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Back To Thailand Part 3

Onto Laos
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Back up country in Thailand again, and it's the banks of the River Kwai for a stop, and then further north west still and up to near the border with Burma and Khao Laem Reservoir. Lord only knows why.

During the first part of my trip, when my Danish buddies and myself had headed up to Sri Nikharin Reservoir, I had looked down into the valley of the Kwai as we drove along, and I made a mental note that it would be nice to drop a line or two in there before leaving the country. It just looked so picturesque. So after getting a lift to Kanchanaburi, and a bus up into Soi Yat National park, I got myself a floating bungalow on the river at Soi Yat Yai Falls on the cheap. With cheap being the operative word. No running water, no electricity, and a hole in the floor for the toilet facilities. I pitied the poor souls in the bungalow downstream from me. One particularly beautiful moment was turning on the torch in the 'room' to see three huge 'roaches skittering across the mattress on the floor. The Savoy it was not. I set up my hammock...

The River Kwai is beautiful in this part of the world. Pacey and quick flowing, with thickly forested steep banks, although I was surprised it was still tidal this far inland. It must be some kind of Barb's paradise - they were

Awww. The cute little Soro Brook Carp.

everywhere, and loads of them (especially Indian River Barbs) fell to my trotted and legered bread flake baits. There were also some HUGE Schwanenfeld's Tinfoil Barbs in the river here too, and these are seriously some of the most wary fish I have ever encountered.

They somehow have a knack of eating any loose feed and ignoring anything on the hook- enough to drive you crazy! Eventually I think I got them kind of sussed out to an extent, by actually stalking them and dropping a bait right amongst them without any free offerings, thereby catching them by surprise (or giving them anything to compare the hookbait to?) and ended up catching several of them- including a couple of big ones which must have been over 2lbs each- although I confess I didn't weigh them. I was especially gutted to lose a proper lump just below the falls when the hook pulled at the net. I swear that fish must have been somewhere over 3lbs. Ho hum... 

Several other species also took the bread baits, including Rohu (or something similar) which dragged my rod into the water off of a rock while I wasn't looking so as I had to jump in after it (very dignified), several really pretty Soro Brook Carp and some tiny, stripy Rasbora. Really nice fishing in really nice surroundings.

Fishing in the shadow of Soi Yat Yai Falls on the River Kwai.

The river can be pretty busy with boats around here, with, at times, houseboats just 'moving in' next door to you, heavily 'bassed' Thai 'mid-Atlantic rock' thudding from huge sound systems on some of them. And it was one of these times I encountered this sweet lady (no, sorry, I cannot tell a lie: this sour faced old bat...) who had a voice that could strip the enamel from a urinal. 

As I sat fishing, the raft moved in- right in my swim too, and her and her kids were immediately jumping all over my deck getting moored up, her voice screeching like a live Albatross on a hotplate, and gesturing at my my rod and landing net with a look of real vitriol on her face. I just shrugged at her and carried on fishing. Then she sits there, not ten feet away, and stares. Strange. She the carries on staring. I'm getting worried now. After a bit, I stared back, at which point she screeched something again, waved her hands at us dismissively and disappeared into her hut. Very, very strange.

After a few hours dabbling down around the falls, I returned to my ostentatiously opulent floating palace, to find my new found friend still in place. So I set up again and carried on a-angling... far be it for me to be an antagonist. This time she came and sat near me. And when I caught my first barb, I dropped it back into the river- her face cracked into a look of shock, screeching away again, waving her hands and shaking her head. She gestured that they are to be eaten, and held up four fingers, which I took to mean that was the amount needed to make a meal. What the hell then, eh? Hands across the ocean and all that, and reasoning that it's probably best to get on with the neighbours, the next fish I caught I handed over to her. She very nearly smiled- especially when I grabbed my camera to take a picture- showing her the preview in the back of it. She barked something at the kids, and they all had a look and cracked into hysterics for some reason. 

 

Then her kids, who were much more light-hearted, wanted to take a picture of me and my new friend, which they did, but still no smile. The unlucky barb was placed in a plastic bag, and she held up her four fingers again- which I took now to be a command. "Catch four for me or we torch the hut in your sleep, you mug". Soon another was deposited in the bag, her face brightening a little before she disappeared with her litter up the rickety walkway behind us, leaving me to catch her supper. I ended up sticking four in the bag, before putting the rest of the fish I caught back into their watery home.

