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Day of disaster on the way to Than Mayom Waterfall

Thai Tour: Day 9

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Than Mayom Waterfall, Koh Chang, Thailand

The Klong Nonsi debacle

What’s worse than having a tree almost fall on you? Having a tree with a nest full of red ants almost fall on you, I reckon. And that wasn’t even the first calamity to befall me on this day of rain-soaked disaster.

We’d decided that it would be our last day on Koh Chang before heading back to Bangkok. After yesterday’s fishy fun at Klong Plu waterfall, the plan had been to take the bike over to the east coast to check out some of the smaller waterfalls we hadn’t yet got round to visiting. The trouble with that plan was that once the rain had started just after breakfast, it still hadn’t stopped by the time the day was done.

I’d already been up to my ankles in mud whilst attempting to negotiate the track down to Klong Nonsi waterfall a few kilometres earlier near the tiny village of Dan Mai. The rain had eased off enough to allow us to believe that getting off the bike and walking down a muddy slope towards a disappointing waterfall was an idea worth the laundry bill. Yet when one wrong step could leave you with a left shoe full of muddy porridge, you could be forgiven for thinking you may as well have stayed at home.

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“A left shoe full of muddy porridge.”

A world of surprises

But why stay indoors when there’s a world of surprises out there to discover? A little rain wouldn’t stop us from making the most of our final day, even if it did mean the ruining of the only pair of shoes I had.

It was exactly such reasoning that had me sheltering amongst the statues in a roadside shrine trying to rid my footwear of the orange mud I’d just collected with the handful of leaves I’d just picked. It hadn’t even been worth the effort getting to Klong Nonsi in the first place given that the stream had been too swollen with the downpour to get close to the falls themselves. I’d picked my way through waterlogged mangosteen orchards towards the faint splashing sound in the distance for the sake of becoming mono-shoed and disappointed. But on another day, it could have been beautiful.

It was at this point that any sensible traveller would have cut their losses and headed back to the safety of their hotel. But the rain was beginning to ease again and Than Mayom Waterfall was only 5km down the road. It wouldn’t hurt to take a quick look at what we were missing. I had no intention of paying the 200 baht entrance fee for a second consecutive day, but at least we could do a bit of reconnaissance for next time.

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Sacred shelter on the way to Than Mayom waterfall

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Looks like rain!

Ants in your pants

So I was back on the bike, setting a grandma’s pace in the wet conditions, my shorts and t-shirt already halfway to soaked. The roads were much quieter on this side of the island away from the developed, resortified west coast. Maybe in another ten years the bars and tattoo parlours will have found their way out here too. For now, however, it was just the coastal road, the occasional passing bike, and the jungled slopes rising up into the island’s interior.

We were tootling along quite nicely for a couple of kilometres until I slowed and pulled in to let a truck go by. I didn’t particularly like the idea of being run off the road and into a ditch, yet 500 meters later, with the truck already out of sight, a tree, almost in slow motion, was splintering from its trunk and collapsing on to the road in front of us.

It wasn’t a 70 foot coconut tree or anything like that. It may not have been the end of my 35km/h scootering days if I’d been 500 meters further up the road when it happened. But if I hadn’t pulled over to let that truck pass those couple of minutes before, there would have had to have been a nifty bit of evasive action taken to avoid ending up strewn across the tarmac, buried in branches, with a nest full of red ants making haste towards my pants.

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They were streaming out in their thousands to see why they were now nesting 90° and 12 feet from where they were nesting 30 seconds earlier. Meanwhile, the couple of other guys that had arrived a minute or two too late, had each grabbed a branch and were helping drag the tree as best as possible out of the road to give us room to pass, all the while yelping and slapping their bare skin as they too began to feel the incisoring pain of a nest of pissed off fire ants on the war path.

After ten minutes snapping, tugging and falling on the floor, everybody who wasn’t on four wheels was safely on their way again, and other than the pissing rain, the mud-caked shoes, and almost getting crushed by a falling tree, the decision not to waste the day indoors was looking a good one.

Than Mayom … eventually

We reached Than Mayom eventually. We even paid the 200 baht entrance fee and went inside. Given the ordeal we’d been through to get there, it was only right that we justify the journey by seeing what all the fuss was about.

Naturally there were no other visitors to be seen on such an appalling afternoon. Except for the one bored-looking ranger who barely looked up as we passed, we would be on own as we traversed fallen logs, rope-walked across rapids, and scrambled up treacherous rocks, all in order to get the handful of photos that would give some small scrap of validation for the trip.

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The Than Mayom assault course

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The heavy rain had made exploring the falls pretty treacherous

Than Mayom Waterfall had been a favourite with King Rama V and his son Rama VI in their day. They’d even gone as far as to carve their initials into the rocks around the lower level of the falls to show everyone what a couple of badasses they really were. Though I doubt they’d been through as much trouble or got so thoroughly soaked on any of the occasions they’d visited.

I’d wanted to explore more. There were four levels of falls in total and I felt the ordeal to get this far at least warranted a closer look at what lay ahead. I was on my hands and knees, steadying myself on a rocky incline as I inched my way upwards to try and peer at whatever might be on the other side. But the rain was falling harder and my camera, which I was now wearing under my t-shirt in a vain attempt to protect it, was not going to enjoy any attempt to take another round of photographs even if I did make it to the top without slipping back down into the rapids below. I quickly realised that my quest for further exploration was almost certainly heading for a painful and expensive end, and began making my way slowly down and back across the river with as much remaining dignity as I could muster.

It was 50 minutes back round to our west coast base. The serious weather had started the moment we’d reached Than Mayom, and for the whole of the journey back, and for the rest of the night, there would be no let-up in the deluge. At times, it felt we were riding through a hail storm such was the stinging pain of the rain on my face. But if we hadn’t wanted to waste our final day on Koh Chang, I think we could consider this one a messy success.

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Rama V and Rama VI visited Than Mayom and made sure everybody knew it

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