Leeched in Khao Sok

DAY 1:

Whilst we could spend an eternity lazing around on any beach anywhere, we’re also up for an adventure. The tales of jungle treks and floating raft houses in Khoa Sok National Park provided just the right amount of temptation to get us off our beach towels and trading in our flip-flops for hiking shoes. The time had come for us to spend a little time in the jungle, which we did with Tree Tops Jungle Safari’s. Our package with Tree Tops included one night in a “tree house”, two nights river bungalow (floating raft houses), all meals, a range of activities, and transfers to and from Surat Thani/Phuket for B1550pp (low season).  Since we were travelling from Koh Phangan, all we had to do was make our way by ferry to Oums Cafe at the train station in Surat Thani.

We caught the Lomprayah Ferry at 7.30am, including bus transfer to the train station, and arrived at roughly 10.30am (B750pp). Whilst waiting at the pier, we met two American girls fullfilling their promise to travel somewhere new together each year. They hoped South Africa would be their next trip and after chatting a bit about what they could possibly do in SA, I got to thinking about the beauty of travelling.
We have met so many different people from all over the world, all on different journeys of their own.  It has been amazing to share stories, tips and opinons with those from other cultures. It’s given so much meaning to the quote:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime (Mark Twain)”.

What’s more personal than being greeted by a Thai guide holding a piece of paper up with the words “Mr and Mrs Collins” so neatly written?  For once it was evident that we were in the right place, no map needed.  Not long after we had arrived, an unmarked car pulled up.  A little Thai man jumped out, helped us put our bags in the boot and ushered us into the backseat of the car. A little unsure, and feeling like we might either get scammed again or become part of a “hack and slash” news headline, we reluctantly got into the car, going against everything our parents had ever warned about “not getting in a car with strangers”. It turned out the driver was legit, and we were safely delivered to Tree Tops.

Welcome to Tree Tops Safaris
Welcome to Tree Tops Safaris

After settling into our “tree house” room, a man at reception rattled off the ENTIRE itinerary of our trip in a matter of minutes leaving us overwhelmed and unable to remember most of it. However, our stomachs weren’t about to let us forget that lunch was first!

After lunch we excitedly piled into a minivan with the rest of our tour group: a lovely Chinese family and a young Dutch guy. We were promised a waterfall, a viewpoint, monkeys, a cave and finally a choice between kayaking or tubing. Unfortunately, our excitement didn’t last very long. As you read on, bear in mind it was the dry season.

Simply put, there was no waterfall. The viewpoint was purely a rest stop on the side of the road. We all got out to take pictures so as not to offend our tour guide. The cave held some promise until we hit a dead end, and the only positive thing about the Monkey Temple was that the monkeys were much friendlier than the cheeky minions we have back home. We ended off the day by tubing down the “river”. Let’s just say, a small, shallow stream makes for a lot of rocks and a lot of walking. However, there were a few moments where we could lie back and admire the lush green of the trees and entangled vines, and wonder at the towering limestone cliffs of the jungle.  Breathtaking! Near the end of our tube ride we saw a mangrove snake which we were told are not poisonous but often retreat into the trees during the day, then drop to the water in the evening to eat frogs. Note to self: Don’t go tubing at night.

Monkey "Temple"
Monkey “Temple”

That evening we were treated to a delicious selection of Thai dishes for dinner before making use of the free wifi (in the jungle … what!?) and heading off (up) to bed. After a rather disappointingly tame day our hope was that the next day would hold more adventure.

DAY 2:
After a good night’s sleep in our air-conditioned “tree house” we joined the rest of the group for breakfast. French toast with syrup and sugar. One of Lauren’s favourites. Although she doesn’t eat eggs, she devours French toast! Yes, I know, it has egg in it … don’t ask.

On our way to Ratchaprapha pier, by air-conditioned minibus, we stopped at a local market where our driver conveniently parked right beside a bees nest. Things were getting exciting. We used the opportunity to try out some interesting looking Thai food. Not really our cup of tea but you never know until you’ve tried it.

Yum yum!
Yum yum!
The local market
The local market

At the pier we all hopped onto a longtail and began the hour boat ride to our river bungalows. What an awesome trip! The dam’s clear emerald waters are edged by lush green jungle and ridiculously tall limestone cliffs. The photos truly don’t do it justice.
It just seemed to get better.

The Ratchaphrapha Pier
The Ratchaphrapha Pier

The floating raft houses were stunningly set in a picturesque bay with still waters that continually reflected the beauty of its surroundings. The cool breeze that drifted through the wooden structure had an instant calming effect. No taxis and tuk-tuks, or shop owners demanding our attention. Not even wifi. Just complete solitude … until we all noticed the 8 metre-high diving platform.

Tree Tops River Bungalows
Tree Tops River Bungalows
The Diving Platform
The Diving Platform

Shouts and screams (well, just Lauren’s screams) could be heard across the dam as we all took the plunge. Lauren took a little longer … 20 minutes longer, as she tried to convince herself to jump. Even when she did finally jump I’m not sure she had fully convinced herself it was a good idea.  She tried to grab hold of something on her way down, but gravity did the rest. Well done, my love!

After lunch and some well needed time-out on the tubes, we set off again by longtail boat, this time to see what appeared to be a floating catfish farm and then for a swim in a bat cave.

The Floating Catfish Farm
The Floating Catfish Farm

 

What an incredible experience the cave was. We jumped off the side of the boat with life jackets and a single torch, swam into a beautiful cove and then into the mouth of the cave. It didn’t take long before we were blindly following our guide through the cave, trying to capture our surroundings as he shone the torch around. Beside reminding us a little of the movie “Sanctum”, it was an incredibly thrilling experience and the highlight of our trip at that point.

