Thailand: Khao Sok
Phuket was a bit of a mixed bag for us. We were intimidated by anarchic traffic that made it difficult for us to get around on our own. Most of the island is paved over and built up with shops and tourist attractions. Huge, garish billboards sporting sexy western models and advertising slogans in English littered the roadways.
Fortunately, Isaac, Julius and Carrie all recommended that we visit Khao Sok, a beautiful man-made lake in a national forest preserve about 100 miles north of Phuket, on the mainland of Thailand.
We had the good sense to heed their advice, so we made reservations to stay in one of the floating bamboo bunglows.
We were met at the shore by our guide, a boatman whose name is difficult for westerners to pronounce and, consequently, goes by the name "A." He was accompanied by his wife, who would cook for us.
The longboat, taking us to our home for the next 3 days, laden with food and water for our stay.
The boat ride to our temporary home took over an hour. The sun was shining with a refreshing breeze, and we had every reason to hope for continued gorgeous, sunny weather . . .
Michele, on the boat ride to our floating bungalow.
. . . as we passed breath-taking limestone cliffs and craggy, sculpted ridgetops.
Some of the limestone cliffs jutting up out of the waters of Khao Sok.
The further out we went, the more dramatic the cliffs became.
Although there were several huts, we were the only guests that week at this remote outpost.
Our first view of our Khao Sok floating bungalow.
As soon as we landed the rains came with only short breaks in the coming days between rain, showers, downpours, torrents and thundering deluges.It was exhilarating!
The rain, as seen from under the eaves of our bungalow.
A’s wife, Bang, was a GREAT cook. Our first lunch there we were brought dish after dish, seemingly without end…beautiful fish, omelets, rice dishes, and always fresh pineapple and watermelon slices for dessert. Later they downsized the offerings to a more consumable level. Bang made a yummy warm tapioca bean-like dessert, which instantly became a new “comfort” food for me.
After lunch we took a boat ride to a waterfall, where we hiked, sloshing through mid-calf water on our way up, making our way on amazingly unslippery rocks.
Michele and Glenn, thoroughly drenched, returning from the hike to the waterfall.
A, our guide, showed us huge banyan trees which had grown parasitically on other trees, devouring them, leaving large voids.
Inside the banyan tree root canopy.
A and the accompanying park ranger chopped fresh bamboo to add to our evening curry dish. They harvested it from what looked like bamboo stumps and peeled it, revealing the white bamboo flesh.
"A," our guide, harvesting wild bamboo shoots while the park ranger looks on.
The next day the rains broke long enough to give us hope to launch the boat for a hike to the “Viewpoint.” We made our jungle trek to the vista wearing much-needed full-body ponchos, as the rains came minutes after leaving home base. We scrambled over craggy rocks past towering limestone outcrops.
Our first thought was: "We're supposed to climb THAT?!? Not to worry, though; we skirted it.
The leaf umbrella didn't keep Michele dry, but she didn't mind.
The “Viewpoint” was almost entirely shrouded by mist and clouds, but still beautiful. We stayed for a while hoping for a clearing. At one point I was able to discern lake from mist…but only barely.
Well, we couldn't see much of the lake, but the trees were nice.
When we were on our way back down, our guide turned and saw large patches of blood on my pant legs, where LEECHES!!! had feasted. I hadn’t felt a bite, and yet they had entered my legs at several places and injected a chemical that keeps the blood from clotting. They drank their fill and then split. The leeches were gone, but the blood was still streaming. My trust in A’s assurance that there was nothing to worry about eased my mind long before the blood stopped flowing.
On the way back to our huts, A spotted an old female elephant in the wild eating great swaths of bamboo while defecating large balls of feces. Sightings of elephants in the wild are very unusual. We stopped the boat and floated for several minutes to appreciate this rarity.
A wild elephant enjoying a relaxing bamboo breakfast.
When it cleared again, we kayaked until the darkening clouds drove us back. So far from any civilization we were able to hear unfamiliar jungle sounds, which may have been insects or other animals. Since we couldn’t see any animals, it felt to us that the jungle itself was pulsing the sounds.
We had to move away from the edge of our bamboo “porch” as the wind sent gusts of rain making shimmering current patterns on the surface of the lake. It looked like a black and white Ansel Adams photo with the dying remains of trees sticking out of the water, mist covering the near distance and all else “whited-out.”
A black-and-white afternoon, thanks to the heavy rains.
We stayed warm and cozy in the night in spite of the thrashing winds banging our bamboo door open and closed. Mostly we slept with it open enjoying the wildness of it all. And yet I felt very protected by the thatched roof, (underlayed with a blue tarp) and the knowledgeable staff of this floating village.
Our bamboo bungalow kept us dry despite the downpours.
Even a hike up this path to the bathroom felt a bit adventurous in the night.
The path up to the bathrooms.
Our final morning in Khao Sok we swam and felt very content with our time at this beautiful outpost of Thailand.
We swam and Kayaked on the beautiful waters of the lake.
On our boat ride back in the longboat, we stopped by Diamond Cave.
A longboat docked at Diamond Cave.
Glenn, wearing a headlight, preparing to enter the cave.
Beautiful soda-straw stalagtites hung glistening from the top of the cave.
Soda-straw stalagtites that gave off an eerie glow at their ends.
We left Khao Sok reluctantly. Any doubts that we had about the beauty of Thailand were left by the lakeside.