Main page: Thai locations where I didn't find Nepenthes
(January 13 - March 12)
Towards the end of the 2004 trip, I try a plan B. I ask the owner of my hotel if she can call a list of national parks at a given number (source: Forestry Department), and ask if they have pitcher plants. Some say: "Yes". It's not scientific, but it's a start. And it's for all those who read my 2004 reports and thought: "Why didn't you just call?". Well, you'll see here that calling is not enough. The 2006 trip is all about the "yes" parks and other locations found through herbaria and word of mouth. If this page is about locations without Nepenthes, why do I list places with N. mirabilis? Because in Thailand, N. mirabilis grows everywhere, I'm looking for any other species.
Mae Wong (January 15) (called in 2004, "Yes"). From Nakhon Sawan, I arrive at the park by lunchtime thanks to one bus, one songthaew, one jeep and one policeman. No pitcher plants. The park has two mountain chains, one north and one south, with a plain in between. The only trail follows half of the plain from right to left, and then it goes up to one peak only. There are no flat plateaus, just peaks. We ask many people from the staff who have been working here for 2-5 years. Never seen Nepenthes. I have lunch, I exchange email addresses with a lady from the staff with very good English, and then I head to Tak.
2023: I checked the satellite (photo), and I would describe the park as all mountains, but while they mostly go up to 400-1000 m, in the middle there's a small river that flows from west to east and forms a narrow valley, down to 200-300 m. The trail follows the river and it's a tourist attraction. Anyway, no habitat for Nepenthes, and we're out of range. The visitor centre is at the northern tip of the park, at 16 2.332, 99 14.000.
Mae Wa (January 16). I leave Tak at 7 am. The bus leaves me in front of the park two hours later. From an office next to the bus stop, they call the park rangers, who come with a pickup and bring me to the headquarters. They have rifles. I don't have to pay for the ticket, they first find someone who can speak English, so that I can explain what I'm looking for. The only person who can speak English is in the village that we passed on the way to the park, so we go back there. We get a smart guy named E (I'm not censoring here, that's his nickname). He prefers me to write, so he can understand better. He then explains that he only saw Nepenthes at one spot in the park, near the headquarters. But to go and come back, it takes 24 hours, so I should sleep there. The place is called Nam Dip Kop, at 600-700 m. I ask E to send me a picture the first time that he goes up there again, and I'll see if it's worth coming back. After lunch, I take the bus to Chiang Mai.
2023: This came from a clue found at a local herbarium, where an unrecognizable specimen collected at that altitude made Cheek and me think that it could be something special. When E sent me the photos, it turned out to be N. mirabilis. In that area, at that altitude, it's rare, but it can happen. E's name is Montri Singjaima, hug him and the rangers for me if you visit Mae Wa, they were all very helpful (photo; the yellow symbol is on the villages and headquarters area). I'm not sure about those rifles, that's not a border area, maybe it's just part of their uniform. Comparing my report with the map, I think that I confused Mae Wa Vlg with Mae Wa National Park. Probably at the time I just knew about the park, so I asked about Mae Wa (park) and the bus brought me to Mae Wa (Vlg), which is in front of the park. A bus from Tak would only stop along the main road, where the village is, there's no way it went deeper inside the network of roads of Mae Wa Vlg. The "office next to the bus stop" was probably a local administration office, and I thought that any Mae Wa office was a park office.
Chiang Dao (January 18) (called in 2004, "Yes"). I leave the city at 9 am, and I arrive at the road for the park at 10:30. I walk for a while, and eventually I get a lift from a man who specializes in flower-theme fabric decorations. At the park, I enter a small office. There are a few photos of wild animals, and I ask about pitcher plants. The man laughs, "No pitcher plants, sorry". He doesn't recognize any of the numbers provided by the Forestry Department. He calls them, no reply. Then he says: "Ah, but this is not the national park, this is the wildlife sanctuary", and he gives me directions to the national park checkpoint. Another very long walk follows, to go back and take the parallel road. Arrived at the checkpoint, they tell me that that's just the checkpoint, the office is the one I'm coming from. Fed up, I get another lift to the bus stop for Mae Malai.
2023: The Chiang Dao National Park is now called Pha Daeng National Park. Usually, a park is either a national park or a wildlife sanctuary, but in this case, we have a national park located just north of a wildlife sanctuary, and at the time of my visit they had the same name. Now the park is Pha Daeng but the sanctuary remained Chiang Dao, which helps. For sure there are no Nepenthes around here unless we're talking about the occasional patch of N. mirabilis. That said, where did I go? This is the satellite map: photo. The borders of the national park, in red, are correct, but the borders of the wildlife sanctuary, also in red, are just a guess because I couldn't find a map. The NP symbol is on the national park offices (19 37.744, 98 57.385), while you can see that there are three different WS symbols on the checkpoints/offices of the wildlife sanctuary (19 24.841, 98 54.902; 19 24.257, 98 55.414; 19 19.719, 98 55.674). It sounds like I first went to a WS point, where I was told to go north, to the NP point, but I went instead to a northern WS point. If I had to bet, I'd say I went from the second WS from the top to the first WS from the top. There sure are lots of parallel roads, offices and checkpoints for two places with the same name.
Huay Nam Dang (January 18) (called in 2004, "Yes"). At Mae Malai I find out that Huay Nam Dang is 77 km far, and it's now 4:15 pm. A man asks me just 40 baht to bring me to the park with his off-duty songthaew, which, by the way, is full of groceries and Tao charcoal burners. I'm freezing, he drives at 200 km/h, but after one hour and a half, and at about 1400 m altitude, we are at the park checkpoint. Where a guy just says: "200 baht". That would be the park fee, but I ask to speak with someone from the office. They call the office by phone, and a very kind lady explains in good English that she does know the number I called in 2004, but - even asking the staff around her - she can swear there are no pitcher plants. She can't come to meet me, nor the opposite, because the office is 6 km far. Her motorbike is broken, and I don't want to pay 200 baht for a brochure. I thank her, we'll stay in touch by email. It's now sunset, job done, time to leave. I hope in any kind of transportation that is leaving the park. A songthaew full of female students stops by. They belong to a Christian university, and they bring me to Chiang Mai for free. The driver is pretty good, and from the very back of the songthaew, with no road lights, no city lights, and no clouds, I can enjoy the most impressive and dense starry sky I've ever seen. I chat with the girls, and whenever I pronounce the name of a Thai location, they repeat it all together. To pronounce it slower, more correctly, and/or because that's the only word they understand out of my sentence. "Mae Wa...", "Mae Waaaaa!", "Mae Wong...", "Mae Wooooong!". I try to trick the chorus: "Milano", "Mi... oh". They offer me a little snack, thank God. In Chiang Mai, a songthaew brings me to the hotel for 20 baht.
2023: Again we can rule out the presence of Nepenthes. Then, decoding what I did is pretty easy. I arrived in the centre of Mae Malai. From there, the songthaew took the road at 19 5.662, 98 56.169. There's a big market there, and more than one shop selling Tao charcoal burners, although I can't see any sign indicating 77 km. Anyway, that road joins road 1095. Road 1095 goes "straight" to 19 16.704, 98 36.201, where I spoke by phone with the lady (photo). The national park is just left of the Chiang Dao system discussed above and indicated by the various NP and WS: photo. The yellow symbol on Huay Nam Dang is again the checkpoint where I spoke with the lady, while the red A behind is where the actual offices begin (there are more going north, with shops and a campsite).
