Khao Sok National Park

Khao Sok National Park is in the southern part of Thailand.  Established in 1980 as Thailand’s 22nd national park, it boasts some of the oldest and most bio-diverse rainforest in Southeast Asia.  By one estimate it has 5% of all world species living in it.

In the 1960s the mining industry, loggers, and plantations started to exploit the Khao Sok region after a road was built through the area.  Shortly after, during the Thai Student Rebellion, students took up refuge in the caves of Khao Sok park.  In the course of operating their guerrilla movement, they kept loggers, poaches, and the Thai military at bay (Citation).

We stayed at an amazing place just 100 meters from the park entrance.  In fact the area near our place was already teeming with wildlife.  The little village in front of the park was setup and ready to engage tourists for all types of activities ranging from trekking, wildlife viewing, to rafting.  You name the experience you wanted in the park, and a guide would find some way to help you experience it.

A small visitor center and park area lie just beyond the front gate where entrance payment was made.  There were two main directions to go:  A western track and a northern track.  According to a photostat of the map they provided, the northern track is a loop (with the option of going straight to a waterfall).  The western track had several auxiliary trails braking off to swimming holes or a waterfall.

Western Track

Alyssa and I explored the western track together.  For the first 3.5km it was a jeep track.  At the end of this there is a small cafe and ranger checkpoint, where the road turns into a jungle trail.  The trail was pretty easy to follow until the first stop at Wang Yao swimming hole.  However, after that the trail became smaller and there were many side trails shooting off into the Jungle.  It was already late in the day by the time we reached this point and we were at the half way point in terms of our water usage so we turned back.  However, we saw quite a bit of wildlife including some endangered animals.

Photocredit: Alyssa – Bang Hua Ract Waterfall
Alyssa hikes along the western jeep track.  This road gave way to a narrow trail after 3KM.

Northern Track

We all set out in the early morning on the Northern track.  This was not a jeep track.  It started with a long series of stairways and then proceeded to go up and down as we edged back into the canyon.  By the time we hit the bridge (~1km in of some pretty big ups and downs), we headed back for breakfast.  First we stopped creek-side to skip rocks.

Skipping rocks along the banks of the river.
This bridge is the half way point of the San Yang Rot loop.  Crossing the river means heading back to the visitor center.  Going straight  another 4KM through the dense foliage means going to Sip et Chan Waterfall.

Later, I continued on the loop.  After crossing the bridge, the trail climbs up to the 1,000 meters above sea level mark. and then down.  There were various opportunities to take side paths, which I explored carefully.   I heard wildlife all around, but the rainforest was dense and it was all well hidden.  I did however find elephant dung that was a few days old as well as tree damage.  I regularly heard gibbon monkeys calling in the trees.  At one point I hiked off trail about 500 meters to listen to gibbons call from a tree above.  I spend nearly 20 minutes just listening to them call and coo.  I spent nearly six hours hiking through this forest.  I could have spent a lot more.

After crossing the bridge, there is a steep ascent and descent up the mountain side.
Side trail options.  There were many of these.  I took this one for about 1 KM.  It took me past elephant dung, through thick underbrush, along the hillside.  For a fee you can pay a guide extra to spend 5 days bushwacking and camping here.  1 KM in was enough for me.  There was no visibility of the trail beyond the 5 meters ahead of where I walked.

Cheow Lan Lake

The lake was filled with stunningly turquoise limestone mineral enriched fresh water.  We took a 45 minute boat ride to the floating bungalows near Nam Ta Lu Cave.  The scenery was stunning.  However after seeing the karst formations in Lan Ha Bay Vietnam, Shilin China, Trang An Vietnam, and Mulu Borneo, they were not as new and amazing.  In fact some call this area the Guilin of Thailand in reference to Guilin china.  The erosion and staining over the years make patterns in the cliffs and when looking hard enough, amazing things may appear.  Osprey and sea eagles perched on many dead trees waiting for lunch below.

Although I know a little about randomness and limestone erosion; however it didn’t stop me from noticing this spooky combination of caves.
These three pinnacles are the symbol of the lake.
Floating bungalows on the lake

Jungle Trek Nam Ta Lu Cave

While Kylie, Alyssa, and Sharleen swam and kayaked around the floating bungalows and restaurant, I decided to join a small group trek to Nam Ta Lu Cave.  At the trail head we were greeted by a giant golden orb weaver spider.  In moving through forest, it was dense and dark.  The trail was well traveled, muddy, and easy to follow.  At times the terrain was rocky and full of roots, making navigation slightly precarious.  The rattan grew thick trailers all over the forest floor and into the trees.  Venturing beyond the defined path would have been unwise.

Massive nests of ratan were around every corner.  

At other times I had to squeeze through limestone formations covered by vines and covered with giant fig trees.

This was a tight squeeze for me.

There were multiple stream crossings, none of which went over my thighs.  In the end I opted not to go into the cave.  Water was chest deep, and I didn’t want to mess up my knee.

It was a crowded trail for trekking.  While I waited for my group to come out of the cave, five groups ranging from 5 people to 15 people went up and in and back out of the cave. Many were loud, talking about their lives with their temporary trekking mates.  Others smoked along the way.  I was standing off trail letting people pass along the trail, and a woman asked me to move.  I pointed politely to the direction of the trail and she said that they wanted to go a different way that required me to move out of her way.  Fine, I moved as she wedged herself between vines, leech packed forest floor, and scaled down some rock formations.  At another time our guide, Lek, was explaining about how much water rattan retains and some in our group wanted him to cut it open to show them. “I cannot cut it open here.  This is too close to the trail.”

Our guide was great.  He showed us ways to make bamboo flutes, hats, and rings.  He even took the group who went into the cave extra far.

The hike was not too challenging, but I certainly had an appreciation for jungle density afterwards.

A Black Lar Gibbon is endangered according to the IUCN redlist.  Palm plantations and logging have reduced their natural habitat.  We were lucky to see a family group of three moving through the trees.
Also coming in brown, The Lar Gibbon is endangered according to the IUCN redlist.  Palm Plantations and Logging have reduced their natural habitat.  We were lucky to see a family group of three moving through the trees.
The Dusky Leaf Monkey (or Spectacled Langur) is listed at Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List.  It is only found in the peninsula where Southern Thailand and Malaysia meet.  This cute little critters would feed road side and just not care if people passed by.
Black and Red broadbill.
As of yet,  a unidentified stick insect.
The Black Giant Squirrel is also listed as near threatened according to the IUCN Red List.  These guys grow to almost 4 feet long.
th_khao10 Gigantic Golden Orb Weaever.  This was as close as I dare get.  The body of this one was one was easily 4-5 inches long.  The legs made it even bigger.

Jungle Stay

We stayed at a different bungalow on a raised bamboo platform.  Sharleen and Alyssa took the bungalow.  Kylie and I took the tent.  What made this place extra awesome was the cooking.  Our host loved to cook and learned from her grandparents and her father. She made a special effort to make vegan food for me.  By far the best food I have eaten in Thailand so far was here.  Specifically the jungle fern curry was awesome.  (Pak Goot in Thai).  Lightly cooked in a coconut green curry.  Delicious.  I could not get enough of this stuff.  The massaman curry was also fantastic.  We ate here for breakfast and dinner.

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