Howard and Elaine recently returned from their trip to Thailand where they spotted lizards, macaques and hornbills in the rainforest. They chose our bite-sized trip ‘Giant Trees and Lakes of Khao Sok‘, staying in floating raft houses in Khao Sok National Park. Here, they take us on a journey through a lens and tell you all about their memorable experience…
‘We arrived at Surat Thani on the overnight sleeper train, where 8 of us were picked up for transfer to Khao Sok.
After an hour’s drive we were at a pier thronging with longtail boats and were directed to one of them. Our main cases went on and we just took overnight bags with us for our one night stay. We had a beautiful hour-long ride across the lake which was formed 30-odd years ago when the dam was built.
The scenery is limestone karsts, massive chunks of jagged limestone with sheer cliffs, and many separate islands reaching high into the sky and covered with tropical forest wherever it can get a root hold.
At the end of the ride we approached a string of cabins, floating on the lake itself. There were older ones in traditional style, with woven bamboo matting for walls and thatched roofs, and floating on bamboo rafts. There were also some newer ones, square and floating on blue drums. We were all in the newer ones, with staff and Thai guests in the traditional ones. This was the one place on our Thailand holiday that was considered ‘basic’ accommodation and there was a shared bathroom just down the gangplank, but the whole thing was both charming and magnificent. We spent the remainder of the afternoon swimming in the warm waters and taking kayaks out for a paddle.
That evening we piled back into the longtail boat for a short trip to another part of the shoreline. We were taken for a walk up and over a steep hillside, and down the other side to yet another little pier with a few families living on floating rafts.
In due course it was our turn to hop onto one of the bamboo rafts, which sat rather low in the water and gave us all wet feet. It was powered the same as a longtail, with a motor and a propeller on a long shaft. We visited a fairly small cave, with a few stalactites and stalagmites and some nice bits of glittery crystal.
Dinner from the lake!
Back at the cabins we had dinner in the floating dining room. The meals we had here were the best of the whole Thailand trip – with 8 of us there, the cook simply checked for dietary issues and then put out a selection of dishes, so we got to try all sorts of things we might not have chosen otherwise. That evening, we had a whole pan-fried giant gourami fresh out of the lake! We were told that breakfast next morning would be at 8am. Then we were told that the boat trip would be at 7am and breakfast came afterwards…
Sunrise boat trip
We had a great trip next morning with our dawn boat ride and saw plenty of long tailed macaques, gibbons and langurs – mostly high in the treetops, so we all ended up with ‘rainforest neck’ from constantly looking up. The macaques even swim from one karst-island to the next; we watched one coming ashore by our floating village.
Art’s Riverside Lodge
From the floating cabins, it took us an hour on the longtail boat back to the pier, then onto the now familiar bench seat in the back of a ute. We stopped at a market, where we checked out the local produce: a wonderful selection of fruits and vegetables, seasonings, meats, fish and shellfish, desserts – even the odd bag of fresh ants’ eggs, or fried frogs. Slushy style drinks were served in a small carrier bag with handles, and a straw. Always the meats and fish were on great mounds of ice, but then it was usually about 35C in the daytimes so would not have lasted long otherwise.
Finally we arrived at Art’s Riverside Lodge, our rainforest hideaway, and caught up with our luggage. This time we were in a wooden building on stilts, tucked into the rainforest beside a river. In fact, so well tucked in, that when it got dark that evening we had trouble finding it! It consisted of a large room with a double and two single beds, all with mosquito nets, and shutters across the glassless windows. It had power, and a couple of fans to keep us cool. A door at the back led to a charming outside bathroom where the toilet and sink were under a roof overhang.
The shower was right out in the open, with the water flowing over a waterfall that you stood under. The bathroom walls had tropical clambering plants in little nooks so the whole thing felt very lush and private. But oops, I forgot the warning – don’t leave your shampoo outside or the monkeys will come and take it! Fortunately I rescued it before they found it.
We finished the afternoon with a rather decadent oil massage and had cocktails before dinner. There were some wonderful English translations in the menu – we didn’t try the ‘bloody marry’ cocktail which had ‘tobacco sauce’ among its ingredients…
Next day was our All Day Jungle Hike, the most taxing day of the holiday. It was only 10 kilometres, but with temps around 35C and very high humidity we were pouring with sweat all day. Fortunately we took plenty of water but could easily have drunk more by the time we’d finished.
Most of the park tracks were fairly level but there were a couple of sections which were just about vertical for a few metres, down a gully and up the other side, relying on tree roots and branches to hang onto and haul ourselves up or down.
We stopped for a swim at a picturesque waterhole, with butterflies congregating on the wet mud and fish in the river. A couple of Thais were making a brew here, they had cut down a piece of green bamboo and were using a section of the stem as a container, directly over the fire to boil water in. Apparently you can use that a couple of times before it dries out enough to burn. Adam also showed us another trick with bamboo later on – with his machete he tapped a stem section to find a water level within, and then chipped a small hole just above the water. With a hollow piece of bamboo as a straw, you can always reach fresh water in the rainforest like this.
On the way back we saw monkeys and birds and plenty more lizards and spiders, but by now the heat of the day was telling and we were getting very tired. Everyone else on these tours was about half our age, so perhaps we had a bit of an excuse for lagging! Anyway, we finally made it back to the Lodge.
We walked out from the Lodge and down local roads, then through a rubber plantation where each tree had a cup fixed to catch sap from a cut in the bark. A little further up the road we entered the Khao Sok National Park. Our guide, Adam, was very good at spotting all sorts of wildlife and we saw many different lizards, a long but pencil-thin snake, and spiders of all sorts including a sizeable tarantula tucked away in its web-lined burrow. Adam used a stick to tempt it out where we could see a bit more of it, including some vicious looking fangs!
Back at the Lodge, it was particularly hot and sticky and we had a thunderstorm that afternoon, along with a power cut. Dinner was by the light of an oil lamp. The best thing was that with the lamps by the path out due to the power cut, we were able to see fireflies as we walked back to our room.
Now it was time to leave the rainforest and head for the Thailand beaches – and also to leave Buddhist Thailand and head for Muslim Thailand.”