Mt Inthanon (January 19?) (called in 2004, "Yes"). I leave Chiang Mai at 8:30 am. I arrive at a town close to the park and it's still early morning. From there, I get a lift to the park entrance. I pay the ticket after having been told that the pitcher plants can be found in a place called Khlong Klang Luang. I proceed until another checkpoint to see if I can get a lift to Khlong Klang Luang. A taxi driver asks for 500 baht. I go back to the first entrance, where they tell me that they will ask the first car that is going there. After fifteen minutes, we find a car that can bring me nearby. From there, I walk to Khlong Klang Luang, to then find out that it's a nursery, and/or botanic garden, and/or research centre. They say they used to have pitcher plants but they died. They suggest that I ask at the headquarters. I go to the headquarters. They suggest that I ask at Khlong Klang Luang. I manage to meet a lady who can speak English and with good knowledge about the plants that grow in the park. As far as she knows, there are no pitcher plants there. We exchange email addresses. As soon as I get back to the main road, I get a lift to Chiang Mai from a minivan.
2023: Out of range for N. smilesii, too high for N. mirabilis. The town where I first arrived should be Chom Thong. From there, I guess I found a lift to 18 29.791, 98 40.277, where I paid the ticket: photo. The second checkpoint should be at the picnic area, 18 30.430, 98 39.735: photo. Where it's conceivable that I looked for a lift but I found a taxi instead. Back at the first entrance, they knew that most cars go to the Klang Luang area or beyond because there's not much before. Khlong Klang Luang should be another name for Mae Klang Luang, where we find the Royal Agricultural Station (18 32.557, 98 31.166). I can see how from there I could quickly go to the visitor centre at 18 32.201, 98 31.322: photo. The main road is right in front of the visitor centre. And here is the satellite map: photo, where you can see Chom Thong, the road to the first entrance (NP), and how it proceeds to the visitor centre (PN).
Sri Nan (called in 2004, "Yes"). I arrive in the city of Nan in the evening. I find a very nice guesthouse and I have dinner at Hot Bread, a very nice bakery on the main road, where you can also get a very good breakfast for a very low price. The owner is a smart girl with very good English. We have a relaxing conversation in her relaxing restaurant. I still remember that little corner of that little town as one of the best places where I've been during my 2006 trip. She tells me that when she was a little girl, twenty years ago, the pitcher plant was everywhere, and the villagers used to go into the forest, pick it up and sell it at the market. "But now, no more forest, no more pitcher plants". Very sad, but it's not like the villagers are saints either. She asks a friend, who says the pitcher plants do grow in the Sri Nan National Park, up on the mountain, but they only grow in the rainy season, while in the dry season, the trail is not even accessible. In the morning, with two buses and two lifts, I reach Sri Nan. At the headquarters, I can't find any photos of Nepenthes. The staff says: "No pitcher plants, sorry, go to Khun Sathan National Park, they have". I go to the visitor centre, where the only answer to my questions, after forty-five minutes of silence mixed with laughter, is "I don't know, ask BKF in Bangkok". I take it as a negative answer but I plan to investigate further with the guy in Nan. In 2004, we called the telephone box just out of the headquarters.
2023: Sri Nan is northeast of Lam Nam Nan: photo. The email exchange with the people in Nan quickly faded away. If that guy saw pitcher plants on the mountain, that could be an isolated, montane N. mirabilis patch, it can happen, whereas N. smilesii has never been reported from the northern region. I still suggest that you try Hot Bread at 18 46.519, 100 46.179 (photo), and you hug Usa Boonkosol for me, she might remember a crazy guy asking for pitcher plants. The guesthouse was at 18 46.667, 100 46.180: photo.
