"He has booked the day off work" Waan told me. 'Who has?' I inevitably asked and when she said Mr. Blue which is a nickname from Reservior Dogs that has been bequeathed to Buarum I pointed out that he is in fact a soldier and I don't think they can book a day off. Mr. Blue can, she explained, because he is the Colonel's personal bodyguard and if the Colonel doesn't need Ja Buarum he can take the day off and drive the pickup for us. Really he is more of a chauffeur which led to me trying to explain what a busman's holiday is and which I sensibly gave up after a few minutes of Thai myrth and persistent repeating of the words 'basman holy daeh'.
One of his comrades had told him about a great place to eat called Tha Krabak or Tak Ra Baak, it's one or the other, in transliteration they spell it the first way but pronounce it the second. It is a natural reservior high in the hills of Pang Sida National Park. There were seven of us so I suggested we take the pickup and the rented car. And I was glad we did.
From Aranyaprathet it is only a 45 minute drive and as you get closer to the National Park you pass ever more intriguing sights that you want to know more. We drove along the top of an embankment on an un-madeup road, no more than a single track dirt road with a lake on one side, and low level rice paddies on the other. Back on tarmac the road began to climb again past the Sa Kaeo Husbandry Experiment Research Station. Waan couldn't resist the obvious joke but I wanted to know what husbandry? Cattle, elephants, horses, what? I really have to go back one day and find out.
Then the road peaked and set off in a downhill roll and we passed the Community Forestry Development and Study Center. I'm coming back for that when I get the chance too. I'm assuming they study the affects of deforestation in rural farmlands. Something the Thai Government is all too aware of now that the flood plains are ineffective and in 2011 left thousands homeless. Then we could see through the trees the expanse of lake that is Tha Krabak.
It was like somewhere else in the World. Picturesque, feintly hazy, with soft tone blue-grey water and a sky to match. I just kept driving along the waters edge. Photos cannot do it justice, this is a place that you have to see for yourself, a place where beauty really is in the eye..
I ran out of road and had to turn back and there were children playing near the water with their mum telling them off while dad was sorting and mending his fishing nets. If there is a heaven then probably this is it. As you get to the green roofed white rest over the lake there is a sign, facing the wrong way in my opinion although in heaven that is probably ok, that points the way to the resort. Bamboo huts with roll-out mats is all there is apart from the row of shops selling inflatable arm-bands and dingys. And of course, the restaurant kitchen.
The chef is a young mum and boy can she cook. Waan asked her if she would be interested in coming to England and work in a restaurant with her. She turned down the offer and asked if we could take her eldest son. Waan looked inconsolable but I pointed out how selfish it would be to take this food away from heaven. She looked at me very oddly. Like I had gone mad.
We waited patiently for our food order and pondered over the serenity of our surroundings. The simplicity yet satifaction of this place and the smells of food cooking and the freshness of the lake. Nobody spoke; afterall that would have spoiled the peace. And then the chef brought over food as I stood on a rock and just looked on. I felt no urgency. But when you taste this food for yourself you will know what they eat in heaven.
I went for a walk and found myself back out by the entrance looking at a sign that explained a nature trail across the National Park. It is a 74km walk from Pang Sida waterfall to Thap Lan on the other side and is a hill climb of more than a thousand metres so I guess you need to be sure of yourself to try and hike the route but in my head I was already making plans. You shouldn't want to do this route without a plan. The peak is 8+ hours from civilization for someone in good health, there is no water supply, no shops, no phone signal (although data works fine so your Google maps will work and my Tom Tom didn't get lost) and there is real wildlife, the most dangerous of which is hopefully Black Bears although you should not take any other possibilty for granted especially at night. The park ranger at Wild Gully showed me photos of tiger scat and paw prints that had been found in these hills.
Off we set for Pang Sida National Park only fifteen minutes away from Tha Krabak. You have to pay to enter the park but you can drive all the way up to the waterfall. After that is a dirt track. Entrance didn't come cheap either. For seven of us and two vehicles was 1000 Baht but it is money well spent if you are going to explore for a few days and the ticket office tell you to keep your ticket so you can re-enter the park. And that was going to come in handy for us.
The waterfall is ok, it isn't spectacular, just a nice place to be when no one else is there. Which isn't very often I'm told. But we didn't stop long and all piled into the pickup, two of us sat in the back which is normal in Thailand, but not me. No I wanted to drive. Despite being only a dirt track the road is quite smooth if not rather noisy and every now and again a stone would make a good thwack in the wheelarch. At least I think it was the wheelarches because there was no one behind us. I suspect most car owners have enough sense to follow the warning signs.
This meandering track climbs then drops then climbs again often with nothing but trees either side of you until another view point comes to you. Then you get to near the first peak and there is a camping site with plenty of Thai visitors making the most of the wildlife and it seems butterflies. A few kilometres further and you come to a sign that says to the left is Sap Tung Waterfall, a small cascading shower into a crystal clear pool of water, and not another soul in sight, apart from squeaking monkeys and croaking birds.
We push on to the top and stop by the Praeng river just a few feet away from the track and take a good look at the mist below. If there was a Jurassic Park this is what it would look like. From here is a half hours slow drive downhill to the exit barrier of the National Park. I think the Thai visitors are coming in this end too because there was no sign of any guard to take money off visitors. I'm not suggesting you should but if you visit Lam Chae and then follow track 3462 you would not have to pay. So we exit the park and turn left onto yet another little dirt track which takes you to a little village called Ban Map Krat overlooking Lam Chae lake.
None of us were quite sure where to go but luckily there is a road sign for เชื่อนลำเเชะ-> and if I sound sarcastic you'd be right as I sailed right past it with everyone shouting Khuen Khuen. Which I now know means Dam. If you arrive late in the afternoon like us you see fishing villagers getting ready for tonights catch and beyond is the floating restaurant that is our final destination. We were going to eat here and then drive back again.
The restaurant is called แพลูกตาล เขื่อนลำแชะ on Google and is an absolute must if you visit Pang Sida National Park because the food and the surroundings are fabulous. But do not make the mistake I made and try to go back through the park in the dark, especially when you haven't planned it, like I didn't. It took me the best part of four hours just because I wanted to re-use my park ticket.