The overnight train ride from Bangkok pulled into the town of Surat Thani at 5:40 am, still dark and few businesses awake yet. This did not stop some enterprising touts from offering to be helpful in funneling us to this backpacker destination or that. In my many years of traveling as a student, a travel agent, a businessperson and as a tourist, I have distilled a few rules which have kept me safe and possibly avoided much annoyance or worse.
Useful Tip #1:
If you arrive when it is still dark out in a place you have never been before, do not leave the airport or train station environs until it is light out, (except in the case of a major airport by using private, official or authorized taxi service.) Certainly do not be scooped up by touts trawling for hapless travelers.
None of us having ever been to Surat Thani before, we went over to a little eatery just across the street from the train station and ordered tea and coffee. They were just setting out freshly made steaming fish in green curry sauce and rice. Bill & I shared an excellent plate of it, and it was certainly a spicy way to wake up the eyeballs.
Dawn rises and dusk falls quickly at this latitude, and suddenly it was light enough to get our bearings. Across the street was a taxi stand. Bill and our traveling companion hung out in the restaurant while I went over to arrange for us to share a cab to Our Jungle House in the village of Khao Sok, just outside the Khao Sok National Park.
There was a chart of fares to many destinations, including Khao Sok, which was listed as 1500 baht. This was 1000 baht cheaper than I was expecting, so I didn’t bargain about it. $45 for 3 people to go in an air-conditioned new car 100 kilometers directly to our resort was a good deal to me. Probably we could have found a minibus station and gone to the village for $5 each, and then walked or gotten a tuk-tuk to the resort, but we are old enough and solvent enough that we don’t have to, if there is a choice. We loaded up and set off.
The highway was scenic and in good shape and our taxi driver, Somsak Sringoenthap, who goes by the nickname of Ton, was professional and judicious. We soon arrived at Our Jungle House, which is located outside of the town proper, along a river and towered over by sheer cliffs. The town itself is that sort of conglomeration of backpacker clutter I like to avoid. I had booked months earlier after exploring options.
The resort is lovely and the jungle is kept somewhat at bay on the immediate grounds, yet it is very natural, which is the experience you want when visiting the jungle.
Most of the accommodations are treehouses in dark wood and bamboo, with rustic, boutique bathrooms attached. Each cabin scattered throughout the 25 acre property is unique and individually named. All are quite private. Bill and I were booked into the unit called “Hideaway” treehouse (2500 baht + 7% tax) at the far end of the meandering walkway, well away from reception and restaurant center. Our traveling companion, being a gregarious city boy, was booked into a cabin close to the restaurant, which is also the only place where wifi is available.
As Bill and I settled in to our jungle treehouse, the vegetation came alive with macaques, leaping from branch to branch, scampering onto the roof and even the veranda railing. It was wonderful!
Food at the restaurant was quite good, with offerings of Thai and western foods. Whatever you order is added to your tab, so no need to bandy about a lot of cash. The serving staff immediately knew us not by our names but by our cabin names. Their English was very good and they were efficient & cheerful. They have their system down and it works well. The staff is super at Our Jungle House!
That evening we all had Thai full body massages. None of us were that impressed with them — we’ve had better.
The next day we stashed our luggage at the reception and a group of 7 of us embarked on an overnight trip to the floating bungalows on the Cheow Lan Reservoir Lake in the middle of the Khao Sok National Park. Upon our return, we were booked into “Mango” treehouse (1800 baht + 7% tax) because “Hideaway” was unavailable.
It was at the opposite end of the resort from “Hideaway”, right by the river in a thicket of mature bamboo, some of which were 6 inches in diameter. There was an entire troop of macaques leaping & cavorting there, from little playful babies & juveniles to heavily endowed males & wily adults who were always on the lookout for something shiny and/or edible.
Remember though: monkeys of any sort are wild animals, unpredictable. They can bite and scratch and spread rabies. Don’t feed them or encourage them to come too close, or that could be the end of your vacation.
Our traveling companion was still suffering a bit of jetlag. He grumbled about all the worrisome animal night noises keeping him awake. My feeling is that it is part of the adventure and that’s how you know you are really in the jungle, wifi or no. Didn’t bother me at all, or maybe the white noise of the ceiling fan overrode them. A cicada close by could be pretty piercing, but they stop after a bit. It’s a visit to the jungle, not a life choice. Revel in the experience!
We had arranged for Ton the taxi driver to fetch us from OJH and take us to our next destination, as he was a good guy and gave us a good price. The morning we left, I could not find my prescription sunglasses, and notified the busy front desk. Nothing in the lost and found. Oh, well. Ton turned up on time and we departed.
About 30 minutes into our journey, Our Jungle House called to say they had found my sunglasses! Yay! Still, it would mean turning around and adding an hour to the whole trip. Ton said he was going back to Our Jungle House the next day for another fare, and that he could fetch the sunglasses and deliver them for 400 baht. $12 USD. We were going to a town called Khanom on the east coast of the Thai peninsula, about an hour past Surat Thani. That was a deal!
When we arrived at our Khanom hotel, we realized that my suitcase had gotten left behind at the reception at OJH. That is the first time I’ve ever forgotten my suitcase anywhere. Sheesh! What a DOPE! We called OJH and asked them to give it to Ton the taxi driver the next day. He duly delivered it along with the sunglasses. We were so impressed with him, we booked him to take us all the way to Trang in the deep south. I bargained a bit and he gave us a discount, but in the end, we tipped him the difference anyway.
So if you need a great taxi driver in the environs of Surat Thani — and he covers the area from Phuket to Koh Samui and now even all the way to Trang — call Ton at 089-5948893 or 090-0676962. He’s honest, professional, on time, and he charges fairly. (I don’t get a commission or anything — I just think good taxi drivers are rare and should be promoted.)
Our experience at Our Jungle House was excellent in all respects: there is not anything I would change. Well, maybe get better masseuses, but that is not very important. It is beautiful, well-run, clean, serves excellent food and I recommend it unreservedly!
Read my next post on our time at the floating bungalows on Chiao Lan Lake…