What made this 3 day, 11 mile trek through Khao Sok national park rain forest a once in a lifetime experience? The voice like a stuck record playing in my head repeating ‘Never again’ the entire time? The constant stabby, scratchy, spiky, sucky, bitey, poisonous, parasitic creatures and plants intent on causing harm every step of the way? Being soaked to the skin and covered in muck from the first step until the last? Or the fact that there is no time like the first time? Having made it through though, and looking back, sure I’d do it all over again in an instant!
The journey started in Hua Hin and I took off in my Toyota heading south through Pranburi, Sam Roi Yot, Kuiburi, Bang Saphan, and Prachuap Kiri Khan through to Chumpon and then Surat Thani. I made one quick coffee stop in Chumpon for an iced Blue Mountain and one emergency toilet stop in a real nice service station (western style toilets thank God!) probably just outside of Surat. This distance was about 450KM and took 4.5 hours which was quicker than I anticipated.
As planned, I picked up my trekking partners Phil and Richard at Surat Thani airport pretty much right on time and we headed into the city’s huge Central Mall to stock up on jungle survival essentials: a 5 litre box of red wine, a stack of Beer Lao and some nail clippers. The guys had their ‘last real meal for a while’ which consisted of large orders of McDonalds. But being the purist I am, even if we were to be living off of grubs and rain water for the next few days, there was no way I was going to be filling up on McD’s!
We then took off through Surat Thani to Khao Sok National Park, a beautiful drive through impressive limestone mountains on long hilly roads. Only a few times did we get hit with rain along the 100KM or so drive to the park, and the only stop was to get bags of ice for the beers in the cool box. I was surprised when we turned off as there were plenty of guesthouses, coffee shops, bars, massage parlours and restaurants all around, and a group of foreigners going tubing on the river. The vibe was similar to how I remember Pai in Mae Hong Song being, which is not at all what I expected.
We pulled up at the national park entrance ahead of schedule and met with our contact, the cheerful Mr Moo. He spoke great English and was very helpful, it turns out he became a real help later on. One thing he seemed to keep pressing on us was to be ‘polite and respectful’ to the jungle and our guides. I wonder if this was because we later found out someone from a previous tour had gone off and got lost for a few days on their own and had to be rescued by helicopter.
We unpacked into the staff quarter dorm rooms and headed off down the road for a good look around, about this time, the heavens opened so we donned our waterproofs and made for the exit. I was surprised once more to find that two of us got the Thai price for our entry into the park (40B instead of 200B) as we had our Thai work permits with us. Surprised because although this is what is supposed to happen it has not always been the case in my experience.
First stop was the Rain Forest restaurant where we filled up on big Leo’s and Chang and watched the rain coming down as we chomped through a really tasty Masaman curry, veggie tempura, and plate of fried chicken with cashew nuts. Some hours later, we marched off to a local shop where the owner took our breakfast orders for the following morning, and we sat out front and polished off a bunch more beers before heading back to the car to get more things out of the boot.
Things had been going smoothly up until this point. I guess all the beers had phased me somewhat as after we unloaded all our valuables (money, passports, work permits, etc) into the boot of the car, and forgetting to take out of it the 5l box of wine essential to the onward mission, to the horror of everyone, I managed to lock the car keys in the boot. As well as a spare set on the front dash. Well, there were a few options – smash a window, call Toyota (it was about 11pm on a Sunday night, plus in the middle of nowhere) or Google ways to break into a new car with no tools. I opted for the latter which produced no workable results. Luckily, Phil’s wife on the other end of the phone, was smarter than us lot and suggested my wife have the last remaining spare key special delivered from home in Hua Hin to the park. We went for this option, and just hoped it would get there in time for our departure 4 days later. This didn’t solve the conundrum of the booze and cash which was of course the real dilemma.
All that was left to do was finish off the last remaining bottles of Beer Lao, hit the sack and hope that we might wake up with some fresh ideas on how to solve the predicament. I think it’s fair to say we all got a good night’s sleep which was definitely in order before going off into the wild to sleep with spiders under the stars in hammocks.
TO BE CONTINUED…