To Khao Sok National Park
May 5, 2006
|05 May 06 - To Khao Sok National Park
Got a 0930 bus from nearby to the hotel, which was full of Thai people which was nice. We were taken to the Raja port, and walked onto the boat waiting there while the bus drove on. The boat left on time promptly at 1000 and we arrived at Don Sak about 90 minutes later. We then drove to Surat Thani, and I was dropped off at a bus station which showed most destinations apart from Khao Sok! I asked at the kiosk, to be told that the bus wasn't there but would be in 5 minutes. 10 minutes later a songthaew came for me to take me to an office about 2 minutes walk away! I was given a sticker saying 'Khao Sok' and told that I would have to wait for the 1400 bus, as the 1230 bus had already gone (by this time it was 1250). I was told I would be picked up from there, so had some noodles for lunch. Just as I was finishing, the songthaew reappeared and the man in the office told me to get in it otherwise the bus might be full! I was pretty confused, but did as I was told, and was driven to another bus station and got onto a bus which was almost full and had its engine going. There was another couple of tourists, but the rest were locals.
The bus left at 1330, so I was pretty pleased about that and wondered what the man in the office had been talking about. We got to Khao Sok at 1600 (109 km from Surat Thani) and the bus stopped at the road leading to the park entrance, 2km away. There were, fortunately, some people willing to take us to their accommodation, and after turning away a man who reeked of alchohol, I picked a woman from 'Smiley Bungalows' which looked ok and the price was right. The other couple, from Belgium, also decided to join me. We all looked at the huts on stilts, with views over to the park, and I was quite taken although it was pretty basic. I however decided to look at alternative accommodation before making a decision, and left my bag there. The couple also went off, but didn't return.
Looked at a couple of very nice rooms, the owner of one was unwilling to negotiate on the price, which I thought rather high, despite the fact she had noone else staying there. I thought that having me for a slightly cheaper price was better than noone, but she didn't see it that way. Saw another and got the price down, as again they had noone there, but in the end decided to stick with Smiley as it was adequate for my needs, and I felt quite sorry for the young woman there who had worked hard to encourage me to go there, and had two young children. I walked to the park entrance, about 10 minutes walk away, to suss it out for tomorrow, and later had a nice meal at the Thai Herb Restaurant, chatting to a couple of Dutch girls there. They were doing a guided tour tomorrow and suggested I may like to join them, but I thought I would just like to look tomorrow at what was on offer before plumping for a guide, but it was nice of them to invite me. But then the Dutch are usually very pleasant people.
06 May 06
I felt very tired this morning and had planned to go to the park for 0800 when it opened, but didn't make it. I had breakfast at the Thai Herb Restaurant - which seems to be the only restaurant open at the moment, given that there are hardly any tourists. In fact I was told that even in the high season (October - February) there were much fewer tourists than usual which they put down to people still staying away after the tsunami. It is a shame that I can only patronise that place as the service is pretty awful, although the food quite good.
I got to the park at 0930 (200 baht entrance fee per day, although my 'Rough Guide to SE Asia' said that was for 3 days, another guide book getting its facts wrong!). I went first to the Visitor Centre where I looked at the boards telling you the various animals and birds and flora you might come across (I knew there was no chance I would see anything) and picked up a leaflet with the various trails on offer, each leading to a waterfall, surprisingly enough. I decided to go for trail 9 which led to Sip-et-Chan Waterfall and allegedly 4km from the visitor centre (a likely story!).
Khao Sok is an area of over 738 sq km. Limestone karst mountains, some with caves inside, tower over the evergreen forest with lots of streams and rivers running through it, making it quite inaccessible especially later on in the rainy season when rivers are too high to cross on the trails. You can go tubing, canoeing and white water rafting, but I believe that the best time for that is from about August. At the moment there aren't enough tourists to make such trips viable to run.
The walk I had selected started initially with steps leading up to a couple of walkways, then led into the forest itself which was an undulating path, at times pretty indistinct but my nose appeared to be working today so followed it. The route wasn't marked, apart from a couple of arrows which I was pleased to see. There were about 6 river/stream crossings which initially I tried doing by balancing on rocks but as it was so slippery decided just to wade across in my boots, which were getting their first airing today for many months - so it seemed worth the effort of having dragged them around. I was totally alone on this route, it was a Saturday so was quite surprised not to see anyone out walking their dog (ha ha!). So decided to take extra care not to fall over the side and have the Thai Emergency Services on the alert. Wished I hadn't sent my trekking poles home as they would have come in useful today.
