The six legs of the plate sized spider begin easing its blue body across the wall towards the lavatory footrest. My son has already discreetly removed one scorpion from the soap rack. A second, on the wooden dormitory room floor, is yet undiscovered. Time to feel the fear...
We had arrived in a forest village in Chiang Dao region that evening, bouncing around in an open sided truck, me excitedly applying mosquito repellent and pointing out huge clumps of bamboo, banana trees and waterfalls, Jimmy driving and my son, at home in Thailand, reading a jiu-jitsu manual. The Ping River originates in Chiang Dao but it’s hard to relate these streams to the wide, sullen brown river that sweeps through Chiang Mai. It had taken us an hour to leave the city behind, torrents of mopeds, tuktuks and red songthaew buses gradually thinning as we raced past golden wat roofs and stone serpents and swerved off into the mountains on a narrow, twisting road.
Jimmy’s family welcome us generously, politely certain that the big blue spider only eats birds, helping us to shake out sleeping bags, disposing of scorpion number two on the embers of the fire.
Next day at dawn roosters shriek, the puppies on ant-covered sacking under the house yip and squabble and loudspeakers rouse the village, broadcasting music and Buddhist prayers. Breakfast is fruit, honey and black coffee from beans grown on the jungle slopes of family land amongst guava, lime and lychee trees, clove plants and glossy shoots of cinnamon and avocado.
By 9 o’clock we have reached Jimmy’s bamboo house, its stilts biting in to the slope, rising above wild foliage, new leaves tangled in the branches of thousand year old trees. The jagged skyline of Doi Chiang Dao soars into distant clouds, over 2,000 metres high, a mountain concealing caves which run 14 kilometres into the ground and a spring sacred to the Karen hill tribes. A legend claims that the peak, sheer and unstable, was transported to Burma. The ancient borders of Lao, Burma and the Thai Lanna kingdom have a history of shifting in the thick forests
We climb and climb, past tropical leaves then pine trees, 2 foot termite mounds, wild orchids and tea plants. Jimmy’s nephew, a long barrelled tiger-gun and two dogs go ahead. But the tigers must be sleeping – we only see insects – shiny orange and black wood ants, pink and blue beetles and grey spiders in tunnels of sticky white web.
By evening, Jimmy has cooked us an omelette bursting with peppers, chilli and coriander over a metal fire bucket. Invisible tigers prick up their ears at the metallic knock of cow bells.
In 24 hours I will be on a plane heading for Bangkok, looking down on city lights strung along illuminated main highways. Jimmy, in the jungle, will watch fireflies below his bamboo platform and listen to cicadas shrilling. In the village, a bird eating spider will be lodged hungrily in a toilet brush holder.