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Entries about khao sok

Caves and Safaris

semi-overcast

This morning, monkeys were gathered up by the bathrooms, jumping around from branch to branch. They were the first animal we spotted before our next wildlife tour. We hopped back in the longboat to see the same type of hornbill we'd seen at night. It had a black body, white chest, plus a long tail and beak. When they flew, they had an orange/yellow stripe across their wingspan and their wings made considerable noise. We also saw the bright blue kingfisher.
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For breakfast, we had banana pancakes plus another banana on the side for good measure. We lounged around until the 10 am checkout then took off in the longboat for our second cave adventure. It took an hour's voyage on the uncomfortable wooden plank boat seats to reach the next platform.

The hike took an hour or so, steeper than yesterday. We went up with a local ranger and Two. Two showed us a large tree with air roots that climbed other trees before strangling them to take their place. It was their invasive way of reaching the sunlight. More cicada mounds were along the path along with their shells and some spiders.

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This cave was big but the tour wouldn't be as extensive as yesterday's. The cave held high levels of carbon monoxide and it could be dangerous to stay down there more than a few dozen minutes. As we explored, we found the critters here were bigger: the bats, spiders and crickets.

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We walked down to the cave on a sometimes slippery path. There was a rocket-shaped stalagmite that Two joked about. We had to scale around a rock wall, and at the end Two shouted out about a two meter long snake we could see. It was lightly coloured and moved slowly enough at a distance from us. We went in a bit further to see spiders and crickets. Finally, we visited the large guano-scented bat cave with thousands of black critters just hanging out.

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We trekked back down, begging the rain Gods to make our path less challenging by staying at bay. It worked and we walked the final path across a big fallen floating log and over the random boards and rocks, hoping not to slip. We had a lunch of fried rice and egg plus creatively cut pineapple and watermelon where the peel was the eco-friendly tray.

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Back at the mainland pier, our luggage waited for us in the back of a van. We thanked Two and got dropped off at a nearby bus station. Tickets to Surat Thani were 150 baht. I ran into the nearby Big C grocery store to cool off with their A/C and pick up snacks: panda cookies, croissants, M&Ms and goldfish knock-off crackers I always used to buy.

Once arrived in Surat Thani, we turned down pushy tour agents offers, found our own way to the pier and saved no money on the tickets. Sometimes we learned, people could be honest in sales. We sat at the waterfront pier area near a lively market selling clothes, household items and food. We managed to find food and drinks at a nearby restaurant stall. Ryan got to try satays, I had some big fried noodles and we both had EST Thai cola.

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We had pancakes for dessert, small but tasty, made by a lady watching a football match intently with a few other vendors, and by 10pm it was time to board the overnight boat to Koh Tao. Stepping inside it looked more like a dorm than a boat with dozens of big bunk beds everywhere. At least they had toilets with toilet paper and soap, a rare find out here. Since we were travelling together, Ryan and I got the slightly larger than a single shared bunk mattress.

Posted by Sarah.M 15:39 Archived in Thailand Tagged lake cave safari snake khao_sok hornbill Comments (0)

Khao Sok Lake

overcast 25 °C

We moved out of our cozy jungle bungalow and had a bit more French toast before taking off on our tour. We all jumped in a songtao to go to the dammed lake. There were a few German friends, a Belgium couple and a Russian lady in our group. The drive took just over an hour, more than long enough bouncing around in the back of a songtao. Mr. Bao assured us that our big bags would arrive the following day on our through voyage to Koh Tao.

Our enthusiastic guide met us with aviators, a plaid shirt and a long braid. He introduced himself as Two, 'like one, two', he explained. We bought the 200 baht entrance tickets and boarded the longboat for an hour's journey to the raft houses we'd be staying in.

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The whole area had been flooded so they could have a dam, which made the lake here quite deep. Since it was done recently enough, a lot of the old treetops were still standing in the water, dead, but a testament to how far below the former ground would have been. There were ample limestone peaks with vegetation to keep our cameras busy until too much water would splash in. I pulled out my purple poncho from 7-11 at one point to stay warm and dry. The sun and thin plastic achieved an unsettling sweaty heat quite efficiently.

