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Published: January 18th 2013
Thank you to my talented fiance Tara for taking the photos on our trip.
The sun had yet to rise and in fact would not for quite some time as our motorbike convoy departed from the entrance to Sawan Park on our way to Thailand's grandest of swamps - Bung Boraphet as it's known among the locals - is the nation's largest wetlands and home to all sorts of migratory birds, endangered fish, beautiful plants and the lot. When my alarm went off at 5:30 am on a Saturday morning Tara and I were none too happy but I had only had a few beers the night before and felt alright so we drank down a liter or so of water along with some tea and oatmeal with some dried fruit and made our way out to meet with our friends. We felt none too wise for having lived in Nakhon Sawan for well over a year and never visiting our most famous tourist attraction, but our friend Gary had been reminding us that we needed to get down there to see the lilly-pad flowers and we had missed out last year, so with the season coming to an end we sent out a message to all of our friends and got an enthusiastic response.
When we pulled up at the park we were only three and it would be a lie to say I wasn't expecting most of our party to bail, but then sure enough one by one the rest of the crew came rolling in through the darkness, yawning and rubbing the sleep out of their eyes and then we were off. It was a cold December morning, about 70 degrees F but ask anyone whose living in a toasty tropical environment and they will surely attest to you that whipping through the wind at about 80k on a motorbike in those temperatures and with no sunlight will chill you to your bones. We turned down the road leading to Bung Boraphet and the temperature seemed to drop even further as concrete and pavement gave way to rice paddies and irrigation ditches but by now we were all waking up and the cool air was invigorating and so we were all getting excited. The sun was still tucked well below the horizon but we were beginning to suspect a cloudy day which we worried of course might ruin our plans for a bright pink sunrise reflecting off the water as we departed
but knowing full well that expectations are the only real thing that can leave you feeling disappointed in the first place and so accepting it all the same if you know what I mean.
We pulled up to Bung Boraphet which includes a gigantic boat looking like a beached Noah's Ark with a nice aquarium inside with the history of the swamp and some giant river rays and other beautiful specimins and also the crocodile farm which housed some crocodiles until they all gained freedom in the great flood last year and of course the little sandy beach with some hawkers grilling meat and some huts and also the new luxury hotel that sat awkwardly among it all. And son of a bitch if the girl at the desk of our apartment hadn't been telling me it's 'children's day' for a reason - when she had told me that morning I asked if that meant the whole affair was closed and she said no, so 'what the hell do I care, then' is what I wondered, but now I realized why as I saw a big carnival and market being set up wih rides and vendors, games and balloons
and all sorts of nonsense and people too with their little kids and already at 6 am, but our friend Tom and his girl and also our friend Naree were waiting there for us and so we continued on to the part of the swamp where you catch a boat and there was good old Gary waiting for us and he had already tried to organize a boat for us. Never wanting to bear bad news, Gary informed us that all the boats which normally would have been all ready for us to hop right on had been reserved on account of children's day and we had to wait for another boat from up-swamp but no worries because by now the sky was starting to light up and we could see that there would be no magnificent sunrise and since we didn't have to worry about being in the perfect spot on the water at just the right time to watch the sunrise it was like a little bit of relief and we could accept what we had just fine and everybody could get back to living at a good and leisurely pace.
It wasn't too long at all
in fact until a long skinny little boat with a car engine rigged up to long pole and propellor was all ready for us and at $30 for the lot of us making it less than $3 a person to take a two hour tour nobody had to worry about their savings too much. And an agreeable looking Thai gentleman who seemed like he knew his way around the swamps greeted us with a warm smile and a straw sun hat with the brim folded up on three sides, 'good morning' he said and helped us onto the boat which contained a long table that was a bit higher than seemed necessary but it had some nice plastic chairs, one of which I proceeded to break with my poor sitting habits, but everyone else found them agreeable and even a few lounge style chairs at the front of the boat where you could stick your feet down into the swamp. The air on the water was cool and breezy and everyone bundled up tight with our friend Ashley wrapping up from head to toe in her tie-dye sarong and then we were off. The first leg of the journey was
uneventful and a few members of the party took a little nap as the rest of us engaged in a little of that Saturday morning small talk and pondered about how large the wetlands were and this, that and the other thing and before long our boat pulled up at an island and the tour took a bit of an unexpected turn as a phantom voice from the back of the boat spoke in clear English "good morning ladies and gentlemen my name is (forgot) and I will be your guide today. The island on your...." and so on and so forth and we all wondered how the best English speaker in Nakhon Sawan ended up as our tour-guide out here on these great and mysterious waters. An old bhikkhu of the swamp I suspected as he spoke with his calm, measured and joyful tone and this was a man who loved his work and loved his job and I suspected there wasn't too much that didn't bring happiness to this wise old sage. The island we were parked next to, we were told, was actually built for none other than Her Majesty the Princess of Thailand who is an
avid birdwatcher and the whole thing was now converted into a lookout for the rangers to watch for illegal hunting and fishing which was forbidden in this part of the swamp but no one appeared to be home and sure enough there was someone fishing illegally a stones-throw away. And we also learned that this was no prehistoric swamp but in fact was man-made by damning up the Chao Phraya River which forms not too far up the road, and within the last 100 years in fact which was quite a surprise to all of us and so we sat there and pondered what those first pioneers had thought as they followed their ancient instinctual flight patterns from Siberia or wherever and how their beaks must have dropped as they beheld the beautiful and newly formed Eden below with all the plentiful bounties of fish which was to become their new home - what glory and splendor indeed.