A little way into the walk the subject of leeches occured to me, which had been mentioned at the visitor centre which encouraged you to be nice to them because they won't bring any diseases to you!! I have never experienced leeches so far, and thought I could get away with it, however decided to check my boots and sure enough, spotted a few small threadworms which I assumed were the little buggers! They looked harmless enough, and I decided to leave them and let them feast on me having read that if you tried to pull them off with your fingers they would only cling on tighter. Not being a smoker, I didn't have a cigarette either which is supposed to be the favoured method of removing them. So, I thought I would just pretend they weren't there, although the occasional slight stinging sensation reminded me that they were. I managed to avoid a few on the path, which are attracted to vibration and rear their heads ready to pounce. Being the only person on the route I was fair game for them.
After two hours of walking I got to the waterfall, which was pretty disappointing. However, it was an 11 tiered waterfall, although I could only see the bottom. I guessed that to see the other levels meant climbing up the side of it which I thought wouldn't be the best idea as it was slippery and I was there alone. Also, it started to rain so decided to return. As the rain got heavier I found a shelter and thought I would wait there until it stopped, little knowing it wasn't dreaming of stopping. I decided to check out the leeches situation, as the slight stinging sensation which hadn't really been an issue, was becoming more obvious. (N.B. If you are of a nervous disposition I suggest that you don't read any further!). I looked down at my right ankle, and was perturbed to see that my sock was red with blood and bulging. When I lowered my sock the previously sweet threadlike creatures had ballooned into the size of slugs, and were huddled together having a lovely gourmet meal on me! I let out a bloodcurdling scream, which was a bit of a waste as there was noone in the vicinity to hear it, but it made me feel better although I did think I was verging on hysteria. Then thought that it hadn't been the right decision to leave them as they clearly thought that a banquet was on offer and had invited their friends and families to join them, as I imagined that my left ankle was the same. I managed to flick a few of them off, which is easy once they've drunk a litre of your blood and filled themselves up, and the sloped off. Tried not to think about them, and waited for the rain to stop but clearly it wasn't going to so walked the last 1km to a cafe near the visitor centre.
At the cafe there were some people taking shelter who were camping in the park, and I did feel sorry for them although tonight was to be their nice night. I took off my socks and boots and flicked the rest of the leeches off, then dripped blood from my feet for the next hour or so. Everyone seemed quite interested in my feet, and one child thought he was helping my squashing some of the leeches which only served to spread more of my blood all over the place! Some of the people were dental students and one kind girl produced some cotton wool balls and some alchohol. The rain wasn't going to stop, so decided to walk back to my hut on stilts at 1700. Later, judging by the marks on my feet, I counted about 25 places where the leeches had been. Yuk, yuk and triple yuk!!
07 May 06
After yesterday's experience with the leeches I decided not to walk in the park. The weather didn't look too promising either. Had a late breakfast, and having tried to use the internet - which was down due to the weather and maintenance on the network in Bangkok - I walked to a small temple in a cave just off the main road, about 2km away. It was less than impressive, although it looked as if a small classroom had been set up in there, but there was nobody about.
Went back to use the internet, and had a late lunch/early dinner at 1530 at the Thai Herb restaurant. Decided to go back to my hut to read in the hammock, and noticed that there was a young chap sitting looking miserable a couple of huts away. He started talking to me, and decided to come over. He was a 20 year old German lad called Philippe, who told me that it was the first time he had travelled on his own and was feeling very low and homesick. He had been travelling with some other Germans he'd met, but they were at the end of a big trip and just chilling out on an island, which he'd had enough of. He had only been travelling for 2 weeks and was due to return early June, but the way he was feeling thought he'd return earlier. He seemed a bit perkier after chatting with me, but took his leave abruptly, probably sensing that I wanted to be alone. I should, with afterthought, have offered to go out to the restaurant with him, but preferred to read and had already eaten. I also got the sense that he felt I was too old, but I was mistaken about that. He commented that it was unusual for a woman of my age to be travelling alone.
Philippe told me he wanted to go to Cheow Lan Lake, a must do at Khao Sok but that it needed more than him. I told him that I would be interested in going tomorrow if it was possible. He went off to find out, came back and said we should know in the morning if there were any other people as it really needed 4.
