“Bye Larry”. It was time to say adios to our new friend Larry the Lizard who had been living in our air conditioner for the five nights we were in Koh Samui. But we were pretty sure we’d be meeting lots of Larry’s lizard friends as we headed to Khao Sok.
Sitting equidistant from the east and west coasts of southern Thailand, Khao Sok National Park is a dense rainforest area measuring 285 sq miles (739 km2, for our German readers) and is older than the Amazon rainforest of South America.
After a one hour ferry back to the mainland and a two-and-a-half hour minibus journey to Khao Sok (or, more accurately, Khlong Sok village), we checked into our home for the next three days; Khao Sok Palmview Resort, where we were greeted by the charming Mama Nui, the 69 year old proprietor. Curiously speaking always in the third person (“you tell Mama Nui”), Mama Nui led us to our spacious jungle bungalow which featured a big veranda and a hot shower! Quite an improvement from our cosy number on Koh Phayam!
After settling in, we asked Mama Nui the quickest way to the village (Palmview is situated close as-the-crow-flies to the main street but a bit of a drive by road) so she showed us a map and gave directions and finished by producing a large bamboo stick. “Near this corner, big dog. Just in case”. Terrified, we ventured along the shortcut which, after starting as a path, turned into more of a swamp (no doubt due to the heavy rainfall they’d be experiencing). Hopping from rock to rock to avoid the mud, at one point I went to take a detour around a tree when I came face-to-face with a gigantic spider web with an even more gigantic spider in the middle of it! I managed to take evasive action before coming into contact with the web but I was certainly freaked out. Later Googling determined that the spider was a Giant Golden Orb Weaver spider which Wikipedia says is “one of the biggest spiders in the world”. Too bloody right! (Please see image below of a Giant Golden Orb Weaver eating a bird!)
Fortunately, we didn’t need to make use of the dog stick and reached Khlong Sok village successfully where we had dinner and picked up a few supplies. Not before having to take cover in a 7-Eleven from an almighty downpour though – something which would become a regular occurrence on this part of our trip!
Next morning, we headed for a day tour of the Cheow Lan Lake. Created in 1982 by the construction of the Ratchaprapha Dam, Cheow Lan Lake is a 64 sq mile (165 km2) reservoir which is surrounded by imposing limestone cliffs. We were the first to be picked up by the minibus in the morning and, as we headed to the next pick-up point, we wondered who we would be spending the day with.
“Ello. Could you please turn off the clim? I am freezing.”
Tessa and I exchanged glances as our first companion for the day, an older French lady, barked her demands as though no-one else mattered. This could be interesting.
After picking up a further eight hardy adventurers, we met our guide at the dam and headed onto a long tail boat, sailing across the lake for an hour-and-a-half. The lake narrows in many places and the gigantic limestone towers either side feel like something out of Lord of the Rings – quite spectacular.
The previous day, suspecting that we may be in for a rainy few days, we invested in two ponchos which were put to very quick use as we encountered many heavy rain showers on the crossing to a large floating platform at the other side of the lake, where we had lunch. We were warned not to drop anything in the water as the lake is over 60m deep and up to 100m deep in places. This did mean, however, that we could take a swim. Being a reservoir in a tropical area, the waters were pleasantly warm. After lunch, we hopped back on the boat for a short journey to our next stop which would be trekking into a cave.
“Ok, let’s go”, French lady pronounced for the umpteenth time that day, as soon as she had taken the photos she wanted, regardless of the fact that everyone else was still snapping away or putting things into their bags. Cue rolling of eyes from the rest of the group. At least we weren’t alone in being irritated by her majesty’s view that her’s was the only opinion that mattered.
Our second activity for the day was exploring a bat cave. Less than 20m into said cave, French lady, announced “I am not comfortable, this is too narrow. I’ll stop here”. To which our guide said that he’d have to take her back to the cave entrance. So we waited. Once exploration resumed, we traversed the muddy and wet cave and saw many bats hanging from the roof and a couple of large spiders. Unfortunately, the primary cave in the Cheow Lan Lake area which requires you to wade through a waist-high river was closed because the water level was too high so our secondary cave was a little disappointing but fun nonetheless.
The final activity for the day was a trek through the jungle. “I think we might get our Nikes a bit muddy here Tessa”, I said to Tessa, as our guide leapt out of the boat whilst still 10 metres offshore and proceeded to wade through the swampy reeds and mud. Suitably muddied and with soaked feet, we then put our Nikes to good use hiking through the hillside river trail that we criss-crossed high up into the rainforest. “Don’t worry, leeches (Blutegel auf Deutsch) stay in the grass, not in water”, said our guide making us feel very reassured that there was no chance of our blood being sucked that day! Not that I’d put it past French lady to ask for a transfusion if she were feeling a little faint.
