Wednesday, 13 February 2019

MacRitchie Nature Trail

Across The Canopy
On our way back from Bali we stopped off at Singapore for a few days as we have been told by so many people what a great place it is to visit.  On the last day we were there we decided that we wanted to see a bit of wildlife, which is surprisingly abundant in this city.  There are a number of walking trails in the  city but the one that grabbed our attention was the 14km circumnavigation of MacRitchie Reservoir.  It was rather easier to get to than some of the other alternatives on offer as Marymount MRT station is relatively close by.  

Dappled Sky
Once out of the station we walked the short distance to the trail.  Although the roads we crossed were fairly busy they were nothing on those that we find in Bangkok.  The traffic lights were properly observed and looked strangely reminiscent of those that we find in Britain.  We found our way into the MacRitchie Nature reserve via a footpath we weren't altogether sure was official although it was marked on our map and had clearly been used a lot by other people.  We soon found the trail we were looking for although clearly we weren't at the official start we weren't far along as the km posts that we found measured the distance back to the start as only being a few hundred metres.  We decided to walk anti-clockwise around the lake, on the basis that the refreshment place would be at the end of the walk rather than near the beginning.

Big Leaf
The first thing we noticed about this walk was that the distances were measured meticulously and regularly so although there was a feeling of isolation in the forest that we now found ourselves in it couldn't really be classed as wild rain forest.  The walking surface was good and despite the fact that it was a very hot day the cooling shade of the forest was very welcome.  The path was very popular with families - we passed lots of them on the way towards the first milestone on our walk; the ranger station.  

Got Any Grub?
Not long after starting we took a side trail down to the lake side, one of the few areas where you can actually get up close to the water on the north side of the reservoir.  This part was a little oasis in the trees and the stillness of the lake coupled with warm temperatures meant that the water was full of weed.  Not a weed that choked the life out of the lake - indeed it looked very clear and inviting - but weed which somehow managed to enhance its attractiveness.  We didn't linger too long as we thought we would see a lot more of the water further on.  We would have to wait a long time for that to happen!

Being in a sub-tropical rainforest, despite the slightly manicured nature of the path, meant that we would definitely need to keep our wits about us as we walked along.  There were a number of warning signs about the monkeys and their propensity to steal food, plastic bottles and cameras.  We also saw various gaps in the forest where new growth was fighting for the new light.  Perhaps most remarkable though were some of the dead leaves we saw on the ground - they looked absolutely enormous!  However much the things we saw were a feast for the eyes, our ears were subjected to a rather different experience.  The volume of the cicadas was absolutely deafening and a sound that didn't really seem to be natural at all.
Canopy Bridge View

The going was quite easy but it was still a surprise to get to the Ranger Station so quickly.  Just before we did though we had a reminder that our walk through the forest wasn't quite as wild as it seemed.  We came upon a road that led from a housing estate to a country club just beyond and the illusion of the rainforest was temporarily dispelled.  We had managed to get a bit snarled up with a number of large family groups out walking at this point too.  We were thankful then when we reached the station as for many of the groups this would be as far as they would go.  There are toilets here - very useful to know if you come yourself.

We paused for a while watching the monkeys that gather here on the off chance that they can get some tasty human food.  I didn't see anyone actively feeding the monkeys and they seemed a bit more timid than in other places where I have encountered them.  They were very interested in something on the tree and when we looked closer we saw a creature climbing up, the likes of which I have never seen before.  It had a face that looked a bit like a bat and it certainly had wings but they were not the wings of a bat.  We watched it shinning up the tree seemingly unperturbed by the attentions of the macaque monkeys.  We had no idea what it was and only when we got back and did some research did we discover that it was a colugo, or flying lemur (a little misleading because it isn't related to lemurs).  It certainly was an exciting find and it propelled us on to the treetop canopy bridge, which is probably what attracted us to the walk in the first place.

