After a very easy 6hr journey, we arrived at the entrance to Khao Sok national park, Thailand’s exotic version of the Lake District. There is one access road towards the protected, conservation part of the park, lined by hostels, mini-marts and restaurants in a drive-through-Wild-West-town kind of way. Wanting to wait and have a full day to explore the hiking trails on offer, we spent our first half day visiting the visitor centre and wandering the street between the park and our hostel.
Rising early to tackle the 6km trail through the jungle, there are various stops pointed out on a vague map we received on entry. In our first five minutes a tarantula and the potential fatality caused by bamboo falling from above were pointed out to us, so we proceeded with caution up a well-beaten track until a sign pointed into the undergrowth to the left.
Following its direction we came to the first river stop, a swimming point of crystal clear water and gentle rapids. Further along the main path another sign lead us to a shallow river bed running between huge boulders, which we made our breakfast site. Hopping over the boulders we came to a waterfall, but a crowd of 20+ hikers made us move on quite quickly. You met people frequently along the trail so it never felt intimidating being in the middle of a jungle populated by tigers, bears and various spider species, but if no one else was in sight you quickly came to feel a bit lost and isolated, putting us more in awe of our surroundings.
We walked the trail for two and a bit hours before making our way back, finding it impossible to find the bigger waterfalls as the jungle got denser and the direction signs disappeared (you were encouraged to do this bit with a paid guide so no surprise there). Stopping again at the first swimming point, I couldn’t resist stripping off my hiking gear and jumping into the river. An amazing feeling and another experience ticked off my bucket list.
Overall our hike was 5hrs long, but the last five minutes were the most special. A group of monkeys passed over our heads as we walked towards the end of the track and stared curiously down at us as they jumped acrobatically through the canopy. I basically came to Khao Sok in the hope of seeing monkeys in this environment, and I couldn’t believe they’d answered my wish just in the nick of time.
The second day we had booked a lake tour, with very little idea of what it involved or what we would see. Sometimes the best things in life are a surprise. Cheow Lan lake was an hour bus ride away, followed by an hour longboat ride through stunning scenery. It. Was. Huge. We docked at a floating village and had lunch there; the first signs that this trip was not as advertised were we were advised to leave our bags there and make sure we had good hiking shoes on.
Another short boat ride later, we were dropped off in the middle of the jungle. Not jungle like the day before, but Tarzan-King Kong-Jurassic Park-like jungle. We were requested to follow the guide exactly and not touch anything for our own safety, then began a three hour trek through the most exciting and beautiful place I’ve ever seen. We waded through waist-high water, squelchy mud, tangled roots, vines, rocks and dense undergrowth. I couldn’t stop listening to the most beautiful natural orchestra of bird song, crickets, gushing water and the occasional crack of a bamboo breaking.
An hour in, we came to a rock face and left our bags and any dry clothes behind as we entered a narrow crag, which shortly led to a huge cave. As we water-waded and rock-climbed our way deeper, our guide pointed out toads, frogs, fish, spiders, stalagmites and stalactites – then helped us traverse up and abseil back down a waterfall before returning the way we came back into daylight. No one got lost, injured or killed and huge props go to our incredible guide for that, because this place was not easy and not made for humans. Another hour hike led us back to the boat, but not before swimming across a river and almost losing a boot in mud!