white striped and looked just like a cand caine. Suzan retired to bed and I continued the search in a stream behind the campsite and was rewarded with knee deep mud, a broken flip flop, huge spider webs in my hair and a couple of black spotted rocket frogs. I retired to the tent exhausted.

After a good nights sleep we were woken by the roar of mopeds as people set off to work in the fields. We decided to hike up the mountain road I had had a tour of the day before (inadvertantly) we picked passion fruits and quava along the way. We didnt make it up the mountain as we were both pretty shattered so we sat and had a picnic on some boulders in a mountain stream, it was an idylic spot and we watched the birds and butterflys for a while before the tranquility was shattered by an ear jarring frog call, I stumbled up the stream clambering over the rapids to locate the frog, and there right in front of me was the most beautiful frog (yes frogs are beautiful!) a type of leaf frog. It hopped into the water and swam away before Suzan could come and look and before I could even get a photo - Damn!

Back for lunch and we decided to take another hike up another mountain road. The heavens opened and we turned back, and there on road in the distance another crocodile salamander began its awkward waddle coming perrilously close to oncoming traffic, I ran amongst the kamikazi mopeds and rescued it from becoming a pancake and got a disgusted look from a couple on a bike, cant please everyone!

That evening I dragged suz out for yet another frog hunt! I was detrmined to see the leaf frog again and heard them in the distance, I followed the call to a big stream and waded in, the calls stopped, I waited with my torch off for what seemed an eternity before the frog began to call, finally got my photo.

Suzan outdid herself today, as we were looking in bushes and under fallen logs she spotted something purple and yellow poking out of the mud about 1cm long, a caecilian head! and we dug up the animal, I was well impressed when she found another caecilain by our tent! Suz has been an angel putting up with my night time frog searches, and assisting me at all times. She is cursed with a partner that preys for rain on holidays and likes wading in streams in the middle of the night!

We had no way of getting back to Chiang Mai (no buses or taxis) and we did what every mother says you shouldnt, hitch hiked, on the advice of all the locals and it was a free ride! Back in Chiang Mai safe and sound.

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Misty mountains Doi Inthanon natio…
Misty mountains Doi Inthanon nati…
Meet Borris the crocodile salamand…
Meet Borris the crocodile salaman…
The head of the caecilian
The head of the caecilian
Chiang Mai Hostels review
Good value and great staff, free internet and free baggage holding facilities.
Chiang Mai
photo by: Stevie_Wes