Butterfly at Jelutong Tower
This part of the walk is a strictly one way around the track and with good reason for once you get to the suspension bridge that takes you across the treetop canopy you quickly realise that people trying to pass one another on the bridge would be a recipe for disaster.  After a bit of a climb to the top we were rewarded with an amazing view across the top of the rainforest - a rare treat indeed.  Over in the distance we could see Upper Peirce Reservoir, one of the four in this part of Singapore that provides drinking water for this city-state.  We wobbled across the bridge slowly and gingerly but in truth this isn't a scary experience as my daughter (who is afraid of heights) will testify.

The Lake - Finally!
I could have stayed on the bridge for rather longer than we did but mindful of the distance we still had to cover we moved along.  On the other side of the bridge the boardwalk started.  The boardwalk lasts the remainder of the one-way stretch of the walk and is bordered on each side by interpretive boards every so often that explain some of the vegetation and wildlife that lives in this forest.  For example we learned about the rattan tree (the one that furniture is made from), the rusty oil fruit with their velvety leaves and birds such as the hill myna and banded woodpecker.  We read a lot of them but to be honest  I had to skip past some of them otherwise we would never have got back!  We saw more monkeys looking a bit challenging in one of the shelters provided.  Less bothered about us was a monitor lizard that quickly scarpered into the forest.

Golf Course
Eventually we got to the end of the boardwalk, my favourite part of the day.  By now we had lost all the crowds and had the forest to ourselves which was a relief.  We pushed on to the Jelutong Tower, where we had another opportunity to climb up to treetop level.  I wasn't going to be dissuaded from doing that so up I went and I was soon joined by butterflies, spiders, fruiting trees and an amazing view out across the tops of palm trees to MacRitchie Reservoir below finally showing itself in the trees.  Just beyond there was a glimpse of the tower blocks we had seen at the start of the walk and I therefore knew that we were roughly half way round.

From this point we were also heading downhill and the path got rather easier as a result.  We were soon alongside a golf course but luckily our path had a distinct course that didn't require us to cross the golfing area, which is what I had thought before.  By now the cicada noise had quietened much to our relief to be replaced by birds sounds, most singing but also the odd squawk that could have been from a parrot, myna bird or a crow.  Whatever it was we never got to see it.  We had some more boardwalk along this stretch and bumped into a family that were very interested in something in the trees.  When we got close we saw that it was a macaque sitting on the branch  of a tree wondering what all the fuss was about.  By this time we had seen a lot of macaques and so we left this one alone and continued on our way. 

Health and Safety
It wasn't long before we came to the shores of MacRitchie Reservoir, the body of water we had been walking around all day without seeing very much of.  This would change now for the remainder of our walk was mostly along the shoreline.  This is the oldest of the reservoirs in this part of Singapore and almost looks like a natural feature now, having been here since 1867.  Our side of the reservoir now gave way to meadow for a while, enabling us to get a really good view along the shore.  To our right the golf course was largely deserted but we caught sight of some fairly exotic looking birds squabbling in the trees.  Sadly they were a bit too far away for me to get a decent  picture but they were certainly very eye-catching even if their manners could use a little work.  We also saw some flowers for the first time along here.  I wish I could tell you their names but I am clueless about flowers in SE Asia at the moment.  I can tell you that the yellow and orange ones caught my eye as did some fruit that I saw growing up the side of a tree.

Monitor Lizard
We briefly left the lake and wandered across a piece of forest separating two inlets where bizarrely we spotted a cockerel wandering about. We also caught sight of a skink in the undergrowth, a rather interesting little lizard like creature that didn't know whether to be bold or shy when it saw us.  The result was that it stuck around long enough for me to get a half decent picture.  Sadly the next section of path around a boardwalk along the shore was closed for maintenance so we had to make do with the inland alternative until the next inlet.  Here we were able to take the boardwalk around the shoreline and it made for a delightful walk.  In the water we caught sight of small fish and numerous dragonflies whizzed around.  There is obviously plenty of food in he lake for it wasn't long before we saw a monitor lizard lumbering along the shore.  When it saw us it quietly slipped into the water and was gone within seconds. 

