Umphang - An Adventure of a Lifetime:
9-day Elephant Safari to Umphang, Part 2B
WE ALL PUT ON OUR OUR LIFE JACKETS and boarded the large rubber rafts waiting for us right in front of our bungalow and noticed there were no supplies just box lunches. We were told that everything would be taken by elephant to our first take out point near the forestry camp and waterfall. We had two rafts with two raft men in each raft to paddle for our guide and us.
As we started rafting the water was calm and clear. We passed farmers working in their fields and small bamboo homes. About 30 minutes from the starting point we came to a bend in the stream and entered the main river and started picking up speed. The scenery changed dramatically from rice fields to high cliffs on both sides of the river. The limestone and sandstone formations were beautiful as we went under the overhanging rocks and waterfalls. The only sounds were from the falls, birds and the paddles pushing us down the river.
We could hear a roaring sound ahead and were told we would be able to stop across the river from a large waterfall, which was just ahead. We were also told that we might be able to see monkeys or gibbons here as they come down the cliff next to the falls to relax and drink from the river. There are also large wild fruit trees such as mango that were growing on a small patch of dirt next to the falls that the monkeys like to eat. We pulled over to the bank across from the beautiful falls and relaxed quietly under the large trees.
Sure enough after about 10 minutes we saw the branches of one of the fruit trees moving. We took out the binoculars provided by our guide and looked into the tree. I could see a small hand reaching out to pluck a green mango on the end of a limb. As the seconds passed more and more monkeys showed up, my guess is that there were at least 40 of them. They were all moving around, jumping from tree to tree and climbing down vines to the edge of the falls. There is a small rocky island covered with green moss just in front of the falls that some of the monkeys leaped to. They were eating the moss and it was so cute seeing the babies hanging on to and some riding on the backs on the mothers. I asked the guide if this always happens like this seeing the monkeys as if on queue and was told there are many monkey families along the river and if we didn't see this one, we would most likely see a different family down stream.
It was time to leave, as we had to meet our 4-wheel drive vehicle around noon. We boarded our rafts as quietly as possible as the monkeys stared at us and some fled for cover in the trees and up the vines. It was great seeing monkeys in the wild and not at a temple waiting for handouts or seeing the monkeys on a leash. We were only a couple hours into our journey and if this is the way it starts, we just couldn't wait to see what was ahead. We still had 5 days to go and we weren't even in the rain forest yet.
We continued down stream with fantastic rock formations and cliffs with several waterfalls until we reached our take out point. The raft men continued down stream where they would meet us again in a few days while we were going on to the 6th largest waterfall in the world and over night in a hill tribe village.
We boarded the 4-wheel drive pick up truck for the 40-minute ride to the forestry camp. The road was dirt with big ruts and only wide enough for one vehicle. We crossed streams and up and down tree and bamboo covered hills until we got to the forestry camp. Here the roar of the waterfalls, which was a 30-minute walk away, could be heard.
We finished a nice lunch of fried rice followed by fruit at a pavilion at the forestry office then started our walk to the waterfalls. The trail to the falls was not difficult along a beautiful stream with very large trees and the largest bamboo trees I have ever seen. Most were at least 10 inches in diameter. There were signs along the trail telling about the different trees and foliage. There were colorful wild flowers on the ground and orchids in the trees. The further we went the louder the roar from the falls. Then we arrived.
It took our breath away and everyone said WOW at the same time. Then the kids started using words such as awesome and radical. They had it right, as there is no other way to describe the sight. It wasn't just the raw power and beauty of the falls but the location as well. Here we were at the beginning of the real rain forest with the most beautiful lush green foliage I have ever seen. This huge cliff of red, black and gray limestone and sandstone with an unbelievable amount of water pouring over the top.
It is broken up into several sections. The main section being in the middle and several small sections on both sides. The total width must be at least 300 meters wide with ferns and large trees between the sections. From where we were we could see the falls was some 200 meters high but our guide said we can only see about half of it from where we were standing. We would have to climb higher to see the rest. The kids said, "Let's go for it." So we climbed up a small trail to see the next section. From here we could see the falls was at least another 100 meters higher and were told that there is still another section but there is no way to get to it.
The section we were on had a few small pools where we could wade and sit in the cool swirling water. I felt like we were in a National Geographic or Discovery channel movie. One of those places you always wanted to go to but thought it was not possibleyet here we were.
We didn't want to leave this remarkable place but it was time to move on. I asked if camping was allowed at the falls and was told that is a highly restricted area. This meant no smoking and no food or drink is allowed within this area. We could. however. camp back at the forestry camp if we wanted to. We talked about it and decided our original plan sleeping in the Karen hill tribe village was best.
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