S̄wạs̄dī National Parks!August 24, 2018 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 84 °F
The night ferry to was actually pretty nice, more like a boat hostel with actual bunk beds inside. I was able to get a good nights sleepy and woke up just as we were docking in Surat Thani. The terminus of the ferry all the passengers got off and waited to be picked up bu their respective tour companies. After 10 minutes my company arrived and me and a few other passengers bundled into his minivan. We were then transferred to their office where were given stickers for stating our next destination and waited again for another minivan to come. Me and another couple heading to Khao Sok National Park were the first to be picked up. We didn’t get too comfortable before we pulled into a bus station and were transferee to our third and final bus which would takes all the way to the park. It took another two hours to reach the park where we were dropped by the main road outside the village. I decided to ignore the waiting taxis and walk the final 10 minutes along the road to the village and finally reached my hostel just before lunch time. I dumped my stuff in the room and headed out to fine somewhere for lunch. As I didn’t really have breakfast I decided to have pancakes for lunch, which would have been nice had it not been for the wasps hovering about. I managed to trap three under a lid so that I could finish my meal before paying and making a speedy exit before they released them. Refuelled I headed into the National Park and started the main hiking route. The first 3km of the park is quite a wide dirt road which can be trekked without a guide, the main highlight being a small waterfall just off the route. At the 3km mark there is a small forest cafe and information centre marking the point where you need a guide to continue. I had read online that it is possible to continue on alone as there are signs showing the route and the path is well marked on maps me. I decided to ignore the signs at the entrance and continued on. The path was much narrower and trickier than the main route with many stones and tree routes to navigate. Although there were arrows every so often the path was not always so obvious. After ten minutes of so I met two Czech guys and joined them for a bit as I truthfully I didn’t like walking there alone. Soon after we met a family with their tour guide and followed them for a bit before having to pass them as they stopped to talk about some of the plants. We found ourselves having to climb up the routes of a tree along a steep hill and when we got to the top it started raining. I checked maps me and say that we were quite far from the next point of interest. The path was getting harder and harder to navigate so I decided to make the sensible decision and turned back. The guys said they’d carry on for a bit so we parted ways. On the way back I saw that the family had decided to turn back too so I knew I’d made the right decision. Finally I reached the forest cafe and took shelter there until the rain stopped. Not long after I got there i saw another group return followed shortly after by after by the two Czech guys who carried of to the man entrance. While I was waiting for the rain to atop I met a nice young couple from Manchester, Adam and Rachel and we chatted about their trip and life in Manchester. It was nice reminiscing about uni days. Finally the rain stopped and we made our way back to the town. Still pretty wet and dirty I headed straight to my hostel and had a shower before finding somewhere for dinner. After my meal of pizza (I think I’d earned it) I retired for the evening, exhausted after a long day in the go.
The next day I decided to take a tour of the Cheow Lan Lake within the National Park. I was picked up by a minivan in the morning and driven the hourlong journey to the main pier. About twenty other tourists and I bundled into one of the many long boats and at the lakes main pier and headed off on our tour. The 165 square km lake makes up almost a quarter of the whole park and is surrounded by huge limestone rocks and is surprisingly man made. The basin was flooded over one year in 1987 in order to use it as a source of energy. We had an hours ride to the centre of the lake, stopping along the way for photo opportunities of the main rock formations, until we reached one of the floating restaurants and Homestays where we had lunch. After lunch those that opted to hike to one of the caves headed off (only two young guys) while the rest of us stayed around the homestay where we could swim or kayak if we wanted. Unfortunately for me the group wasn’t the most conducive for making friends (mainly couples or families) so I decided to spend the afternoon reading on the porch of one of the guest huts with the view of the lake. A couple of hours later the boys returned and he got back on the boat for the journey back to the pier. On the way back we stopped for some more pictures before finally reaching the pier at around 5pm. We bundled back into the minivans and headed back to the village. After a light dinner I returned to my hostel for an early night ready for the morning bus.
