Island Hopping – Part Five – Khao Sok National Park Posted by sasha on Apr 25, 2011 in Travel, Uncategorized
After five days on Thailand’s beautiful Gulf Coast, we headed back to the mainland on the speed boat from Koh Pha-Ngan to Surat Thani. Once again, we opted for the VIP seats upstairs for an additional 100 baht each. Well worth the extra couple of dollars to avoid getting sea sick, if you ask me. Arriving on land about an hour later, we were transferred to a big tour bus. This particular bus ride can serve as a good example for those planning a trip to Thailand in the future, at least in terms of travel safety. When boarding any tourist bus, you usually hand your luggage off to a worker who stores it on the bottom level while the passengers head up to the top level to grab a seat. During the ride, no matter how long it is, workers will be busy underneath your seat pillaging through luggage. This is the reality of traveling in a country like Thailand where people are quite poor, and stealing from tourists provides a nice supplement to the meager wages one earns loading bags onto a tourist bus. Despite having her bag locked, Rachel would later notice that her belongings had been tampered with, and that cash had been stolen from her bag. If you are planning a trip to Thailand, please learn from our mistakes; no matter how safe you think your belongings may be, always keep valuables on your person at all times. Later on in our trip, we met a girl who said her bag had been sifted through on every single bus/boat ride that she had been on. Keep nothing but clothes, toiletries, and sunscreen in your checked bag, and you should be just fine.
Despite this bump in the road, we were determined not to let it put a damper on an otherwise fantastic trip. Before heading to the Andaman Coast for the scenic island of Koh Phi-Phi, we made a pit stop at one of Thailand’s many National Parks – Khao Sok (เขาสก). According to the park’s official website, “The name ‘Khao Sok’ is derived from the word ‘Ban Sop’, which means ‘house of dead bodies’.” This national treasure is also often called the “Guilin of Thailand,” referring to the famous karst mountain-filled landscape in southern China.
Arriving at Khao Sok late in the afternoon, we checked into our shack for the night at the Jungle Huts guesthouse and ordered up some spicy Thai curry and cold Chang beer. After spending nearly a week on the tourist filled islands of Koh Tao and Koh Pha-Ngan, it was nice to be out in the jungle, far away from any signs of civilization. We were informed that a special festival was going on, with atheltic competitions scattered throughout the day and a big celebration scheduled for the evening. Unfortunately, we were too late to catch any of the events, but we certainly weren’t going to miss out on a local party.
In addition to the impresive National Park, there are a lot of other activities which can easily be arranged during a visit to Khao Sok, such as: canoeing, kayaking, hiking, and elephant riding. Most guesthouses offer one, two, or three day treks that include stops at various waterfalls and caves as well, for those planning a longer stay. As we only had one full day to spend there, we decided to explore the park and save the extra activities for another time.
Before we headed to the festival, we joined a local guide and his friend on a night hike around the outskirts of the park. Although we didn’t see much in terms of wildlife aside from lizards and spiders, we learned quite a bit about the area and the park from our guides. Plus, without their expert knowledge of the area, we surely would have gotten lost had we attempted the hike on our own. Guides are also available for hire to take you through the park during normal business hours, but I don’t think it is necessary, as the trails are clearly marked and not too difficult.
Having worked up a bit of a sweat and an appetite on the night hike, I was thrilled when we arrived at the festival stage and were greeted by an enthusiastic local who insisted on loading up plates full of delicious, spicy Thai food for us. The man, who spoke very little English, did his best to explain to us that he had been victorious earlier in the day in a boxing match, as he proudly displayed his medal. It was evident he had already done quite a bit of celebrating, as he certainly would have won the medal for “Drunkest Guy” had there been such a contest.
With our new friend, we spent the evening dancing to Thai music, eating Thai food, and drinking Thai beer. After attending the Full Moon Party, which was basically all foreigners, it was nice to party down with locals and see how Thai people really like to have fun.
The next day, we spent a good six hours hiking through the National Park on our own. It was a moderate hike with plenty of opportunities to rest and take a dip in the water to cool off. With seven main points along the hike, we managed to make it out to the sixth one. Featuring a peaceful little swimming hole, this stop provided a perfect intermission for the hike before we headed back.
Around the park, there are plenty of guesthouses, restaurants, and bars, all providing a very relaxing atmosphere with great food, music, and drinks. We chowed down at an Italian restaurant (yes, even out in the jungle of Thailand you can get pizza) and then spent the evening hanging out at the “Chill Out Bar”, which lived up to its name. At the bar, we ran into two fellow travelers who were foreigners living in Beijing as well, reminding us once again that it really is a small world out there.
For anyone considering doing a trip similar to ours, where you bounce from the Gulf Coast over to the Andaman, I highly recommend stopping at Khao Sok for at least two days. It’s a good way to split up your time on the super touristy islands, and if you’re a nature lover like me, it’s a great opportunity to get out and enjoy the great outdoors before you return to beach bumming.