Monday, February 11, 2013

Mountains and jungles and monkeys, oh my!

It’s impossible to describe how intensely amazing Khao Sok is, but I will try. It’s the type of landscape you imagine seeing on a BBC program narrated by David Attenborough. We spent a night in a floating rafthouse on Cheow Lan Lake, a turquoise man-made lake in the National Park, and spent our time blissfully swimming in fresh water, gawking at the massive limestone cliffs and mountains, admiring the lush jungle watching for monkeys, and looking at the stars.

We went on an evening “safari” in the longtail, and we had barely gone around the point when we spotted several Spectacled Langurs jumping along the shore and then climbing some vines before they disappeared into the jungle. Then moments later we saw a wild boar! The rest of the safari was a bust for indigenous fauna, but did prove to be an interesting opportunity to observe the courting rituals between the twenty-year-olds on the boat. (The noise level of which may be the reason why there were no other wildlife spottings… argh.)

The second day, after rising early to watch the incredible sunrise, we went on a cave and jungle hike. On the way there, a prehistoric looking Hornbill lifted off and flapped slowly above our heads. Amazing. The jungle was thick with bamboo, twisting vines, and incredibly tall trees with massive flanged trunks that rose well above the canopy. We traversed several small streams, and some hikers picked up temporary leech friends. Our guides made some face paint by rubbing some river rocks together, and painted us all with our tribal markings. I think we were the Cat Clan. Or at least we all looked like Halloween Cats…

Our jungle trek brought us to Nam Talu Cave. We hadn’t gone far into this bat-filled cave, just far enough that we’d lost all natural light, before one of the guides paused to allow everyone to gather, then cast his headlamp toward the wall beside our heads where there was a massive spider, at least 6 inches across (the kind of spider that when you ask me about it in five years, I’ll say “it was a good foot across, she was!”); and then he cast his light down on the rocks by our nearly-bare feet where there was an even bigger spider! And then to the cave floor where he illuminated what appeared to be hundreds of spiders which he said were actually a type of cricket. We hiked over rocks and waded through increasingly deep water, past stalagmites and under stalactites, and as you steadied yourself you could feel the smooth walls pock-marked by the various geological forces. Incredible.

The cave narrowed sharply at one point, funneling the water into a series of forceful waterfalls, and the only way forward was over the falls. To say the very least: it was tricky. Compared to that, wading/swimming through neck-high water seemed easy. But we all felt like champs after about an hour when we finally saw daylight again. Had we not been in a group, I never would have entered that cave, but there’s safety in numbers, right?

We bookended our rafthouse stay at a bungalow near the park entrance where we could hear Gibbons calling to each other, their distinctive hoots and howls unmistakable. We also saw a big scorpion on the path, which one of the owners restrained with a popsicle stick and a cleaver, so that he could cut off its stinger and move it to a quieter location in the garden. Jungle life is intense!

Morning view from the bungalows at Smilie's.

Dead trees from the flooding of the lake in 1982

Kayaking around in the scorchingly hot sun!
Heading out on our "safari"

Boar! (Didn't act quick enough to get any shots of the monkeys...)

Incredible forests


Starry starry night

The type of sunrise you roll out of bed for.

And then go for a swim and watch the sun continue to rise.

Kitty and wicked cool tree root in the jungle.

Kitty entering the cave.

Cats on parade through the river in the cave


Captain Cat helping us out of a jam.

Happy, wind-blown cats.

Kitty and lake spray.

(Boat for scale)


  1. wow. these photos are my favourites yet. such awesome adventures!

    1. Thanks, Dan! It's funny, I was just lamenting how these photos really don't capture how beautiful it was -- so just imagine it a million times more awesome than it looks! :)

  2. WOW - really beautiful photos. I think we would love the adventure in this area (minus the spiders)!!!!!
    Chey xo

  3. just when I think you couldn't possibly present landscapes that are more beautiful than those you've already just keeps getting better and better!
    incredible - but I agree - minus the spiders!
    (I'm almost caught up!)