In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the I.F.s sleep tonight…
(Written by Steph, photos by Nick)
“You HAVE to go there.”
In Groundhog Day fashion almost everybody we met backpacking had a ” You HAVE to go there” story. Quite often, “there” referred to some full moon party bursting with 20-somethings eager to find themselves and then puke their guts up on the beach. Um, maybe next time…This time, however, the place in question was a national park called Khao Sok. A national park? Our attention was grabbed. We had no idea that amongst all the beaches of the south lay a jungle ready to explore. It seemed, as rarely happened, we should trust in the keen recommendation of these nature-loving Aussies we had known for all of 5 minutes.
In our usual style, we spent way too long googling reviews on trip advisor of where to stay. After being taken to what seemed to be bungalows in a palm plantation (a leading cause of jungle deforestation), we hastily moved on – we had come here to be in the jungle, not to support its demise. We eventually found some amazing bungalows almost next door. They were more pricey, but they were in amongst the trees and next to a river. This was the real deal. Once settled in, we set about making a plan.
“No food. Pahahaha.”
We were asking about a survival trek, where you go into the jungle for a couple of days and forage. Apparently now wasn’t the season, so if you needed to survive in winter, you were a bit screwed. The rainy season over, the river was also too low for tubing, so we opted for a two day trek through the jungle with an overnight stay in the “floating houses” upon the enormous man-made lake that we had heard so much about. We decided that the trek should be fun to do in a group and crossed our fingers we would be in good company.
The good company came in the shape of a French girl called Charlene and her boyfriend, Anis. Maybe it was my fondness for Kylie in her Neighbours days, or the fact that Charlene thought everything I said in French was “tros minion” (so cute), but we hit it off right away. I’m pretty sure my rendition of a french gangster rap song had never been described as “cute” before.
It had been a while since I had bonded with a girl over shoes. Generally I had left the shoes and handbags phase of my life behind, but this was different – these shoes were “special.” And, dare I say a word that should never be uttered in the same sentence, “functional.” Yes indeed. Beckham would have been proud of these rubber beasts complete with footballer-esque studding. I was one proud owner; the other was Charlene. We might have received a bit of flak for our choice of footwear, but they were to stand us in good stead (boom boom) in addition to proving a great talking point.
First we just had to get to the floating houses. After a mini bus journey to the edge of the enormous man-made lake that capped the park, we transferred to our favourite mode of transport – a longtail boat. It was only now that the jokes about the shoes temporarily subsided, as each of us sat, jaws dropped, marvelling at the scenery. Steep forest-covered limestone carst mountains jutted high out of the lake. Combined with the overcast sky, this made for quite the dramatic setting. Jurassic Park would have done well to find a better set than this.
Having checked out our boingy floating houses and dumping our bags, we headed out on trek number one. At this early stage we had already lost a few members of the team – apparently trekking was optional on this two day trekking tour. To be fair, staying at the lake seemed pretty enticing with the option of kayaking or swimming, but I had bought my special shoes for this trek, and there was no way I was going to miss out on wearing them.
We had read a blog on this exact trek in preparation, and as the words “exhausting”, “struggle” and “huge climb” popped up, I felt a sinking sense of deja vu. Here we go again, I thought. What can I say? That blogger obviously didn’t have a husband that constantly hiked her up to the highest possible view point – after all those previous uphill hikes, I was more than just a little relieved to find this trek was actually a doddle.
After about an hour or so of walking through a path in the jungle, we got to the bit we were looking forward to – the cave. Now, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we had become a little cave obsessed on this honeymoon, but not all caves are created equal. We would be following a river through this one for over a kilometre.
We strode inside, confident from the brightness of the collective head torches. Heads circling, we examined the cave, careful to know where we were putting our hands. Our guide took great delight in pointing out the hundreds of bats, enormous spiders and a snake coiled up on a ledge inside. Still, we laughed and joked as we got a closer examination.
“Take a picture, Nick.”
This involved a whole palarva of carefully removing the camera from the drybag, being additionally careful not to drop the lens cap in the stream. This on top of the usual faff of changing lenses (no zoom for Nicholas). Needless to say, by the time we were ready to take a photo, suddenly the cave seemed a whole lot blacker than before. All those other people in our group, along with their lovely bright head torches, had disappeared ahead. Scrambling to get the camera away and seal the drybag again, we pussyfooted our way along, now noticing just how scary the cave really was when you couldn’t see more than a metre in front of your face!
The shallow river running through the middle of the cave added another element to the adventure. However, it wasn’t until we got near the end of the cave that we got the full “river-in-a-cave” experience. Squeezing through a skinny passage only big enough for the river and perhaps a Hollywood celeb, we found ourselves inching downwards. At this point the river was up to our waists, then our necks, and as we emerged from the passage, brrrrrr! Plop – straight into a pool of freezing water. Now the ground was nowhere to be felt and swimming the last few metres was the only option. That was fun! I was just sad the cave was coming to an end.
“You won’t see many animals.”
Delighted at the refreshing honesty of our guide, after our delicious dinner of fish, Nick and I decided to skip the night boat trip in favour of staying in our floating house for a nice relaxing evening. Everyone else was on the boats…or so we thought. As it turned out, the staff working in the kitchens took this opportunity to run up and down the boardwalk of metal panelling that seemed to hold the string of houses together. Suddenly our house was bobbing manicly. The noise, which I can only describe as “thunderous” added the finishing touch, but it was enough to leave us in fits of giggles.
After a beautiful sunrise cruise on the lake, we landed further down the lake for another trek. My favourite part of this was crossing a log which floated on the lake, dividing the restaurant we were at and the nearby jungle. Pretending to be Baby in Dirty Dancing was a bad move, as the log went rolling and my dignity went with it. I narrowly avoided plunging into the water and ploughed on, enjoying every moment of the jungle, the scenery…and my new favourite shoes.