After a night flight into Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport, we headed across the city to Don Meung airport for a local flight down to Surat Thani in Southern Thailand. From here, we drove across to Khao Sok village, about 120km away.tutorial android
Upon arrival we were met and welcomed by our guide and jungle expert Na Doi. Doi, (‘Na’ means Uncle) was brought up in this region and was rehoused with his family when he was a child as they lived in the jungle valleys that the government would soon flood, as Ratchaprapha Dam was being built. Despite the upheaval for locals at this time, Cheow Larn Lake and the surrounding Khao Sok National Park have given the locals sources of income through tourism that they never had before. Khao Sok is the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world, and covers an area of 739 squared km. It has over 2,000 types of plant and thousands of animals, birds, reptiles, insects and fish.
We had previously contacted Na Doi to give him a rough idea of what we would like to do and see during our trip, our budget and how long we would be there. He did the rest, he booked our rooms, arranged boats and transport, and set us on our way. After checking into our rooms at Khao Sok River Lodge, we were taken to the river where another guide and some truck inner tubes awaited us. Our two-hour lazy river trip was totally amazing, we slowly floated along the meandering river, through the jungle and limestone cliffs with only the noise of the water and wildlife around us.
We were lucky enough to see long-tailed macaques jumping from tree to tree across the river, a mahout washing his young elephant in the river, kingfishers, eagles and a sleeping Banded Krait (snake) up in a tree. Na Doi picked us up and took us back to our hotel in Khao Sok to freshen up for dinner.
The next morning we left at 08:00hrs to drive to the boat port of Cheow Larn Lake which is at Ratchaprapha Dam, some 50km back towards Surat Thani. We paid the fee to enter the National Park and loaded our kit (including three inflatable SUPs) onto the boat. We set off on our 30km trip to the floating bungalows that we were staying in for the next three nights. Na Doi chose the location of these bungalows based on the fact that we wanted to SUP, there were plenty of small islands and coves around this area so a lot of opportunity to enjoy paddling and nature. We paddled during the afternoon, exploring the shores of the lake near to where we stayed and lapped up the regular afternoon showers whilst listening to the echoes of the insects, birds and calls of the gibbons from inside the jungle. The resort we stayed at, Phupa Waree, was all inclusive, basically three good meals per day. The food we had was exceptional (even for my wife and her mother, who are from Surat Thani), with a good variety and as much as you could eat, all served to your table.
There is so much to see and do around the lake, tours, caves, waterfalls, bird watching and trekking to name but a few. The wildlife is in abundance (look carefully as you cruise around!). Aside from our twice daily SUP tours, we took a trip to the north of the lake. This area is quite eerie, there was no wind and the lake was like a mirror, as it narrows towards the mouth of the main river, your boat goes through the forest of dead trees that sprout through the surface of the lake creating perches for the many birds. In this area, you can expect to see elephant, bison, deer and wild boar. Eagles soar overhead, great hornbills fly from tree to tree, gibbon’s sit up high in the canopy and, if you are really lucky, you may catch a glimpse of a large cat (tigers and leopards are breeding here) or bear.
We were relieved to hear that poaching in the National Park is almost at zero now. A government incentive to recruit the hunters and pay them as park rangers seems to have worked. The new rangers are experts in tracking the animals, know the jungle well and have a good network that can alert them to any untoward activities in the area, which can quickly be stopped. Na Doi impressed us with his knowledge of everything in the jungle and lake and also the care he took to ensure everything was kept clean, if he saw any litter he always picked it up to take back with him. We experienced an extreme hike up some small waterfalls, Na Doi told us when we returned that having managed that trail, we would be able to complete any other in the park. My legs were not thinking of doing any more walking at that time! Na Doi is a jungle survival expert, he is also a member of the Khao Sok cave rescue team. He received an award from the prime minister in 2007 after a daring rescue of an English tourist who was trapped in a flooded cave, an incident in which sadly eight others lost their lives. He was constantly on the lookout for our wellbeing whilst we travelled with him.
After three amazing days, we headed back across the lake and along the road to Khao Sok village. The next morning, still desperate for more action we asked if there were any secluded spots to take the SUP boards and paddle. The place we were taken to was around a 2km drive off of the road, through dense jungle (Rambo was out with his machete cutting a path!) and was like a scene from Jurassic Park. The limestone cliffs rose on the opposite side of the river with rock overhangs and waterfalls cascading down into the river. With the sound of nature around us, we set up and paddled upstream to explore. I can wholeheartedly say that I have never experienced anywhere so mind-blowingly beautiful and as natural as where we had been taken. If you ever needed to find your inner peace, this would be the best place to do it.
For our final day, we decided that we wanted a real jungle experience. We left at 09:00hrs to walk along the street to the entrance of the National Park. Na Doi was greeted by everyone and introduced us to the rangers. The trail we were taking was away from the regular tourist trails (our concierge was concerned where we were going until we told him who our guide was!).
It was a 6km walk to the waterfall, through bamboo and dense jungle, across rivers and streams and along high ledges way above the river below. Be prepared for leeches, although harmless, they are irritating and it is time consuming stopping to keep taking them out. You will get used to them in the end and on our return journey, due to the time, we decided we would stop only a couple of times to remove them. The hike was tough but rewarding.
We arrived at a waterfall and whilst we freshened up in the water, Na Doi was busy cutting down bamboo and building a fire where he would then prepare lunch – chicken and rice cooked inside bamboo, this meal was well needed and truly amazing. The hike back was tough to say the least, the steep inclines, heat and humidity had sucked all of the energy from us. We were glad when we finally arrived back at the entrance of the park, totally exhausted but in awe of this deep jungle experience. This was a six-hour cardio work out that will not be forgotten in a hurry.
We sure were sad that the trip had come to an end. I have been lucky enough to travel to many places across the globe and I can honestly say that for sheer beauty and excitement, this is now top of my list and I cannot wait to return to this untouched paradise.
Lake tip: Humidity levels are very high and it is difficult to get clothes dried. Take some washing liquid for clothes so you can freshen up your wet clothes before hanging out each night.
Jungle trekking: Please use a qualified guide at all times. The jungle, caves, rivers and surrounding areas are extremely dangerous and remote places. Keep your bags as light as possible and limited to essentials only
To take: Sturdy shoes/walking boots, lightweight clothes including trousers, water purifying tablets/tube, rain jacket, rucksack, mosquito spray, first aid kit (pharmacy in Khao Sok village but lake accommodation is remote). Small camera if hiking (you won’t be stopping to take your heavy SLR out), waterwear.
Please look up ‘Mr Toy Khao Sok’ for reviews and information or go to www.khaosok-jungleguide.com or www.facebook.com/pantoorat.khaosok/ to contact him for information on accommodation and tailored tours.
Words + Photos by: Leigh Pothecary