The huge engine on the back of our longtail boat roars with a lot of noise as we make our way through Khao Sok National Park. The flat water is surrounded by steep, karsten cliffs of white, red and yellow limestone framed by the dark green foliage of forest giants. The dense rain forest of Khao Sok houses an enormous variation in wildlife and hides impressive cave systems. The next two days we’ll be exploring this green paradise in southern Thailand and will spend the night in a floating cabin. How much fun is that!!!
Southern Thailand’s green pearl
We’re on our way towards a tributary of Cheow Lan Lake, deep in Khao Sok National Park. The 160 million year old rainforest lies more or less between Phuket, Krabi and Koh Samui and is one of the oldest in the world. It’s pristine with a unique variation in plant and animal life. This forest houses one of the world’s largest flowers and it’s one of the last places where you can run into forest elephants or tigers. Though you’d have a bigger chance winning the lottery.
To preserve the park for the future, Khao Sok was decided to become a national park in 1980. A great decision if you ask me! A bit strange however was that only two years after that a decision was made to build a dam. This resulted in the flooding of no less than 165 square kilometer of this beautiful rainforest. What a waste, but the upside: Cheao Lan Lake provides for a beautiful boat ride with awesome views.
The floating cabins
After boating for an hour we make our way onto one of the lakes tributaries. Just in front of a wall of dense, dark green rainforest floats a long row of tiny bamboo cabins. From here we will explore the surrounding area for these two days. It looks amazing and completely fits into the surroundings. No luxury resort, just a basic bamboo cabin with only a matrass on the floor and a mosquito net above it. As basic as a stay in the jungle should be. At least, that’s my opinion. I love it!
Though the boat ride was amazing, it’s great to get of the wobbly longtail. As soon as the massive engine is turned off there’s this overwhelming peace grabbing us. Not that the journey so far has been stressful in any way, but it feels like somethings lifting from my shoulders, the moment I set foot on the dock. The view, the sounds… It impossible not to feel instantly and extremely relaxed over here.
It impossible not to feel instantly and extremely relaxed
Jungle trek to See Ru Cave
After an hour of lunch and and swimming in the wonderfull water surrounding the cabins, Jarjar, our guide, takes us into the jungle. The narrow path winds around the massive trees and through the dense undergrowth of Khao Sok. Now and then the forest makes way for a shallow stream of an open spot, but mostly you can’t see further then a few meters in front of you.
Between the dense foliage we look for monkeys and wild pigs. Every now and then we hear rustling of the leaves, but each time the wildlife has fleed before we see them. Bad luck (and too much noise from our side I guess), but the many beautiful butterflies, hairy caterpillars and spiders as big as my hand do make up for it.
After about an hour we get at See Ru Cave. The cave has four massive entrances which meet in one large central space. It looks more like a cathedral then a cave. The multiple exits of the cave made it an ideal hideout for Thai communist in the seventies. The only thing that still remembers this little fact are several bullet hole in the cave wall. I guess they must have needed the four entrances.
On our way back we are remembered that this is a rainforest. It starts with a few drops, but quickly turns into a downpour. In less than no time we are soaked. This goes on well into the evening with which our night safari gets canceled too. Several hours into the night the noise of falling water makes way for the next spectacle: the symphony of the night. It seems like everything that is able to make any noise does so lustily. It’s amazing how many different sounds this forest can produce. It wonderful to listen to, so incredibly restful I have absolutely no problem falling asleep… in my cabin… floating on water…
Khao Sok awakens
We wake well before the sun. The water is as smooth as one can imaging and between the oddly shaped mountains hang patches of fog. This early in the morning there’s a mysterious but really soothing atmosphere.
We get into the longtail boat to find some wildlife. Early morning should be the best time for this. Animals will be looking for food and will show themselves more easily. The boat engine awakes with a large roar and slowly we glide across the water. Jarjar peers deep into the foliage trying to find gibbons, hornbills or a family of deer, but no luck so far. Too bad, but with views like this it’s not too bad.
Meanwhile the sun peeks over the mountain tops. The fog turns from white to yellow and a warm, soft light brightens the rainforest. As temperatures start to rise the fog dissolves and we head back to the floating cabins. Nearly back we spot a family of macaques. We get a small glimpse of their lives before they head back into the forest and disappear from sight.
Cave tour in your bathing suitBack from morning safari we take another dive before heading back into the forest for the last, and most spectacular tour. This time we (or at least I) go bare feet. This is so much more relaxed than with shoes. I feel free, one with nature. Not having to worry about water or mudd getting its way into my shoes. The ultimate jungle feeling. 🙂
After a nice walk we get to the entrance of Nam Ta Lu Cave. Yesterdays cave was nice, but this one is awesome. From a fairly small hole in the wall comes a small stream of clear cool water. We wade through the shallow stream and crawl through the narrow opening. Usually when entering caves you are fitted with all kinds of safety gear. But not here. I like it. Only armed with a small torch and our bathing suits we climb and crawl through the mountain. Wading through streams, climbing over rocks. Through narrow passageways with waterfalls pounding on our heads and large open spaces which cockroaches with long antennae call their home. This is sooooo much fun!
Time seemes to have stopped as we emerge from the other side of the cave. I have no idea how long it has been since we entered the cave. Half an hour? An hour? More? I have no clue. I wasn’t cold inside, but temperatures outside are far more comfortable and my slightly numb fingers start to feel warm again.
The end of tranquility?
Back at the floating cabins we take the longtail boat for one last time: back to civilisation. It’s again a beautiful boat ride, but my mind seems to wander off. As we get closer to the dam from where we started our trip, the busier it gets with other boats. This growing number of boats gets me thinking. Khao Sok feels pure, it feels wild. Just as nature is supposed to be. There’s a presence of people, but it’s all so small scale, so natural. It fits with this environment. There’s no flashy resorts, no hip hostels, no mass tourism.
There are so little of these places left. Unique, awesome, beautiful and quiet. Not flooded with masses of people who “must” check this from their list. I would love to keep this place for myself, but I will recommend you to go there… but please… not all at once. 😉