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Blood sucking leeches and flying lizards in Khao Sok

THAILAND | Wednesday, 1 July 2009 | Views [7871]

It's a very easy system when you get a ferry in Thailand. They give you a colour coded badge with the destination written on it, each destination has a different colour. If you so much as look at the wrong queue or try to go in the wrong direction someone will identify your error and guide you the right way. The ferry to the mainland was pleasant enough – no repeat of the high seas on the previous trip so we were able to do some reading and blogging. After a coach transfer we reached Surat Thani, a functional town which seems to serve mostly as a transit hub to and from the islands.

We had about 30 seconds to buy some fruit and we were put onto a minibus. Only the back seats were left and there wasn't much room for us or our bags but we squeezed on anyway. We were off but to our horror we discovered that two more passengers were being picked up too. They piled in beside us, somehow managed to fall asleep practically standing up and we had an uncomfortable 3 hour trip to Kao Sok National Park.

We had tried to book Our Jungle House (http://khaosokaccommodation.com/), a place that Lonely Planet had recommended for its treehouses. They wouldn't accept a booking at such short notice but we went anyway on spec. Thankfully they weren't too busy but they didnt have any treehouses left so we settled for a riverside bungalow. It really is an amazing setting for a place. The open plan reception and restaurant are in a clearing in wht looked like primary rainforest and are built from real wood, no concrete in this jungle. The lodges and treehouses themselves are situated along a set of dimly lit trails through the rainforest itself. Our lodge was to be found in a clearing beside the Sok river underneath a spectacular limestone cliff.

It was very tastefully appointed in teak and rattan with a veranda overlooking the river.

There was even an enormous spider in the bathroom to remind us that we were in the jungle.

Despite the spider it was the best view I've ever had from any shower anywhere.

After settling in we ate well in the guesthouse restaurant. Not that we had a vast amount of choice as the closest buildings and the village were a few km away. We spoke to Klaus, the German manager about what trekking options there were in the park and after a bit of deliberation decided on a half day guided trek in the morning and a night safari for the evening. A strange rustling woke Claire up in the middle of the night. She woke me, scared and I dismissed it as her imagination. 10 minutes later I was banging on the bed trying to scare whatever it was away, unwilling to leave the relative safety of our mosquito net cocoon.

After breakfast we set off for the trek with Lek, our happy go lucky Thai guide.

He was delighted to get the work as it was low season and trekking tourists were few and far between. We got to the park itself, via a shortcut Lek knew, through an orchard of mangos and other exotic fruits which look a bit like hairy lychees but are much tastier. We arrived at the entrance and paid our fee. The fee evidently changes based on the whim of park guard collecting it – the book said one price, the guesthouse another, the sign on the park gate a third and we ended up paying less than any of them. Handy that!

The park covers a large area of primary forest and a large manmade reservoir created at the cost of a few villages and a whole lot wildlife. It was the first to be nationalised by the Thai government in the sixties but that didn't seem to stop the reservoir being set up. The inevitable tourist developments are encroaching, right up to the boundary fence along which Lek lead us. He pointed out a few monkeys in the trees and some wild elephant tracks.

At one point I came across a very strange little being just screaming for attention in the mud. It was about 2cm long, thin and brown the shape of an earthworm but much more flexible and skinny. I asked Lek what it was an the answer came back: a bloodsucking leech! We'd read about them in the guide books and they had recommended using tobacco water. It seemed pretty harmless and tiny so we left it to its own devices and carried on down the track. Lek pointed out a flying lizard. I was skeptical but eventually he caught one and showed us its wings and how it glides through the trees (it doesn't fly).

We came to some beautiful waterfalls when Claire spotted that her one side of her sock, by the ankle, was covered in blood. After examining her foot there were no beasties to be seen so a leech must have gorged itself and then fallen off, bloated.

It seems boots and socks, even tucked into trousers are no defence. They don't like tobacco though so Lek applied some tobacco water to our shoes and we started to turn back. It worked a charm. We also saw a few enormous hourglass spiders and some very hairy and poisonous caterpillars.

The forest and its waterfalls were quite beautiful but we were comparing it to the Amazon which was the last time we had been properly in the rainforest and it was probably an unfair comparison.

Just as we got back to the lodge the heavens erupted in what was our first real taste of monsoon rain. It came down like a thousand taps on full, creating a lake around the restaurant.

We agreed with Klaus that if it didn't clear up we would postpone the night safari but luckily it stopped just at dusk allowing us to get back to the lodge and get our night gear before dinner.