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An hour later, we pulled up in front of a bamboo raft complex. It had a small docking area attached to a floating restaurant. Further down the bamboo bridged path were small raft houses, really basic, just a mattress, a door and a couple chairs on the deck area each. No lights or locks. Our daypacks just fit inside the room with us, but it would only take about three steps before we'd be able to take a dip in the beautiful lake. It was a decent trade off.

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Our guide, Two, explained that we'd have lunch, have some down time and then start our cave tour. We hadn't really bothered looking into the whole itinerary (though it was available to see) so the cave tour came as a pleasant surprise. We did love our caves.

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We hopped into the lake for a refreshing swim. The water was a bit cool considering the outdoor temperature was also chillier, but it was still really nice. Ryan and I swam around from one log to another in the sectioned-off swimming area.

For lunch, there were several dishes, two of which were vegetarian friendly. Both were mildly flavoured stir-fries we shared with the rest of our group at a communal table. After that, we had a bit of time to rinse off, change and rest before the tour.

The boat ride to the caves took all of four minutes. We'd hike quite some time up, then do an hour through the cave and half an hour walking through the jungle to get back to the start. Our uphill hike took us through a number of small rivers so walking sandals were ideal. Two stopped to show us chameleons, spiders, a millipede, and cicada homes which were deep holes that the bugs dug in their youth to sleep in and grow wings.

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At one point, we stopped and there was a black wild cat with a long tail. As we were at the back, we didn't get to see it, but Two and out other guide told us they were quite rare during the day and were pretty excited encountering one.

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Two made sure it wasn't going to rain before the final hot and sweaty climb to the mouth of the cave. Inside, caverns were quite tall and large. Bats hung from the ceiling and our lights picked out a few more golden spiders. A snake was slithered around a stalagmite and crickets were abundant in some areas. Luckily, Mr. Bao had provided us with headlamps as a final thought to make the journey easier. Some of the cave formations were round and porous with water running down. Others were jagged and tall.

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About halfway, we gave our valuables and clothes to Two for safe keeping in the dry bags and tied our shirts around our heads like turbans to save space and keep them dry. In just our bathing suits, we walked carefully through the water which at times came right up to our neck and chest. Then the cave would change and we'd be on solid ground again.

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One section required us to scale down the cave walls to avoid being sucked away in the strong flowing water. Here the ceilings were high but the corridor was quite narrow. Two found his own sneaky dry path around the river after giving us instructions on the descent and making sure we cleared the dangerous section. We had a bit more wading ahead of us before we reached the natural light trickling through the exit and lighting up the now gentle flowing water. We'd made it safely back to the rainforest.

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As we took pictures around the cave and got back into more hike-friendly attire, Two shared the story of two guides and six tourists who had died in the cave in previous years. A storm had come and rain had rushed into the cave. With the narrow pathways, the cave flooded quickly and people were washed away. Only one woman had survived, pushed up to a high spot by someone where she stayed for a few days before it was safe to rescue her. We had no idea it could be so dangerous and were thankful it hadn't decided to rain.

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The cave had another interesting bit of history. It used to be home to students affiliated with communist organisations fleeing the government. The local people didn't care too much about the politics, but helped feed them because it was the right thing to do. The rest of the hike went by quickly and we had another rest by the cabins.

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On the way back from the cold showers, I caught the reflection of the bamboo raft houses on the still turquoise water and it was absolutely stunning. For supper, we had a tasty massaman curry, another stir-fry, a big fried fish (head and all) and a giant plain omelette. We found out that nearly everyone in our group was a teacher or in-training to be one. The Belgium couple had travelled from Laos, Cambodia and Thailand and were heading back home in the new year.

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Our night wasn't over yet, time for a night safari. With a spotlight and a longboat, Two showed us sleeping hornbills on the Banyan tree and some of the big cats with red eyes. All we could glimpse of the latter were the eyes, but it was still neat. The cicada wails were quite strong too. Two found one of the insects to show us. The bug got accidentally dropped back into the water and was subsequently rescued. When we brought him back to the raft house area, he flew away.