Humming Bird
Part way round this section of walk and we had an unusual obstacle in the shape of an overhanging tree.  I gather it has been here a long time in this state for the authorities have left the tree alone and lowered the boardwalk and put in plenty of signage to deal with the health and safety.  It is rather an unusual set up but I suspect one that has been here a good may years.  By this time of the walk we were starting to think about the refreshment booth and wondered what it might serve.  Fortunately it wasn't too much further on and soon enough we were in the 'park' part of the reserve.  This is a much more manicured part of the reserve and the bougainvillea provided a good deal of colour.  We passed by the old bandstand and passed by what looked like some lodgings.  As we descended to the cafe we caught sight of a hummingbird - the first one I have ever seen in the wild.

The Dam
Any thoughts of tea and a slice of cake were soon dispelled when we got to the cafe.  It was largely Asian fare but I will say that the spring rolls that we ordered were delicious and provided a satisfying snack after our lengthy walk.  It was a very welcome pitstop and a wise one to have at this end of the walk for I fear we wouldn't have finished if we had come here earlier on.  As it was we only had to climb up the side of the dam and walk around the end of the lake to find the path that we had entered on about four hours earlier.  I have to say that thus far this has been probably the most satisfying walk we have done since coming to Asia.  We all agreed that it was one of the highlights of our holiday.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Bali Paddy Fields

Early Plantings
One of the must do trips in Bali is to walk or cycle around the paddy fields and there are a couple of particularly popular locations.  We chose Ubud partly because we combined our visit with a trip to the nearby Sacred Monkey Forest and a Bali Dancing show we wanted to see nearby.  Ok, so proper tourist stuff but without knowing when we might come back these things should be seen when on holiday.  It turned out to be a nice mixture of things to do and this was undoubtedly one of the highlights of being on the island.  We took a tour on this occasion rather than trying it ourselves principally because it was a lot easier and saved a good deal of time.  There are self guided walks in the area but we thought it would be fun to cycle for a change.

Bali Sunset Adventure is quite a nw outfit and as such we were able to get a good discount in the hope that we would spread the word about them.  Well I guess I am through the channels of this blog!  Our guide was quite patient with us but his pace was a little slow and this caused a bit of frustration initially as my girls wanted to go a lot faster.  However, later on in the ride it was actually quite a good idea to keep things at a slower pace, partly because of the steamy conditions (it was rainy season in Bali when we got there) and partly to keep ourselves from falling in a paddy field!  It was easier than you might think to do the latter partly because of the narrow paths and partly because of various things left on the paths that would have been very easy to collide with.

We turned right out of the compound and headed along a long straight section of road which enabled us to get used to our bikes and get some speed up.  This was quite important to try and keep up with the traffic as it was quite busy and there were few places to pass us.  It also helped us with some momentum as we crossed a small river valley; one of the countless valleys carved by rivers carrying water very quickly from the upper slopes of the volcanoes in the centre of Bali.  There wasn't a lot of opportunity to look around while on this  road so it was with some relief that we turned right a little further along the road from the valley.  We then found ourselves on a nice quiet road for traffic but there were plenty of other things going on.  The street was beautifully decorated with Penjor, large bamboo poles that hang over the road that are highly decorated.  Each one was slightly different and there looked to be a certain amount of family pride in getting them slightly better than the one down the road.  Despite the fact that they all followed a similar pattern each one was very slightly different.

Temple Guards
We continued along this residential road until the houses ran out on the left hand side and we got views over the paddy fields.  What was very striking was how they were all at slightly different growing stages.  I guess in a tropical climate with no real seasons to speak of rice crops can be grown at almost any time.  The sight that was most interesting was watching the fields being ploughed.  Rice paddies obviously have a lot of water in them and the ploughs have to be adapted to suit this environment.  The farm worker obviously gets very dirty as he pushes the plough around but he isn't alone by any means as behind him were herons and egrets eager to scoop up the frogs and crayfish that live in the swampy conditions.  I found it almost comical watching them - they are Bali's version of seagulls I guess.

