Well the rainy season has arrived. At least where we are anyway. We’ve had rain now for the last 18 days and I have to admit it is quite welcome due to the cooler temperatures it brings with it. It isn’t raining all day every day, either short sharp impressive storms or persistent rain for several hours.
We’ve spent the last four (wet) days at Khao Sok National Park, arriving a day later and with a lighter wallet than anticipated after a frustrating visa run to Burma. Our Visa’s expired the day we left the meditation retreat, but we didn’t reach the border control at Ranong before it closed for the night (4.30 pm), hence the following day we had to pay a 500 baht fine each. The idea behind the visa run is you leave Thailand, cross a big river to Burma, get your passport stamped in and out of Burma then get a new 30 day visa for free on entry to Thailand. You have to pay $10 in Burma for the privilege and we’d saved a $20 note from Cambodia however they wouldn’t accept it as it had a slight ink stain on it. As a result we had to pay 1000 baht, which worked out considerably more than $20. (IF YOU’VE HAPPENED UPON THIS PAGE WHILE SEARCHING FOR “VISA RUN RANONG” ON THE WEB, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE NEW CRISP DOLLAR BILLS). With the arguing of exchange rates we took longer than expected and as a direct result missed the last bus from Takua Pa to Khao Sok National Park. As I said, frustrating. Still, on a positive note, I can now say I’ve been to Burma (for 40 minutes) and the night market in Takua Pa that we inadvertently discovered was fantastic. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Thai food is great.
Khao Sok; National Park and tropical / semi rain forests is a beautiful place. Along with the dense green jungle, we were presented with huge limestone karsts towering hundreds of metres above the forest and lakes. On the first day we spent the afternoon trekking in the most dense jungle I’ve ever been in. So little light gets though, the ground is always wet (as it takes so long for the rain to filter through the canopy) and the humidity is stifling. Although we didn’t see much wildlife we certainly heard it. We did however have too closer contact with leeches. This was the first time I’d seen one of the cretinous little things, and they truly are repulsive beings. They are worm like and stand on either end searching for you before “walking” at you (like those crazy springs that you used to let “walk” down the stairs at home). The buggers will often make their way onto your shoes and up you legs before tucking into your blood (most often unnoticed) and they are difficult to pull off when they do. Once you’ve got them off, you bleed loads because they put something in your blood so that it doesn’t congeal. Like I said, horrible little things.
For our second and third days in the park we went on an expensive tour, but after the experience I know it was worth it. We were taken up to the huge reservoir where our group of six we taken around in a long tail boat. Along with taking in the stunning scenery we went for a swim in the middle of the very warm reservoir. Later that day we trekked up to the Namtaloo caves, fording several rivers and streams in the process. Although having been in many limestone caves in SE Asia, I’d not been in anything like this. This was a river cave so we were always knee deep in gushing water, sometimes having to swim or scale waterfalls until we reached the furthest we could safely go given the level of water, some 300 metres in. The underground waterfalls and rock formations were incredible. A scary yet exhilarating experience, I was once again reminded of the power of nature and of our impermanence.
Overnight we stayed on bamboo rafts huts set in a stunning landscape, but I’ll let the picture below do the talking here. We were treated to the best tour food I’ve ever experienced. Instead of fried rice we were brought a buffet of curries, soups, fried chicken and pork along with fresh fried fish caught that day by our boatman. On both days we ate incredibly well. What was I saying about Thai food?
On the second day I woke up to the scene shown below (this is the view from my raft hut) before going kayaking looking for monkeys on the far shore. Everyone else saw some, we were not so lucky. Later on we trekked to another cave (the name escapes me) which were full of incredible stalactite / stalagmite formations.
Along with the breathtaking nature surrounding us we were joined by three Germans, Stefan, Julia and Pete, and an Englishman, Michael, on the trip. All very friendly, although I must confess I wasn’t as talkative as normal, possibly a throw back from the solitude and silence of the meditation retreat. Oh, and for those of you that were waiting for a report of said retreat, you’ll have to be more patient. I can’t even begin to do it justice while killing a few hours waiting for a train to Malaysia.