Arms covered with scratches, bloody ankles, a small piece of tree branch stuck in my hair, muddy nails, bags under my eyes… Thung Yai has left its mark on me. For three days I was tested to my absolute limits, both physically and mentally. I slithered and squished my way through sticky mud and climbed over rocks, feeling like I could fall down any second. And sometimes I did. Thung Yai, you were merciless, but still definitely worth all the pain and effort!
I trudge through the jungle with my eyes fixed on the ground. Making my way past big boulders, I crouch below bamboo sticks and carefully balance my weight on small makeshift bridges over swirling rivers. I avoid tree stumps, trying to trip me up. I overcome huge waterfalls that almost made me fall over. I brave trails barely deserving of the name. Nothing can stop me! Although… I feel slightly less euphoric when I step into a big, wet puddle of mud and think: OMG, why did I agree to do this?!
Hiking in Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary
Thung Yai is a protected area in Thailand, located near its western border with Myanmar. It’s a mountainous area with crashing waterfalls, huge limestone cliffs and dense jungle. Thung Yai is an adventurer’s and hiker’s dream; the perfect place for multiple-day treks.
We chose to do a three-day trek through Thung Yai, which meant we would be walking 6 to 7 hours a day. Our guide, Jarun Saksri (or just Jack), grew up there, so he knows the area like the back of his hand. He’ll guide you along trails used normally just by the mountain people and full of all kinds of obstacles, like big mud puddles, overhanging branches, slanted rock formations and steep mountains. While walking, you’ll regularly come across rivers which can be crossed only by way of very basic bamboo bridges. That is, if you’re lucky. Sometimes, you have to make your own way through, by jumping from rock to rock, throwing a big branch in there yourself or just by going in the water.
But that’s what makes it so much fun!
There will be regular stops for short breaks to have a drink. After the clean drinking water is gone, you can get your water from a small stream, by first boiling it and then drinking it – which is definitely doable. About half way through the day, lunch is served. It usually consists of rice with vegetables and maybe some fish. Servings are generous, so afterwards you can continue the trek with renewed energy!
Thung Yai’s jungle and wildlife
Though most of the time you’ll be looking at your feet and the ground (otherwise you’ll fall!), there are some truly stunning sights to be enjoyed along the way. Sights, for example, like an eight-tier waterfall, suitable for swimming and taking a refreshing shower. Or a plateau on a mountain side with an amazing view of the village down below. And then of course there’s lots and lots of jungle, with vines, bamboo forests and huge, thick trees extending far above the forest’s leafy canopy.
Unfortunately, besides lots of bizarre insects, snakes and lizards, you won’t encounter much wildlife. You might have to stop every now and again to peel a thirsty leech off your sock. The park’s tigers, black bears, buffalos and monkeys live much deeper in the jungle, far away from civilization.
Visiting the mountain tribes in the jungle
At dusk, you’ll arrive at a group of small villages that’s home to a mountain people: the Karen. Life here is simple. There is almost no electricity. The men predominantly work on rice plantations and farms, while the women take care of the children, of which they usually have many! Although you can’t understand what they say (they speak neither English nor Thai, but their own language), their hospitality and warmth immediately becomes clear. Upon entering the village, you’re greeted by old ladies with walking sticks and groups of excited kids waving at you.
The Karen live in simple, wooden pile dwellings without any furniture. Some homes do have a television, but it’s only used during one or two hours a day, with the help of a generator. The rest of the village knows exactly at what time and will gather around very quickly for some food, some laughs and a smoke.
In the evening, Jarun prepares the food. Not only is he a fantastic guide, he’s also an excellent chef. Jarun is a Karen himself. It’s amazing what delights he’s able to whip up from just one simple pot, hanging above a small fire. Vegetable dishes with pumpkin, corn and jungle vegetables unknown to us, soups with special spices, seasoned potatoes with egg and, of course, lots of rice. You definitely won’t starve in Thung Yai!
You’ll sleep like the locals do: on a bamboo mat, under a stack of warm bed sheets. A mosquito net will be used to keep mosquitoes and other insects at bay. Outside is the “outhouse”, squatting toilet included. The shower (if there is one) consists of a large tub of water with a small plastic hose. Or bathe like the locals do: outside, in the river!
My personal experience
My jungle trek through Thung Yai was as arduous, exhausting and tiring as it was beautiful, surprising and inspiring. Though I’m not in the best of shape, I know now that I’m a lot stronger than I thought. On top of that, sleeping among the mountain tribes made up for a lot. We received such a warm welcome, it was truly remarkable. I wouldn’t have missed that for the world!
Want to hike in Thung Yai yourself?
Then contact Jarun Saksri, our guide. Like I mentioned before, he knows the jungle through and through. According to him, he’s the only one who offers multiple-day treks through Thung Yai and his English is excellent. You can reach him by email on firstname.lastname@example.org. When he’s not in the jungle, he’ll often reply the same day. You can also call and leave a voicemail message. The number is +66854254434.
A 2 to 4 day trek will cost 1,750 baht per person per day and a 5 to 7 day trek is 1,450 baht per person per day. But, the bigger the group, the less you pay. Jarun also does alternative routes, more suitable for families with children. The best time to go trekking through Thung Yai is from October to February, when it’s not raining anymore and the weather’s still relatively cool. If you want to know more, have a look at his website: www.sangkhlaburitrekkingtour.blogspot.com.
The best place to stay if you’re going on a trek through Thung Yai is the small town of Sangkhlaburi, which is a four or five hour bus or minivan ride away from Kanchanaburi. Buses leave three times a day and tickets are about 110 Thai Baht per person.