Flower Fields
At the corner of the field was a Hindu temple.  Bali is unusual in Indonesia as being a predominantly Hindu island and the province is the only Hindu majority in Indonesia.  It is said that more than 90% of the Hindus that live in Indonesia live on Bali and the culture of the island is as you might expect heavily influenced by the religion.  It is a little different from Hinduism in India however as the caste system has not been introduced here.  The temples have a unique style with intricate carving and are often decorated with gold cloth and guarded by stone carved elephants and all manner of other more scary looking mythical creatures.  Outside the gates you can usually see various offerings, often food and/ or drink in small bamboo trays.

We turned left along a road between paddy fields and then found our way onto another quiet residential street where the only traffic was the odd motorcycle, usually heavily loaded either with household articles or people.  It isn't unusual to see whole families of people on small underpowered motorcycles in Bali (or Thailand for that matter) and I always wonder how the bikes cope long term?  After a few more minutes we left the road altogether and headed along agricultural tracks for the next part of the journey.

Once out in the fields it was interesting to see that rice wasn't the only crop.  There were also fields of flowers and our guide explained that these are largely grown for all the various ceremonies that are held at the temples.  Having seen the number of flowers that are used I had wondered how they managed to get so many fresh ones all the time.  Sadly I couldn't name any of the flowers but pinks, oranges and burgundy red were the main colours.  Instead of hedgerows there were banana trees and I imagine these help protect the crops from the wind.  Canal systems much like we saw in Madeira (lavadas) carried water around and I wondered whether the Portuguese had actually influenced this technology for they had colonised parts of Indonesia.

Out Into The Paddy Fields
The tracks through the fields took sharp turns around the field edges and as we passed by one field junction we dropped down the side of a valley to a small stream below.  Shrieks of laughter came into earshot and we saw a group of naked boys jumping into the stream from a small footbridge overseen by a rather stern looking woman who I am sure was tasked with making sure they stayed safe.  A little further downstream and another woman was doing the washing.  I guess that even on a relatively rich island (by Indonesian standards) mod cons are not necessarily things that all the population has.

Irrigation Channels
We wound around the path that followed the stream and eventually came to a junction of irrigation channels where we stopped to make sure everyone had caught up.  We were kept company as we waited by a large group of ducks.  They were free to come an go but seemed to want to go everywhere together...  They initially shaped up to waddle away but when they saw we weren't a threat they came shuffling back.  We left the road at this point and made our way along the alleyway that runs between the paddy fields and views to left and right now showed a vast expanse of rice growing.  To our western eyes this was quite an exotic sight, especially with the farm workers toiling in the fields wearing their traditional sun hats and accompanied by large numbers of herons who feed on the creatures that live in the swamp like conditions.  We also watched more of the ploughing with much fascination (as did the herons - huge numbers of them!).

Once we had traversed the rice paddies we entered a small palm tree woodland and past yet another temple and regained higher ground to meet the road through the village once again.  There were a lot more people in this part of the village and especially young boys playing games on the road.  As we cycled by we got cheery hellos and enthusiastic waving - a far cry from the sort of reception that we might have expected from similarly aged boys in Britain.  One set of boys were up to no good however; they had found some firecrackers and were letting them off in the street.  They stopped as we went by and continued afterwards, accompanied by peals of laughter.

Our ultimate destination for the tour was one of the numerous luwak coffee farms that try to entice customers with tasting sessions.  The range of teas and coffees on offer was much the same as one we had experienced and we were enticed to buy a couple at the end.  We also had some Nasi Goreng (fried rice) which is something of an institution in Indonesia.  Indeed our driver told us that he has it for lunch every day and never gets tired of it!  I can certainly vouch for its tastiness - whether it tasted particularly good at this farm or whether it was needed after our exercise I cannot be totally sure.  It certainly rounded off an excellent tour and one to be recommended if you are ever in Bali.  Getting out into the countryside in this way will show you a completely different side to  the island besides the massage parlours, cocktail bars and surf shacks of the coast.