Mt Wiang (called in 2004, "Yes"). I arrive at Mt Wiang at lunchtime, thanks to a lift from some kind gentlemen. At the headquarters, I see photos of D. burmannii, but the staff doesn't know where those plants grow. And once again: "No pitcher plants, sorry". They can't speak English, and for each of the following pieces of information, I have to sweat for hours (by the way, I "follow" the droseras because, lacking any other clue, their habitat is the same where you want to look for Nepenthes). The photos of Drosera are linked to the photos of four waterfalls. These waterfalls are on two plateaus that rise on the two sides of the national park. These plateaus are about 800 m high. On the top, there are rocky and sandy habitats. These are all good signs. I try for hours, until 4:30, to find someone who can bring me up there, or who can tell me how to get there, or who can provide any further information, but any kind of communication with any member of the staff at the visitor centre or at the headquarters is impossible. For three hours, they keep telling me that the boss is coming to help, but he never arrived. They ask to see my passport, but all they can do with it is look at my photo, laugh, and say: "Italy! Italy! Ooooh". I take my dictionary, they don't know how to use it, but they have a lot of fun looking at all those strange words. After more than three hours spent among laughter and comments in Thai, being ignored, I leave. On the way back, a man from the staff gives me a lift to a nearby house, where a Thai woman lives with a westerner. Finally, some hope to communicate. I jump out of the pickup and I start explaining my situation to the man. After speaking for five minutes, he looks at me with a confused expression. "Do you speak English?", I ask. "Nicht English!", he replies. Great. I then realize that the Thai woman is translating what I say in English into German. She calls her daughter by phone, as she can speak English and Japanese. I speak with the young girl and I tell her everything. I write down a few notes about my research and how she could help, and I leave the piece of paper with her mum. I write that the staff can't be trusted due to brain damage, so she shouldn't simply rely on what they say about the presence or absence of pitcher plants. The man from the staff says that, if I want him to bring me back to the main city, I have to pay, because he's off-duty. The German man is then happy to take his car and bring me downtown.
2023: With its odd shape (photo), this national park is easy to interpret. It's a plateau with the right altitude and the right habitats for N. smilesii, and it's right in the middle of the species' range, so I think it's just a matter of time before someone finds it. I can't find a map of the park, but it looks like the visitor centre (or headquarters?) is at 16 40.874, 102 14.252.
Mt Phan and Mt Pha Yon (January 25). In 2004 I find at the Chulalongkorn herbarium some specimens that look like N. smilesii, but with ovate pitchers. The location on the label is "Sakon Nakhon" (city or province?). In 2006 I go to Sakon Nakhon city. I find a very old hotel, soon to be demolished, so I get a good price. The room is horrible. Dirty walls, dirty bathroom, dirty mirrors. But what can you expect from a place that is going to be demolished? After a fast dinner with pad thai, I search for clues on my map and I notice that south of the city there are two national parks: Mt Phan and Mt Pha Yon. I ask the hotel owner, a very kind, old lady, if tomorrow morning she can call the two parks and check if they have pitcher plants. I show her my maps and my drawings, she looks quite interested in the project. The following day, she manages to call Mt Pha Yon, and she's told by the staff that the pitcher plants grow in both national parks. It sounds too easy. "But", I think, "they can't be wrong again". I decide to start with Mt Phan and I jump on the first bus. In thirty minutes, I get there and ask. "No Nepenthes, sorry". But they have photos of U. delphinioides, U. bifida and U. minutissima. The staff says they were taken in an area within the park called Lan Duk Si Ta. I take the bus and go to Lan Duk Si Ta, but I find myself going back and forth from police checkpoints and gates to the main road. The actual site doesn't seem to be reachable, it hosts one of the King's residences. Never mind, let's keep looking for Nepenthes. I have no time to raise my hand to hitchhike, and an old man on a motorbike stops by and brings me to a songthaew that goes to Sakon Nakhon. A quick pad thai and it's time to try with Mt Pha Yon. I jump on another songthaew, this one is full of teen girls who want to practice their English with me. I reach the park, and it's another "no pitcher plants, sorry". I see photos of U. delphinioides and U. minutissima, I ask where they were taken, and they point to the opposite side of the road. I follow a guy of the staff who seems to be in the know of the local plants, he shows me the dead flowers but he says that in wetter areas they are still green. We try next to the volleyball court, where there are ferns, clay, and some standing water. Here we find D. burmannii, D. indica, U. bifida and a red (!) U. delphinioides. The guy is still pretty sure that there are no Nepenthes. I thank him and I leave. I walk for a little while, then a girl brings me to the bus with her motorbike. I arrive to Sakon Nakhon within thirty minutes, at sunset.
