Joyce and I met Kristina and Lucy at the airport after a very long flight from Vancouver and both were tired but in good spirits after about 16 hours of flying (Business class I might add) and a total travel time of about 19 hours. It was about 11:00 pm when we got back to our hotel and we had a 5:30 am shuttle back to the airport the next morning. Not much sleep time.
With their clocks totally out of whack they slept till 3:30 am and at 5:30 we headed to the airport for our short flight to Surat Thani where we would be met by our ride to take us to “Our Jungle House”, a small resort of tree houses and bungalows on stilts nestled between lime cliffs and jungle and the Khao Sok river in the heart of Khao Sok National Park, the oldest pristine natural jungle on earth. It is the largest area of virgin forest in southern Thailand and is a remnant of rain forest which is older and more diverse than the Amazon rain forest. Amazingly this relatively small park is estimated to contain over five percent of the world’s species but they of course are very well hidden and very out-of-the-way from human habitation.
We had a great double cabin/tree house supported by stilts sitting alongside the river and it was very hot and humid but this is the jungle after all and did I say it was very hot and humid? When we arrived we were greeted by very loud high-pitched sounds from the millions of Cicadas that inhabit the jungle canopy and at night we were lulled to sleep with an extraordinary symphony of jungle insects, lizards and whatever else made their existence known in the quarter moon lit Jurassic forest.
Not long after our arrival we needed to cool off and just a few minutes away along a path jumping with lizards was a very nice gravel bed swimming hole in the river. In we went and it was oh so refreshing. Actually the water could have been cooler but the whole thing was so cool that just getting wet with the occasional little fish darting for a nibble on our fingers or toes while we sat on the riverbed in a nice flowing current with giant karst formations towering above us was more than refreshing. It was magical, it was something we had never done, it was a first, it was wonderful.
Our bungalows had signs everywhere warning us about the pesky little simians that inhabited the area so we were all a little paranoid about leaving our windows open at night but there really wasn’t much choice because the heat and humidity was so close that it stuck to your every fibre. A shower was only refreshing while you were showering and then the hot air embraced and wrapped around you and squeezed the sweat out of every pore. Did I mention this is the jungle after-all?
There were mosquitoes. I am not bothered by mosquitoes but the ladies were so I had to listen to all of the mosquito complaints and conversation although I can honestly say I did not see one mosquito except once while hiking in the jungle but the welts and redness displayed on my girls’s obviously virgin jungle skin made me believe them. Fortunately they weren’t “itchy” mosquitoes because this could have the potential to kibosh the whole adventure. Whew!
We weren’t attacked by monkeys on our first night so we all slept very poorly anyway. Well, I did, didn’t. No air conditioning, just a fan that blew hot air. Not very conducive to a good nights sleep however I loved the sound of the jungle at night, it was incredibly alive and very loud but my sweat drenched pillow and sheets were rather uncomfortable but apparently I’m the only one who sweats like Homer Simpson and the gals slept quite well I’m told.
We had three nights and two full days to spend in the jungle and we wanted to make the most of it so the next day was full of fun, adventure and some seriously amazing geography. First on the agenda was a visit to a nearby elephant sanctuary. The Thai elephant is the official national animal of Thailand and is in fact the Indian elephant, a subspecies of the Asian elephant. In the early 1900’s there were approximately 100,000 domesticated or captive elephants in Thailand but by mid 2007 only an estimated 3,400 domesticated animals remain and approximately 1,000 wild elephants (statistics vary greatly). It became an endangered species in 1986. One of the major issues facing the elephants in Thailand as well as Myanmar was the banning of logging in the hardwood forests and this has left thousands of elephants unemployed as they were used as the vehicle to get the logs out of the forests. Although good for the forests it has left their Mahouts without any income to care for their animal. Fortunately tourism has helped to change the plight of these magnificent beasts as it brings in dollars to help the Mahouts, the elephant’s lifetime caretaker, to feed and look after them until death. It is estimated at least 1/2 of these unemployed animals now work in the tourist industry and are treated very humanely and ethically and although these animals are “domesticated” they are still wild and therefore hold enormous potential in the conservation of their “wild” kin.