Back Into The Forest

Monday, 28 January 2019

Bali Waterfalls

Aling Aling Waterfall
I make no claim to this being a comprehensive tour of all the waterfalls in Bali but we did visit a few on our recent trip.  There are dozens of amazing waterfalls in Bali and devotees could spend all their time looking for them - each one is impossibly beautiful and in some cases quite hard to find as they are tucked away deep in the forests and mountains of this magical island.  Bali is just over four hours from Bangkok and we chose this as our first overseas trip from Thailand principally because we had heard so many good things about it.  While we were in Bali we visited the small town of Lovina on the north coast.  From here we were able to do and see a number of things and it would probably make for a good base if you like a slightly more sedate kind of holiday away from the bright lights of the resorts on the south coast.

Rice Terraces
From Lovina it is a stone's throw to three waterfalls that are all on the same river rushing down from the high mountains just to the south of the town.  The tallest of these waterfalls is called Aling Aling and it was there that we headed first.  We parked up by a small kiosk that sold tickets to the area (this is not a free hike).  The total cost for the four of us was very modest although we would have had to pay more for the privilege of going in the water.  Round about the kiosk were a few small cafes selling fairly bog standard fare such as fried rice and fried chicken with signage that was so badly spelled that it was amusing.  All around were rather listless looking local people and stray dogs all lolling around trying to conserve their energy in the heat of the sun.

We set off on what seemed like a fairly unpromising path at first with a building site on one side and a collection of farmers cottages.  On the other side of the path though was a very eye-catching terraced rice paddy system for which Bali is very famous.  The owner clearly seemed to realise that visitors would enjoy the terraces for he had decorated it with some oriental looking scarecrows and umbrellas to give it almost a theme park looking feel.  

We passed a number of fruit trees alongside the paddy fields. A rambutan tree was first - its red fruits looking like they were almost ready for harvest.  A lot higher up and we could see coconuts also coming into harvest - the colour here though is different from the green ones that we see in the markets in Thailand.  Most here seemed to be a rich amber colour and our guide tells me that both varieties are grown here; they each have a slightly different taste.  Next was a mangosteen but not yet ripe - they have a beautiful purple colour when in season but the fruit  inside is white and reminiscent of a lychee.  The last fruits that we saw growing on this short stretch of path were mangoes, still looking quite green on the trees.  Most of the green mangoes here are used for making salad when not quite ripe - the yellow ones are the ones to go for if you want to eat them as fruit.  They are delectably sweet and slightly mushy - rather different from the ones that are exported to Europe.

Jungle View
As we turned the corner at the top of the slope our noses caught the aroma of barbecuing chicken, a smell that you get used to in South East Asia but never take for granted as it is always so inviting.  However it was not the smell here that was magical but the view off to our left for we caught sight of the deep valley in which the waterfalls are to be found.  Perhaps because of its steep sides or perhaps because it is prized by the locals as a particularly beautiful place it has escaped any kind of forestry or agriculture and we looked out over what looked like pristine forest stretching all the way from the mountains right down almost to the sea.  It was a magnificent view that continued for a short way until the path dropped from the rim of the valley into the forest itself.  Almost immediately we passed a jackfruit tree, with two large fruit hanging off the trunk.  Neither of the fruit looked very appealing to be honest; I think they had been left two long and looked like they were starting to degrade.

Jack Fruit
A little further down the slope we had a choice to make with waterfalls signposted to the left and right.  We took the right hand turn and headed off along a narrow path that wound its way upstream.  The river was full of energy and had plenty of water in it; not unexpected as we were plum in the middle of the rainy season in Bali.  We hadn't planned particularly well - I think I assumed that the rainy season in Thailand would be similar to that in Bali but of course it isn't - the monsoon shifts south when Thailand is having its dry season.  The vegetation was thick and lush, with water seemingly coming from all sorts of directions including from the trees, the rocky cliffs and the creepers that seemed to find all sorts of opportunities to clamber over.  We also saw flowers that we had only ever seen in greenhouses or butterfly houses back home.  Damselflies and dragonflies buzzed about and we even saw massive spiders with even bigger webs - it wasn't a place for anyone who hated bugs!

