Monday 9th July
Baan Khao Sok Resort, Khao Sok National Park
We were awoken in the early hours by what sounded like biblical rainfall, though I suppose there are worse places for it to happen. You are pretty well placed to collect a lot of species here, though good luck finding a breeding pair of clouded leopards or tigers. Come to think of it, Noah would actually have his work cut out for him on the ability to collect two of every animal, what with the number of endangered species there are, if he had to do the ark thing now. Anyway, I digress. We thought “Oh, God! More rain!” as it continued for some time. We didn't think much more of it, but it was still raining when we got up finally and walked to the restaurant for breakfast before our planned trip to the local lake for a bit of jungle action (I do hope that's not slang for something sexual, which it sounds like it is). The owner said that the whole area next to the river had been flooded over night. It hadn't got over the steps into the open air restaurant, but it must have been close and this does have bearing on the later happenings today.
I was a little hungover after watching the whilst overindulging in Singha and started the day like Victoria Beckham. That is to say wearing sunglasses and regurgitating my breakfast,. We got our pick up for the lake trip which was a blue Chrysler pickup truck where we squeezed into the back seats which arrived at 8:30ish, took us to another lodge from where we set off in a songthaew with about 8 or 9 others. It was a bit of a squeeze and we were at the back so got a little wet with spray from the road. As we approached the place where we were to catch the boat the weather improved and the road dried and we even saw some sun for once.
We reached the lakeside and boarded a longtail boat with three Dutch girls and a French guy and his young son and we were away through the landscape of rugged limestone cliffs. Since it was sunny and we had forgotten to bring the sunscreen, I had to scrounge some from one of the Dutch girls or else I'd have ended up looking like a Coke can. I saw mentioned somewhere that this area is regarded as Thailand's Guilin, and as we made our way on the boat to the floating houses we were visiting I could see why. The scenery was breathtaking with the peaks covered in dense vegetation looking like dark green treacle poured over white ice cream. The impact was further enhanced by the billows of low cloud crowning a lot of the taller peaks. There wasn't perhaps as much wildlife to see as you might imagine. This is a man-made lake created for hydroelectric power so there are numerous dead trees poking up through the blue-green water where you might have expected to see birds perching, but on the way out we didn't see any. We did drift by a couple of islands to look first at a monitor lizard and secondly at a group of langurs leaping through the trees.
The pair of us in the boat as we set off.
Note the life jackets no-one else is wearing (after the day before we were taking no chances)
Another cliff view
Another stunning view
A longtail boat on the same route as us
Eventually we reached the floating houses which was our base from which to go and see the jungle. As we approached you are met with the site of a few low huts perched on rafts in front of a backdrop of green-shrouded cliffs. We could have done a longer trip which involved staying here if we'd fancied it, but given that it was the rainy season at present, we had decided it was not likely to be a great thing to do, though today would have been fantastic in the sun. Here we ate some food (standard Thai stirfry) and I was a little disappointed to see I'd passed up the chance for a swim or kayak on the placid water. As it happened, for the hour or so more we just hung out, we managed to see a single macaque come down to the water's edge (again if I'd thought more about what we might have been doing, I'd have brought our binoculars and might have known exactly what this monkey was doing, though given the nature of monkeys and their general lack of inhibition, this might not necessarily have been a good thing).
So came the time to get into the jungle to start our trek to visit some waterfall. Unlike for the other possible activities here, we were well prepared for this, having encountered leeches in damp rainforest in the past. We had rugged shoes, long trousers and plenty of mosquito repellent. Our fellow travellers weren't so well equipped, having shorts and sandals, so we looked on smuggly as we set off. We were in the longtail for the first few minutes to get us upstream on a river where we got out onto the slimy mud. We set off along the trail over a couple of gullies and into the forest where we came upon a small stream which we had to trudge through and which lead to a river/stream we were to ford. I say were, since what should have been a mildly flowing watercourse of perhaps a metre in depth had become a raging torrent with the huge downpour experienced upstream in Khao Sok, so we had to stop here, just five or ten minutes into our trip. On the plus side, where we stood we could see a sleeping python in a tree nearby which was good for some photos.