2023: I managed to meet in person the lady who collected the Chulalongkorn specimens. She explained that she bought them at the Chatuchak market in Bangkok, she asked the seller about the location, and he said: "Sakon Nakhon". So those plants could even come from Rome. That said, both parks (photo) are well within the N. smilesii range, they match the perfect N. smilesii habitat, but they are mostly unexplored, so I think it's just a matter of time before someone reports N. smilesii. The headquarters of Mt Phan are at 17 3.688, 103 58.378. More about its carnivorous plants here. The headquarters of Mt Pha Yon are at 16 55.774, 104 10.639. Shame that I can't see any volleyball court.
Mukdahan (January 26) (called in 2004, "Yes"). I leave Mukdahan city and within thirty minutes, by bus, I arrive at the road that brings to the Mukdahan National Park. I get a lift that brings me 1 km further, at the entrance. There are photos of D. indica, D. burmannii, U. delphinioides and other Utricularia species. I get inside the offices and I ask. The pitcher plants grow 5 km from there. They have a photo, it's N. mirabilis. I chat with the person in charge, he's smart and he knows a bit of English. We'll stay in touch by email, in case he finds the plants at other locations in the park.
2023: The Mukdahan National Park is now known as Mt Pha Thoep National Park. It's surrounded by N. smilesii locations, it's covered with N. smilesii habitat, and yet no N. smilesii so far. It seems there are not many trails that cross the interior, which could host N. smilesii, while N. mirabilis has been found at three spots around the park. Entrance and headquarters are at 16 26.110, 104 48.358: photo. So I got a lift along the road at 16 26.637, 104 48.809. Here is the satellite map, with a white dot on the headquarters: photo.
Kaeng Tana (called in 2004, "Yes"). After about twenty minutes at the bus stop, a car goes towards Kaeng Tana and they give me a lift to the checkpoint. The entrance is free. I walk for one more kilometre to reach the visitor centre. I ask about the Tad Ton falls, but nobody is going there. The food in the kitchens smells bad, flies all over the place and no fried rice. I eat my emergency food, bread and honey, while everybody stares at me. I wake a man up for an ice cream. A friendly guy shows up, very thin, he can speak English. I explain what I'm doing. Ten more people get closer to look at my maps. The guy is very interested. He brings me to Tad Ton with his motorbike. There's a small stream with plenty of U. aurea. Meanwhile, he asks at the office nearby. They say the pitcher plants grow behind the stream, inside the deeper forest. There we find N. mirabilis, growing in shade up to three metres. No flowers, it's etiolated, and just few, small pitchers. Far too much shade. We're both happy. He gives me a lift to the bus stop. With the bus and one more lift, I get back to the hotel.
2023: At the time, I used to set base in Trakan Phuet Phon (precisely at 15 34.758, 105 0.654), which is much cheaper than the capital Ubon Ratchathani and it's closer to the locations I had to check. I think this park had been called in 2004 and I already had the precise spot to check, Tad Ton. The road from Trakan to Kaeng Tana is pretty large and simple, and there's a bus stop at the corner with the secondary road that brings to the park (15 15.932, 105 28.955). I got a lift from the bus stop to the checkpoint at 15 17.598, 105 28.540, and I walked from there. There's no Street View available for the offices, but it seems there's a large area for picnics, toilets, and possibly information or food at 15 17.964, 105 28.609. And another area with just buildings, likely offices, at 15 17.773, 105 28.445. Google Earth and the park maps disagree on which one hosts the visitor centre. Satellite view: photo. From the latter, you can see what the problem is: the tourist part is on the left, while the habitats good for Utricularia and N. smilesii are on the right, a huge and unexplored plateau without trails.