Wet World
Eventually we found our way to Aling Aling waterfall after climbing up quite a steep and rocky last stretch of path.  The waterfall was huge - at least 120 metres tall and coming down with such a force that the sound was deafening.  It clearly had a lot of energy too as it had carved out a huge plunge pool that clearly was too dangerous for swimming as there were signs warning about doing so.  Even trying to climb down into the water looked pretty hazardous for the rocks were shiny and slippery from the spray of the waterfall.  We enjoyed the moment for a while before turning back and heading downstream to the next waterfall.

If swimming was forbidden at Aling Aling it was positively encouraged at the next waterfall, known as Kadek.  This one had a natural water slide at the top and was clearly the one that people had paid their extra money to use.  We watched as there were shrieks of joy from people that took the plunge; the smooth rock under the top of the waterfall enabled them to slide out far enough to take them into the nice deep plunge pool below.  There was quite a crowd of people bobbing around in the plunge pool watching their mates and probably thinking about the steep climb to get to the top of the waterfall, a lot of effort for a few moments of fun.  We watched for a short time and soon moved on to the next waterfall below which was bigger and did not lend itself to sliding but seemed to attract more daredevils who were prepared to jump over 30 metres into the plunge pool below. 

We crossed the river at the top of here and the path took us past a small hut and up to a point above the last waterfall in the series (the fourth).  The end of the path was a small ledge that was being used as yet another jumping off point and a couple of small Bali men were showing their rather larger Western companions how it was done.  There were a few gasps as the two of them dived off together, not quite synchronised but not bad.  They were soon joined by a couple of daredevil Aussie lads who took the plunge much to everyone's entertainment.

Water Slide
The antics of the youngsters was quite entertaining but for me it was the beauty of the place that captivated me.  The ferocity of the water was exciting and the spray that each fall generated within the enclosed valley generated a microclimate that supported all manner of flowers and insects.  The butterflies and dragonflies were incredible although trying to capture any of them with my camera was nigh on impossible as they spent so little time settled anywhere, whether it be rock or flower.  I tried my beast as we looped around the path that took us back to the junction where we had bore right earlier.  From that point we retraced our steps to the car park.  By now we were feeling both satisfied with our efforts but very hungry.  We eschewed the cafes at  the start though in favour of a cafe down in Lovina where we were introduced to the delights of suckling pig, the local delicacy of Bali and which was an extremely welcome meal at the end of the walk.

Jumping Off
Later in the afternoon after we had been to some other places including a Buddhist temple we called in at the waterfall at Munduk.  Sadly the hot and sunny weather that we had experienced in the morning had now given way to rain and this meant that we had to limit ourselves to the main Munduk waterfall.  There are several others in the area and it is possible to do a fairly lengthy walk that includes them all.  We managed to get a short break in the rain that was enough to walk down the steep track from the parking area.  Again we got an education in the types of crop that are grown in these jungle locations, including coffee, bananas and pineapples.  These were all familiar to us by now but we had seen our first cashew at the temple - none of us had any idea what it looked like before!

The path down to the waterfall was quite steep and we passed a couple of settlements on the way; a house that looked as if it belonged to the jungle farmers and a coffee shop further down.  The latter proclaimed that it did not use caged civets in order to make the highly prized kopi luwak (luwak coffee).  This expensive coffee is made from the partly digested coffee beans eaten by the small nocturnal mammal that we call civets but are known as luwak in Bali.  Mostly they are caged and force fed the beans in much the same way that geese are force fed to produce foie gras.  Ethically it is very questionable as the civets live a very poor quality of life and certainly the ones we saw looked quite sad and lonely creatures.  We avoided buying kopi luwak for the same reason.

Munduk Falls
The falls themselves were at the bottom of the hill and once again we had to pay a small admission fee to get close to them.  They were well worth seeing though, especially because unlike at the earlier falls near Lovina we had these ones all to ourselves.  They were considerably taller too, so much so that it wasn't easy to see the top.  Clearly no-one would want to swim here, especially not now for it was surprisingly cool with the spray billowing around and the rather enclosed position much higher up the mountain.  Nevertheless the magic of the waterfall was enough compensation for the cool  conditions and we were thankful that the rain held off long enough for us to go and have a look.  Maybe in the future we could do the walk that takes in other waterfalls on the same system.

