I lay in the warm water staring up at the thunderclouds massing above me. The sun was still shining, its light flickering as the Mayflies danced above me. The only sounds were the rumble of thunder, the rustle of the leaves on the trees as the storm approached, the occasional whinny of a horse and the distant sound of water running as gardens were watered.
We were in Khao Yai (Big Mountain) , a national park of Thailand, in the Khao Yai Cowboy City Resort (hence the horses) and the resort was just us and one other family.
On Monday I fly to Singapore and Ploy and I were discussing having a break together once I got back. But these plans never come to fruition so I said, why don't we just go somewhere now, today. Ploy suggested Bang Saen but we have been there a fair few times and it didn't seem to make much sense going all that way to come back and then virtually drive there again on Monday as it is quite close to the airport. So I suggested Khao Yai which is not far from us, maybe 70km, and should be quite quiet now as people recover from the excesses of SongKran, the Thai New Year.
An hour later we were packed and ready to go and after some bank stuff in Saraburi we were on our way. A quick stop for lunch and just an hour and half later we were completely lost. As we approached Khao Yai there were hundreds of signs for resorts and I regretted immediately not spending a few minutes on the Internet before we left producing a short list. I imagined myself lying in a pool, dinner at a nice bistro awaiting me, some nice wine sat on ice and a lovely room with huge bath and HBO movie channel. The reality was having Pinky (who I had suggested we leave in the care of friend) going ape-shit on the back seat as we slowly negotiated the potholes of our fast disappearing road.
'Why didn't you keep to the main road?', I enquired as calmly as I could. 'The resorts aren't on the main road, there was a sign to one down this road', was the terse reply. 'Yes, Bonanza resort, I saw it, 22km it said and we haven't seen another sign for it for about 40km'. Ploy continued on until the road became a dirt track. Ploy silently turned the car around. Pinky tried to clamber into the front seat, (which of course I was sat in. She likes to to sit there as she can see more. She certainly would have done a better job of navigating).
We retraced our steps but not in their entirety as the attraction of another road to nowhere caught Ploy's fancy. I calculated how far it would be to walk to civilisation and decided to stay quiet. We passed a few village shops and I think I saw a human playing a banjo when Ploy decided to stop to get a drink. When she came back I asked if the shopkeeper had given any directions. 'She doesn't know any resort as she has never stayed in any of them'. 'Did she not suggested a general direction toward other human kind?. 'This way, she said' which by coincidence was the way we were heading, away from the main road. However, just a few kilometres further on we happened upon a huge sign to the Bonanza resort and to my amazement Ploy drove straight up to reception to enquire about rooms. 'They don't take dogs' she said, waving a pamphlet at me which had photos of swimming pools and jacuzzis and bistros on it. I decided I didn't want to share the car with Pinky that night so I encouraged Ploy to keep on down the road and just a few kilometres on we came to another resort but again, no dogs. And so on we drove, this time passing by some other resorts that also looked swanky and therefore likely to be anti-canine.
We came to another road and for the first time in what seemed like hours saw another car. And then another. It was like a Bangkok motorway. And as we slowly drove into the traffic we also saw signs, hundreds of them, for resorts and restaurants and hotels. We pulled into one on the right. A girl came out to meet us. They accept dogs, said Ploy, 1500 baht a night, no swimming pool. Never mind, it looks nice. We were escorted to a small bungalow which offered a bright sunny room with a large king size bed and sofa. We accepted straight away. We quickly brought in the things from the car and lay together on the bed to the sound of silence. 'This is nice', I said. 'What is the bathroom like'. 'Go and look' offered Ploy, so I reluctantly got off the bed and opened the bathroom door to view the smallest bathroom I had ever seen in my life. As we were to find to sit on the toilet you had to open the shower cubicle door and stick your leg through it. To operate the water jet spray thing or reach the toilet paper you had to be double jointed. And the water was little more than a dribble from an incontinent pensioner.
We walked around the resort. Various size bungalows were spaced around the perimeter, the centre of which was, what became clear, the resort owner's house. This grand house, elevated above the others reminded me of the children's king of the castle game. I wondered if the owner appeared in the evening expecting us to bring gifts to him in return for his mercy. We didn't find out as the restaurants were all closed until Friday (tomorrow) so we got in the car and rive further along the road. It was some distance before we found anywhere open, a 7-Eleven, and we stopped to buy some water and beer. Amazingly in our box bungalow, they had managed to shoehorn in a fridge.