I caught the 9am minivan the next day to Phang Nga. Unfortunately there are no direct buses so it took over three hours to get there due to the route. As soon as we left Khao Sok the heavens opened and we had torrential rain the whole way. Even more unfortunate was that it didn’t stop when I arrived at the Phang Nga bus station which was quite far out of the town meaning I had to get a motorbike taxi to my hotel. In the rain. Thank god I still had my poncho I bought in Pakse! Although it didn’t really make the rise much better. I arrived at the Phang Nga guesthouse pretty damp and checked into their cheapest cupboard of a room desperate to change into dry clothes. Feeling instantly better I went to the reception to ask if they had a tour of the National Park Bay and they gave me a brochure from a local agent. The price looked good, and to be honest the town looked pretty dead, so I decided to book it straight away for tomorrow. I wanted to do a half day, due to the price but they already had a family who wanted a full day if the weather was good. As I really wanted to see the bay I agreed and booked it anyway. With the tour sorted I ventured out to find somewhere for lunch. Thankfully it had stopped raining. Thanks to TripAdvisor I managed to find a really nice cafe on a hill overlooking the town and had a nice meal while looking at the view. With literally nothing else to do on the town and no other tourist in site I decided to spend the rest of the day in my cupboard room making full use of the WiFi.
I was up and ready in reception by 8am the next morning where i waited for my tour guide. As I waited I was treated to the view of the local schools parade agains smoking. The seriously over the top parade through the towns Main Street made up of each class dressed in different costumes, some as dancers, some as giant cigarettes or trees carrying rubbish bags. Every so often there was a slightly under rehearsed marching band to accompany the dancers. All this for stop smoking. Imagine what they do on the kings birthday! Soon my guide arrived and led be down the street to his car where I met a sweet Canadian girl called Mercedes. We then navigates the backstreets as we tried to avoid the parade before we picked up the family from the Netherlands, Sonja and her three teenage kids (I cant remember there names). We then headed out of the city and to the small pier where we were shown onto our long boat for the day. The driver left us in the hands of our local boatman who would take care of us for the day. He didn’t speak much English but was very sweet making sure we were comfortable before setting off. The boat headed down river before turning into the narrower river through the mangroves. I had never seen mangroves before and i have to say they are one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. It’s amazing how trees can grow like that. We travelled through the mangroves for an hour before taking a brief tour of one the areas water caves. We then joined the main river again and continued down to the main bay of Ao Phang Nga National Park. The park is made up of small limestone islands within the Adman Sea, very similar (but on a much smaller scale) to Halong Bay in Vietnam and is even home to a floating Muslim village, complete with mosque, where our boatman is from. As we traveled across the bay our guide indicated that we could sit on the roof which is where I spent pretty much the rest of the time in the boat. During the tour we stopped at a few of the islands briefly, the main one being “James Bond Island” where they filmed The Man With The Golden Gun. It’s a fairly small island and is now busy with tourists making it hard to imagine Roger Moore’s Bond being there. We stopped for lunch on the quiet beach of another island. As I got off the boat I suddenly noticed that there was a turtle on the beach. Though just as suddenly I saw that it was sadly dead. It was in its back with a huge chunk out of its side, possibly from crashing into something (its not an area for large predators. I’m so sad that the first turtle I see in real life turns out to be dead. We mixed future down the beach to have our lunch, not that we really felt like eating after that. Not long after the National Park coast guard turned up to deal with the turtle. Not exactly something you want to leave on a beach. Almost as soon as we’d finished lunch it started to rain. We quickly packed up our stuff and for back on the boat while our guide pulled the side panels down shielding us from the worst of it. We started to make our way back through the bay, and as with most rain storms here, it stopped almost as quickly as it stared. A few minutes later I found myself back on the now dry roof enjoying the boat ride. On the way back we stopped at the floating village and spent half an hour walking around and reading the information board about its history. It was probably the worst bit of translation I have ever read so I couldn’t tell you anything about the village even if I wanted to. Seriously none of it made sense. We then headed back to our boat and made the final journey back to the pier, spotting a few monkeys in the mangroves on the way back. We arrived at the pier earlier than expected so had to eat ten minutes for our first guide to pick us up. As previously requested I asked to be dropped at the bus station on the way back so I could get the bus straight to Krabi. I was able to catch the next bus and reached Krabi two hours later. I got a tuk tuk to my hostel for the night and had a quick shower before going to the local night market for dinner. Pretty tired after the days adventure, and yet more travelling ahead tomorrow, I decided to call it a day.
So there you have my few days in two of Thailand’s National parks. Next stop it’s back to island life for a few days.
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