Thursday, February 14, 2013

Khao Sok: So Worth It!

We arrived in Khao Sok a bit deflated, sad to be parting from our friends and adjusting to having only each other's company again. However, I had been looking forward to this stop since long before our departure, so I quickly started sorting out what we were going to do. The thing I was most excited about was a visit to Chiaw Lan Lake, created nearly 30 years ago when the .....was damned. It is a huge freshwater lake in the middle of the jungle, with wild elephants, tigers, and water buffalo roaming its protects terrain. On the lake they have floating rafts where tourists can spend the night on the lake, or many simply take day trips.

The hike that did me in.
We had already talked to a number of people who had been here and gone to the lake, and we were given mixed reviews. However, I knew that the place was spectacular, so I figured we had to simply find thrift tour that would give us the experience we wanted. I walked around asking every guest house and tourist shop about their lake tours, and they did not differ in the slightest. They all did the same things, went to the exact same places, and charged the same price. But there was one guy I had talked to that stood out. He wasn't pushy and didn't try to sell me on his tour. He simply said that they were a family place, they they were from the area, and we could do a private tour and avoid all the tourists. We just needed 2 more people to make it feasible. I found a Danish family with 2 young girls, the Danielsen's, who were interested, and we got our timing sorted out to leave on Wednesday. (We know now how lucky we were to find this family!)

In the meantime I thought we would take a hike through the national park and throw Simon on my back. Bad idea. The hike was about 6km round trip, a bit hilly, and it was hot. By that night I was completely nauseous and couldn't eat and my back was killing me. The next day I didn't leave our bungalow, didn't eat, and was uncomfortable moving. By the next morning, as geared up for our trip to the lake, I was feeling much better but surprisingly not 100%. We were off.

Tua, our guide, drove us to the lake. He has been guiding for more than 30 years and his parents grew up in the villages that flooded when the dam was built. He knew everything about every animal. He could immediately identify any bird, spider, or animal track. He took special care of the kids, worrying about them more than their own parents. We had struck gold with this guy!

The rafts we stayed on were basic but perfectly fine. There were about 20 huts, and we were the only people there. The docks were not well maintained, with nails sticking out and broken boards abound, so we were careful. We swam in the warm waters and took boat rides to look for wildlife. We saw a few monkeys, white breasted eagles, hornbills, and even a jumper spider which we learned is very poisonous to humans! I liked to imagine what lay just behind the jungle edges, wild elephants, tigers, or wild boars peaking out at us. On an early. On an early morning kayaking trip, we could hear a large animal tramping through the thick vegetation not far from shore, but he declined to show himself.

The floating raft houses.
Simon had become fast friends with Hanna (9) and Rebecca (7), the two Danish girls. Simon constantly beckoned them to "come look'" and they took excellent care of him, making sure he walked safely along the dock and helping him in and out of the boat. Everyone was happy!

That night the stars shine brilliantly out in our private jungle paradise. Sleep was not so easy as I was still sick and Simon was burning with a fever of 104F (40C) so I was worried and giving him medicine and water all night. He did not seem too bothered at all. We did not let it slow us down much.

Doesn't look sick, right?
We toured some more fingers of the expansive lake and enjoyed watching the scenery shift from rolling hills to jagged limestone mountains, all of it stunning. We stopped for lunch, swam, and checked out a cave with lots of bats and big spiders.

Spider hunting!
Spider hunting!
The best part was that our entire trip was nearly tourist free. We saw a few more boats the second day, but spent no time at sites where there were more than a few other people. Amazingly, this lake receives less tourists per year than nearby Phang Nha National Park receives in a week. It's in all the guidebooks, but remains a hidden treasure. I am not sure for how much longer though....

The whole crew!
When we finally made our way back to the pier, we could not believe that it had been just a one night trip. It was so full of intense and new experiences that it felt like a long weekend. Had Simon and I been feeling better (I still felt quite nauseous!) we might have stayed another night, but we left feeling like we were in on a little Thai secret...


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