And now for something completely different! A short flight south to Surat Thani airport, and a 90 minute taxi ride into the staggeringly scenic Khao Sok national park. The landscape is essentially jungle interspersed with dramatic ridges and outcrops of Karst limestone. It was almost dark when we arrived at our accommodation, down a narrow bumpy lane. A group of tree houses in the jungle!
We have met lots of people on our travels, but so far, very few British people travelling independently. Many Europeans, Indians and Chinese tourists, a few Americans, and people from Australia and New Zealand.From our chats we have learned that we are not Backpackers, but Flashpackers! We might use a flight transfer rather than the packed 12 hour night bus. We use B&bs rather than hostels, and eat in nice restaurants! Well, it's nearly all true! However in order to do this type of trip we have a very strict budget. We fill up on breakfast if it is included, and then just have one other meal each day, often in a local restaurant, so that we can save up, and once or twice a week have a slighly more upmarket meal! Similarly, I look for the best accommodation I can get but economise where possible, often paying just a few £s more that a shared room or dormitory, but with our own bathroom. So, to achieve this in Khao Sok we booked a treehouse in Baan Khaosok resort.. the one with a fan not aircon as it was half the price! On the edge of The village but in the jungle, by the river, it was another world from Bangkok. Unfortunately their cafe was closed, as they were building a new one on higher ground, as this whole building, their current breakfast room and cafe, gets flooded each rainy season up to waist deep.
Our room was up a steep spiral staircase which we negotiated for the first time in the dark. It was simple, and clean, but very hot and humid. However the fan did the job, and luckily it cooled down enough at night so we could turn it off. We were pleased to see screens on the windows, and a mosquito net over the bed...and then noticed knot holes in the timbers that a slim snake could easily get through, never mind a mosquito!! All part of the fun!! No early morning bugler here... but cicadas, crickets and monkeys made a quite fabulous night time serenade. We awoke to the sound of monkeys playing on the metal roof! They were great fun to watch, and they loved swinging across the river. They did not like getting their feet wet and would go to great lengths to swing far enough so that they could get their feet (or hands in this case) onto dry ground!
A good breakfast and then we were picked up for a trip to the huge Cheow Lan lake at the centre of the park, created when the river was dammed in 1985, to generate electricity.
It seemed as if minibuses were converging on the lake pier from all directions, and with the usual Thai organised chaos, we met our guide and joined 18 others in one of the many long tailed boats for our day on the lake. No haze here, and the views were stunning. We bounced across the waves at up to 20 knots, never tiring of the changing outlook.
We were saddened that there were very few birds there, although the ones we did glimpse were great. A great hornbill, Sea Eagle, Brahminy Kite and beautiful kingfishers. Our first stop was the coral cave. At this point I should point out that if you are worried about health and safety, don't do trips like this in Thailand!! The way the boat was parked, and the dexterity needed to get on and off changed every time, with mooring ropes to trip over, water to fall in, and your boat being whacked by the next boat trying to squeeze in alongside. And then the steps to the cave!!!! But it is part of travel and we got on with it... and the Caves were really worth it. Some incredible limestone formations and flow stone, and, as a bonus, bats roosting and flying around. Brilliant!
Back to the boat and off to a landing stage for a stroll in the jungle! Admittedly on a well trodden path, but lots of information about how long a rattan stem can grow, and medicinal and culinary uses of jungle plants.... and some excellent banana street food snacks to keep us going!
Back on the boat, past more incredible formations to a floating restaurant.
Food was mediocre, but the view was gorgeous. There were kayaks available, and swimming was an option. Sadly Chris developed a hernia at Christmes, and so kayaking is not an option on this trip, so we just sat and enjoyed this little corner of paradise.
Finally, back to the pier and to the hotel, where, in our attempt to maximise our experiences here, we had booked to go on the Night safari walk.. which left an hour after we returned! It was great. A ride through town in a bouncy open backed jeep, then back into the National park for 2 hours on foot with an excellent guide, and torches. We were briefed that this would be mainly looking for insects, and possibly snakes. As you shone your torch there was a definite mix of emotions... hope and excitement that you might find something ....and terror in case you did!! The tour didn't disappoint! Everything was giant sized. 3 inch long crickets, bigger green bugs, singing river frogs, and huge stick insects at least a foot long. More like branch insects than stick insects. Please excuse the photography. It was with my phone in the dark!
Then there were scorpions, a huge centipede, tarantulas in their burrows, a huge spider that I wish was in its burrow, and 2 apparently venomous vipers asleep in the tree above our heads!
We saw white faced monkeys sleeping in the trees, frogs peeking out of holes in trees, chameleons, sadly on pale backgrounds, and a large moth that liked my shirt and kept landing on me!
An excellent evening. Next morning we were due to leave, but fitted in an early visit to the elephant sanctuary nearby. It is run by a family with a passion for elephants. We wanted to visit one that seemed as ethical as possible, and didn't offer rides, or similar activities. The family have just rescued 2 elderly elephants so far, Wassana from logging and Maruay from the circus.