Exotic Flowers

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Khao Yai National Park

Last month I was delighted to be invited along with a couple of the staff to Khao Yai National Park for the purposes of setting up some GPS trails for future school trips.  Khao Yai National Park is approximately 3 hours north of Bangkok and for me it was my first opportunity to walk through the rainforest proper in Thailand.  Our trip necessitated an early start and I felt quite excited as I watched the beautiful sunrise over the northern outskirts of Bangkok on the way out.  Our journey was trouble free and once through the entrance of the park we had to make our way to the visitor centre in order to meet our guide for the day.  As an appetiser for what we were likely to see during the day an elephant came sauntering along the road - it was the first time I had ever seen a wild one and it was tremendously exciting.

We collected the guide and double backed to km33 on the same road.  There is a parking area here and the trailhead starts across the road.  Within minutes of getting started on the walk it was easy to see why we needed a guide for the forest was very dense.  He explained to us about some of the wildlife that live here and the creature that is feared by most locals isn't one you might expect - not snakes or wild cats but a type of wild bison called a gaur.  They are very large and have been known to charge people if disturbed.  Helpfully there were some warning signs around showing what they looked like for I had never heard of them before.

Despite the density of the forest there were a few breaks largely where some of the larger trees had become victims to storms, leaving natural gaps where new growth could quickly fill the void.  It was in the gaps that the true height of the forest could be appreciated.  Trees here can be approximately the height of 10 storey buildings.  

The weight burden of such trees can make them vulnerable to storms but they have a natural pruning process in the absence of seasons.  There is a constant shedding of leaves and twigs and new roots are thrown down as the tree grows in order to help stabilise it.   If a tree blows down it will often take much smaller trees with it and create quite a large void space and this can have a micro-climate all of its own.  Such conditions are ripe for new growth and it isn't long before nature's repair team comes along to fill this valuable new space with all the extra light that is now available. Some of the bigger trees here are hundreds of years old apparently so these opportunities don't always come along very quickly.

Salt Lick
As we reached a corner characterised by some huge vines that wrapped around themselves like ropes the guide told us that a tourist recently had had an encounter with a gaur at this spot.  Looking at the density of the vegetation I could scarcely believe that a creature the size of a bison could come crashing through at speed but it must be a very scary prospect when they do.  A little further on and we  came upon a section of forest that was slightly less dense than before.  There was an interpretive board that explained that this was an area that had probably been cleared at some point for many of the trees were a similar height suggesting that they started growing at the same time.  This could have been caused by landslip or floods as well as storms.  

Observation Tower
The next area of clearing wasn't caused by a natural process but by people clearing for agriculture.  The recovery is clearly a slow process for this area has been a national park for more than 50 years.  There were some new growth trees that begin the reforestation process but these will eventually lose out to the slower growing trees that grow much larger and form the canopy.  I saw some species of flower that I vaguely recognised including one that looked like a form of nightshade with flowers that resembled those of the potato plant.

Watering Hole
Back in the forest and we soon came upon one of the most important trees in this area - the giant fig tree.  This was clearly a giant for it was almost impossible to see the top of the tree and we could only guess at its height based on the enormity of its base and the dozens of roots that were stabilising it.  These figs have a very interesting way of reproducing since they do not display their flowers for any old passing insect.  Instead they are pollinated by a specific type of wasp that access the flower via a small opening.  The wasp pollinates the flower and when the fruit ripens it will be eaten by any number of different animals or birds including hornbills, gibbons, macaque monkeys and civets.  They will then spread the seeds far and wide as payment for their meal - the seeds survive the digestive tract of all of these creatures.

Log Bridge
The next tree of note was a lot smaller but had obviously been deliberately cut.  This is known as Lueat Khwai and produces a red fluid when cut called buffalo blood.  I am not clear on the human use but apparently it is consumed by hornbills, monkeys and langurs.  

