Travel Journal

Khao Sok National Park - Thailand

(Wednesday 7 October 2009) by Jon Paul & Sarah
First... it looks like our map if freaking out on us, so don't pay too much attention to it... we didn't really fly back and forth between Penang and Singapore 3 times... Also, the place we are now won't let us load pictures, so hopefully this story will be good enough on it's own...

The bus we booked from Penang on October 1st ended up being a Minibus (which is essentially a crammed, elongated minivan that holds 14 people). It took us over the borer to a city in Thailand south of where we needed to be in order to make the connection to Khao Sok. After some initial confusion, we were able to let them know that we were trying to head to Khao Sok and they quickly ushered us onto another Minibus for another 3-4 hour ride further north to a city called Surat Thani. We were dropped off that night at a cheap hotel since it was too late to go any further and told that the bus would return at 9am to take us to Khao Sok.

Unfortunately, in the morning the bus didn't appear and, after a quick breakfast at the hotel, we booked another minibus to leave at 11am and head us out toward Khao Sok. We arrived at Khao Sok later that afternoon with the ride only taking a few hours and were immediately ushered to some jungle bungalows that were raised up off the ground and surrounded by a fruit orchard. The entire area appeared as if we were in a valley with sloping cliffs and lush jungle all around. The main street, though tailored for visitors, was far from a tourist hot spot and it looked like we had found a really good place to spend the next few days.

Our plan was basically to hike through the jungle, looking for the caves, waterfalls, and swimming holes that had been described too us, but once we checked in to our little bungalow, we were quickly greeted by our hosts with a range of tour options that we could sign up for that would take us on excursions all over the jungle. We were conflicted since they were really expensive compared to everything we had been doing to this point, but the one we were interested in would have taken us to the nearby lake where we would stay on floating huts one night. The days would then be spent hiking, canoeing, and swimming. It all sounded great, especially given the scenery, but we wanted to think it over since we had just gotten there and it really was expensive.

The next day we planned on hiking to some of the waterfalls listed on the park map, since those seemed like the only things you could really get to on your own without a guide (particularly since it's the middle of the rainy season over here now and there is always the danger of a flash-flood along the river that we were near). Sarah and I headed into the park and picked the longest hike we could do after we found out that many of the other trails had been closed because of the season. We set out on the trail, but didn't make it too far before a torrential downpour stopped us in our tracks.

I quickly grabbed my garbage bag raincoat (always classy, but glad Sarah had thought to pack it) and we stayed under a tree hoping the rain would pass quickly. Unfortunately for us, it didn't let up and only seemed to get worse as we watched it quickly flood the entire trail. We ended up joining a guide who was leading two other tourists out and figured that if they were leaving, it might be a good idea for us too. We then waited out the rain under an information booth cover talking to a British traveler who wanted to hike as well, but was put off by the constant rain.

After a while the rain let up a bit and our British friend decided to brave the trail we had just come from with his guide. We didn't want to follow since it seemed kind of cheap to do so if he was paying for the guide and we weren't, so we headed up to the one other trail that was open. We hiked that for a bit, across a suspension bridge that hung precariously over a very flooded river and up a myriad of stairs. However, after a bit, we found out that what we were hiking to was actually a vantage point.... and not a waterfall. Definitely a shame, but funny that we kept looking for it.

After laughing about that, we started to hike back toward the park entrance. We explored a short side trail, but found nothing and so turned right back around. It was only about 30 seconds after this that something made Sarah and I both look at our shoes at the same time. Sarah yelled at me to check them only to look up from hers and see that I was already doing this. What we both saw was a bunch of tiny little worms, weaving their way through our shoe laces, between the folds of our socks, and slowly climbing our legs.

To my abject horror, something in the back of my head clicked and I realized with a shocking yelp that these were not worms, but leeches - and lots of them. Try as we might to kick or scrub them off... they stubbornly held on and just kept coming. The most disturbing aspect was that we simply could not feel them, not even as they inched further up our bodies... That thought alone causes me to shiver even now. You couldn't even feel them bite...

After a minute of frantic scrambling, I yelled back to Sarah to run for it so that we could get out of a place that was obviously heavily infested with the things. We ran hard, all the while unsure how many others were taking advantage of our newly lowered defenses to climb even higher under our clothes. In our panic we made it back to a youth camp area at one of the trail heads and began desperately trying to find them all on each other without stripping completely naked out in the open (especially since there was a female ranger of sorts nearby watching with rapt curiosity as we examined and picked at each other).

We found some more under the legs of our shorts and on Sarah's stomach, but we suspected there were more we just couldn't see. We started a brisk pace for the long walk back to our bungalow in order to hit the shower asap. I'll admit that we both found a couple more once in the shower, but I'll spare you the gory details... rest assured though that the one that had been sucking on me the longest paid for his abuse...

Needless to say, that little experience unnerved us enough to solidify our decision against doing the tour that included more hiking out in the marshy jungle at night. Plus, the continued rain, even after we got back that evening, was just another thing that caused Sarah and I to decide to peace out from Khao Sok the next day. We went and got our clothes washed, had some dinner, and tried to blot out the horrors of the day with some audio books and Solitaire. The next day we were on a minibus back to Surat Thani.

All that being said, we could both see that Khao Sok was a very beautiful place and we're sure that during the dry season it is a much better place to hike around. Even amidst the clouds and the rain, the scenery was breathtaking. But, at least we felt privileged to experience such a flood of rain in a rain forest and to be so graciously welcomed by our (very affectionate) jungle hosts.


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