In 1982, in the middle of Khao Sok National Park in southern Thailand, the Rajjaprabbha Dam was built. This filled in a series of connected mountain valleys to create Cheow Lan Lake. The resulting lake is spectacular and is protected as part of the national park and wildlife refuge. I booked an overnight tour when I reserved our stay at Our Jungle House.
We were advised to bring just a small backpack of minimal stuff for an overnight. This excursion cost 2500 baht each ($76 USD, plus 7% VAT). The transfers by 50 minutes bus and 60-90 minute longtailed boat ride, an afternoon jungle hike, 2 boat safaris, a knowledgeable guide, a night in the floating bungalow, and all meals and drinking water were included as well. Probably we could have arranged all of this on our own, since the little village of Khao Sok is rife with tour agents, but I am satisfied with the quality and value of the package Our Jungle House put together.
The lake is very deep, and it can get very windy out on it. Because of this, we needed to arrange ourselves in the longtailed boat with balance in mind and make sure our belongings and ourselves were waterproofed. (The bus had made a stop before we got to the park at a small market where cheap plastic ponchos ($1-2) were available. Avail yourself of one.)
Don’t face forward. Face the stern of the boat. The spray is going to drench you from the bow, and the wind is going to blow it all in your face. So if you face forward (as we all did in our eagerness to see our adventure unfold), you have to hunker down like refugees in a storm and can’t see a thing anyway. However, with your back to the spray and your poncho hood up, your face and glasses stay dry and you can marvel at the scenery as it falls away behind the boat.
Of course, I only learned this on the way over and did not put it into action until the return boat ride, but better late than never.
The many beautiful fjord-like fingers of mountainsides reveal themselves as you speed along in the open boat. Numerous islands dot the coves plunging upward out of the reservoir waters with steep karst limestone walls covered in jungle greenery.
The floating bungalows are only allowed at a few spots on the lake. They are owned by the original inhabitants of the Cheow Lan village which was flooded out when the dam was built. Ours was located the farthest from the dam. Thus we got the longest boat ride (about an hour) and saw more of the gorgeous scenery. The mountains crowded upon the horizon into the distance in waves of blues and greens 7 layers deep.
The floating huts, made of bamboo, wood and grass or reeds, are built on pontoons in a string tethered to the land. They basically each consist of a platform with a foam mattress and a little “porch” for sitting. Arrangements are very simple, but who needs more when you can just take two steps and jump into the lake for a swim? The water is luke cool in the morning (mind you, this was December), just enough to take a minute to adjust to, but not so cold you have to steel yourself to jump in. Later in the day, the temperature would be warmer. The water is very deep. Don’t go looking to find the bottom. It’s not there.
The restaurant provided set meals. Each tour group sat at their own table, which allowed us to get to know each other and trade travel stories. The Thai food was good, and there was plenty of it. Vegetarians and the spice-averse were accommodated. Tea, coffee and cocoa were self-service, though not very good.
The toilets are quite a ways away, so be sure to have a flashlight for any nighttime forays. Lights are strung along the decking, but it is uneven and there are gaps & patches and one could easily misstep.
Our expeditionary force of 7 consisted of 3 Americans (Bill, me & our traveling companion), a Danish couple in mid career, and two 20 year old white South African kids.
Our guide Jakkapong, who goes by the nickname Pu (or maybe it’s Poo or Pooh), has been living in and off of the jungle since he was 8. He would go into the jungle with his grandfather to hunt and to collect fruits to sell. Sometimes they would live in the forest for one or two months at a time. He knows all about the habits and life cycles of the local wildlife and the uses of plants and trees. Which are poisonous, which are not. Pu is a trove of jungle lore. He has lots of stories of his adventures in the jungle and great enthusiasm for the environment.
It so happened that we did not catch much in the way of glimpses of wildlife. No one can control when wildlife will turn up. However, we learned a lot about the eco-system we were visiting. Sometimes, when there were animals to be seen, usually different types of monkeys and birds, it was hard for our untrained eyes to see them. Pu has a fine camera and got some magnificent telephoto shots of various critters in the trees. Binoculars would have been a good thing to have.
A few people were getting a little out of their comfort zones on the hike, but we were an encouraging and supportive group, and we all made it through. It wasn’t hard for Bill or me, because we hike quite a bit at home. By the time we got back down to lakefront, though, my knees were telling me we deserved a nice dinner and a swim. Our boatman and Pu took us around some islands and inlets for a boat safari at dusk, hoping we could spot some more wildlife, but nobody much came out of the cover of the trees. We could hear them, though.
We all enjoyed our communal dinner that evening. We talked Thailand and travel, politics and jobs back home. Then we drifted off to our little floating huts and slept well.
The next morning, before breakfast, Pu took us out again for a boat safari, and we saw some langurs. Pu spotted a dusky langur sitting with a black monkey and they were grooming each other. He was very excited by this, because he had never seen or heard of two different species of monkeys living together like that. He got photos to document it.
Later after breakfast, Bill and I went kayaking and saw a gibbon. We had free time for swimming and then lunch, and then it was back to the entrance pier by longtailed boat and bus to Our Jungle House.
The whole excursion was a wonderful experience. There is no wifi, thank goodness. Look at the stars, listen to the lake lapping at your bungalow’s pontoons. Breathe. Be there now.