Thale Ban. In the morning, from Satun, I go and come back from the Thale Ban National Park, 40 km from the city. I only spend 10 baht, I do most of the trip hitchhiking. At the park there's no staff because it's Sunday, a factor I never even thought about. There are two guys at the reception, they are just volunteers, one of them talks in falsetto, they show me a sad N. mirabilis growing in shade in a flower bed. They know nothing else. I go back to the main road and wait for the lift back.
2023: I have few but vivid memories of that day. I don't think this park had been called in 2004, it was just an attempt to find some of the few species that grow in this geographical area. In Satun, I always set base at the Rien Thong hotel, 6 36.807, 100 3.804: photo. Where I spend my time eating ice cream, sitting on the bench next to the white cat, and looking at the people passing by. At the national park, the conversation with the two guys was longer than in my notes, none of the three had anything better to do, and I also remember some teen boys and girls laughing, we became a big bunch of people doing nothing. The whole thing happened on and around the stairs in front of the main office at 6 42.514, 100 10.115: photo. The guy talking in falsetto impressed me. Many gay men talk with a softer, more feminine voice, but he was talking with a soprano voice. I don't know if that was an attempt at a more feminine voice or an attempt to bend the vocal cords and acquire a more feminine but normal voice with time. Both attempts would be delusional. I do know that the kids were laughing their asses off seeing how bewildered I was. When I left, I remember thinking: "Man, I'm never going to get a lift here, in the middle of the tropical forest": photo. In more recent years, I went back there with my Thai friends, I think they had heard something about N. ampullaria growing there. But again, we accomplished nothing. Here is the satellite map: photo. We found N. ampullaria farther north, along the same chain of mountains, so Thale Ban has good chances, but the species hides well, the park is massive, and there are no trails.
Si Khit Falls and Mt Nan. I reach Si Khit Falls with one bus and two lifts. The last lift is from a group of very kind guys who can speak English. I tell them about my research and they feel involved, so they bring me to the park headquarters and they speak with the staff for me. There are no pitcher plants in Si Khit Falls, but they call the Tai Rom Yen and Mt Nan national parks. The staff from Mt Nan gives a positive answer. My new friends suggest that I postpone Mt Nan to the following day because it's late.
I prefer to proceed, so they bring me to the bus stop for Mt Nan. The bus leaves me at the beginning of the secondary road that goes to the park, while a gentleman gives me a lift to the headquarters. Here I ask if they have pitcher plants and a man from the staff quickly brings me to see a few N. mirabilis growing with ferns along a vertical rock wall just behind their office. I ask if they saw it somewhere else in the park, he says: "No", I thank him and leave, because it's already 4:30. I get another lift to the main road and here I wait for the bus to Kanchanadit, where I arrive at sunset.
2023: These are the parks that I checked while in Kanchanadit, Surat Thani, looking for N. suratensis. Here is a clarifying map: photo. These are huge parks, there's no way a man can exclude the presence of Nepenthes in the whole place, there will always be some N. mirabilis here or there. What the officers said should be taken as: "I don't remember seeing Nepenthes around here, along the trails we usually go through". And to me, it's important that I can exclude something like: "Yes, there is a savannah at the top of the mountain with plenty of Nepenthes". The offices of Si Khit Falls are at 9 0.883, 99 46.295, and the offices of Mt Nan are at 8 46.128, 99 48.222. Looking at the roads, I think the bus from one park to the other just brought me from 9 0.000, 99 53.182 to 8 47.292,99 54.662, the same road that comes from and goes back to Kanchanadit. In the small town of Kanchanadit, I found a small and cheap hotel at 9 9.757, 99 28.877. I'm not 100% sure about the coordinates, and I don't even know if it's still there.