Posted by Sarah.M 21:48 Archived in Thailand Tagged lake cave longboat night_safari khao_sok Comments (0)

Tour through Khao Sok

semi-overcast 29 °C

Even with our tricky mosquito net that didn't like night time bathroom runs, we didn't get eaten by the bugs. Our wake up calls came from gibbons, birds, and Ryan's favourite, the cicada squeal. He probably still cringes thinking about it. Breakfast was pretty relaxed with only a few people ordering and we managed to chat with Mr. Bao, the owner, and book the overnight lake tour. His absence yesterday was explained by the fact that he owned three business and they kept him on his toes.

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We ventured to Jungle Huts guesthouse where our solo tour departed a touch late. They were nice enough to drive us to the gate. Our guide, Beer, welcomed us and made sure we bought our admission tickets. Then we went through the check-points to enter the park. We felt very tracked and it was odd.

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The first part of the trail was a wide road with red dirt. Beer pointed out monkeys, flying squirrels and even a chameleon. We ventured into a more trail-like path soon after. We stopped quite frequently at viewpoints or to take a break even though we weren't tired. These seemed to be smoke breaks for the guides.

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The waterfalls we saw were more like rapids in each spot that we visited. At least the water was clear and turquoise so it offered some natural beauty. I still didn't want to swim until we made more progress on the trial walk.

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On one of our many breaks, other guides called out to the monkeys and offered them bananas to their hiker's delight. Many gray primates came over, even a mother with a small black baby clutched to her abdomen. They followed those guides afterward for awhile. We, Beer included, kept our distance. Beer shared in the opinion that feeding them only led to dependence and trouble. Afterwards we stopped for an early lunch.

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At the fifth viewpoint, Beer had us cross a river in a sketchy way only to have another guide tell him not to go that way because of the water levels. As I struggled to make it back across the river, our guide decided it was a good time for a cigarette, probably to make up for all of those times we'd declined a break. The Thai rational for the mandatory guide was to make the experience safer. I wouldn't have tried to cross the river on my own, and Ryan was the only reason I made it back across. I was get more disillusioned by the guided experience.

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The path to view the sixth area was covered in leeches that sat on the ground like inchworms with teeth, ready to pounce. My choice to wear sandals wasn't the brightest. I had to keep stopped to pluck them off my feet and would lose the group. When we finally arrived, I had two spots bleeding quite a lot. I washed them up while swimming near some neat caves. Ryan helped me patch up my foot. His shoes had been a much better barrier. By the time we made our way back to the entrance, I had picked up five more leeches. We also saw a centipede on the slippery ground.

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For supper, we found a restaurant with good vegetarian and lacto-ovo options. We shared a massaman curry and sweet and sour tofu, which were both pretty good. When we got back and talked to Mr. Bao, he confirmed there would be enough participants to run the lake tour we wanted to postpone a night. Tomorrow would be a nice relaxing day for our bodies and wallets. Never hurt to rest in a beautiful place.

The following morning, just as we finished our tasty French toast and were about to sort out our arrangements for diving and research for the rest of our Thailand trip, the power went out. There went most of our plans for the day and the reason to postpone the lake trip. Shortly after, a man on a motorbike came by and confirmed that power was out around the whole town and probably wouldn't be up and running until later tonight.

The day passed by leisurely, reading, writing, relaxing in our little cabin. It was nice to have a balcony and the breeze since the fan wasn't working. We wandered a bit into town and found that the vegetarian restaurant was one of the few still open. With power out, many couldn't keep the fridges going. Exploring took up a bit more time, although Ryan was dismayed to learn fruit shakes couldn't be made and blended without power.

In the evening, the power came back, we got our dive booking sorted and went next door to eat since they had a Thailand Lonely Planet, something we'd be needing to figure out what sections I hadn't yet seen as Ryan wanted sights to be new for me too. That would be the biggest challenge. By the end of the night, we found a few sights in the Northeast that would be interesting to visit and might fill up the next couple of weeks: volcano temples linked to those in Cambodia, but on the Thai side since the Khmer empire stretched that far.

Posted by Sarah.M 23:17 Archived in Thailand Tagged monkey thailand waterfall hike national_park khao_sok Comments (0)

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