In the afternoon of the 29th the three of us set off on the main hiking trail in Khao Sok National Park, which meanders west from the park headquarters. It was heavily used, wide enough for a car but heavily rutted and undulating, traversing along the side of the Sok river. Due to the Bangkok disturbances we'd been told many Thai’s had come from the city to the park for their New Year break (both new year’s eve and new year’s day are public holidays here). After walking a couple of kilometers we reached a ranger station beyond which the path quickly narrowed, twisting and turning between huge buttress roots, through stream beds, ravines and over boulders. Reaching the river bank we were lucky enough to spot a troop of macaques grazing in the bamboo on the opposite river bank. We noticed some movements higher up in the canopy and a group of larger black monkeys with white eye-shadow briefly appeared. We found out later that these were called Dusty or Spectacle Languars.
65 km from the park headquarters Rachaprapah Dam was built in 1982 for the generation of hydroelectric power. The lake covers an area of 165 sq km and as it was filled over 100 islands were formed from the limestone pinnacles left isolated by the rising water. We arrived with eleven other 'farangs' in a minibus on the 30th and transferred into a longtail boat for an hours cruise across the lake. The weather, unfortunately, was dull and misty with poor visibility; however the views were still stunning, the landscape is similar to the famous Halong Bay in Vietnam.
In contrast, imagining the impact of the dams construction on the local environment and specifically the wildlife in the area saddened us. Elephants and deer can swim, but many animals cannot and they must have been left isolated on those pinnacles with limited food and gene pool as the waters rose. What a travesty that this dam was built in the national park two years after the park was formed.
We reached some floating bungalows and stopped for a good lunch of local reservoir fish (although I doubt any original local fish could have coped with the low oxygen conditions, so they most probably have introduced new species after the dam).
Our afternoon walk and clamber through the Namtaloo cave was very enjoyable. The route to the cave passed through a garden of water-eroded limestone pavements. Crossing a river five or six times and carefully stepping over and through thick tree roots and vines we reached the cave mouth. A large fang-like stalactite marked the entrance to the cave. In the late 1970s many Thai students frustrated with attempts to bring about meaningful change to their government joined communist insurgency groups and fled into some of the last remnants of Thailand’s forests. Khao Sok offered the perfect hideout. From this stronghold of mountains, forests and caves, including the Namtaloo cave, they were able to thwart all attempts at military intervention between 1975 and 1982. They also kept out the many illegal logging companies running riot in Thailand at that time. Although their goal was defence, their 7 year occupation was crucial to Khao Sok preservation and protection.
We stripped down to swim wear, donned our head torches and entered the cave. It was about 800m long and 5-10m wide at the entrance. We soon smelled a pungent aroma and realised that it was the droppings from the bats dangling from the roof. There were at least two species but we couldn’t identify them in the gloom. We also saw cave crickets and a large spider. Feeling our way in near blackness we made our way along the cave, sometimes having to swim in the deeper pools created by the underground river flowing through the cave. It was sheer joy plunging into the darkness and witnessing the pristine formations such as rim stone flow formations, stalactites and secret waterfalls.
During the trip back we were soaked by the spray from the boat and then the captain ran out of fuel leaving us drifting a few miles from the nearest shore, until to our relief another boat was hailed and some diesel begged.
Golden Oriole Spider - not poisonous but they do have some quite substantial fangs, this one was around hand size!
Macaques working their way through the trees by the riverbank
Red Squirrels come out as dusk approaches
Dusky Languar sat high up in the canopy
Beautiful sight of limestone towers soaring out of the waters of Ratchapara Lake
Fish Eagles soar on the thermals looking for tasty lake fish particularly carp
Despite the beauty of the lake it has destroyed many habitats and homes. The tourist trade means dozens of long tail boats ply their trade on this waterway contributing further damage from the smokey output of their boat engines and oil leaks into the water cooling system.
Fraser enjoying the ride