08 May 06
Philippe and I checked with our bungalow owners regarding a possible trip today to Cheow Lan Lake. We were told it was possible, but would have to pay a little more. We both decided it was worth it to do something, and I didn't realy want another day of sitting around.
Cheow Lan Lake was formed in 1984 when Rachabrapah Dam was constructed, although there were a lot of protests at the time from the local people. The lowland forest was flooded, beautiful caves and massive trees were submerged and animals lost their habitats. Nearly 900 people lost their homes also, and Philippe said he had met a woman whose original home was at the bottom of the lake. It reminded me of the flooding of the areas around the Yangtze River in China. However, despite all that it is a tourist spot and now bringing in money for local people, although not many at this time of year. The area is surrounded by limestone crags, part of an ancient coral reef 225 - 280 million years ago. The Tourism Authority of Thailand is promoting Cheow Lan Lake as Thailand's Guilin, however here the highest karst formation is 960m - among the highest in the world. In the park are leopard cats, common flying foxes, asiatic black bears, long-tailed macaques, asian elephants, barking deer, even cobras and vipers - if I had known about the latter I would certainly have reconsidered walking alone in the park, however they are largely nocturnal.
We were picked up by a chap called Lek, our 'guide' and another reticent one, I had to ask him his name and make conversation. We left at 0930 in a minibus for the 65km journey to the lake. When we got their our amiable young boatman, called Chum who I took to instantly, had his long-tailed boat ready for us. I had to pay the park entrance fee again, but because Philippe's 24 hours hadn't run out on his ticket, it was still valid. We had a journey in the boat of just over an hour, which was extremely scenic with all the karst limestone crags, of various heights and shapes lining the route. The tops of the trees that had been flooded dam were stark reminders of the creation of the dam, and can also prove hazardous to the boats.
Eventually we reached a floating restaurant and a line of small floating huts, used when people do a 2 day/1 night trip to the lake. There were a few men idling about, as most Thai men seem to do, but one of them appeared more diligent than the others and was wearing a rather nice colourful top, which I commented on. He asked if I would like it, and I said yes (thinking he was joking). So he said he paid 200 baht for it but would take 100 baht. Before I'd had a chance to answer, he'd whipped it off and handed it to me. I agreed to the 100 baht (Philippe said I should have bartered, but to me it was well worth the 1 pound 50p even with the musky body odour!) and the other men joked with him that he was a lady boy, which embarassed but amused him. I was well pleased with the purchase.
It started pouring with rain, and Philippe and I were not looking forward to our promised 90 minute trek to a cave. I do seem to have seen rather a lot of caves and waterfalls on this trip after all. After lunch, which my new friend cooked for us, we had a 3 minute ride in the boat along a narrow part of the lake, where some other tourists were getting into a boat to leave. From there our walk started and despite the rain, I really enjoyed the walk although from Philippe's silence I could tell he wasn't much. Lek walked ahead, and Chum was behind me but kept joking with me all the way. He carried a mask and spear with elastic rings at the end which he used for fishing. A couple of times he stopped to put his head in the water wearing his mask to check for fish, but came away empty handed. He very kindly fashioned me a bracelet and matching ring from a strong piece of tree twine.
We waded through streams a few times en route, and of course I was neurotic about the possibility of leeches. I had been told by the bungalow owner that there weren't really any, but thought that was a ploy to encourage me to book the trip! However she was right, and Lek going ahead seemed to find a couple only and I had none, thank goodness.
The cave contained bats, which Lek was keen to shine his torch at so that they flew around making me squirm, because that's another animal I'm not partial to. We just had a 15 minute walk in there as both Philippe and I agreed we had seen more beautiful caves than that one, and didn't fancy swimming in the cave, which was necessary to go further in.
We retraced our walk back to the boat, and stopped at the floating restaurant for fruit and tea, then returned to shore in the pouring rain. I was glad that weather during the journey over had been good as the scenery was quite stunning. By this time we just wanted to get back to have a shower as it was becoming a bit cold. In fact for the last couple of nights I hadn't had to use the fan as it was quite cool at night, which was a welcome change.
By the time we arrived back at Smiley Bungalows it was 1845. I went out for dinner to the Thai Herb restaurant with Philippe and was surprised to see a large group of people there. Usually there had just been me and perhaps a couple of other people. I wondered if they were an Intrepid tour group, and sure enough they were.