I think I'll call him Monty. The Count of Monty Constrictor
I think it's a Burmese reticulated one, sleeping off its last meal in a tree
So we walked back the boat and, working against the current and facing the wrong way, was difficult to manoeuvre to get back to the floating houses, but our guide and pilot managed it eventually.
Since we had missed the jungle trail, we were given a beer each (Chang, Thailand's second plased one but they do sponsor Everton FC) and taken later instead to another location on the lake to see some impressive scenery. Whilst watiting for the next stage and whilst drinking my beer I watched another couple of macaques leaping through some of the trees. Macaques in the wild are amazing animals to watch. They tend to be quite small, perhaps the size of a Staffy dog, but in urban and areas where they have a lot of contact with people they are a total pain in the arse, bigger (downright obese in some places) and effectively like smart rats who work in groups. I also used the opportunity to change out of my jungle attire which had gotten muddy and wet trudging through the stream, and into something more dry and comfortable. Once we set off we did actually see a fish eagle perched in one of the dead trees. We reached the location we had been heading for, and it was something special. An inlet against a cliff with one large island one one side and three small rocky outcrops at the end. It was peaceful, almost eerie but quite special. After this we set off back to the harbour and got caught in rainfall. We could see it in the distance across the lake and had hoped to outrun it, but alas not so it was time to done my very fetching rain poncho as loaned by our accommodation. We passed through the worst of this for a while but the rain had the same idea about where it wanted to go so we caught it up again as it headed towards the harbour drenching us.
A holy trinity of rock
Close up of one of the rocks
Here comes the rain again
We couldn't outrun it
We disembarked onto dry land again, a little wet when I learnt that the songthaew we had arrived on was broken down and that they had a broken roof on the replacement which didn't bode very well. As it transpired, the transport that did arrive was the pickup truck we had been ferried to the starting point on. Jane made a beeline to get on the inside whilst I held back to allow someone else to go inside, thinking that the little boy shouldn't go in the back and that his Dad should go with him. I also held back to see if any of the three Dutch girls wanted to. The boy sat on the knee of the guide who sat in the front so there was a spare adult place and the girls wanted to stick together so I did end up inside. The rain at the lake had subsided by now and as we set off the weather actually wasn't too bad, since it was largely dry with the occasional spit of rain. That was until we approached Khao Sok when it started to rain heavily for the last 15-20 mins of the trip. This made me feel somewhat guilty since these poor Dutch girls were getting drenched. Never mind, the guilt did pass in much the same way that New Amsterdam became New York.
We got out and freshened up in our room before heading out for a night on the tiles Khao Sok style. This didn't amount to much, to be honest since this was low season. We needed some cash so went to an ATM where we had some fun. I wanted to get B5000 out but the machine wouldn't let me. I tried again with B4000 but still wouldn't let me. I then figured out that all it contained were B100 notes and wouldn't dispense anything more than 20 notes at a time so I did two withdrawals of B2000 so we had enough money to pay our food bill at Baan Khao Sok as well as our transport out the next day. Also, I was stood waiting for my card to be returned, but a Thai girl who worked at the minimart where the ATM was located jumped in to press a button that the machine was waiting on me to press. It was asking some question in Thai that I couldn't read although the responses were listed in English as accept or reject. I was told it would have swallowed my cards if I'd not answered within a few seconds whch is not ideal in a foreign country.
We had dinner at a restaurant called Pawn, eventually. We had noticed this was busy the night before so thought we'd give it a try. However, it as full when we first walked past (not difficult since they only have about 7 tables) so wandered further up the road to find another place. The only one that looked OK and relatively busy was the pizzeria and I'm not so sick of Thai food that I want to resort to pizza just yet. We wandered back to Pawn and there were tables free so we ate here. It was a good choice since it was some of the best Thai food we'd had. My dish was gaeng som moo, a southern Thai hot and sour curry with pineapple and it was fantastic.
We'd fancied another drink at Morning Mist but they were just shutting (well, it was past 9:30) so we returned back to our treehouse and enjoyed a whiskey and Coke before bed. For once it hadn't been raining, but it was still stupidly damp and none of our wet clothes from our time here had dried. The dampness is best exemplified by the fact that there we had acquired a small frog in our bathroom, probably also pissed off at the weather and looking for somewhere to keep out of the rain.