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The Amazing Race: Chanthaburi Edition

I’ve been known for doing crazy things while being away from home. Bungee jumpingskydiving and paragliding are just a few of the adventures I signed up for while studying abroad. Even with all of that under my belt, there are still things I never thought I would do, such as travel 9 hours, bribe a taxi driver and run 2 kilometers to spend 1 afternoon in a luscious jungle. Yet, when in Thailand, I am learning I gotta do what I gotta do to make the most of my time here. And so my adventure commenced…

I woke up bright and early Saturday morning to catch one of the first busses out of my province to nearby Chanthaburi. In the spirit of planning ahead, my roommate and I tried to figure out the bus schedule Friday night. Lesson learned: transport times are never a guarantee. There was supposedly a bus departing at 8:30 am, but after an epic game of charades we finally learned the bus actually leaves at 10 am.

Plot twist: it didn’t actually leave at 10 am. As soon as the bus is filled it leaves, meaning we really hit the road around 9:45 am. SCORE! Now, I thought I was in store for a quick 2-hour trip.

Plot twist again: it was not 2 hours. The ride actually ended up being over double. That being said, it was the most scenic drive I’ve ever been on in this country! I saw mountains, forests and temples along the way. The drive passed quickly, even though we had to stop at 3 police checkpoints. The guards really got a kick out of seeing foreigners (farangs in Thai) and let us continue on our way without any problems.

Finally, my roommate and I arrived in Chanthaburi at 2:15 pm with the hope of traveling to a local national park. The only problem? I knew it was supposed to close by 4:30 pm. As soon as I hopped out of the bus, I was immediately bombarded with taxi drivers wanting to know, “Where you go?!” After telling one of the drivers, Namtok Philu (namtok meaning “waterfall”) he agreed to drive and wait outside of the park for us.

Cue: The Amazing Race theme song. I wasn’t planning to stay overnight in the province, so I wanted to find out what time the last minivan departed for my home, Chachoengsao. At first I was told 4 pm, then 5 pm, then finally, with the help of a man who spoke basic English, they settled on 4:30 pm. From the bus terminal I ran back to the taxi driver and asked if we could make it back by 4:30 pm. He explained it was about a 20 km drive that would take 30 minutes. In theory, we should make it.

I wanted to make sure the last bus wouldn’t leave without me, so I ran back to the bus terminal before cruising off. I did my best to tell them I would be back at 4:30 pm no matter what, all the while praying they understood and hoping time and the good karma Travel Gods would be on my side. After (hopefully) solidifying my seat on the last bus out of town, I ran to the taxi (more of a makeshift pick up truck taxi service) and we were on our way! On the cab ride over, I frantically applied mosquito repellent and sunscreen so that I could get moving as soon as I hit the ground.

1 sign

I almost fell out of the truck trying to take this picture... but don't worry! I made it to the park in one piece.

By the time we arrived outside of the national park, it was almost 2:45 pm. The clock was ticking! I jumped out of the cab and told the driver we would be back in one hour and reminded him not to leave. He seemed to understand and said he would wait one hour. Shortly after agreeing, we both realized he wasn’t wearing a watch. I then showed him mine read 2:43 pm and my roommate and I would be back at 3:43 pm. After repeating this a few times, we sprinted away hoping he would still be there upon our return.

From the base of the road, I had to jog about half a mile uphill to get to the ticket office of the national park. I haphazardly bought my ticket into the park (about $8) and continued running… only to be road blocked by a Disney World-style photographer who wanted to snap a pic of my roommate and me before we continued into the park. Out of breath and sweating off a disgusting concoction of bug spray and SPF 70, we paused for surely the least glamorous picture that guy has even seen. We kept running and were greeted by some park rangers who saw the determination on our faces and pointed us in the right direction. 

Good news: the running portion of this obstacle course was over. Bad news: the slippery stair segment was about to begin. For the next kilometer, I hiked up and down staircase after staircase while trying not to face plant.

And then, finally, we stumbled upon Namtok Philu, a cascading waterfall surrounded by luscious greens, highlighted by the sun shining through the tree canopies.

2 horizontal

This view made all of the running worth it!

The Philu waterfall is known for the hundreds of fish that swim along the shore. Though I haven’t had too much luck with fish in this country thus far, I wasn’t going to let them stand (or…swim) in between my hard earned waterfall and me.

3 fish

So. Many. Fish! But as with most wildlife, if you leave them alone then they will leave you alone, too.

Without any more hesitation, I jumped right in! The water was cold, yet refreshing and luckily the fish were more preoccupied with eating the leaves than attacking me.

5 hook em

As always, Hook 'Em! (And those little black lines in the water are fish!)

After a quick dip in the falls and taking a moment to admire the tranquil scene, I knew it was time to trek back to the taxi driver. After running into our photographer friend again (he had attached our quick pic onto a souvenir frame) my roommate and I made it back to the taxi at 3:43 pm on the dot. I ran up to the driver’s side window only to realize our driver wasn’t in the car. I flagged him down from a nearby convenience store and we sped off to the bus station where the minivan was miraculously still waiting. I made it back home a few hours later feeling exhausted, proud of myself and confident I had won my very own version of The Amazing Race.

Bryna also blogs about her Teach Abroad journey at http://lifeofbryna.blogspot.com

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