Thailand is a Cowboy’s Paradise

You may not have known it, but Thailand is a cowboy’s paradise. I, too, was unaware of this fact until I visited Khao Yai National Park and its surrounding environs. I naively assumed that Wranglers’n’saloons’n’country music were a North American phenomenon, but Khao Yai has proven me wrong. Everywhere we went there were traces of Thailand’s glorious/unknown history of cattle ranching – I couldn’t decide if it was all for the benefit of tourists, or if bootleggin’ and ranchin’ are actually an important way of life in these here parts.

Angry Bird fish balls: another important way of life

My first encounter with cowboy culture happened at the race. There was a special area cordoned off for elite athletes/VIPs, and it was tastefully decorated with a makeshift saloon and some good-quality plastic chairs. Because nothing screams “North Face” like a few hay bales and a tipple of the local brew.

Only real elites get to mingle with the hay bales

While we waited for our drivers to pick us up from the race, it quickly became apparent that a li’l pit stop was necessary. Somethin’ about waitin’ on a dusty road surrounded by ploughed fields makes a person need to whiz like a racehoss.  Not a problem: the parking lot was equipped with this beaut.

Possibly the most elaborate port-a-potty that I have ever peed in

The fun continued when we headed into the park that afternoon. Our driver was reluctant to actually enter the park (and pay the admission fee), so he dumped us at the gate. Unless we wanted to spend an exorbitant amount of money, our only option was to hitchhike. Considering that there were six of us, I thought this might be a problem, but before I could even consider throwing in the towel, Meagan had charmed our way into the back of a pick-up truck.

She also charms puppies

Oddly enough, the park was crawlin’ with trucks, and we caught rides with no fewer than three.  I’m not convinced that any of them have seen much off-road action, but it was mighty kind of them to haul such a large and sweaty mass of farang around.

Jus’ a couple of down home gals

We took a break from cattle’n’such, and spent a few hours tracking wild elephants. Our guide began by encouraging us to climb on ancient root systems.

Todd brings a special li’l y chromosome to the mix

And then got out her machete and began pointing out the various signs of wild elephant in the area.

That ain’t no cowpie

Sadly, we never saw any wild elephants. While some members of our group were disappointed, I was sorta relieved. I mean, if I bumped into a bear, I’d be terrified, but at least I’d have some idea of what to do. I have no clue how to deal with a marauding, tusked, brainy beast with a fifth limb.

Don’t let the fancy fabric fool you – this ain’t no walkin’ sofa

We hiked back to the road…

IMG_1764

Just a few of the activities that are prohibited in the park. Apparently climbing trees is not one of them…

…and hitched another ride to the park gate, where we were greeted with a plethora of cowboy gear.

Fur coats for those darned cold Thai nights

I don’t even know where to begin with this one

And some bun-huggers: preventing chafing since 1943

And then we had dinner at this fun joint….

…where I found this gem of a photo next to the bathrooms.

The King models cowboy chic.

I still have my doubts about the authenticity of Thailand’s cowboy scene, but we ate beef for the first time in a  long time –  I’m guessin’ someone must be puttin’ those Wranglers to good use.

And one last photo: a Buddhist shrine in front of a saloon. A tasteful juxtaposition of culture

Never thought that Khao Yai would make me feel so close to home. Or so very, very far away.

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