RSS Feed (xml)

Powered By

Skin Design:
Free Blogger Skins

Powered by Blogger

Friday, November 4, 2011

Floating Paradise

After two nights in a tree house, we were ready for a change of scenery. On the morning of the 1st of November, we were picked up by Deang and taken over an hour away to Cheow Lan Lake, another part of Khao Sok National forest. Originally we only planned to spend one night at the lake, but in a last minute decision we opted for a package with Limestone Lake Tours that gave us two, and boy are we glad we did! It turns out that Daeng would be our personal guide the entire time we were there. He accompanied us to the lake regaling us with information about Thai history and he and our driver took us in a long tail boat an hour deep into the center of the lake.

Words cannot adequately describe how beautiful Cheow Lan Lake is. This is a lake the was made larger by man when a huge dam was built to control water flow several years ago. It is surround by deep jungle foliage and dotted with gigantic limestone karsts (large limestone rock structures) and small islands as far as the eye can see. The reflection of all of the plant life creates a greenish color to the water that adds to the beauty of the scenery.

There are about nine raft house camps on the lake and we stayed at a privately owned one in the middle. Upon reaching the camp, we were told that we had been upgraded to the better lodging and we were led down the docks to these adorable white houses with a small porch facing out into the lake. Bathrooms were shared and contained rustic westernized toilets and showers that consisted of a barrel of water and a bucket. Meals were served family style with huge portions and several sumptuous main dishes each lunch and dinner. Among the options were green curry, Masaaman curry, a type of river fish caught fresh, fried and served with the head still on, sweet and sour chicken and many others. Each meal was delicious.

As a guide Daeng was knowledgeable, funny and had a passion for conservation that he was eager to share. He took us on guided boat tours, jungle hikes and cave explorations and told us about the larger animals we saw and worked hard to show us all of the small surprised the rainforest has to offer. As a result we saw tarantula holes, snapped a great shot of a scorpion and found the largest and loudest cicada in the world. It was so loud, we honestly thought it was just a planet flying overhead. We saw four kinds of monkeys including the gibbon (or at least its behind as it swung through the trees away from us) and the incredibly cute dusky langur monkey which sits high in the tree chomping on leaves.

The first day with Daeng we hiked through the rainforest and then took a bamboo raft to the well named Coral Cave. Now, this cave doesn't have coral in it, but formations of the stalagmites and stalactites make it look like an underwater coral garden. It was like something from another world and very beautiful, though our favorite moment was a sign posted outside that said "no drunk people in the cave."

The following day Daeng took us to another cave, one that I had stressed out about the evening before. Now why would the adventurous Cat Chiappa be stressed about something like a cave...because it was called Snake Cave and he usually sees several snakes in there. However, he also talked about how you could see thousands of bats and hear them overhead flapping their wings like a windstorm and that sounded too cool to pass up. So, I gritted my teeth, hiked up the long, steep hill, donned my head lamp and entered the mouth of the abyss...of course I held Joe's hand the entire time! As we went deeper we stepped carefully and looked for snakes at every angle (specifically cobras) and smelled the acrid stench of bat guano. We slogged through hundreds of chirping crickets, saw spiders as big as your hand, heard thousands of bats flapping so hard it sounded like a fleet of helicopters,and then encountered...a snake! However, it wasn't a was actually a really neat looking bat eating snake sitting high atop the rocks with its stomach full of bats. It has a whitish green color and is not venomous. Deang said he was surprised to see only one, but surmised that the King cobra must have eaten the others. He told us that is the reason why the King cobra can be found in the cave. Turns out it wasn't in the cave though...but instead was the raft camp!

Three hours after we arrived at the rafthouses a three meter King cobra was found hiding under the staff housing lying in wait for tasty rodents. The staff shooed him out and didn't think anything of it...until he was seen again that night. Apparently Deang was the only one who missed it as they didn't wake him up...even though it slithered very close to him. As he told us this story my eyes got big and I resolved to be even more diligent with my frenetic snake checking methods...but he kept insisting that we were staying in the nice houses where the snake wouldn't go. I don't know if I fully believed him, but I appreciated the sentiment. It certainly made me feel better than when we were in Snake Cave and he told us to look on the ground and above our heads as he explained how the snakes could slither up the walls of the cavern! Gotta love the jungle!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Steamy Jungle Days in Thailand

After eating our way through Singapore, it was time for the next leg of our SE Asia adventure, so on we flew to Phuket, Thailand. There, we were picked by a man and his family which included two small children who were unaware that one should sit in the front seat and not stand staring at the strange looking passengers in the back. The kids were cute, but I just wanted to put a seat belt on them!

Two and a half hours and a giant rainstorm later, we reached Khao Sok National Park. The driver took us to Art's River Lodge. Unfortunately, that wasn't where we ended up staying. Instead we were taken across the river to the Khao Sok Nature Resort for our stay in a tree house. This place was also nice, but I had my heart set on Art's. I guess it wasn't available for the days we needed it. Well after getting over my slight disappointment we were led deep into their property to our own tree house in the sky. Now, I knew we were staying in a tree house, but I guess it never occured to me how high it would be! We had to go up two flight of rickety stairs to get to it! Luckily one of the workers hefted our large bag onto his shoulders and Joe and I watched in awe as he sprinted up the stairs, unlike us who gingerly tried each step first before placing our weight on it.

The accommodations were rustic, but fun. There was a porch with two chairs on the outside facing a steaming Jurassic Park inspired landscape. Inside was a bed covered in a fortress of mosquito nets, another chair, a rod for clothes hanging and a small mirror. Past the mirror was the door to our outside toilet and simple rock shower with a sparse trickle of cold water. As it was open to the elements it was also open to the possibilities of scorpions, frogs and snakes which made using the bathroom quite an adventure and made you debate internally at three in the morning whether you really needed to go or not. In addition to the possibility of creepy crawlies in the bathroom, getting out of the mosquito netted bed was an obstacle course unto itself as it had to be un-tucked and tucked quickly to keep the mossies out, and I had many laughs at Joe diving in and out of the bed with Olympic worthy gymnastic moves.

Meals were taken outside in the main lodge that was open on the sides but covered to protect from rain. Our first night the power was out for quite awhile and we share a meal by electric candles with small lizards crawling up the posts beside us and bats swooping in and out over our heads.

The day after our arrival we left for what can only be described as a crazy death march through the jungle. We'll chalk it up to "it sounded like a good idea at the time." Of course "the time"we were considering it, we were in cool, breezy Monterey and not melting in the hot steamy confines of the jungle. We met our guide Dom and hiked a grueling 6 kilometers through slippery trails in the rainforest to a "waterfall." I use the term waterfall loosely as we were expecting a tall gushing flow of water with a pristine pool glittering in the sun inviting us to swim. Unfortunately, the "waterfall"was a river with some rapids that formed some still pools underneath....not a waterfall in the traditional sense. The cold water still felt good after the hike...too bad we had another six kilometers to get back!

Throughout the hike we did encounter some cheeky monkeys (macaques) and were lucky enough to spot a civet cat. However, we didn't learn that much or see a lot of life. Our guide wasn't very animated and I think it was due in part to a language barrier. He was very nice and spoke some English, but was a little hard to understand and gave up information sparingly. We were hoping to see some elephants but luck was not with us that day. Good thing we get an up close and personal encounter in a week!