Later, she still hadn't returned, but a boat pulled up and tied up to her houseboat with a bloke in it that I'd seen her scrawking at earlier on several occasions. Poor sod. Assuming this was her old man- he looked haggard enough- I held out the bag of fish to him, which he took happily, thanked me with a bow and a big grin, and stuck in the bottom of his boat. As I sat there a little later, feeling good about myself and my deed for the day, darkness closing in on the valley, the boatman turned up with a kerosene lamp for me - which was a really nice touch, since I had no other 

 

A rod-snatching Rohu from in front of Soi Yat Yai Falls.

source of light on the raft other than my head-torch. I swear that the way to Asia's heart is through, well, fish... So I fished on well after darkness, catching a few more fish - barbs et al, supping on a bottle of Singha, by the yellow glow of the lamp, with a backdrop of the sounds of the jungle all around me. At times like that, as sad as it may sound, I feel like the luckiest bloke alive just to be doing what I'm doing. All was well within Pearson world - until I hooked a very large fish on a big cob of bread that zipped off downstream, snagged me up and bust the line. Arse!!

Morning has broken. I've managed to get out of my hammock without injury, and I'm having a count up of the mozzie bites around my ankles because my feet had been sticking out from my net all night. She turns up out of her hut, thin smile on her lips, some of that (disgusting) soya milk in a plastic cup and some type of cakes in a bag and hands em to me for breakfast. Ahhh- she's only a pussycat after all. She holds out her four fingers and shrugs her shoulders... I nodded, yup, and held a thumb up... then... realised... oh... no...

Above: "Who's the daddy then?". Delighting in the downfall of a large, cunning Tinfoil Barb. About time!

Below: My heaven. Fishing by the light of a kerosene lamp from the floating bungalow on the Kwai.

 

I pointed to the boat moored nearby and indicated that I'd given them to the boatman... She scrawked like crazy, shaking and holding her head, face like thunder. How was I to know she was just bollocking the poor old boy randomly all the previous day, and not cos he was her other half?! So, inadvertently, a beautiful friendship was ruined. Time to make a sharp exit again.

   

Back onto yet another bus, and I'd decided to head further north west up country to Khao Laem Reservoir, and a small, kind of outpost town called Sangklaburi, getting somewhere close to the Burmese border. 

The bus wound it's way up and down the mountains and valleys for the next four or five hours, groaning it's way up the hills and squeaking it's way down, the disconcerting smell of burning clutch wafting through the cabin. Eventually we pulled up at the bus stop in Sangklaburi, and a wobbly 5 minute moped ride later (how the hell he balanced me and Quasi on the back there I'll never know) I was booking into the Phornphalin Hotel, which was a nice kind of place, made all the better by having a picture in reception of a bloke stood next to a roped-up Red Tailed Catfish which must have been over 5 feet long. 

I can only dream... 

Above: "Gottle of geer...". See...? Putty in my hands. You can just tell from the eyes.

 

Left: The way to any lady's heart. Give her fish. Works every time.

This place was a result, cos the room had air con and a shower, was less than a fiver a night, and it just felt good to be cool and clean again after several days of slumming it on the raft, and lugging stuff about soaked in sweat. When I kicked my boots off, I was stunned flat at how they'd actually started to smell like a wet Afghan Hound. Very, very attractive... Hi girls.
Feeling refreshed, it was time to go and recce the place out. Walking down the hill, I passed the long wooden bridges over the 'arms' of the reservoir where almost dried up rivers entered, and eventually I was presented with my first proper view of the place. Not inspiring. It was a little like Sri Nikharin Mk.2, with the water at least 10 metres down on a normal level, trees adorned with old nets poking up through the surface (as per...), and the colour of the water was a thick greeny-brown with a layer of scum floating on the surface.
"I think a quick morning session tomorrow, just to say I put a line in Khao Laem, and I'm outta here", I remember thinking to myself. Thing is, just for that morning session I'd need some bait, of which I had none.

Trotting for barbs off the back of my houseboat after chumming up with a trump..

A whacker of a Tinfoil taken on trotted bread flake. Running down a float amongst the floaters, you could say.





















Goodbye to home on the River Kwai. I have this nagging feeling the path to the floating bungalow wasn't designed with wheelchair access in mind.

