Southern Thailand - Khao Sok

The sublime natural beauty of southern Thailand once again featured heavily on this year’s tour.  The pristine beauty of Khao Sok National Park and the idyllic beaches and karst islands of the southern Andaman coast beckoned us south. Once again I opted to take the night train for its efficiency.  The group grabbed dinner in or near the Bangkok station and we boarded our train about 7:00PM.  Soon after departure the train stewards brought cold beers around, creating a festive atmosphere in the group.  About 9:30 the stewards came through and set up the beds.  The beds are quite comfortable but the train itself is noisy and “suspension-challenged”.  Everyone slept but most were awakened multiple times throughout the night.  I call it “the night of a 1000 power naps.“  But coffee was available at first light and the time saved was well worth the minor discomfort. We had a good, hot breakfast in Surat Thani and Ae, ever vigilant for good cultural experiences, bought everyone roasted taro and bananas - Thai breakfast.  Both are roasted in banana leaves and blended with sticky rice - absolutely delicious.  Our three vans drove us the hour to the Chiaw Lan landing where we boarded longtails.  This was where the real adventure began.

Chiaw Lan Lake is the centerpiece of Khao Sok.  Created by a dam 30 years ago, the massive lake is surrounded by and studded with massive karst towers, all draped with verdant jungle vegetation. It is a stunning landscape and few tour groups venture this far off the usual tourist trail.  Phang Nga Bay is the most famous location for viewing the impressive karsts.  Made famous by the James Bond movie “The Man with the Golden Gun“ it is truly impressive, but overwhelmed by commercial tourism these days.  Khao Sok provides a more “behind the curtain” experience of the same geology.  En route to our floating guesthouse we stopped at an area called Thailand’s Guilin, a Phang Nga-like section.  It was great to be on the water in such a beautiful environment and mouths were consistently open in obvious wonder.  Photographers rubbernecked for shots and fatigued their shutter fingers in the target rich environment.

Plernprai Rafthouse was much the same as in 2008, except for a new WC/shower building on the island (still rustic) and a new row of “upscale” huts of better construction with raised beds and their own floating WC/shower building.  Hopefully they will add a few more, making enough to accommodate future Imprint tours.  For this visit though we were relegated to the rustic bamboo bungalows.

Using the night train created time for an entire day on the lake.  Upon arrival we were all refreshed and restored by a dip in the crystal clear waters of the lake - just step off your front porch!  After lunch we had an excursion to the Coral Cave.  A demanding but short jungle hike was rewarded with one of my favorite tour activities:  a raft journey to the isolated cave.  Riding on the simply constructed, motorized bamboo rafts, surrounded by natural and isolated beauty is an experience not to be forgotten.  Since my last visit, they've built rudimentary steps up to the cave, making access easier, but the experience is still pretty authentic as we were alone in the cave (although a second group arrived as we were leaving - alas, even this isolated gem is moving toward the mainstream).  After returning to our floating home, we relaxed, swam, or paddled around in kayaks until dinner.

The night train and rustic bamboo huts were a stretch for some, but the payout was having the entire day on the lake and sleeping in the heart of pristine KS, attended only by the sounds of the jungle and the light of a clear starry sky.  It is magical!  And further wonders of the Andaman coast awaited us the next day.