Turkey Tails
Shortly after this and the sound of the gibbons that we had been hearing since the start of the hike was clearly a lot closer and our guide motioned us over to a spot where we could see right up into the canopy of the forest.  We soon caught a glimpse of one of the gibbons and then more as we saw them swinging through the forest perhaps on their way to a feeding ground.  We watched them with baited breath for a while scarcely believing our good fortune.  Up until this point we had only seen signs of wildlife, including elephant footprints.

We emerged from the forest shortly after and waded our way through some very tall elephant grass in a very large clearing.  The views out across the forest from here were astonishing and the lighting really showed off the majesty of the park.  This grassland area is managed by the park authorities to maintain it otherwise it would soon return to being forest. Keeping the grassland enables grazing to be maintained for the many herbivores that live here. We headed down past a dug out area that showed off the red sandstone soil underneath.  Apparently there is a salt lick here for the elephants, gaur and other herbivores and sometimes large gatherings of them can be seen at dawn or dusk.  The big piles of dung suggested that it is very well used. This also makes for good hunting ground for the Asian wild dog; we saw one of these run across the road much later in the day when leaving the park.

Claw Marks
We crossed by a large watering hole and up a short slope to reach a large observation tower from where you get some incredible views across the forest and watering hole we had just passed.  Not much in the wildlife to be seen today sadly but I did enjoy the views very much. There is a crossroads of paths at the observation tower but we headed on in the same general direction and down the slope to the river hidden in the trees at the bottom of the valley.  Crossing the river was not for the faint-hearted as there was only a log bridge across.  We all made it across without any mishaps and started climbing up the other side.  On this part of the trail we saw other groups of people heading in the opposite direction and it was obvious pretty quickly that we couldn't know of their existence until they were right on top of us.  

This was a much denser part of the forest with few clearings and obviously less visited for the interpretation boards that we had seen early on had now disappeared.  The forest was quieter too - no gibbons in this part and even the birds seemed quieter.  It meant for a bit more intrepid walking but with fewer features to talk about.  Nevertheless we did come across some interesting stuff including a cinnamon tree, which the guide hacked away a piece of bark to prove the point.  I'm pleased he did for I would have passed without giving it a second look.  We also got to see a hole in a tree used by wasps for their nest and a little further on there was a tree with claw marks all the way up the trunk.  Apparently these are from bears that live in the forest and they climb the trees looking for food.

Barking Deer
Further on and we came across a taped off part of the forest.  This was apparently to stop people using a path that a man had recently taken when he tragically wandered off into the forest to look for supernatural activity and was later found dead.  Our guide suggested that he had deliberately concealed himself to make sure he couldn't be found when he was reported missing and hadn't even taken a phone so that he could be GPS tracked.

Sai Sorn Reservoir
It wasn't long before the trees started thinning out and the reservoir we were aiming for came into view.  It was a relief to not be enclosed by dense trees any more and the view out over Sai Sorn reservoir was fantastic.  Sadly it also meant the end of our walk and we headed down the short distance to the visitor centre for some lunch.  On the way we saw a barking deer nonchalantly wandering about and lazily grazing here and there.  I still get a kick out of seeing all this wildlife - I'm not sure it is something I'll ever get used to!  We went to the very rustic food court for lunch and as we ate lunch there were more deer roaming around and a couple of monkeys looking for any chance they could get - one was even hanging out by the washing up and eating scraps off the plates!

Pha Diao Dai Viewpoint
It wasn't the end of walking for the day - I got the opportunity to explore the Pha Diao Dai boardwalk in the afternoon.  This short interpretive trail tells you about some of the trees that can be found in the higher ground areas of Thailand but the highlight is the cliff at the far end with the most amazing view.  I couldn't decide whether it was refreshing not to have all the railings that we would have in the west at such a place or whether it was foolhardy.  Perhaps the former as most people seemed to be treating it with respect and there were a lot of people taking pictures and selfies.  I took lots of pictures too but cursed my luck later when I realised that they were all black and white!  The crowning glory though was on the way out of the park when we were once again held up by an elephant - this time I did get some pictures!

Hold Up