I've just arrived back in Bangkok after a wonderful two days near Pak Chong, where a friend and I explored Khao Yai National Park, a monsoon forest and a Unesco World Heritage Site. In fact, I'm sitting in a massage chair getting my first-ever pedicure in preparation to return to the U.S. tomorrow. Let me settle back (ah, my cuticles) and tell you about all the poisonous animals we held.
Gwen and I went on two tours with our Guesthouse, which were fantastic. We made friends with travelers from the UK, Belgium, and Holland. We rode around the park on benches in the bed of a pick-up truck, pulling over suddenly and witnessing our driver sprinting down the road, diving into the long grass, and coming out with a venomous snake balanced on a stick. We constantly marvelled at the staff's ability to spot wildlife from a moving vehicle. We explored a huge cave where Buddhist monks go to meditate, which happened to be chock full of bats and various poisonous insects and spiders. Our guide took particular pleasure in grabbing our hands and gently placing animals on them, instructing us to keep very still, and proceeding to give a short lecture on how easily they could kill us if we scared them. It was like nothing you would see in the U.S., and it was terrifyingly fabulous, although I did have a stab of regret at not purchasing travel insurance.
After our death-defying tour of the cave, we went to the base of a mountain to watch millions of bats fly out for the evening hunt. Our driver, recognizing the fleeting nature of animal-watching, told us to run down the dark trail to the viewing area. Halfway down the trail, our flashlights suddenly illuminated our guide holding another snake dangling on a stick. "Look!" he cried. "A viper! No, don't look! See the bats! I will save the snake!"
We finished the evening with a swim in a natural spring and headed out again the next morning to spot wild elephants (a rarity, occurring not once but twice) and gibbons and trekking through the forest wearing a rainbow of ponchos in a downpour. It was my first experience with both leech socks and leeches, the latter thankfully being spotted on the ground and not on my sock.
The adventure was over quickly, and I've been surprised at how emotional it's been. I realized that I've finally reached the end of my graduation list, all the internships and moves and tests that took place after the ceremony that made me insist that graduate school wasn't truly finished yet. I realized on a swing at the guesthouse that the moment has finally come that marks the end of an era and the beginning of my working life. It feels momentous and alarming, and I feel at the moment like I want to keep backpacking in Asia forever, but it's time to come home. I'm so glad I went on this trip, and I have high hopes for continued international travel, particularly in Thailand. For now, though, it's time to start applying what I learned in school. Until next time, Asia! I will be back.