Not five minutes later, I had a horrible sense of deja-vu as we encountered another Giant Golden Orb Weaver spider! It wasn’t as big as the one we’d seen the previous day but both Tessa and I were sure to give it a wide berth.
After trekking up-and-up for an hour, our guide stopped at a very small cluster of rocks and announced that this was the source of the cascading river which we had just climbed. Quite a cool way to end the trek!
On our return journey to the boat, our guide slowed and pointed to our right, up in the trees. “Flying squirrels”, he said, “move slowly”. As we craned our necks to try and catch a glimpse of the elusive marsupials, the silence was broken by a familiar voice. “…my son, he lives in San Diego”, bellowed our French friend, as she caught up with the group, shattering any chances of seeing any wildlife as the squirrels went into hiding. Another unforgettable moment to add to the list.
After getting soaked once more on the return journey to the dam, we said goodbye to our guide and hopped back on the minibus to our accommodation, looking forward to a shower and a hot meal courtesy of Mama Nui to round off the day.
Bright and early the next morning (well, 10am is FAIRLY early for us), we went to breakfast and asked Mama Nui where we could go for a nice walk. We took her suggested route up a track/road leading away from Palmview and the village. I had a quick look at Google Maps and saw that the track connected with the main road leading to the village so we could walk round in a loop. Perfect.
We set off up the track and soon came across row after row of rubber trees and huge fields of palm and banana trees. Each and every rubber tree had a spile and small bucket attached to drain the milky latex liquid from the trunk. We were accompanied by Mama Nui’s Alsatian dog who seemingly had no bones (get it?) about leaving his home and coming for a jolly with us.
Unfortunately, our citronella spray wasn’t too effective and we were being bitten quite a lot by mosquitos. A high-pitched whine of another kind was causing me a lot more bother, however. “GO AWAY! Tom, I’m getting bitten to death!”, Tessa shouted metronomically every minute or so. (Tessa: “I won’t even try clearing this up for you. All I can say is that it’s easy to joke about it when you’re not a constant target! About 16 new mossi-bites vs 2!!!”)
After walking for around an hour, I started to realise that my earlier glance at Google Maps should maybe have been a more considered study of Google Maps. We’d walked about halfway along the track and still had the same distance to walk back once we reached the main road at the end. “Better soldier on”, I thought to myself, channelling that stiff-upper-lip British spirit (for our German readers; ‘stiff-upper-lip’ is an English saying that means to not show any emotion and to ‘get on with it’). Unfortunately, Germans aren’t made of as stern stuff. “How much further are we walking?”, Tessa asked. “It’s not too much further”, I replied, “…to the end of the track”, finishing the sentence in my head.
When we finally reached the end of the track, I finally relented and checked exactly how far we now had to walk back along the main road to the village. “It’s quite a way”, I said, trying to soften the blow. “How far?”, “Oh, only about 9.8km”, “WHAT!!!”. Well, there was no turning back now (although that route would have been shorter).
A very short time later, our misery (although some people’s misery is greater than others) got a whole lot worse as the heavens opened and gifted us yet another free shower. Yay. Fortunately, we had brought our ponchos with us which sheltered us somewhat from the downpour, although Tessa didn’t seem to see the bright side of my fortunate piece of planning to pack them into our rucksack (Tessa: “whose idea?!”).
Roughly 6km into our saunter home, I managed to regain a little love by treating us to ice creams which we ate in the now glorious afternoon sun. The cool snacks soothing our mouths, if not our feet.
“If you loved me, you’d carry me”, Tessa protested. This is a tactic she’s used several times on this trip already – whether it be trying to steal my pillow or get a back massage – and it wasn’t about to work this time (Tessa: “I’ve not been successful so far but I’m not ready to give up just yet”). We’d reached the turning for Khlong Sok village so just another 3km to go!
At the end of our wonderful journey, Tessa discovered that she’d got rather sunburnt which, you’d think would be the cherry on top of her day. You’d be wrong though! As we were getting ready for bed, a cockroach came crawling out from behind one of the wood slats of our bungalow wall, scuttled his way across to the opposite wall and out of sight. Reassuring Tessa that there’s probably lots of cockroaches in and around our bungalow but we just can’t see them, we drifted off to sleep with our next destination on the horizon; Phuket.