Exploring Hidden Thailand
When you jump from a high place, you get hurt. That's what your mother always reminds you when you are a kid and feeling invincible. That's exactly what was echoing through my gut as I stared down from the heights of a small waterfall. Two tiny heads bob in the waters below, a shake of water sprays from a head-flip of hair and the last few reverberations of a holler filter into the dense surrounding jungle.
"Jump, man! Jump! It's awesome. The piranhas only bite once."
That was the slightly insane Australian, now mock-wrestling an invisible crocodile.
"It's not so high once you've jumped," chimed in his girlfriend.
Ten others sat, lizard lazy, sunning on the rocks and watching me tiptoe along the slippery stones at the edge of the cataract. They had succeeded in staying out of the I-will-if-you-will discussion that sent the Ozzies hurling themselves 30-plus feet down into the eddy below and then pushed me to the brink of doing the same.
From my perch, the abundant life of the surrounding Khao Yai National Park was more than evident. I finally let gravity do what it does best and then let the jolting chill of the waters below enveloped me.
I had made it off Thailand's main tourist circuit and was running on the less-traveled backpacker routes instead. I felt like I was finally getting a taste of something a little more unusual, something a bit more wild and wonderful and natural.
Get off the Beaten Path
For most travelers, Thailand is synonymous with the sometimes-lurid distractions of Bangkok and the coastal sandy stretches of glorious sand evoked in The Beach.
Most traditional vacationers stick to Phuket, Ko Samui, and other southern beach resorts, or retreat through the central historical cities of the Thai heartland and onward to the jungles of the north. For those in search of a little history and culture, the ancient capitals of Ayuthaya and Sukhothai are worth a visit. And for the stout of heart and body looking for more kinetic outdoor fun, touristed tracks through the tribe-occupied hills around Chiang Mai can be hiked, biked, rafted, and/or viewed from an elephant's back. It's a well-traveled corridor with fine goods, solid services, and pretty efficient transportation. But there is much, much more to Thailand.
Like elsewhere in Southeast Asia, travelers who venture further off the beaten track in Thailand escape from crowds of ogling camera-toters, and find areas a little less overrun by hawkers and touts. In two provinces not far from Bangkok opportunities abound for those in search of something a little different: the natural attractions of Kanchanaburi Province, just a quick trip to the west of Bangkok, or the distinct cultural and wildlife-viewing sites of northeastern Nakhon Ratchasima Province. Both of these provinces, which are already slightly off the beaten path, are home to spectacular national parks where you can really get away from it all. Thailand's protected natural heritage rarely disappoints.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication