It took 48 hours from Don Det to Khao Sok. 5 buses, 2 Tuk Tuks, 2 taxis, a pickup truck and two 4am wakeup calls. We spent one day leaving Laos, who even imposed a leaving tax despite the $35 visa to enter the country, and arrived in Bangkok rather earlier than expected at 4am the next day. After spending the early hours on McDonalds on Khoa San road where many people were still out from the night before, we recuperated at our faithful hostel who for 100 baht let us shower and veg in their common room.
The protests in Bangkok have both moved and escalated. No longer near the democracy monument, the protests reside around Siam square and ahead of elections on 2nd February have ramped up their calls to “shutdown Bangkok, restart Thailand.” The protests remain peaceful on the whole despite outbursts of violence reported on the news. We passed through the protests to reach the main shopping area in Siam Square and were scanned for weapons. We enjoyed the modern comforts of Bangkok’s upmarket shopping malls and food courts and in the afternoon visited the contrasting mall, the MBK centre which was more like a Chinese market, thousands of trinkets and goods to catch your eye.
In the evening we took the bus to Surit Thani to catch the bus to Khao Sok National park.
Our accomodation in Khao sok village was a beautiful raised bungalow with a little hammock and sunset view. This is a beautiful jungle area and we spent the day walking around the town on the outskirts of the park. We stopped at a locals restaurants to sample some of the curry dishes. The chef pointed out, spicy, medium, and “medium for Thai people, too hot for you!” Whilst David and I went for not spicy, Ricky braved a medium and sweated his way through it.
In the afternoon we came across monkey cave which was a small cave in a rock face, unremarkable and used as many are, as a Buddhist shrine. There was however hundreds of wild monkeys in this area. The caves guardsmen appeared to be a sleeping puppy and a crowing cockrel. The puppy took up our personal defence and followed us around the grounds of the cave.
At the side of the cave was a metal staircase climbing the limestone hill. As we climbed we saw that the indent in this part of the rock face was home to a few families of monkeys. They were fascinating to watch and we got very close to them as they played rough and tumble, checked each other for lice and fought for whichever stick/ rock/ leaf the other had. They were such fascinating creatures with their human like actions, yet incredible balance as they launched themselves tree to tree. We became aware of monkeys in the trees behind us and splashing in the pool below and went down to find several monkeys dive bombing into the pond. They were incredible swimmers and stayed under the water for a long time. There cheeky personalities kept us gripped for ages as they would push each other into the water or splash the older members of the group before running and hiding.
It was lovely to return to the warm evenings as we sat out on our hammocks after dinner wondering what the jungle had in store for us for the next few days.
We booked a tour with the hostel to go into the national park so were up early to travel an hour by road to the other side of the park. The park is a huge lake surrounded by dense jungle and mountainous rock and we took one hour by longboat to reach the lake house. The surroundings were stunning, on par with Halong bay in awe and magnitude but so quiet and unspoilt. On the way we stopped in a little inlet for a swim and the water was pleasantly warm as well as 50 metres deep in places. It’s emeraldly blue goes on and on. There were a few places to climb the rocks and jump in and I overcame fears as I jumped from a few metres.
The lake house was a floating raft of 11 cabins, a common area and bar and the staff living and kitchen. It was tucked in a picturesque corner with the most beautiful outlook. We arrived in time for a lunch spread of Asian dishes and a delicious green curry. We were joined by a couple in their late thirties from Hungary. They were nice, however it soon became awkward to be around them as they constantly groped and kissed each other, resulting in us nick naming them “the snogarians.”
In the afternoon we took out two canoes to explore. The rocks gave way to large inlets which gave way to more rocks, rather like the surface area of a lung. We stopped to jump of dead trees which protruded the surface of the water, claim islands as our own and listen to the noisy sounds of the jungle.
After a few hours, and getting tired we returned to be taken to a similar lake house, the one in which we would spend the night. This one was more steady underfoot and had the mother of all ropeswings. It was huge!. A rope of 50 metres hung from one of the tallest trees and you could pull it up the bank a good long way. It was terrifying and exhilarating as you were in the air so long to swing out over the water and when you fell it was a good 5/6 metres drop to hit the surface. A few bad landings taught us this!
The rope swing kept us busy until the evening when it was time for our night safari. The long tail boat took us for an hours trip around the various inlets in search of jungle life, cutting the engines to listen to the calls of the gibbons or the whistles of the toucans. We saw monkeys in the trees and an eagle and a toucan in flight. Our guide twisted and plaited a strip of wicker he had found and made me a wooden bangle, a unique souvenir. Back at the lake house at sunset we saw a wild boar feeding closeby, one of the larger animals in this part of the park. In other parts there is said to be wild elephants and deer.
The night in the lakehouse was very comfortable but as it was a mattress on the floor of a wooden raft bungalow the waves of the water could be felt as they picked up and dropped.
We were up bright and early for another boat safari. As we wondered whether the jungle would reveal anymore secrets I spotted an owl. The most incredible thing though was a lucky surprise, two gibbons in the very treetops, silhouettes to the sun as they swung from tree to tree playfully. We sat mesmerised for a long time.
After breakfast the boat took us to the edge of the park where we were to walk to a Nam Ta La Cave, about 2.5km along a jungle path. Our guide told us about the leaves which were poisonous, pointed out termite hills and showed us which branches we could swing on. The cave however exceeded our expectations. Very quickly we were aware of the wildlife we were sharing it with as one guide caught two bull frogs. Then lurking in the gaps we spotted smaller frogs and twinkling eyes in every crevice. We saw spiders as large as your hand on the walls, all shapes and sizes. When we were far enough away from the light we saw the bats in their hundreds. It was incredible, so many bats hanging above us, twitching like guinea pigs as our headlamps disturbed them, a few taking flight.
We were about 45 mins through the cave when it narrowed and the water which had been ankle height deepened. We were now wading through parts as high as chest height, clambering through rocks to discover that it went on and on. We reached daylight the other side and took a break. Someone then spotted a frog, sleeping on it's back, hands together. As it realised the attention it was getting it played dead, stopped its breathing altogether and kept one eye open.
It was a few km back to the boat and a lunch at the lakehouse. In the afternoon we had diving competitions off the jetty and took the kayaks out for another spin before saying goodbye to the lakehouse and heading back across the water. Thailand has shown another string to its bow, another incredible ecosystem and certainly a memorable couple of days.
Now we look forward to some more Island life as we head for Koh Tao.