15-Feb-2002 -- Continued from 16°N 103°E.
[14-Feb] - We left the previous point in the early afternoon and had some hopes that we might be able to do three confluences in one day! We soon learned better though when we studied the map during lunch. The roads ahead of us looked rather crooked, indicating more mountainous terrain. We confirmed this with people we talked to at the 'restaurant' (restaurant = little open air kitchen with some tables and chairs around). So after lunch we drove to Chaiyaphum, found a hotel, freshened up and went out to the night market for a taste of the local cuisine (very good).
[15-Feb] - After breakfast we headed towards the mountains with the confluence about 20km north of us. The road (2051) we took out of town leads to a little national park (Tat Thon) with some waterfalls. Of course waterfalls in these parts are not very attractive toward the end of the dry season and so we continued our search for more spectacular points... The map indicated that the road we were on should get us within 3km of the spot. This was not quite true, we didn't get closer than 5km, but naturally (see other previous visits) there was a dirt road headed in our preferred direction. About 1km from the confluence we drove through a little village (Ban Hin Neeb).
We parked about 450m from the confluence when the dirt road got too rough for our car. It was fairly early in the day and we were at about 1900 ft (579m) which made for quite comfortable conditions and we were able to do our little hike without sweating, a first on this trip (it would also be the last time). We arrived at the spot around 9:20am (elevation: 1915ft, EPE: 0ft). The confluence is located in some tapioca and sugar cane fields. The only sounds we heard were from the breeze blowing through the dry grass near by. The mountains in the area have all been deforested to make room for agriculture. The many little national parks we came across in the northeast of Thailand are the government's attempt to preserve some forest.
On the way through the village we had seen some big solar panels right in the middle of the village, so on the way out we stopped to have a closer look. As we were taking pictures we got to talk to some people and after they learned why we were there we learned a little about the electricity setup. It is part of a government project to bring electricity to remote rural areas. The system was installed about a year ago and serves as a kind of demonstration project. The villagers had thought that it also was the reason for our visit.
The charging station is open two hours a day: an hour in the morning for people to drop off their empty batteries and an hour in the evening to pick up the charged batteries. The 12V 125Ah batteries are charged for 5 bhat (about $0.12). The batteries are mostly used for lighting. The people we talked to said they had to recharge once a week unless they use the TV a lot.
We then were encouraged to visit the new elementary school (see pictures) were students and teachers were busy putting on the finishing touches. While we were there a pickup truck with a 'load' of older (middle school) students from a another town arrived. All volunteers to help with the work we were told, of course they got to skip some classes... who wouldn't volunteer. We had to promise to send back some of the pictures we took at the school. We also left the web address of the DCP site since one of the teachers had access to the Internet.
With so many roads in this part of the country that don't show up on the road maps we discussed the best route towards the next confluence with the teachers. It turned out that there are two routes. The shorter and more scenic route requires a high clearance vehicle, so we headed back to the pavement for the longer route.
Continued at 17°N 102°E.