Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Four days in the jungle!

Over the New Year break my wife Lisa and I achieved a long-held ambition when we spent four days hiking and sleeping overnight in the jungle of Khao Sok National Park, in the south of Thailand. 

Khao Sok is a densely-forested area of over 700km2, and includes the 165km2 Cheow Lan Lake. We went with three Thai guides who Lisa had hiked with on a previous, shorter trip: A, who runs the company, his brother Khlong, and their friend Sat.

(L-R) Sat, Khlong, A, and Lisa.
The first night was spent in the ranger’s station, which was fortunate given that it was raining heavily! The next morning, we donned our leech socks – which turned out to be invaluable - and set off. The early morning rain had slowed considerably by this time, and fortunately had stopped completely by lunchtime.

Low cloud over the dense rainforest.

The first day’s trekking covered about 7km through dense primary rainforest. Every so often we had to stop while Sat hacked away at dense tangles of plants that had overgrown the hard-to-follow path, including highly poisonous Elephant Nettle plants. This also gave us an opportunity to remove any persistent leeches...

A copper-cheeked frog (Hylarana labialis), spotted on the first day.

We stopped for the first night, and the guys quickly made a campfire and began cooking dinner. Khlong also fashioned two cups out of giant bamboo stems for us to use on the remainder of the trip. The first night was spent sleeping on a bamboo platform at the mouth of a limestone cave, following a dinner of orange curry and rice cooked over the campfire.

Our cave for the night.

The next morning we woke up to sound of gibbons calling high in the tree tops. The second day’s hiking took us through yet more varied landscapes – from rainforest to giant bamboo groves, and finally to a limestone sinkhole filled with semi-submerged trees clad in orchids. 

An Asian forest tortoise (Manouria emys).

We came across the rarely seen Asian forest tortoise, estimated by A and Khlong to be about 30 years old! There were also some ferns which, we were reliably informed, were delicious when cooked, so a few bunches were collected and included with that night’s dinner. The ferns were indeed delicious, and tasted a bit like morning glory.

Smoke from the campfire catches the evening sun.

It was next to the sinkhole lake that we spent our second night, in hammocks slung between two trees under a makeshift tarpaulin cover in case of further rain.

A strangler fig.
The next day was the final stretch of the hike. This took us through a flooded area of forest that turned out to be limestone swamp forest, a fascinating ecosystem that I’ve never encountered before.

A and myself knee-deep in the limestone swamp forest!

We reached the edge of the jungle, next to an inlet from the enormous Cheow Lan Lake and waited for a long-tail boat to come and pick us up. 

The lake is a beautiful deep green colour.

From here it was a short 20-minute boat ride to the relative luxury of floating bamboo raft houses for our final night. 

Raft houses on Cheow Lan Lake.

A well-earned beer after three days in the jungle!

After swimming and kayaking in the lake the next day, we set off on a final boat trip across the full length of the lake, taking in the majestic scenery of the towering limestone cliffs on either side of the lake.

The Three Sisters.

A doesn't yet have a web site, but if you are interested in doing a similar trip, please feel free to contact me and I can put you in touch with him. I can highly recommend A and his team, and it's an experience you won't forget! 

Sunset over Cheow Lan Lake