From the Country Club we drove to the Royal Forestry Department headquarters to collect out permits and an officer who would accompany us, then 55 km to a point known as KM 36 (the 36 km marker) from where we had an easy 70 minutes, 8 km walk down to the Phetburi River, to a location known as KU Camp*, the usual starting point for river rafting or trekking to the waterfalls. We were fortunate at this time to have gained access to the region as the Thai army had only just pulled out after repulsing an incursion over the border by tribesmen fighting the Burmese government.
* Note: because of the presence of endangered crocodiles on the Phetburi River all camping at KU camp now requires specific permission from the authorities and river rafting is no longer permitted. from Click here for more information.
Map of Kaeng Krachan National Park and primary and secondary locations
Phetburi River rafting journey KU camp to Pong Luek,
the two UTM coordinates indicate the locations with positive signs of crocodile activity (mouse over for satellite map, click on map for enlarged view)
We also made a site trip to visit the Thorthip waterfall, a nine-storey waterfall near RM 36.
Thorthip waterfall near KM 36
Phetburi River at KU camp
When we arrived at KU camp we discovered our Karen boatmen and porters had already arrived and set up camp. We would be a large party, eight inflatable boats loaded with a film crew of five (Roger, Emma, Mark, Terry and myself), two contributors (Tony, Yos and Kait), two fixers (Namfon and Bam), our medic (Dr Chukiat Sirivichayakul), a Royal Forest Department officer and 11 Karen boatmen, cooks and guides under Kho, their leader - 21 men and three women, plus live chickens and a large quantity of other supplies, a generator for charging batteries, and field equipment including a large crocodile trap. This was not a pure river rafting expeditions, that would require far fewer supplies since the river could be rafted with only 1-2 over-nights, depending on the season and water-levels, this was an eight-day expedition with specific purposes, which would be filmed, the rafting being the means to an end, not the purpose for being there.
Part of our first day at KU camp was spent planning our strategy and sorting out kit, and part was spent trekking up, rather than rafting down-river, to investigate the reported helicopter crocodile sighting. This location (UTM coordinates: 47P 0533145 1416876) had been visited by Tony and Yos previously, when they found a tail drag and a foot print. We hoped to find more recent signs that crocodiles were still in the area.
The habitat at KU camp looked like good 'herp habitat' but there was little time to search
Director Roger, a fanatical angler, was keen to help our cook catch our breakfast
The crocodile trap made a good table for plotting and planning:
Yos, Tony and Mark talk tactics
The trek up-stream was fairly tough, requiring repeated river crossings and strenous climbs over ridges as we took short-cuts across river bends. Cameraman Mark Stokes took a nasty fall and injured his leg, an injury that would plague him for the rest of this trip. We found markings on the sand banks but decided they were from large monitor lizards and otters, not crocodiles. It was not until after darkness that we returned, tired and wet through, to KU camp.
The trek upstream was tough, frequently requiring us to wade across the river or climb over spurs
Our second morning on the river we were to set off downstream to locate the sandbank where the crocodile had been sighted. Since this was such a large party it could create considerable problems when filming. There is such as thing as 'filming etiquette' for support teams, which includes not talking when filming it taking place, not causing extraneous noise (like washing dishes or hammering in tent pegs), and not getting into shot. This is difficult to instill and would be even more difficult to maintain is as a large party we suddenly came across a crocodile - a perfect shot could be ruined by an expletive in Thai in the background!
The inflatables are put into the river and loads with all our kit and caboodle
Everything stowed, a final production still,
and we are off
So we split out party into two teams for the river journey, only coming together at the end of each stage.
Two boats, called the 'camera boat' containing Roger, Mark and Terry, and the 'herp boat' containing myself, Tony, Yos, Kiat and Chukiat, each plus two boatmen, one being Kho, the leader of the Karen boatmen - 11 persons in total, would go on ahead.
The support team, led by Emma and Namfon, would follow with the rest of the boats and all the tarpaulins, food, equipment, traps and chickens, and they could make as much noise as they liked as we they were instructed to maintain a distance of one hour behind us. All communications were by hand-held walkie talkie.
We stopped frequently to examine sandbanks for possible signs of crocodiles - foot prints, tail drags, belly slides, but only found further but deceptively similar signs of monitor lizards and otters. We also slowed to find 'GVs' (general views), 'up-and-pasts' (where the herp boat would approach and pass the stationary camera boat), 'pieces to camera', and to allow sound recordist terry to pick up pristine 'wild-tracks', and investigate anything else that took our interest enroute to the crocodile site. Each such halt was accompanied by a radio call back to the support team, warning them we were filming and they should also halt until told it was safe to continue.
The Phetburi River is a beautiful location
We stopped frequently to film
check out sand banks for recent signs of crocodiles
and investigate anything of interest (l-t) Tony, Mark, with strapped leg, Emma, Roger and Terry
We travelled down steam by rafting but in places the river was narrow, clogged with vegetation or so shallow we had to haul the boats
Yos, Tony and Kiat discuss previous crocodile sightings on the Phetburi River
and we investigate more monitor lizard tracks on a sand bank
At one location I thought I saw a movement behind the roots of a fallen tree. Upon investigation I discovered a 2.5 m Reticulated python (Python reticulatus) in the process of sloughing it skin. When Yosapong and I captured it we realised this python has a number of nasty wounds which looked as if it had survived a close encounter with a leopard. Retics may be prey to leopards but young leopards have fallen prey to large retics. We released this specimen into the fallen tree-root mass to continue its recovery in safety.
Mark & Yos with a Reticulated python, Python reticulatus, in slough
Eventually we neared the sand bank where the crocodile had been photographed. We had planned to camp on a flat area up-stream of the croc site which Kho and Tony knew but that spot was already taken, by a herd of elephants, so we were forced a camp, strung out along the bank, a short distance up-stream of the croc site, hoping that the sound of the river would cover the noise of 24 people setting up camp for a few days.
Mark explaining, in a 'piece to camera' how we had been forced to alter our camping plans