I could tell that morale wasn't too high as we rode past a lot of dead lily-pad flowers and lotus flowers and it seemed that some of the party were a bit worried that we had come too late in the
year and no doubt the flowers had already closed up shop for the season and maybe we had gotten up for no reason at all but I just sat there and let the breeze blow in all that fresh air and good feelings and tried not to think about anything at all but I did let Gary know that some of our friends had told us the flowers were all gone for the year and he said 'really, where have they gone?' Not too long after though that big gray curtain of a cloud that robbed us of our sunrise started to burn away and there was that magnificent early morning sun shining down on us and casting it's glow all across the sparkling waters and soon after some green grassy fields growing straight out of the swamp and extending across the water and islands with big green trees and birds galore and now enormous fields of bright pink lilly-pad flowers too and a nice little path right through the middle down which our boat slowly wound. And now we were right in the middle of heaven itself and our guide cut the motor and the sounds of a vast
and eternal paradise enveloped our small boat with an aura of calm serenity the likes of which can scant be found in the hustle and bustle of modern city life. The sounds of nature were so vivid it didn't even remind me of any nature I knew and so instead I thought about surround sound high definition wild scenes on my mom's 50 whatever inch flat panel tv except here it was a whole 3D panorama of it and that intense quiet with nothing but birds talking that big talk and I wished everyone on the planet could be there to experience it, only not now because I was enjoying the peace too much. Everyone was hustling about the boat snapping photos but my camera broke a few weeks ago in Chiang Mai and what a blessing it was because while everyone else rushed about I just stood right there and absorbed all of that peace and good feeling right down into the depths of my soul and how refreshing it was.
Our kindly old guide reved up the engine, startling tens of thousands of birds into the sky and we all had a grand old laugh and there
were all kinds of birds in this great aviary garden, gigantic herons and communities of cranes and ducks and osprey but also birds that none of us even knew existed like those which resembled chickens but with blue green feathers and bright red heads who used their webbed feet to race effortlessly across the tops of lilly-pads like good old Jesus C himself walking right across the water and all of that. But the most surreal part of it all were the tens of thousands of bright pink lilly-pad flower and even a few purple lotus flowers which dotted the sea of green plant-life in one gigantic panorama extending as far as the eye could see and soon the time had flown by so fast that as we pulled up to Nok Nam park at the other end of the wetlands to use the restroom facilities our two-hours had already past but that didn't bother our old bhikkhu who everyone knew had no use for concepts like time and so paid no mind to any of that type of talk. And by the time we returned back to those distant shores from which we had departed the sun was already
high in the sky and our sweaters were stacked on the table and no less than a full three-and-a-half hours had passed and we decided to be kind and give an extra $1.40 each to the venerable old sage who had taken us on our trip and we knew he must'nt have expected as much but boy did his face light up when we handed him that extra 600 baht. Stepping off that boat if I hadn't known better I might have thought I dozed off on that lazy vessel and dreamed that whole green and pink wonderland straight out of the bizarre depths of the mind but we did in fact have cameras full of photos - and though they can't ever conjure up the wild sensations of being out in the middle of it all I hope I'll always be able to have a glace and taste that fantastically fresh air and watch those wild birds talking that crazy talk with all that wild wilderness around us and hope that there can be many more places around the world where everyone and also myself can get right up face to face with that great old mother we call
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