Khao Sok National Park is a wonderful hidden gem of rainforest surrounding an enormous man-made lake set amongst towers of limestone riddled with caves and draped with stalactite formations.
The small town that has built up along the road that leads to the park entrance consists predominantly of family run resorts, bungalows, restaurants and shops, most of which have sprung up, from what were banana and palm groves, in the last few years.
We settled into “Smileys Bungalows” one of the earliest guest houses established at Khao Sok (khaosok-smiley.com). A family run set of bungalows, some older tree-top wooden stilted ones with lots of character and beautiful views over the jungle whilst lazing in your hammock on your own terrace. There’s also a set of newer, cleaner concrete bungalows, but they carry less charm.
The place is run by the matriarch of the family, the oldest sister, a true entrepreneur. From her reception desk she runs this place, another set of bungalows down the road called High 5, a suite of floating bungalows at the Ratchapara lake, runs local tours and treks, minibus travel and organises group tours of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam!! And all this with a cheery smile and ridiculously cheap prices!
As we were here over new year, which the Thais have as a 2 day national holiday, we were invited to their family celebrations, free BBQ, nibbles, beer, far too much whiskey but so much fun, even the Karaoke, which the Thais are obsessed with but even worse than the Brits at singing!
After we could stand no more Karaoke we headed to the Chill Out Bar across the road, a bamboo shack with outside seating where a fire had been made and fireworks were being released. One of only two bars in Khao Sok, the second was having a family only party (no business acumen) and so every tourist that was still awake at 10pm congregated here.
In addition to the fireworks, one of the locals, a bare chested tattooed scrawny chap, looking a little worse for wear was taking great delight in demonstrating his chemistry skills. Using two huge bamboo sections as cannons, he ground chalk into the top, added a little water and left the mixture to react. White whispy smoke rose from the barrel of the bamboo cannon, all eyes kept nervously glancing at the smoke and darting back to the man happily chatting, giggling and dancing round the fire. After a few minutes he would creep back to the cannon holding a flaming stick and, at arms length, apply it to a small notch cut in the base of the bamboo. Everyone dived for cover as the mixture ignited sending an almighty flash and boom from the end of the bamboo, the ringing in our ears was followed b the ringing of every car alarm in a 100m radius!! The man would dance around with delight, giggling and checking his limbs were still intact. On one occasion a finger obviously got a little too close but he didn’t seem to mind the burn, although the frequency of the cannon fire did decrease afterwards!
New year was seen in with tourists and Thais all drinking Sang Song (rum and coke over ice drunk from a bucket) and followed by even more fireworks from all over town.
Happy New Year everybody, here’s to 2014.