As they said on The Simpsons (and possibly also a more 'legitimate' source); "A stranger's just a friend you haven't met". Although that might not always hold true, our trip this weekend made a strong case to support the validity of that statement.
The King's birthday (which is a huge national holiday in Thailand) was on Friday, so we got to enjoy a nice 3-day weekend. We'd all been craving some Mexican food pretty much since we got to Thailand, so we decided to hit up Bangkok on Thursday night to grab dinner and then head up to Khao Yai National Park for the rest of the weekend. We had a hostel booked for Thursday night and a few possible restaurant choices in mind, and everything ended up going exactly as planned. Dinner was a tad pricey, but totally worth it. I probably would have gladly paid twice as much for my steak fajitas and the delicious bowl of guacamole that I had. The hostel ended up being pretty decent, except for the one smelly dude in our room...but he came in late and we left early so we didn't really need to deal with that for too long.
We didn't have much of a plan for Khao Yai other than show up and figure out what to do as we went...and that ended up being quite interesting. Normally in Thailand, there isn't much need to book a place to stay in advance. In fact, aside from the hostel in Bangkok, I haven't reserved a room for any of the places I've traveled so far. After talking to Air, one of the park rangers we met when we got to Khao Yai however, we learned that apparently there was a music festival going on nearby and pretty much all the places were booked up already. As we were contemplating our admittedly limited options...Air called a couple nearby places, found a place that had room for the 5 of us, and then took the time to drive us over to the place. She even hung around while we negotiated the price with the owner to make sure we had a place to stay. Also, she arranged a songthaew to pick us up in the morning and show us around the park. Unfortunately, the room was already booked for Saturday night, but, thanks to Air, we at least had a place to stay for the night.
The next morning, the songthaew driver picked us up as promised and took us to a couple scenic overlooks before bringing us to the visitor's center to arrange a tour guide to take us on a hike. I had assumed that it would just be our group on the hike, but our guide had also booked a tour with another group from the UK who, as it turned out, are also teaching English here in Thailand. They had camped out in the park the night before and didn't have a songthaew, so we all piled into ours to drive over to the starting point. Even though we didn't see any animals, the hike was still super pretty. Since the other group still didn't have a driver of their own, they offered to split the cost of our driver for the rest of the day. They all seemed cool, and our driver didn't seem like he cared even a little bit about 5 extra passengers, so we gladly accepted and spent the rest of the day checking out a couple waterfalls around the park.
While it would've been super cool just deferring the cost of our songthaew and having some cool new friends to hang out with for the day, John, Enda, Grace, Ashley, and Natalie also helped us figure out a place to sleep for the night...which was awesome. After we were done hiking, they took us back to their campsite (which was packed due to the long weekend), showed us where we could rent some gear for the night, and moved their tents around a bit to give us room to set up. They also invited us on a night safari that they had booked. As it turned out 'night safari' is mostly driving around in a truck at night while a dude shines a spotlight in trees and fields. Oh, and every once in awhile you see a deer! Even so, we still had a good time.
Since Khao Yai is a bit of a drive from Amata, we wanted to get a moderately early start. We packed up our camping gear, said goodbye to our new friends, and started trying to figure out how to get out of the park. A bunch of the other campers were leaving as well and we were able to flag down a pick-up truck who agreed to give us a ride back to the park's entrance. He had friends, or teammates (they were all on a soccer team) camping in another area of the park, so we made a little detour so that they could get their convoy all in order. While we were waiting, we introduced ourselves to the driver, Nat, and his wife, Yam (pronounced with more of a soft 'y'). After talking with them for a bit, they realized that we were attempting to get to Bangkok so we could get a bus the rest of the way to Amata and, even though it was slightly out of their way, insisted on giving us a ride to the bus station.
We thought it was just going to be a simple ride to Bangkok, but apparently Nat, Yam, and the rest of the group wanted to show us some Thai hospitality. First they stopped at a giant dam and drove up to the top where there was a gorgeous view of the lake (made by the dam) and mountains. Then they asked if we were hungry...which we were, so they took us to lunch. They even asked if we wanted to check out a temple that Nat's brother likes to visit every time they pass through. It was really amazing. Once we arrived at the bus station they parked, got out, made sure we knew where to buy tickets, walked us to the bus, and made sure that the driver knew where he needed to stop to let us out. We tried to offer them some baht for all of their trouble, but they refused. We thanked them profusely, and told them that if they're ever in Chon Buri that we are treating them to dinner which seemed to make them very happy.
I would have been happy with just a ride, but the few extra stops they made to show us parts of Thailand that we might never have seen, and the extra effort they made in ensuring that we would get where we were going was extremely touching. Between Air, our friends from the UK, and the random soccer team we met, pretty much this whole weekend, we were the benefactors of a lot of kindness and generosity. It feels good.