We arrived at Khao Yai National Park with just our backpacks. Whatever happened before that has gone missing — I don't remember the planning part or the setting-off part, just the arriving, which isn't surprising because running off on barely-planned adventures was normal. Probably in some nearby town where a bus let us off, we piled into the back of a songthaew* that jostled us back and forth as it wound along a country road to the park.
The ranger station had battered old tents for rent, and sleeping bags. The ranger cautioned us, however: a thunderstorm was predicted, and the grassy camping area sloped down toward the forest. The rain would wash downhill around our tent, the ranger said. But they had tarps, too. I decided to rent three of them: two for the tent and one to sit on.
We lugged our bags out onto the grass and set to work — or rather, I set to work while Kat and the kids watched. When the tent was up I attached two of the tarps on top, overlapping and pulled out sideways to deflect the rain. Frank Lloyd Wright would approve! The others started moving our things inside and I took a picture, but then the kids spotted holes in the floor of the tent. "Wait! Take everything back out!" I yelled and ran down to rummage at the edge of the forest. "What are you doing?" Kat called.
I needed branches, preferably straight. These were not plentiful, but I managed to locate four in the underbrush and carried them back to camp. There I pulled the last tarp under the tent, then shoved a branch under each side to keep the tarp's edges turned up over the ground, ark-like. Meanwhile some other visitors were setting up their own tents (the modern kind) and looked at us sideways.
Now that we had a home base, we threw in our things and got ready to hike, which meant putting on our brand-new leech socks, because Khao Yai was notorious for leeches. By this I don't mean the water-borne kind Americans are familiar with, rather the kind that move along the ground like vampire-inchworms, periodically stopping to raise up their front ends — apparently to sniff. Once a victim is located they increase their pace, inching faster and squirming their way through any seam in one's shoes, later to be found still attached and engorged with blood. Leech socks went on under your shoes but over your pants, preventing these intrusions, and they were clown-white so you could spot any leech that attempted to climb higher.
Khao Yai was popular, both due to its attractions and its relatively-short distance from Bangkok. But for most Thai people, visiting a national park meant laying out a picnic of fried chicken and papaya salad near the entrance — unless there was a waterfall close by, in which case they would take the picnic there, leaving the other trails mostly empty. Such was the case this time. We only had the day and didn't hire a guide, so we couldn't go especially deep, but it soon felt deep, what with the shadowing forest canopy and vine-choked trees and thick bamboo.
Wherever the trail was dim and damp the leeches came after us. They only appeared one at a time, and they were small, but their way of creeping straight in our direction made the kids squeal anyway. Later we found the worms wriggling in our shoes where they had tried to burrow through the laces. The socks worked.
Back at camp we met a young couple who had set up nearby. These two were different, not just picnickers. They were travelers, adventurers, brimming with questions and stories. And they were instantly our friends, though like so often happened in the days before smartphones we never saw them again later.
In the afternoon we made our way to a waterfall. It was impressive but too crowded, and we were all hungry, so we took a few pictures and returned to camp. I'm not sure what we ate for dinner, but national parks in Thailand all had a special feature: local old ladies with homemade food for sale. You would have to go pretty remote in Thailand to worry about getting fed.
The night came on dark but still dry. We arranged ourselves in our sleeping bags and went to sleep. Then past midnight the ranger's prediction came true. The storm didn't just pass through, however: on and on it went, the rain rushing loud on our tent and the ground shaking under us from the cracking thunder. The kids curled up closer as the storm grew louder, but after a while we all got used to it and drifted back to sleep.
Sometime around two in the morning I woke to voices outside. I scrambled to peek my head out into the still-storming dark and saw shadowy figures standing by their tents. "Piak tang mot!" one of them whined. I knew enough Thai to understand. "Heh heh" I giggled to myself uncharitably and scooted back inside. I felt around the floor of the tent in the dark: not a single damp spot.
In the morning we emerged to a sunny new day to find that all the other tents had been flooded while ours had stayed dry. "Our tent's the best!" the kids clucked.
* A covered pickup truck with two benches in the back, a common form of local transportation in Thailand.