Swimming in the Bat Cave
Swimming in the Bat Cave

Back on the raft houses the table had been set for dinner and again a delicious aray of Thai food was on offer. All the staff were friendly and hospitable. They really looked after us!

Last on the itinerary was a night safari. We followed our guide into the jungle and an hour later returned disappointed, having only seen spiders, bugs and wild mushrooms. We might have seen more but stealth was not really something our group was familiar with. To give you an example, one of the group members was so eager to see a monkey he kept shouting out “monkey, monkey” at the top of his voice. There was one highlight though! Lauren who hadn’t stopped talking about leeches since we arrived got “LEECHED!” Freaking out, she pulled it off and our guide, Kai, placed a swab of tobacco on the bite. To stop the bleeding? Who knows.
Tip: If a leech is not pulled off correctly it can poison you if it vomits the contents of its stomach back into you. We were told to monitor it for a couple of days and head to the hospital if a red ring began to form around the bite mark.

Our "Room"
Our “Room”

Our bungalow was simple, just a mattress and a mosquito net. With doors wide open, we watched in awe as the lightning across the dam outlined the cliffs with each strike, the gentle breeze providing some relief from the heat.  The day had been a resounding improvement, and as we nodded off to sleep we couldn’t help but be excited for what the next day held.

Magnificent Sunset on the Dam
Magnificent Sunset on the Dam

DAY 3:
We thought gibbons were cute until we woke to one making a ridiculous noise at four o’clock in the morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. Luckily we all had to be up early anyway (6.30am) for the first activity of the day. Breakfast (basic scrambled eggs on toast, fresh fruit and toast with jam) served on a bamboo boat whilst gliding across the dam looking for wildlife. What a tranquil way to start the day!

Breakfast on the Dam on a Bamboo Boat
Breakfast on the Dam on a Bamboo Boat

We were lucky to see our alarm clock (the rare Gibbon) swinging in the tree tops. Although they are ridiculously noisy, they are incredibly cute and it’s quite fascinating watching them swing from the trees and hang from the branches.

So Beautiful!
So Beautiful!

We were also educated about a “special” leaf we had seen a few Thai men chewing on. Lauren’s curiosity (nosiness) means we often learn a lot of interesting things. When questioned about the leaf, they all flexed their muscles, and in broken English suggested that it makes them “stronger”. When questioned further, they said “many Baht” and held their wrists together as if to suggest they are handcuffed. After an impromptu game of Charades, we came to the conclusion that it must be illegal in some way.  It must have healing qualities too, as Lauren was offered one to treat her leech bite the night before.

Our guide, Kai, was a really interesting old man, and incredibly strong for a 58 year-old (must be the leaves)! He spoke hilarious broken English. Some of his more memorable phrases were “same same … but different”, “check again”, “many rain, many leeches” and a few others. He definitely made the whole experience a lot more fun. Joe, who was our guide on the first day back at the tree houses, was just as funny and friendly, besides being quite sarcastic, which we loved.

Anyway, returning to the raft houses we spent the morning and a large portion of the afternoon relaxing, swimming and tubing. Kayaks would have been amazing to go exploring during the down time.

Later on in the afternoon we set off by longtail boat for our 3-hour hike to the viewpoint (3km). The path wasn’t as strenuous as expected but near the end there was a rather steep and dangerous climb to the viewpoint, a rocky ledge on the side of a cliff overlooking most of Khao Sok National Park. The view was simply spectacular.

The Viewpoint-Well worth the hike
The Viewpoint-Well worth the hike

Spotting the ominous rain clouds heading our way, Kai quickly ushered us back down the steep rocks and onto the path. He hurriedly led the way back mumbling the words “many rain, many leeches”, his pace quickening with each roll of thunder. However, Lauren and I were quite happy to keep up, especially after listening to his stories of the path becoming a river and “more 20 leeches everywhere climb your body” – we were right on his heels.

What a relief it was when we finally arrived back at the boat. But before heading back, it was time for us to “check again”. We examined ourselves for leeches and found two in Lauren’s shoes. As geeky as we all looked, tucking our pants into our socks saved us from becoming their next meal.

Socks tucked in (Leech Protection)
Socks tucked in (Leech Protection)

Speaking of meals, our driver had been spearfishing whilst we were away. Look what he caught for dinner:

Dinner!
Dinner!


And what a delicious dinner it was: battered fish bites, onion rings, sweet and sour chicken, sticky rice and more.

We later found out I hadn’t been so lucky on the hike. We never found the leech, but discovered its bite mark on my waist. Next time I’ll tuck my shirt into my pants too!

DAY 4:
After a great sleep-in, a dive in the dam to wake up and a quick breakfast, we packed our bags and headed back to the mainland by longtail boat.

Shortly after arriving at the pier, we were picked up by minivan and driven back to Tree Tops. We had only taken our day bags with us to the dam so after lunch we grabbed our larger packs and were taken to the bus stop. We opted to be transfered to Phuket, so the tour guide paid for our bus tickets and left.

Waiting under the rooftops of a little convenience store trying to avoid the downpour, we began chatting to the store owner, a gracious, elderly Thai lady. She openly shared about her life, her family and her hopes for the future until the bus arrived.
One of the qualities I love most about my wife is her openness to meeting and interacting with people. I just jump on the band wagon once she gets the conversation rolling. It’s so rewarding when you make true, meaningful connections with other people.

All in all, we really loved our ‘Wilderness Adventure’ experience in Khao Sok National Park. We highly recommend Tree Tops Safari Tours, high or low season.

Phuket here we come!

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