The night trek was much better for seeing wildlife. Just as we entered the park we saw a slow loris, a sort of cross between a bear, a monkey and a sloth. They don't do a hell of a lot, hence the name. Although Lek gave us a really good dose of tobacco all over our shoes and socks it didn't seem to have any effect.

I was plucking the little fellas of my legs every 5 minutes. 2 managed to get me around my belly and one was just about to sink his teeth into my jugular before I caught him in the act and squezed him off. Claire had the same issues and narrowly escaped a tick biting her ankle. It was easy enough to get used to once we got the technique down. Some people say use a lighter but a nail swipe worked just fine. Not for the squeamish though! Lek was great at spotting the animals. We saw a lot of very cute, tiny and appropriately named Mouse Deer and a beautiful civet cat with a long stripy tail.

We did see some recent elephant tracks but none of the beasts themselves. I asked Lek what he would do if we found any elephants and he said he would run away as fast as he could so it was probably just as well.

We got back to the lodge and had a pleasant late night beer on the veranda. Rudely interrupted by a rat brazenly walking up the stairs and into the room. So that was what the noise was! I also spent some time admiring my leech cuts!

In the morning get got up with no intentions of doing much apart from having a mooch around and booking our onward journey. As we set off to look at what we were missing with the treehouses Claire spotted an unusual sight. It was a female chameleon underneath the lodge laying eggs into a shallow nest.

We asked a few people if this was normal and were told that it was very rare and that we were very lucky. After having spent the whole time in the grounds of the guesthouse we thought it would be nice to explore a little. But we weren't missing much. A few closed up bars and restaurants. Gueshouses, which looked a bit shabby waiting for the high season. We had clearly chosen our accommdation well. We booked our ticket to Krabi and went back to where we belonged!

There is a really nice atmosphere at Our Jungle House. Dick, the American owner was there for a short spell and we got talking to him. He was there to oversee the handover of management from Klaus, who was retiring, and his friendly Thai wife to a French couple. He was admiring my laptop and cursing his own larger and infintely more expensive Sony. I waxed lyrical about the cheap as chips Asus EEEPC I picked up randomly in Paraguay and something strange happened. The laptop keys started to stop working. I couldn't turn up the screen light or turn off the wireless. It was very frustrating. I should have kept my mouth shut. As we hung about the reception reading (I was getting increasingly angry with the unreliability of my technology) the staff we quick to point out things – there was a beautiful orange Mango snake curled up on one of the trees and there was a resident lizard who comes into the kitchen to eat scraps. They really were very welcoming and hospitable.

That evening we met some other guests, Kim and Bryan, a couple on holidays from Holland. They were a friendly bunch we had dinner together. They ended up going on a trek with Lek the following morning on our advice, despite our exaggerated stories about bloodsucking leeches and tobacco water.

After seeing our new Dutch friends off the taxi arrived (read 4x4 – they don't do black cabs in Asia as any regular reader now knows), we jumped on and were taken to a mini bus. This one had a lot more room and we were off for an easy 3 hour trip to Krabi.

Krabi is on the west coast of Thailand. As its prone to monsoon during the summer we had been avoiding the coast and were only staying one day. We had a flight to Kuala Lumpur booked the next day with our old friends Air Asia. The reason for the flight was that there are a lot of warnings about terrorism and political instability in the Southern provinces of Thailand. Rather than risk it we would save some time by getting straight to KL.

The damp of the jungle had gotten to Claire. By the time we checked into a guesthouse in Krabi she was sneezing and displaying all the signs of a cold. I went out to get some flu medicine and make an attempt at fixing my computer. I succeeded on the flu medicine front but failed miserably with the laptop. It was beyond my means. Claire slept, I cursed and lamented and tried to see if there was an ASUS repair centre in KL. More on that later. I cajoled Claire into getting up for some food in the evening – for our last night in Thailand, which had such great food, I am ashamed to admit that we had a pizza. But a very nice pizza it was too.

A bus the following morning took us to Krabi airport. I had been expecting some sort of nasty regional shed of the type that Ryanair call an airport, like Paris Beauvais but it was a pleasant surprise to arrive at a very modern place that looked like it had only just opened its doors. We were a little sad to be leaving Thailand, a country we had spent well over a month in all told, but also excited to be moving on to Malaysia, a Muslim country, for the first time. We hoped it would treat us as well as the Thai treat their monks.

Tags: ferry, jungle, trekking, wildlife


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