13-Feb-2002 -- Continued from 18°N 104°E.
After our lunch break at the lake we headed south along the roads 2026, 2094, 2355, 22, 213. The roads were in our favor and for the first 70km we pretty much drove along 104°E. We passed the city of Sakon Nakhon and headed towards the Phu Phan mountains south-east of the city.
Since our departure from Udon Thani we had driven through very flat countryside with some kind of agricultural activity going on everywhere. With the GPS indicating that we were about 12km north of the confluence this now changed. We were on a winding road up the mountains, the vegetation grew much denser and slopes looked steep. There were no roads or trails off to the side. A confluence in this kind of environment could be difficult to reach. The Phu Phan National Park is located in these mountains. This nature reserve is said to be home of wild elephants and tigers. Are we going to hike here?? What are the guidelines on hiking in tiger country?
With about 5 km to go the land leveled out a bit and the vegetation showed more openings. There were still no promising turnoffs. At 3km the distance to the confluence shown by the GPS stopped decreasing and the arrow on the GoTo screen insisted that we had to make a 90° turn and head east. Well, we'll try the next road... and there it was! Without hesitation we turned into a small dirt road and got a perfect heading on the GPS, the distance was clicking down fast. 1.6km from the confluence the road got too rough for our car and we decided to park. There were still about 2 hours of sunlight, plenty if the geology cooperates. We were now on a fairly flat plateau in an area that was being prepared for farming, trees had been cut and numerous dirt roads had been created. We set our hiking, still with perfect heading. At about 800m the road ended at the edge of a canyon. There was no trail leading down, but we were able to find a way down without problems. At the bottom we had to climb over huge, black boulders under which we could hear the water in a creek. The climb up on the other side was more challenging due to steepness and much denser vegetation. Once at the top we emerged in a forest that had recently burnt. It was not quite clear whether this was in preparation for farming or an accidental fire. There was a footpath which we followed in the general direction of the confluence.
We reached the confluence around 4:30 pm, indicated altitude was 965 ft (294m) and EPE was 0ft. The confluence is on a little hill just south of a small waterfall in a creek feeding into the canyon we had crossed. Except for some small pools there was no water in the creek. As seen on the pictures the vegetation at the confluence is not very dense. In the distance (further east) we could hear the faint noise of a little motorcycle, so there may be another way to get to the confluence.
We returned the way we had come and were back at the car after a total of 1.5 hours of hiking. One thing that's hard to transmit with pictures and a story is the temperature and humidity, but we had to change shirts before we got back into the car...
We did not expect to make two confluences in one day and now had to review our initial plans. We decided to try the next one south. So as the sun went down we got back on road 213 and headed towards Roi Et. This was the closest city in our direction for which our guide book indicated accommodation. Progress was rather slow and when we stopped in Kalasin to refuel the car we were ready for a place to stay, not looking forward to another hour of driving. That's when we found out about the Rim Pao hotel (see picture), a big modern hotel with great rooms at just 740 baht ($17), this included the big breakfast buffet. Even for Thailand this is quite a bargain; but then, who comes to this part of the country? There is nothing to see, the guide book didn't even mention it. Actually, we learned later that there are some dinosaur foot prints close by, but nothing justifying a big hotel.
Continued at 16°N 104°E.