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Khao Sok National Park, Thailand

Feb 3 – 6

Miguel and I set out in the morning for our first big motorbike trip. We were heading to Khao Sok National Park, about 120 km from Surat Thani. We left most of our stuff at the hotel in Surat Thani and it felt nice to only be traveling with a small day pack.

The drive out of Surat Thani was pretty stressful – lots of traffic and we weren’t exactly sure which direction to go. But once we got on the main road, things were easier. We still had to watch out for the occasional tuk tuks driving in the wrong direction or stopping without notice, dogs hanging out in the middle of the road, and huge buses whizzing past. But all in all, the roads were pretty calm. And the scenery was beautiful.

After a failed attempt to find a waterfall along the way, we stopped on the side of the road for a snack break before continuing on.

The mountains got even greener and lusher the closer we got to the park.

Eventually we reached Khao Sok National Park…and it was gorgeous.

We managed to find a cute little cabin in the woods for 200 Baht a night (maybe even less…I can’t remember).

Our cabin was surrounded by plants, birds, and flying squirrels. This was our view outside the window.

The guest house came with a cute old dog.

And our room was equipped with a large mosquito net (extremely necessary).

We even had a nice porch where we could sit and take photos of us looking like proper Texas hicks.

We stayed there 4 nights, but could have stayed much longer. There was tons to do.

One day we walked to a guest house at the end of the road to see a pretty stream with a troop of wild monkeys.

Another day we swung through the jungle like tarzan.

and took a long hike up a big hill to see the Raflessia, a parasitic flowering plant and the largest flower in the world. It is called “the big flower” by all the Thai people in Khao Sok and it only blooms one month out of the year, staying open 5 or 6 days before rotting and withering away. We were lucky to get to see it while we were there.

And there were several rafflesia flowers in varying stages, so we got to see the full life cycle of the plant.

First the plant starts as a large bud that looks like a cabbage or a giant mushroom.

Then it bursts open into a giant flower, emitting a foul stench of rotting meat so insects will pollinate it.

It bent down to smell it. Yucky!

After about a week, the plant starts to turn black and decompose.

I’m not sure what this sign says, but we found it on the rafflesia trail. Maybe it says something about the plant.

We also went on several other hikes. Most parks in Thailand charge an entrance fee of 350 Baht (only valid for 24 hours), so if you plan to do lots of different small hikes, it’s best to do them all in one day to save money. Many people will approach you trying to get you to book a guided tour, but I promise you don’t need one. We went out on our own and saw quite a few animals.

Most of the animals came out in the evening. Aside from the crazy loud cicadas everywhere that sounded like a cross between chainsaws and car alarms, we also saw an owl and a palm civet. As soon as it got dark, the jungle came alive with unidentifiable animals sounds all around.

Our favorite place to eat was at Rattana’s. Amazing food. Also…we just loved her. She’s Mama Oi status for sure. She even had a cool chef’s hat!

We tried to branch out and sample a few other places, but they never compared. So we ate all the rest of our meals at her place.

Another fun thing about her restaurant were the flocks of bats that would swoop down around the lights and eat up the mosquitoes. We also loved the giant toads who seemed to be constantly lurking underneath the refrigerator.

We never ended up taking a cooking class with Rattana, but I definitely would have if we had stuck around Khao Sok National Park any longer. I’m sure her classes are great!

Our last day in the park, Miguel and I took a crazy long hike to a waterfall and back. It would have been nice and leisurely if we had started early in the morning, but we didn’t get going on the trail until around 2pm. The park rangers warned us that we shouldn’t go all the way to the waterfall so late, but we decided to try it anyway.

It was a long way. And while most of the trail was well signposted and easy to follow, we managed to get lost at one point. We ran into 3 other groups who had also gotten lost and we were all wandering in circles wondering which way to go. Eventually we figured it out and continued on.

I think the other few groups decided to be sensible and stop at a waterfall 1 kilometer before the last one, because we never ended up seeing them again. But we wanted to make it all the way to the end. The last stages of the trail were hard core jungle – basically hanging on to branches and roots while inching our way down into a big valley (all the while knowing we’d be having to climb back out very soon).

Eventually we made it to the waterfall. Just in time for a swim and a snack.

But we really only had about 20 minutes to enjoy the waterfall, unfortunately. It was already getting dark and we had a long way to walk back to the main road. It was time to head out!

Trying to beat the darkness, we walked as fast as we could. During the flat sections we were almost running. At a few places, we got a little worried because we weren’t sure which direction to go…but one of us ended up recognizing some tree stump or plant and we managed to figure it out. At one point, we found a Thai guy camping in the middle of the woods and he helped point us in the right direction. After a few hours of brisk walking, we made it out of the jungle just as the night animals and insects started to make their crazy noises.

After the long walk, we felt a bit dizzy.

And sweaty and exhausted.

The next day, we woke up early and left the park. The ride back was cold and misty.

After barely missing a collision with a tuk tuk, we made it back to Surat Thani just in time to return the motorbike and eat at our favorite veggie buffet.

Notes:

  • This is definitely the most addicting junk food in Thailand. There are different flavors, but I like the red chili the best.

  • Sweet Basil and Nori are some other interesting chip flavors.

  • If you ever thought about smoking, the graphic photos on these cigarette packs might make you think twice. I’m pretty sure these photos will be expanding to the rest of Asia soon. Here are some articles about this campaign. A good movie along this topic – Thank You for Smoking.

  • Thailand has its fair share of sad, scruffy dogs.

  • Who knew I’d find a New Kids on the Block shirt at a tiny shop in the middle of the jungle.

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