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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And then got out her machete and began pointing out the various signs of wild elephant in the area.
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.
We hiked back to the road…
…and hitched another ride to the park gate, where we were greeted with a plethora of cowboy gear.
And then we had dinner at this fun joint….
…where I found this gem of a photo next to the bathrooms.
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.
Never thought that Khao Yai would make me feel so close to home. Or so very, very far away.