They both have scars from their previous lives. They now have a huge secure area of jungle and river where they are free to roam, however they know that visitors mean food, and soon appeared after we arrived. We were told that we could feed them palm leaves and bananas if they were interested, but if they weren't, they were free to wander off. They were definitely interested!! We were allowed to go up close and have our photos taken and they would both curl their trunks towards you looking for an extra banana! When we walked away, they followed! It was a wonderful experience, and we are so glad these two senior elephants are getting good care, kindness and a lot more freedom than they have ever had before in their lives.
Then straight into a taxi bus for 2.5 hours to our next destination, the seaside town of Krabi. Krabi Town itself is on the estuary of the Krabi river leading into the Andaman sea. Its beaches are around the corner at busy, crowded and party town Ao Nang. Neither really appealed to us, and I found a small guest house in the rural area between the 2. In fact it was right by the shore, next to the very local village of Ao Nam Mao, and was simple but heavenly. We had a little detached brick chalet room, and the property was full of trees, bird song and views of the amazing hills. There was even a pool, which Chris made use of, but was the setting for poolside breakfasts.
Again, run by a family who were so kind. Mum was a real character. She are her husband had run the guest house for 13 years. Their daughter had studied tourism, including time in Southampton so she knew our home town and spoke quite good English. The idea was that the daughter would take over the business, but every time she tried to organise anything with us, Mum would rush over and, in Thai, demand to know what was going on, but with the biggest smile on her face! We don't think it did the daughters confidence a lot of good, despite the fact she was doing fine! On our first evening we walked into the village which had a pier for boat trips, and out the other side to a restaurant, Ko Dam, that the hosts had recommended.Even the poorest places seem to have funky street signs here, and the hotels offer more than those in the UK! It looked deserted as we arrived, just some tables on decking by the beach. Suddenly staff appeared, we were seated and had a really lovely meal watching the sun go down next to the sea! And under £10pp!
Our hotel had told us to message them when we're were finished, and the father came to pick us up. No charge. Next day we had booked a boat trip to Hong island in the Bay. We were picked up from the hotel and taken to Ao Nang. The beach was lovely, but the densely packed bars, tattoo parlours, marjouana shops and clubs would not have been us. Our speedboat held 30 people, and it took us to 4 islands in total. We aere a disparate bunch. Mostly 30 - 40 years younger than us, so, along with the only other couple, the gnarled captain, who leapt around in bare feet with a constant cigarette of some sort in his mouth, would yell 'Come on Mamma, you can do this' or 'Goid job Pappa' as we had jump or clamber down into the sea each time we landed! There were also 2 Korean girls who spent their whole time on board applying make up to their already pristine complexions, and taking selfies!
The scenery was stunning.
The limestone, karst outcrops were now in the sea! Hong island was the biggest, and we walked around the nature trail, and Chris climbed to the top viewpoint. I quit after the first 150 steps up! I did however venture into the sea, which Chris didn't! There were jellyfish around so I didn't stay in long, but there were very pretty yellow and black striped fish swimming all around.
We are so glad we did this trip, but it was lovely to return to our quiet oasis away from the bustle of the town. We decided that for our last night in Thailand we would return to Ko Dam and we were greeted by the owner like long lost friends! Another table on the front of the deck, and another fabulous meal.. even cheaper than the night before, and this time the restaurants tuktuk gave us a free ride back to the hotel! We noticed lots of new, very posh hotels seem to be opening on the southern side of this village, and I think in 5 years time it may have lost its quiet, rural appeal. We are glad we came now!
Our last morning, and we had a few hours to spare so we went to the pier and caught the long-tail boat ferry across to famous Railey Beach. Actually, Railey is made up of a high rocky outcrop of land with 3 beaches, Railey East, Railey West and Phra Nang. All of them are only accessible by boat. No roads at all. We had been warned that although it is beautiful, it gets hugely crowded, and the constant noise of boat engines shatters the peace. So we went early after a delicious breakfast by the pool!!
Definitely a good plan! It was as if it was just waking up! The laundry was being taken out to boats by tractors with raised trailers! We arrived at Railey east and immediately took the path through the cave filled cliffs to Phra Nang. This is a favourite haunt of rock climbers, and there were plenty of them! Look closely! As we rounded the corner the beach appeared, surrounded by high cliffs and Caves.
It was beautiful, and there were white faced monkeys in the trees, but even in the 40 minutes we were there the beach started to really fill up.
We walked through the pretty village to West beach which is golden sand with cafes lining the decking. We stopped for a drink, but again there were long boats constantly arriving bringing an ever increasing flow of tourists!
Early is best, but it is definitely worth a visit. A stroll back to the pier, and a return longboat and our trip was over. Goodbye to our lovely oasis with it's pretty Frangipan trees, and hello to Krabi airport with Thai food flash cards, and Durian handbags!!
We have loved Thailand, but our days in the south have been the best. Now a new country beckons!
PS. Did I mention that Chris acquired some rather dodgy flip-flops? That we are in love with shrimp cakes, or, that on our last night we discovered a dessert that would be great on pancake day. Sweet roti bread (substitute a pancake) topped with a smear of caramelised condensed milk, sprinkled with nuts and raisins, and drizzled with chocolate sauce..... amazing!