Two days after Simon and Paula left we had another 3 day break from school. It seems like we are constantly having holidays, I know. The SE Asian calendar is kind of jammed with important holidays in the latter part of the year . Don’t worry, we pay for it when we have basically no break from January to late April and are just stewing in our own sweat in Yangon.
Feeling the weight of diminishing time left in Thailand, we decided to try to venture off the island of Phuket and see what else southern Thailand had to offer. I found a well-reviewed place to stay at a national park about 3 hours from our house and we decided to give it a try. Gav was swayed by the presence of a bird guide who worked with the lodge, so I prepared myself for a day of trudging around behind two bird nerds trying not to pass out from the heat.
Accommodation can be a little hit or miss at the moment, given that so many places have not really seen tourists since February 2020. Our lodge had a 3 star rating which always gives me pause around here. 3 stars could very well signal that you are actually sleeping in someone’s living room and using the village drop toilet (Laos homestay ringing any bells?) but I am happy to report that our treehouse was basic but lovely and had some interesting visitors almost immediately.
These monkeys had not forgotten about what having people around meant for them. There were giant locks on all the houses to keep them from pilfering all your belongings!
We enjoyed a nice evening walking around the lodge and sitting by the river, watching people tubing past. It’s very funny to see the groups of Asian tourists floating down in their tshirts and shorts, followed by groups of Russian tourists in their sting bikinis. Good think none of those groups saw the water monitor lizard Gav and I spied swimming upstream!
As soon as darkness fell, it began to rain. And rain and rain and rain all night long. I kept waking up, worried that birding the next day was not going to work out. When we woke up it was STILL raining but by about 6:30am it had all but stopped and we met our guide. Who worryingly told us that his English would be a bit rusty as we were the first guests he had had since Feb 2020 and he had been driving a food truck instead. He did turn out to be very good (especially with bird sounds) and we had a nice morning wandering around our lodge and the village spotting all kinds of things.
Later in the morning we went to Khao Sok national park, a foray which ridiculously involved us having to prove that we were double vaccinated to….walk on some nature trails outside. ALSO we had to pay to enter the park (fine) at a kiosk that was manned by two people. There was a ticket machine, but you could not put the money in yourself, you had to hand the money to one of the guys who would put it in for you. Except the machine had no change. And also it did not accept 500 bhat notes (the charge for 2 of us was 600) and all we had was a 1000 bhat note. So we had to go through a long rigamarole of the two men getting change for our 1000 note in a till and then feeding the money into the machine, which spit out a ticket that they handed to us. And then took back from us. Unbelievably this was slightly smoother than the next day when we returned without our guide and tried to do this ourselves, only now we had to pay for marking which involved coins and….never mind we made it in the end.
Once we had gotten our tickets (and handed them back) we went for a walk along the river in the national park. It was a nice walk actually, shaded from the sun and full of birds and Langur monkeys which were very cute. The downside, and it was a BIG downside, is that being in a rainforest (an next to a river), the path was full of leeches. I hate leeches. Maybe more than any other creature. Something about the way they get you, but you can’t tell because they have also injected you with anesthetic is just so disgusting. I mean, just that morning I woke up in the treehouse and there were two cockroaches in my wine glass from the night before. Didn’t really bother me. But leeches? SO GROSS. Once we noticed their presence (some passing tourists told us they were around, and then I could see them….searching….on the forest floor for their next victim) It was impossible not to panic every time I found one crawling up my boot.
First our guide got one on his neck (and was completely nonplussed) and then I saw the tell-tale bloom of blood growing on the back of Gav’s trousers. One had gotten up his leg and latched on to his calf and of course no one noticed until it fell off and Gav was bleeding everywhere. I was very smug about a) wearing shorts so they couldn’t hide and b) having sprayed my boots with Deet before we left. Our 4th and 5th graders are studying hubris at the moment and I believe I could be their next case study as when we got home I pulled off my boot and it was full of blood from where one of the little suckers got me on my ankle. It didn’t stop bleeding for 3 hours.
Aside from that it was a good day, Gav got to add lots of stuff to his bird list (including a bird that he could not identify, but I googled it and told him what it was. He still did not believe me but then sent the photo to an expert and they confirmed my ID!). We went back the next day and did the same hike, more vigilant about the leeches this time (did not matter, still got one) and had a great time.
The third morning we left the treehouse to go on a little adventure on a man made lake. This giant lake got dammed up in 1987 to create a reservoir, purposefully flooding a valley surrounded by limestone cliffs. You take a long tailed boat around the different nooks and crannies to sightsee, and if you want you can spend the night in a floating house on the lake. The boat ride was stunning and we got to see a giant colony of fruit bats (the really enormous ones) on one of the islands. An eagle flew past at one point, spooking the colony and they all flew from their perches even though it was in the middle of day!
It’s impossible to capture just how beautiful it was, and we even saw several species of Hornbills. We also hear Gibbons, but could not see them in the dense trees. We arrived at out raft house (more on that later) in the afternoon and borrowed a little kayak to go exploring on our own. Our boat driver told us he heard elephants across the lake, so we paddled over there (omg it looks not as far as it feels on the old arms!) and sure enough, in a little cove we watched 3 or 4 wild elephants eating bamboo and maneuvering around on the impossibly steep terrain. It is crazy how hard it is to see them in this scenario, if we could not hear the bamboo breaking and see it moving you would have no idea that giant creatures are back there!
Around dusk we got back in the longtail boat to go searching out more wildlife. At one point we spotted an eagle-type bird sitting on an old post. We inched closer and closer for Gav to take pictures, always expecting the bird to fly off but it just sat there. Soon we saw why, it tried to fly away but it was caught or tied to the post somehow.
Luckily our guide was very calm and knew what to do. We got the boat up next to the bird (who kind of jumped over the stump into the water) and our guide put a life jacket on top of it, to protect himself from the bird’s claws.
From there he grabbed the feet and managed to unhook the fishing lure that was in the foot of the eagle. Gav and I kept saying “cut it! cut it!” and he very patiently explained that he couldn’t just cut the fishing line, he had to remove the hook as well. Once he got the hook out, Gav told him to pull the bird out of the water and put him on the front of the boat so he could dry his wings and fly off.
That bird spent not ONE moment hanging around, he was fine and off like a shot, probably to tell his bird mates “oh my god you are not going to believe what just happened to me!
The guide took us to a nearby raft house to have a beer to celebrate.
This was lovely, but also a bit depressing as, let’s just say the raft house where we stopped for a beer was about 4 stars better than the place we were actually staying. The nice lady there offered to give us a tour of the rooms and the guide was like “um I’m not sure you want to do that.” He knew we were staying in CrapsVille.
It was only one night, so (again, like the Laos homestay) I knew I would survive BUT at times I did not want to. Our “bungalow” was a tiny cement coffin-like shack and we had to share toilets and shower facilities with everyone else on our raft and I was not a fan AT ALL. Next time I am staying at the nice place!
Yes, that’s our raft house up there. Don’t be fooled but the fact it looks fine, look at my face in bed. It did have beer though so I guess I will give it 1 star.
It was a great break and it was wonderful to get off of the island and see a bit more of Thailand. CatFace was not amused at our absence. We managed to lure her back home by buying the expensive cat food. It’s hard to believe that our time here is (hopefully) drawing to a close. More on that next time!