We drove past the umpteenth steakhouse that at least had lights on before reaching the 'official' entrance to the Khao Yai park. We settled on the steak house and drove back there parking in the empty car park. But as soon as we got out the car we were enthusiastically greeted and told that Pinky could also come in if we wanted, (in fact they seemed disappointed that we said it was better she stay in the car). The menu invited, the beers were somewhat limited in choice but they also did wine, at the usual exorbitant prices of Thailand, but what the heck. I ordered Thai food but as a concession to the steak restaurant ordered a BBQ beef salad which was really excellent. One or two others eventually came to eat but the staff outnumbered us by at least two to one, and that didn't count the kitchen staff. Ploy surprised me by ordering a steak and then I was surprised again by its quality. The service throughout was really excellent, I never had to wait for my glass to be refilled; (or do it myself which usually involves getting up as places that 'serve' you your drinks usually do it the first time only, only serve me and never serve Ploy her water or Coke, and then put the drinks trolley in the furthest corner of the restaurant. Whenever you reach the trolley they then run over and shoo you back to your seat when they then serve me but never Ploy and usually forget to put the ice in my beer so I still have to get up again to do that, this time they just disapprovingly watch from their huddle). Anyway, there was none of that here.
It appeared that they also have bungalows, 1400 baht/night, and they have a swimming pool and a live band on Fridays and Saturdays. So we immediately booked for the next day, finished our meal and wine and drove back to our toy bungalow. I didn't feel like it, but it was still early, so I opened a beer and turned on the TV. The TV was new, but affixed flush to the same wall as the sofa and turned away from the bed. It only had Thai TV channels in any case so the 2 inch side-on image I had to view didn't matter much. I was too tired to read my book, so I watched Pinky continuously pace the room, before Ploy decided to go to sleep. We negotiated the bathroom, finding it easier on our elbows to clean our teeth in the bedroom returning to the bathroom just to spit and wash. We both slept fitfully but didn't fully awake until 9a.m., the latest I had slept in for as long as I could remember.
The lure of the swimming pool was strong and I didn't fancy trying to 'do' Khao Yai so I was pleased when Ploy seem relieved when I suggested we return to see a temple we had passed in our previous day's voyage of discovery, just long enough before we could check in at our new home. We planned to go home the next day so it seemed sensible to enjoy the resort for as long as we could.
In other circumstances we might have stopped at this temple the day before but by then we had a singular aim, to find anywhere that would take Pinky that had a half decent bed. The temple was unlike any I had seen before and completely different to the white, red and gold glitter palaces of the usual Thai temples. This temple had highly decorated walls, and at first sight did not appear to be a temple at all, more like a graveyard with pagan images. As we approached it from the other direction we could see some other structures up the side of the mountain and as we entered it both of us just whispered 'Wow!' in harmony.
Hundred and hundreds of Buddha images lined the paths and adorned the walls and the buildings. But these were not just your ordinary Buddhas, some were black, some yellow, some almost skeletal. Statues and stone murals were painted with images I had not seen before. A peacock paraded in the road and as we were to find later, they also had a caged white peacock. A motorcycle drove past us and the driver stopped to talk to Ploy. 'If we follow him, he'll take us into the mountain', she said. I didn't immediately follow the instruction, I was too engrossed with what I could already see. How could it get any better.
There was no obvious temple, in the traditional sense; a larger highly decorated building. Instead we were guided into a small, darkly lit cave, every inch of which was covered in murals and coloured stones. The man explained that one monk had organised all of this, working their way through the caves of the mountain. Each cave opened out into another, sometimes we would find ourselves outside again, but further up the mountain. This monk is well travelled and the Buddha images came from all around the world. Some caves are decorated in Chinese style, other in Tibetan or Indian. Photographs and artifacts hang everywhere.
We were taken deeper and deeper into the mountain, descending some quite steep marble steps. Stalactites were used to support paintings and statues as we bowed lower and lower until the caves stop and we were shown a dark passage that was the end of the endeavour, as the air beyond that point 'was not good'.
We were taken back outside but this time very nearly at the top of the mountain where yet another prayer room appeared with an amazing view across the park. Reluctantly we chose to leave but not before were introduced to the monk who had organised all of this. Ploy talked to him a little bit, we offered some money which I gladly parted with given the incredible site, but in return he gave us some lucky charms to keep us safe in our travels.
We were taken back down to the entrance where a girl met us who spoke excellent English and was the guide for the temple, although she admitted they didn't get many visitors. But they do have a Facebook page. The girl asked us to stay for lunch, which we accepted, and it was freshly cooked for us and not just the monk's leftovers. The monk spoke to us again before we left and invited us back as there will be a nighttime celebration, although unfortunately when I am in Singapore. But Ploy promised to attend whilst I was away. We were then showered with leaflets, books and CDs before we left for the resort.
Pinky had calmed down (although she had taken the opportunity to relieve herself in the hotel reception as we checked-in), the food was good, the swimming pool deserted, the TV pointed at the bed, the bathroom was large and the water gushed, the wine was cold, the live band good and mercifully free from the worst of Thai music (although it helped if you liked Simon and Garfunkle), and the service superb. Ploy had an offer to return for the special celebrations at the temple and I had an offer from the monk to join him for his meditation sometime.
Sometimes it is easy to forget what an amazing country it is we have chosen to live in.
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