Gibbon calls and waterfalls

View from our bungalow

After our fourth visit to Bangkok, we made our way south to Khao Sok National Park. The park is in the interior of the sourthern, peninsular part of Thailand, and is somewhat less frequented by the mobs of tourists that seem to be over-running the country’s beaches these days. We arrived via a comfortable overnight train ride from Bangkok, followed by a scenic mini-bus ride. Huge limestone karsts reached skyward all around us, dripping in thick green jungle and vines. Gibbons and exotic birds provided a continuous soundtrack. We found a great guesthouse called Smiley’s, with super-friendly staff, and checked into a cheap little bungalow with a view of the cliffs. We were ready to dive head-first into some national-park caliber nature.

Our first venture into the park was an 8 km hike to a series of waterfalls in the jungle. Armed with multiple water bottles, we set out in the scorching heat. Luckily the canopy of the jungle provided some mild relief from the sun, but there was no disguising the fact that it was Hot — so much so that it deserves capitalizing. The hike was great. We saw a few snakes and all kinds of lizards, including a monitor lizard about 3 feet long. When we arrived at the waterfall, we climbed up to the upper tiers and swam in the blissfully cool water, with little fish that nibbled at your toes if you stayed still too long. It felt really good to hike again. It felt even better to drink a cold beer and have a cold shower when we got back to our bungalow.

Swimmin'

One of the park’s main features is the gigantic Cheow Lan lake, formed in the 80’s by the construction of a large hydroelectric dam. We were desperate to visit the lake, which was about 60 km away, but were depressed to learn that it was prohibitively expensive. But luck was on our side. That same day, a group of about 20 Canadians traveling on an organized tour checked in to Smiley’s. Were they going to the lake? Yep. Could we tag along? No problem. It was a bit of a trade off for us: we were giving up the peace and quiet of being by ourselves on the lake, but in exchange, we could actually afford to go. We also smiled at the irony of the situation: here we’d been so happy to find a place that wasn’t swarming with tourists, and we were teaming up with the biggest tourist group we could find. Travel throws you curve balls sometimes. So we were off on an overnight lake trip, with twenty somewhat-younger-and-rowdier-than-us Canadians.

Crossing the lake

When we got to the lake, we piled into two longtail boats and headed off across the lake. We quickly realized two things. First, this lake was absolutely huge! We had briefly contemplated the idea of renting a canoe and trying to explore the lake on our own. We would still be paddling, never mind the fact that there were no proper canoes to be rented anyways. It took the longtail boat nearly an hour and a half to cross the lake, and we didn’t even cross the widest part. Secondly, we realized that this lake was one of the most geographically stunning lakes we’d ever seen. The karsts that make the surrounding landscape so beautiful have been half-submerged by the rising water, making them seem to plunge to unknown depths or, perhaps more accurately, to soar out of them. The skeletons of old trees, killed when the dam raised the lake, stand in solitary stillness at random intervals. And the same lush jungle still cloaks the upper reaches of the landscape. It was jaw-droppingly beautiful.

Bamboo bbq

Our first stop was for a bamboo BBQ and a cave trek. Our guides Ya, Gon, and Bow set about cooking us a curry and rice feast in bamboo vessels over an open fire. It was really interesting to watch. First, the bamboo was cut by machete and washed in the creek. Next, rice was wrapped in water-soaked leaves, and then stuffed into the hollow bamboo, which was topped up with more water. The bamboo was then leaned over the fire, where the water inside boiled and steamed the rice to delicious perfection. The curries were cooked in much the same manner. Even more impressive was the buffet-style serving method, and the individual bamboo plates that were made for us on the spot. Very cool stuff.

Cave trek

The cave we hiked to was carved clear through one of the limestone karsts by a stream. Armed with headlamps and swim suits, we ventured into a twisting labyrinth of blackness, which must have stretched on for nearly a kilometer before opening out on the other side. Along the way we waded and swam through chilly water, saw bats (oh so many bats), huge cave spiders as big as your hand, and a sleeping “Buddha” frog that would stay completely still as long as you held him on his back.

Flying lizard we found on the trek

After trekking and dining, we were back in the longtail boat headed to our overnight accommodation. We spent the night in floating bamboo bungalows which are rafted together right in the lake. They would gently bob up and down all night, and made for a very comfortable sleep. We spent the rest of the day swimming in the lake and enjoying the delicious food prepared for us by the raft house.

Raft houses

On our second day on the lake, Meg and I got up before dawn and took a couple of kayaks out on the lake to watch the sunrise. It was incredibly peaceful, and we were rewarded for our efforts when we saw some monkeys swinging through the trees, as well as two absolutely gigantic birds. When they flew from their perch, one after the other, their wingbeats tore the air like prehistoric creatures. We think they were great hornbills, or something like that.

Kayaking at dawn

After more swimming and sunning, we headed back to the pier. We were sad to leave such a beautiful lake. It was an incredible place, and so was the whole park. We were won over by Khao Sok, and it’s made us excited about visiting another national park in the islands further south. We left Khao Sok yesterday, and made our way to Railay in Krabi Province, where we hope to do some climbing on some of the limestone karsts that have so impressed us wherever we’ve seen them.

Comments

    Allez-vous jamais surpris quand vous √™tes en Afrique. Profitez de la beaut√© de la Tha√Ølande alors que vous l’avez. Afrique du Sud est un lieu de beaut√© et de la peur de ceux que j’ai parl√© √† l’an dernier.

    Prenez garde, profiter de la beaut√© (mon professeur d’Orchestration / Copmosition, qui me faufile dans les r√©p√©titions de l’ESO quand j’√©tais √©tudiant et ils ont √©t√© primeur sa seconde symphonie “A Host of Nomads.” “C’√©tait au sujet de son exp√©rience de regarder les nuages se sur les montagnes, avec le recul un peu comme le Chinooks dans les Rocheuses.
    C’√©tait dr√¥le parce que le chef d’orchestre invit√© m’a trouv√© la suite de la partition et apr√®s la r√©p√©tition est venu vers moi pour “pointer les erreurs dans la partition et √† la r√©p√©tition.”
    J’ai fait, et les deux mon professeur et chef d’orchestre sont n√©s en Afrique du Sud. Inutile de dire que j’ai pass√© avec brio.

    J’envie votre pour votre long voyage en Afrique. Mon destin est l’Inde. Mon musique a √©t√© effectu√© l√†-bas mais je veux en faire l’exp√©rience que ma musique a fait.

    Tous les meilleurs voeux pour vos voyages

    Love,

    Dad

    Wow! So cool, beautiful, and the coolest looking frog ever! Did you name any of the bats Sally?

    India will also be beautiful. We’ve loved pretty much every place we’ve visited so far. We’re easy to please.

    Linny, that’s a lizzard with his wings spread out. Cool eh? We also saw a frog in the cave but it was too dark to photograph. He looked like a big rock with his arms crossed over his chest, pretending to be dead. It was really funny. I named all the bats sally :)

    What an amazing adventure and your description was so wonderfully written. Can’t wait to read the next installment. Safe travels, and have a Happy Easter, Guys! By the way, it’s going to be 24C this weekend in Ottawa. Woohoo, summer has arrived! It’s the warmest weather ever for the time of year. xox

    Meghan, Amy wants me to write “wear your life jacket!”

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