If there’s anything we learnt from yesterday, it’s that health and safety does not exist in Thailand, and we are not invincible.
The day before we had been excited to book a jungle trek with the hostel we were staying in, and when our tuktuk picked us up, we were delighted to have two other guys in our group. Until the end of the trip, we had a fabulous day, despite the heavy rain in the afternoon. As our tuktuk driver drove along the bumpy, windy roads up the moutains, the scenery around us was simply breathtaking. After an hour we reached our destination atop a mountain overlooking miles and miles of rice fields and jungle. We wasted no time in heading off on our three-hour trek through the jungle.
TIP: Don’t forget your bug spray and mind those red ants!
As you’d probably expect from a jungle trek in Asia, much of our hike involved lots of stepping over slippery loose rocks, crossing logs over the fast-flowing river, rickety bridges, and steep banks! As the least outdoorsy person in the group, I naturally end up at the back, and my fear of heights combined with the gaps between rocks revealing a large drop didn’t do much to help me so I was grateful to the boys for staying at the back to help me (cool points: -1)
En route, we passed a wide, stunning waterfall, near which other people were sunbathing, and further along the way as we got higher up the mountain, we were met with spectacular views of all the rice fields, mountains, and forestry.
With the intense heat and humidity, and beginning to run out of water, we were ecstatic to come by a second waterfall. This waterfall ran down the river to where we decided we would swim. Ignorantly, we didn’t take into account that the rainfall during this season created a strong current in the fairly shallow river, so some of the girls were shocked when they jumped into the river from the bamboo bridge and got dragged right down to the other side of the river. After that, we stayed near the shallow edge, though it was impossible to stand in the same place due to the pull of the water.
Cooler, refreshed and rehydrated, we hiked back to our starting point and were driven to a remote area on the mountain roadside where we were given a lovely lunch in what can only be described as a bamboo shack. Mid-way through our meals, we heard a loud clap of thunder, the sky flashed white and we ended up waiting for a phenomenal storm to pass. Of course, the storm wasn’t going anywhere so we continued to the next part of our trip: elephant trekking of course!
The elephants, of course, were beautiful, though the experience was bitter sweet: The scenery was indescribable. I’ve never seen anything look so green in my life! And getting completely drenched in the middle of a heavy storm was hilarious. But I really wasn’t comfortable with the way the elephants were treated. I felt awful sitting on a heavy seat on top of its back, and they were constantly hit on the head with a hammer. I paid for this part of the trip, and so consequentially I contributed to this treatment and I felt terrible about it. When I went elephant trekking along the River Kwai in 2006, the elephants were treated wonderfully.
The elephant trek lasted a good hour, and we were amused as one of our guides lead us to his hut, his home, to hang out his washing before continuing with the rest of the tour. Finally, we disembarked, fed the elephants before saying goodbye to them and made our way back to the tuktuk.
Bamboo Raft Ride – DO NOT DO IN RAINY SEASON
The final part of our trip was to be a leisurely, hour-long bamboo raft ride down the river taking us further down the mountain. We greeted our ‘guide’ who showed us to both of our rafts made only of 6 logs of bamboo tied together at the ends with rope. In the pictures we had been shown by our hostel when we booked this trip, the experience looked slow and leisurely. The fact that a heavy storm lasting over an hour further up the mountain didn’t seem to have sparked any concern between the tour guides and the fact that the river appeared to be flowing at a rapid speed didn’t raise any alarm bells either. Even when we saw a tree zoom past us they assured us that this was safe and handed us our life jackets.
For some reason we were reassured by the fact that they do this all the time – never mind that we were in Thailand – and decided to commence with the final experience. The more nervous girls in the group got on the first raft with one of the two guys and the rest of us got onto the second one. We watched our friends zoom down the river in front of us and disappear round the bend. As our raft began moving, the guide standing on the back of our raft attempted to steer us. With the water level so high, our faces met many tree branches and we found it very difficult to stay on the raft as it tipped from side to side and sank low enough so that the water came up to our waists.
Before we could even think, the speed of the river picked up and after what must only have been 3 minutes, we approached a bank with men shouting “Jump!” At first, I didn’t realise what was happening and even took a picture of these men who appeared to be cheering at us.
Then suddenly, our guide lost control of the raft, we hit a tree, and the raft completely smashed leaving us in the water. As they threw us a rope, I missed and the strong current dragged me quickly down the river though thankfully someone was able to grab my hand. We were pulled through the marshes and up on to the safety of the bank where we realised we were in the middle of the jungle with a group of men who could not speak a word of English. When we asked where our friends were we received blank looks and shoulder shrugs. “Are they OK?” we kept saying “Where are they?” Every time the answer was “I don’t know”. It must have been 15 – 20 minutes until our tour guide, drove up to us, and told us he didn’t know where the others were but thought that if we drove further down the river we’d probably see them. As we stood on a bridge overlooking the fast-flowing river we knew it was pointless as they’d have passed here long before and found ourselves standing on the roadside panicking, until we saw a truck pull up with our distraught friends in the back.
Where we had been dragged up the river bank, they had all failed to jump off the raft, and their guide, unable to control it with his not-long-enough stick, jumped off leaving them to get dragged down the river. As the raft drifted a little further down the river, Lucy and Amy jumped off, but were swept downstream, grabbing onto anything they could. Momentarily they were able to grab onto a tree, struggling to breathe as the water splashed over their heads. They were able to finally pull themselves up onto a bank, only to be told by locals that they were in the middle of the jungle and there was no way out except by getting back into the water and getting out at the next one.
Meanwhile, Laura and Dave were swept away while on the raft, which broke resulting in them clinging onto a tree, screaming for help. The locals from the nearby rice plantation heard them, and one of them put on his wellies, threw them a rope and pulled them to safety. Laura was incredibly distraught – she hadn’t even wanted to do this part of the trip. When we saw them, Dave’s arm was seriously scratched and bleeding, and Laura has suffered a nasty elbow injury.
We were taken back to our hostel, and were disappointed that the people who we booked the trip with, were unsympathetic and refused to stop promoting this part of the trip, despite the weather.
As we had only been away for a few days, everyone decided not to go home, which had been discussed, and instead we went out that night and drank away the shock.
I apologise for the attrocious photos, – I lost the bag with my hard drive and camera in, so took these pixelated photos from my Facebook, but hopefully my friends will be able to get me the original copies.
Have you ever had a frightening experience on your travels?