Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Nature

The park is renowned for its orchids, butterflies and fungi. Ian was ecstatic about the fungi and took lots of photos of his favourite plant. This park is well worth a visit with good walks and good information. December would be great when the orchids are at their best. There are also good rocks and it’s a geo-park in the making with deep eroded joint patterns and tessellated terraces in abundance. These were used militarily, so have significant historical as well as geological importance.

Park Walks

We went for a walk looking for one of the waterfalls, 3.5 km in from the road. A local Park employee seemed amused that we would be prepared to go looking for it, as we found out later, most of the falls are dry at this time of year. The 3.5 km turned out to be a reasonable 3 km rainforest walk along a narrow, unmarked though worn, track, covered with leaves as no-one had used it for months, then a 500 m scramble down a steep drop that eventually beat us. We were out for 3 hours and were “tired out” and sweat-soaked when we got back to the road.

The Park's Communist history

The park covers what was the site of the Thai Communist Party headquarters, hospital and training grounds during the 20 year war with the government that ended in the early 1980s. In 1973 they were joined by hundreds of students after a student uprising of October that year. The area housed several thousand people. It was only when the government changed tack from warfare to negotiations that the insurgents eventually surrendered and were granted amnesty. Some, maybe many, of them are now employed at the Park. The restaurant manager, Suree, has a photo on the wall of her (bottom right) at 18 with armed comrades in uniform.
The Communist Party army hospital was staffed by doctors and nurses trained in China. There is an exhibit of much of the medical equipment used, drugs produced, and a copy of the 1977 British Pharmacopeia used. The hospital practised modern as well as traditional medicine and was able to perform most surgery, including amputations. The photo is of the clifftop flag where they flew their red flag to celebrate battle victories.
On the western descent from the park there a new, ‘modern’, Buddhist temple being built by locals. The construction is being funded by a Bangkok benefactor, and it is for the former Communist Party fighters.

Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park

On the mountain road the people cultivating their small gardens looked different to the farmers on the plains below. At the entry to the National Park it was confirmed that we were in the area of the Hmong tribal people. Further along, at Park HQ we arrived just ahead of a convoy of official cars with police and military escort. The Thai Environment Minister was paying an official visit to one of his more outstanding parks. Ian and Gerry met and chatted with him, a Sydney Uni graduate. I failed to get photographic proof.
We booked into a very comfortable 2 br lodge for a night, but as we saw more of the park, learned its history and enjoyed the relief from the humidity below, we gradually extended to 3 nights. We were the only customers at the restaurant for most of that time. The park is very well set up. It caters for group stays, schools etc, as well as families and VIPs. It is spacious, very clean, with neat gardens and is well signposted.

Thursday 24 April 2014: First big test for the Dodge

Our overnight guest house was at the foot of the climb up to Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park, so it was straight up, and a real test for the Dodge. We got away in the cool of first light and the Dodge pulled well at first, but at the 19 km mark, at 1650m, from the flat plains, she stalled and overheated. We increased the fuel flow once, then again, and eased off the revs a little and the temperature dropped. She climbed well for a few more km until the top at about 1900m, and then stalled and refused to start.
We were in tropical rainforest with about 3 vehicles an hour passing along the road, and no NRMA, RACV or RACQ. Ian pulled the carburettor apart and found the choke float had separated. We re-attached it and screwed it up tight again and were on our way. Since then it has not missed a beat. On the flat we have lowered the fuel flow to try and wean it a bit. We are confident it will learn from this as it has its own quite human, though cantankerous, personality. Some readers might remember the days of the Armstrong system of power steering, and the Crash Craddock gearbox.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Heading north

Out of the hotel at Muak Lek and northward, sticking to the minor roads, through rice paddies, cane fields and stooked cassava, all waiting for the Wet season to start. Hot, overcast, humid, and no rain. Typical 'build-up' weather. We covered about 180 km, to Wichian Buri. We aim to connect with the Mekong and follow it downriver to Vientiane. Rex flies in on 30 April. We will push on north with the Dodge. The Whippet arrives in Bangkok on 1 May and we hope to have it trucked to the "bridge", the Laotian border, leaving about a 4 day drive, by vintage car speeds, to the Chinese border. Hoping to cross by about 7 May. Somewhere in that timetable all 5 of us will connect.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Monday 21 April: Then there were three

Collected John from the train station at Ayutthaya, Thailand's old capital, now a UNESCO World Heritage City. The city is built on an island in the river, and, as well as impressive wats, and a huge reclining Buddha, also has traces of the trading settlements and churches of the the Portugese, Dutch, Chinese, Japanese, and British, who came to trade in the 17th century and before.

Day 2: Saturday 19 April.

Ian tells it: We spent some time organising the cars and tools, had breakfast at a delightful roadside stall - pork, rice, beans, and coffee - and set out up Highway 1, looking for accommodation near Namtok Chet Sao Noi National Park. We found an apartment block with hotel rooms and secure parking south of the park. The plan is to stay here a day or two till John arrives. We can leave the Dodge and exploring in the Cruiser. We honed our navigation skills and ventured out to the nearby national park. It is the end of the dry so the trees in the park are distressed and have lost most of their leaves waiting for the rains and the end of the heat like everything else. A short walk into the waterfalls was all that was on at midday, with all birds, animals, and humans seeking refuge from the sun.
The Dodge is finally landed in Bangkok, Friday 18 April 2014.

First day: Bangkok, Friday 18 April 2014.

Ian Neuss writes: We, Gerry and I, got the cars out of customs at about 2pm after signing our lives away to customs and agreeing to get them out of the country or pay a tax. We were able to wait in the warehouse while customs went over the cars and took film of every number on them. The Land Cruisers engine number on the tag was different from the one on the registration certificate but the same as the one on the engine, luckily. We eventually, with a few more forms, got the cars out of the sauna temperature warehouse and were allowed to take them out of the docks. So we set out and got them 50km north of Bangkok to Rangsit, fuelled up, put air in the tires and got ready to take them into the traffic on the main drag north. Most successful. Thai drivers are not aggressive and are too polite to use the horn. So after settling in it wasn't as bad as I had imagined, except the trucks doing a U turn on the freeway can bring the road to a standstill. All allowable. Darkness came upon us and we had no accommodation and no ideas so we called into the first one we could locate, the Good Inn. It had rooms and parking. The rooms were beds and TV, bath and lots mirrors, little else and no key Having a beer outside when we arrived we realised where we were. People were driving up for a short time disappearing into these VIP, SUPER VIP or PARADISE labeled rooms. A team of women were walking around pushing a trolley of sheets, towels and cleaning gear. They would descend on a room as a car left and before the next arrived. Now we could work out what the sign said at the entrance. A walk to a nearby restaurant and some food restored the body. By morning some rooms were occupied by travelers or at least occupied.

Monday, 7 April 2014