Sweating my way back up the hill, I passed a row of shack-like shops, and amongst all the hieroglyphics on a banner on the front of one of them were some pictures of a pig, a goat, a cow, and, right at the end, a catfish. It was also piled up with sacks inside. Had to be worth a try. So in I went. 20 minutes of 'Glua- Pla Buk? Tuk Pla? ('Bait- catfish? Go fishing?'), hand-signals and smiles- especially when the nice lady disappeared out back and reappeared a few minutes later with a rod and reel in her hand, offering me it to use, and she was on the mobile and chattering away to someone. Offering me a seat and a beer, I sat down to, well, wait I suppose. A quarter of an hour later, this lad pulls up on a moped, carrier bag in hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Khao Laem Reservoir. Levels are down a bit it seems.

 

Early morning at Khao Laem. The water's edge should be back somewhere hear the building on the right hand side!

 

'Sawadee khrap', he goes, emptying it's contents onto the table. He had brought spools of line, hooks, Toby Lures, Snakehead surface 'frog' poppers, tubs of bait with pictures of fish and writing on the side- the full works. What a star! 

I purchased a couple of lures; one for Snakehead, one for Jungle Perch, and a tub of vile, vile stuff which he kind of explained was for catfish. Too good to be true... so I thought I'd chance my arm a little further, and thanks to a phrase Jean Francois had given me, asked if I could rent a boat to go fishing. He nodded. 'Tomorrow?' he asked. I nodded back. 'Ok', he says. Asking how much it would cost, and waiting for the sting, he chatted away with the girl from the shop for a minute, then shook his head and says 'No. Only pay oil'. 
And that was it- the deal was done, and I was a very happy angler.
In fact, I was perhaps excessively pleased about this, but just recently I had been starting to wonder if Thai people generally just see farangs as big, white, walking ATMs. Obviously up here out in the sticks, the attitudes and rules were so much different. Nice one.

The smallest tackle dealer in the world at the smallest counter of the smallest tackle shop in the world: Unless, of course, you know different. 

Back (spelled Baey, or so he said) picked me up at the hotel at 8am the next morning, and via his parent's shop- which had an annexe as the smallest tackle shop on earth (about 2m x2m!), where they gave me coffee and a Coke, we were soon at some very rickety huts at the water's edge loading up a small longtail. Eventually Baey, his best mate and myself were afloat on the lake- along with a Thai/English dictionary he had brought along (bloody good idea!), and a mountain of fishing tackle.

Things looked good early on, with Snakehead and Jungle Perch striking on the surface at both baitfish and our lures, a couple of Perch coming adrift on the way to the boat, and yours truly finally getting a small one to stay on the hook. But once the baking hot sun had burned away the clouds, the temperatures rocketed and the surface of the lake metamorphosed into a glassy, mirror calm surface, seemingly devoid of life. 'Too hot hot. Not good. Water low', he bemoaned. We thrashed the water to a foam, trying spot after spot, but to no avail, and later in the day, huge black clouds gathered over the surrounding hillsides, and, not for the first time on this trip, we sped back to base through torrential rain, in and out the stumps and branches, arriving soaked to the bone...and for the first time in weeks I actually felt a bit of a chill! Back at the tackle shack his parents sorted us out with towels and coffee again. The people up in this part of the world - as clichéd as it sounds - really were so friendly, and I have to say that it reinforced my belief in human-kind again to some small extent, to meet these very foreign strangers who really were so welcoming and generous to the max. Especially someone as strange and lost as me.

 

Khao Laem catfish bait. Like some evil emulsion of rancid tuna mayo and the fetid pubic hairs from the plug hole of the showers at Satan's very own communal baths. It really is that bad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr Baey and his Jungle Perch.

So a massive thanks to Mr Baey and his friends and family, for without them my journey to Khao Laem would have been a wasted one.

I realised this was to be my last fishing in Thailand for now, since my visa was due to expire again in a couple of days. The next morning, I undertook day long bus journey back to Bangkok, arriving late in the evening, and where I'm now sitting scrawling this drivel. From here I'll be working my way over to Laos for a couple of weeks or so by train, bus and/or bloody donkey if I have to, with the idea being to try and catch something from the Mekong River that isn't dysentery.

 I'd also like to thank Jean Francois at Fishing Adventures Thailand for his help and advice during my time in this neck of the woods - it gave me some ideas and kept me (for the most part) out of trouble.

That about brings us up to date, so I'll write some more when something happens - or more likely when I can be arsed.

 

At last. A Jungle Perch. Only a little 'un- but it'll do.



A storm gathers over the hills, signalling it's home time!

 

 

Back To Thailand Part 3

Onto Laos

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