After a long week of remote work for Craig and stuffing around on the internet for me. It was about time to take a break and explore Northern Phuket. We had bravely decided to book a rental car for a day and our little white Honda Jazz showed up on Friday evening. We both took great pleasure DRIVING into Kata Beach in air conditioned comfort, over the normal 25 minute walk in the heat.
After some investigation, I discovered the Gibbon Rehabilitation project, located in the Khao Phra Theaw Non-Hunting Area (National Park) in Northern Phuket. In case you haven’t picked it up yet, Craig and I are both crazy about animals, so this was the ideal day trip.
We set off through the congested roads, where the centre line is only a guideline and cars, scooters and trucks cut in and out of lanes like a deli meat slicing machine before opening. The drive was meant to take about 45 minutes; Nek minute or should I say 75 minutes later, we arrived at the entrance to the National Park.
The narrow road was shrouded in tall rubber trees and light filtered through the leaves leaving dancing patterns on the road. About 1km up the road, we stopped near an office. Here we had to pay our 400Baht entry fee to the national park. A smiling guard, took our money and kindly pointed us in the direction of the Gibbons.
Climbing out of the air conditioned car was a shock to say the least. The heat here seems to wrap itself around you and smother you at every opportunity, luckily the rehabilitation centre was only a short walk from the parking area.
The centre is funded by donations and a small government subsidy and is staffed by volunteers. We met a lovely French lady, who took us around the small enclosure area and explained the plight of these beautiful creatures. She was interrupted almost straight away by the Gibbons, who had decided to sing to us. It sounded like a police siren to begin with, but as the other Gibbons chimed in, it began to sound more like a melodic thrumming.
The centre is divided into two areas, quarantined gibbons and permanent residents. The aim of the project is to release Gibbons who have been kept as pets or abused/exploited as tourist traps at bars/restaurants. They always release them as part of a group and try to pair their gibbons into breeding pairs. On arrival all Gibbons are given psychological and physical examinations to determine whether they can be released. I was particularly struck by Tam, a golden haired beauty, she had been abused so badly that one of her hands and one of her feet had to be amputated. She can never be released.
Other permanent residents had psychological problems including bulimia, anorexia and an addiction to humans. Some had even been kept in tiny cages where they could barely move and fed only once a day. They are beautiful, they drop and swing almost effortlessly around their cages, I can’t imagine why anyone would ever want to hurt these gentle creatures.
For a meagre 1800 Baht ($72NZD), you can ‘adopt’ a Gibbon for a year. This covers only a small amount of the 70,000Baht it costs to look after them. Craig and I adopted the beautiful Bobo, a permanent resident who they still hoped to release, but did not have a partner for.
It was fascinating and heartbreaking to hear about the plight of the Gibbons, and whilst we couldn’t and didn’t want to take the real thing home, we adopted a cuddly version:
We walked out of the centre, a little wiser and with slightly lighter pockets. Another 300 metres up the road is the Bang Pae Waterfall. Most Thai people prefer to visit the cool, lush waterfalls for swimming, the beaches are generally covered in sun seeking tourists.
A huge group of chattering school children arrived just as we set off, and settled themselves down near the picnic area below the path to the falls. We wandered up through the jungle, dodging glow worm threads, and slippery leaves. Craig even managed to save another tourist who had taken the risk and worn jandals and then slipped on the slippery steps. Along the haphazard path, you could glance down through the leaves and dappled light and glimpse groups of Thai people bathing, splashing, laughing and enjoying the fresh, cold water.
At the top, was the waterfall, cascading down a rock face filling the pool below. Jutted rocks and broken trees lined the river bank and the water flowed over the brown rocks towards the bottom. It was nice to pause here for a moment and watch the waterfall. A lizard crawled quickly over a large boulder and Craig caught him with the camera:
After ten minutes, the sweat was dripping down my back and it was time to retreat to the air conditioned comfort of the car. On our way home we stopped briefly at Karon Beach in 34° to take a few photos and admire the turquoise blue water.
Then it was back to the hotel for a swim to cool off.
Phuket is an island of juxtapositions, the beautiful natural resources sit uneasily beside the exploited, seemingly soulless and dirty tourist areas. I am not sure if we will return, but enjoyed our time in this crazy, mixed up place.
Tomorrow we head for Chiang Mai, where elephants and cooking classes await. It will be our second to last stop on this worldwide adventure.
Ginga Musings out.