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Hiking with the Leeches and Wildlife in Thailand

Travel to Thailand? You bet! Then we got to the jungle.

Both of us managed to set records on our first big hike in Thailand. Unfortunately.

Rocking the leech gaiters!

Rocking the leech gaiters!

It all started with what we thought was a 70 baht ($2.20) joke perpetrated on unsuspecting tourists. “Buy the leech socks from the Khao Yai National Park gift shop before you venture into the jungle,” advised our tour guide. Uh huh – good way to raise a little money, we thought.  But we dutifully bought them just in case.

Alexandra’s perspective: First off, let me say that I loved Thailand. Khao Yai National Park is beautiful. At this park we saw monkeys, an elephant and deer.

Wildlife, as opposed to vampiric, blood-sucking leeches, at Khao Yai

Wildlife, as opposed to vampiric, blood-sucking leeches, at Khao Yai

See how sweet and innocent they look? Exactly. It’s the tiny leech that’ll get you. It’s the Gollum of the jungle world. Nasssssty. We loved all our hikes in Thailand except this one! When the park ranger showed up in leech gaiters to lead our group, we knew it was no joke. We were nervous, but not anxious. That changed about 10 feet into the jungle when we saw leeches all over the wet ground, lurking and stalking us! Over the course of several hours and 8 kilometers, Kymberly won the leech count championship – she pulled 28 of them off her gaiters! Winning was not her goal. I “only” pulled 7 off me, but one was partially embedded on my wrist, sucking my AB+ blood by the gallons! I managed to stay calm while Kymberly scraped it off using my credit card (yes, I brought it along; they said knives and credit cards worked on leeches), but I’m pretty sure I hyperventilated for a while.

For the record, we did a lot of truly enjoyable hikes during our trip. I would happily repeat any of the other ones. For this particular hike, I think I’ll enjoy nature via a documentary or museum next time. P.S. Our guide (his name was Not) laughed at me and my whimpering ways! We definitely hope you get to travel to Thailand. And we’d go back. With our gaiters on.

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I used my magic scraping stick to remove 28 leeches

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Should I wade through a leech-infested river or not? Do I actually have a choice?

The only good part of the hike - getting to the observation tower! Travel to Thailand

The best part of the hike – making it out of the jungle to the grassland and getting to the observation tower!

Thai People Make Travel to Thailand Memorable

Kymberly’s perspective: First off, the Thais are very honest and generous so we were way off base thinking they wanted our 70 baht for any reason but leech protection.  By the way, anyone want to buy a used pair of lifesaving sock gaiters? Only 80 baht.

Secondly, keep in mind that this jungle trek was designed as a wildlife viewing adventure. Once underway we saw a butterfly and lizard. The monkeys, deer, and elephant were along the road before and after our dangerous race through the leech death traps. Temperature – an oppressing 97 degrees Fahrenheit. Humidity – high. Visibility – well the leeches could see us, and we saw them, but only once they were on us. Topography – up slope the first 4 kilometers, over hill and dale, through thick greenery, and across a stream. Sweaty, pretty, and a great work out. But not exactly relaxing or fun except for the part where Alexandra and I kept telling each other that we’d laugh about this one day. Or post about it at least. Ha ha ha ha pant pant puff puff glug water glug screeeeeaaam! Or as Alexandra pointed out, we should have stayed back at the Visitor’s Center and walked up and down the road to maximize wildlife viewing.

What Triggers Leeches to Fall on You?

And when I spotted the embedded leech on Alexandra, I felt particularly bad for her. Though she is one great hiker and a good sport, she is no nature girl. She and one other woman were the only two to have leeches suck on them. Overachiever! She did stay perfectly still when I told her “don’t panic, but….”  If you wonder why I am wearing a long-sleeved shirt with my hood pulled up, it’s simply a survival tactic. Apparently Thailand leeches climb, crawl, drop, and brush off on you.  I thought they were attracted to me because of the red Vasque Velocity trail shoes I had on or my scent. Turns out they are triggered by vibration. Clap clap to that!

Moral to this story: Venture on all the hikes that come your way in life and travels. For sure travel to Thailand. Unless high muslin socks are recommended. Cuz’ leeches really suck!

Am I safe from leeches this high up? Travel to Thailand

Are we safe from leeches this high up?

The leech that attacked Alexandra (as described by her) Travel to Thailand

The leech that attacked Alexandra (as described by her)

What a Thai leech really looks like (before it sucks you dry)

What a Thai leech really looks like (before it sucks you dry)

 

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Photo credits: Leech – Flickr. All others are by us.

Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA

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