So, we had a short ride to the sanctuary and we were introduced to a 45 year old female named Swy, Thai for “beautiful”. She worked in the forests for over 20 years and when we met her she was calm and seemed happy but best of all was not chained or restrained in any way. There were 8 of us in the group and I made the first advance and walked over to her, stroked her trunk and head and then whispered sweet nothings in her ear and asked Lucy to come over and do the same. Lucy was hesitant but after several sugar cane and banana trunk grabs by Swy, Lucy was in love. We spent about 15 minutes feeding her and then off we trekked through a palm plantation down to a very muddy bathing hole where we shed our cloths and plunged into a sticky mucky brown water hole and proceeded to rub mud all over Swy’s naked body. I think she loved it. I know I would. Once done covering her with her herbal mud bath we slithered out of the hole and slip slided our way in our gooey flip-flops and made our way to the river for a rinsing session. Swy was led into the much cleaner water, she laid down on her side and all of us proceeded to scrub and rinse the mud off of her. We would like to think she enjoyed all of this attention, she seemed to and it is done four times a day and the Mahout makes pretty good coin doing this for his lovely lady elephant. It was worth every penny to ensure her survival. Elephants live as long as humans so we have a responsibility to take care of these very intelligent, caring and social animals. This is the good news side of elephant conservation. We all know about the other side and certain politicians who are lifting bans on trophy hunting and ivory importation. These are the animals that need to be culled from the face of this earth.
We walked back to our starting point and fed Swy a few more bananas and then headed back to our sauna in the forest for a quick dip and lunch before our afternoon canoe/rubber dinghy meander down the Khao Sok river, which was actually more like a stream/ creek as the water level was quite low with some travel inhibiting gravel bars along the way. The scenery was, I’m lacking words now so I’ll just say beautiful as we drifted along the current and listened to the jungle forest surrounding us and the incessant talking back-and-forth of the two guys paddling our boats down the river. It was driving me (us?) nuts. They wouldn’t shut up! I was very irate but didn’t know how to tell them to shut up because they didn’t understand English so we floated “Somewhere down the lazy river”, (Robbie Robertson) and felt a little pissed off because the beauty and tranquility was so rudely interrupted by these two talkative Thai tranquility torturers talking in a tongue that was totally transgressive to the transcendent nature of our tiny little boat tour! Hmmm. I get a little carried away sometimes.
Anyway, we made it back in the late afternoon, had a quick dip in the river and then a shower and headed over to the restaurant for a refreshments and a nice evening listening to great tunes in the bar and then some really excellent Thai food to end a great day.
We left our second and final full day open to wander three nature trails in the area and then made our way to a little town/village nearby for a pizza lunch. We loaded up on some Lays potato chips to snack on in the bar later on and sweated our way back to our place for a well deserved dip and rinse in our local swimming hole which unfortunately wasn’t to be as the local council had authorized some river bank remediation and it just so happened to start at the swimming hole. We were so lucky to have been able to experience the swimming earlier. I went to check it out and the whole area had been dredged up by a huge front end loader and was rendered un-swimmable. We had received an email the day before alerting us to this but we had no idea where it would be taking place and believe me, we would not have been happy if we had arrived a day or two later. I wandered up and down the riverbank near our bungalow to see if I could find a spot for a dip but no luck. The water wasn’t flowing very fast and was definitely not inviting so we hung around our deck for a while and then made our way to the restaurant for some cool refreshments and Lays potato chips.
Joyce and I had showered but Kristina and Lucy hadn’t so they wandered back to the shack with the last bag of chips to have a shower and then, a barrage of frantic texts! “Monkeys!”. “They stole our chips!”. “We’re trapped!” This was the best news we had heard so far. There actually are monkeys in the area! Fantastic! So of course Joyce and I made a bee line back to rescue the girls from this impending threat. The pesky little beasts were everywhere, swinging from trees, running all over our roof and having a great time while Kristina and Lucy peered cautiously from their slightly ajar door. We assured them there was no threat, they are more afraid of us as long as we don’t act aggressive towards them so we went down our stairs into the forest and hung out watching probably 20-30 monkeys doing what monkeys do, monkeying around. We stood within inches to feet from them and Lucy was in heaven and we were so happy they made an appearance. It made the day and the stay. Before long, as quickly as they showed up, they disappeared but did make one final wake up call the next morning by running back and forth over our roof at 5:30 am. A very nice way to end a really fantastic and different start to our 15 days with Kristina and Lucy.
Some final pics from our jungle retreat.