Friday, May 30, 2014

Making Connections in Phang Nga Province – Jungle Trekking and Survival Opportunities



An easy section of the creek hike
Last year around this same time, I was heavily surveying Phang Nga Province for trekking and jungle survival routes. At the time, I had a guide who was from that area. He introduced me to a lot of local guys, all long-time friends of his. We went all over the place exploring.  Most of the places they took me were way too difficult for normal people unfortunately.


After each trip, I paid everyone a nice amount of money and usually bought a bunch of beer as well. It looked like I had made a really good and meaningful thing going. I honestly liked all of these guys and wanted to help put a bit of coin in their pockets.

This is an unopened Rafflesia bulb.
The flower is quite rare
and isn't open for very long.

Unfortunately and surprisingly, they started slacking off really badly.  So, regretfully, I’ve resorted to going back and learning the best of those routes myself. I had the routes in my GPS, but the trails were often very tricky making it extremely easy to get off track.


The best way to deal with the type of thick jungle here is to put a lot of waypoints in and also to recognize landmarks such as certain trees, rocks, downed trees, special plants, etc. I also tend to either clip a few plant tops or bend them in the direct from which I came. That way, if I’m between obvious landmarks and the trail isn’t obvious, I can notice these out-of-place plants/plant parts. Something as simple as one fresh leaf upside down on the ground is all it takes if you’re really paying attention.


Another trick is to take my foot or my walking staff and scrape the ground. This is especially helpful at trail junctions.


Two of the routes we organized last year were a lovely walk up a creek. This route was quite easy as long as you wore shoes that gripped the somewhat slippery rocks. There are some lovely waterfalls and cascading sections on this creek. The jungle on both sides was very impressive with a lot of old growth trees. This area has a good variety of wild edible plants. The frog and lizard population is significant.


An easy section of the ridge walk
I would be very happy to offer this creek hike to moderately fit adventurers, nature enthusiasts, and folks who are interested in jungle survival.


At one point, about three quarters of the way to the last point we normally go on this particular creek walk, I previously noticed a nice confluence with another creek. When I got home and plugged that into Google Earth, I noticed that it came very close to another hiking route we created. This other route is a ridge walk and it’s fairly easy. There are a few options, like a shortened route (which actually requires a steep descent) or the longer version.


So, recently I’ve made a few solo trips up to this area to do two things: explore up the creek (confluence) to see how far I could go and to check out the terrain. Well, most of it is actually quite easy. The scenery is really nice, with an inordinate amount of birdlife, including the very uncommon Chestnut-naped Forktail. I’ve seen them on the last three trips there.  The stunning Red-backed Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher was spotted a couple of times too. There are mixed species ‘bird waves’ frequently crossing this area of jungle.


Equee, one of the many delicious wild fruits.
There are dozens of fruits available
in the spring and early summer.
On my last exploratory trip up this creek, I did run into a couple of mildly challenging falls, but overall the traveling was smooth and easy.


The further point I reached, however, got a much steeper. Looking at my GPS I noted that I was a mere 400 meters from the ridge walk… bingo! Back at home and onto Google Earth I went. I needed to figure out exactly where best to connect the two routes. Zooming in, tilting, swinging around, got it… I think.


Off to Phang Nga Town I went. Even though it only takes about 90 minutes to get from my house to this area in Phang Nga Province, I wanted an early start. I had no idea what sort of terrain I was heading into and I wanted to add cushioning (time) for the ‘what if’.


I do most of my exploring solo these days. I like being all alone in the jungle. I carry enough gear to spend a bit of time out there if something goes really wrong.  I also let my webmaster and friend, Lee, know my general proposed GPS coordinates, so if something does go really wrong, he can send help. I contact him as soon as I’m out of the jungle on each jaunt. This route planning and having someone at home with the information is crucial for responsible adventuring. It’s especially imperative if you’re going solo. If someone is with you and one of you gets hurt, the other person can go for help. That option isn’t available if you’re solo, thus the need for a backup plan.


OK, the morning of May 29th and I slept a bit later than normal or planned, but I got up ready to explore. I had walked the ridge walk trail twice recently to familiarize myself with this fairly tricky route. There are places where the trail is obvious, and then there are places where it seems to not exist.


I reached the point where the creek was only 400 meters away. I found a bit of a gulley that looked doable, so I headed down. Hmm, within no time I was at the precipice of a steep drop-off. This isn’t going to work.


One of the many challenging sections.
It's safe if you're slow and
meticulous about your
hand and foot placement
Heading back up to the ridge, I carried on a bit and noticed that my GPS said I was pointing in the right direction. I reached a point where the trail went left, but where I needed to go was right. It was down.


There was no trail. My goal was to both find the path of least resistance, but also to not zig zag too much. The very uneven terrain proved this difficult. I therefore chose to go down in the ‘general’ direction, marking my way by cutting stuff down, stuff that will likely grow back in a couple of weeks as that’s what happens in the jungle. I also cut two markings on the bark of trees on the backside, the side I’d see when I got back. I had a GPS of course and I had extra batteries, but if something happened to this one device, I didn’t want to be screwed. There’s nothing wrong with being redundant.  I also made it a point to turn around frequently to notice how the trail would look going back up. This is fundamental in jungle travel. If you’ve only paid attention to where you’re going and not the way back, there’s a really good chance that you won’t recognize it. I looked for landmarks and made sure the markings on the trees (that I made) were actually visible. My goal was to be able to see from one marking to the next one, ideally. This wasn’t always possible in the thick jungle, but it was at least a goal.


Considering how thick and uneven the terrain was, it was surprising that I never really got geo-physically discombobulated (lost). I maintained a fairly direct path.


I came to a downed tree. It looked like the base of this tree was a spring as there was a ravine. My GPS said that’s exactly the way I needed to go.  Crossing the downed tree was not easy. I made a lot of noise to notify any potential bad guys such as snakes, centipedes, etc. that I was coming.


I stopped to drink some water and eat some sunflower seeds. I noticed that it took quite a bit longer to make this short distance than hoped, but then again I was being meticulous with the route marking. I knew it would be quicker going back up and also going back down on my next visit now that I’ve got it sorted.


The creek proved to be troublesome. Thick vines and thorny bits were common. The going got slower. At one point it was so thick that I headed up the bank a bit. I rejoined the creek further down.


Phang Nga trekking trails
The drop to the connecting point.
Finally, water started appearing. This was a good thing as my supply was getting low. I went into my pack and got my water filter straw. I drank copious amounts of the chilled jungle juice. Kneeling in the small pool and concentrating on quenching my thirst, I awoke from my Nirvanic occurrence completely content.


Carrying on, the terrain got rather challenging. I came to a falls. The rocks were slick. It was mildly concerning as I was alone. I saw a way down. I was sure I could make it down. What I wasn’t 100% sure of was being able to make it back up. However, as I went down, I visualized the return journey. Yes, this is doable… as was the next set of falls.


According to my GPS I was heading in exactly the right direction for my rendezvous with the creek hike. 


Looking at the general lay of the land I noticed a slight issue: everything disappeared.


I looked into the abyss.


OK, I’ve been walking for almost five hour and I’ve got about four hours of sunlight left. Common sense is telling me to turn around. My GPS said I was 58 meters away from connecting with the creek. 


I’ll be back… with ropes.


Now, the race is not really against time as my experience tells me that I always make much better time going back. It’s generally half the time. The trail, after all, was already cut and marked.  Going up some of the spots I came down could be challenging, but it turns out that they weren’t.


I made it back to my truck with almost two hours of sunlight left. 


I need to clean up this route a bit. I need to go back up there with the right tools to make it an easier track. I don’t like harming the jungle and what I will do is not harmful. Clearing some of the thorny vines, sawing some of the deadfall, and perhaps cutting a few steps in choice locations will make it safer and more enjoyable.


When finished, this route will be a good hard day for diehard adventurers. You’ll see a wide variety of terrain, enjoying wonderful flora and fauna as you go. This is for those who want a hard trek.


For those who want to focus on jungle survival, this would make an excellent two-day trip. There is a assortment of wild edible plants and during certain seasons, like right now, you can also enjoy some delightful wild fruit.


If you’re not hardcore or not sure if you’re hardcore, both of the individual hikes, the ridge walk and the creek walk make wonderful moderate day trips.


Please feel free to contact me if you’d like to chat about your options.


Skype user name: khao-sok

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