Khao Sok is the largest man made lake in Thailand and my friends decided to take a road trip there.
I am not a fan of U.S. National Parks. There are too many visitors, too many rules and regulations, and too much feeling big brother is watching. Starting a camp fire, hiking down a steep hill where falling is a real possibility, driving your 4wheel drive off the road, driving in bad weather, carrying a gun for protection, and shooting the wildlife will likely result in a large fine and even jail in the U.S. Even something as minor as leaving the trail or taking a dump in the wrong place can violate the rules. Visit a National Park and you are never alone even in the wilderness. There is always somebody else around and your still subject to someone else’s politically correct rule book.
That’s why I am big fan of Thai parks. Most Thai parks are deserted wastelands devoid of park rangers, devoid of rules (that are enforced), and, most importantly of all, mostly devoid of other people. I’ve chronicled a couple trips on BigBabyKenny.com where we’ve driven an hour inside a Thai National Park and not encountered another vehicle, park ranger or person. Encounter a waterfall in the middle of the jungle with your girlfriend and you can strip down for a nice swim secure in the knowledge that you are unlikely to be disturbed or end up in jail. That’s not something you can say of any U.S. park.
Khao Sok fits the profile and my road trip with friends was nothing short of amazing.
It’s a 800+km road trip and means driving about 80% of the way from Bangkok to Phuket.
Near Khao Sok there is an area set aside for tourist resorts with multiple resorts following the same general plan–a series of bungalows surrounding a central building with a restaurant. Some have pools. The resorts are isolated, nestled in the jungle, and at night the access roads are dark and deserted– lit with only the soft glow from occupied buildings.
Besides the resort area there is not much quality accommodation in the area. I don’t really like when the tourist are fenced into a designated area because it is frequently a competition reducing device and you end up like a cow at a milk farm but the Khao Sok area had none of these problems. The resort area had a homey warm vibe.
This is a picture of Mountain Home Resort where me and my friends stayed. The building in the right corner houses an outdoor restaurant that serves everyday Thai food and the front desk. The grey buildings house the rooms. There isn’t much civilization within an hour’s drive and you could eat the in-house fare everyday and be perfectly happy. The rooms have concrete floors and one room shower/bathrooms but are clean, tidy, air conditioned and have wireless internet.
We took a package tour of the lake which involved a trip to the “bat cave.” In the morning, an old pickup truck picked us up, we piled in the bed, sat down Thai style on the hard metal floor, made the rounds of the other resorts picking up more people, and were hauled to the lake.
The lake is freaking huge and, besides the hugeness, it is mostly deserted. The lake is not used for electricity generation, only water management, and there is minimal commercial exploitation. Out on the lake you really are in the middle of an uninhabited wilderness surrounded by mostly nothing.
In the U.S., developers would have put in roads circling the lake, subdivide the shorefront into lots, the lake would be surrounded by housing, the waterfront would be dotted with piers, and the water would be crisscrossed with fisherman, water skiers, and para-sailers.
In the U.S., the nanny state would move in, marking off areas for swimmers only, restricting water skiing to designated areas, neighbors would start lobbying for restrictions on the size and style of housing allowed, noise ordinances would be enacted preventing late night parties, campfires would be outlawed, police would patrol the lake arresting drunk boat operators, etc. etc. etc.
We piled into a boat to be taken to the bat cave and for almost an hour we flew across the lake. The shoreline and waters were devoid of man made anything. No fishing boats, no docks, no piers, and no habitation. Just the long boat ride across a mammoth deserted lake would have made the trip worthwhile.
I took this video of the boat ride so you can get a feel for being out on the water at Khao Sok.
This is the small camp near the creek that leads to the cave. All the buildings were built on floating wood piers and not on the land.
The camp is lightly utilized and our group were the only visitors that day.
You can rent one of the small cabins on the left if you want to stay overnight.
The bathroom are outdoor shacks up the path leading up the hill and the open sheds are where cooking and eating is done.
You can swim in the lake and canoes are provided if you’re interested.
The water was cool and clear.
Lunch was provided and we ate fish from the lake.
The cave trip was the truly amazing part of the Khao Sok trip.
We rode the boats up a creek for about a mile, debarked, and started a 1.5km endurance hike through the jungle.
The creek was blocked by brush and at points the guide had to get out of the boat, wade, waist deep in the water and push the boat along.
The trail to the cave was an experience in itself with several creek crossings, climbing over fallen trees, and ducking past low hanging foliage. The trail didn’t have the look of being walked that often we didn’t encounter another group going or coming. The brush and dirt were mostly undisturbed and didn’t show trace of human footsteps. The fallen trees blocking the path still had all their small branches and the bark was un-scuffed by human soles. Several creeks had to be crossed which involved wading at times through waist deep water and getting soaked from the waist down. It was hot and hard going but I actually enjoyed the hike because of my interest in military history and the Vietnam war. Hiking this trail in the middle of the jungle provided great insight about what it was like for U.S. troops fighting in the Ia Drang Valley, the Fish hook, and the Riverene campaigns of the Mekong Delta plus British troops fighting the Japanese in Burma during World War 2.
This is the entrance to the cave. The guide produced a waterproof surf sack and all personal electronics including cameras were place in the bag to protect them from the water. Cheap battery operated headlamps were issued, the girls stripped down to their bikini tops and short shorts, and we ducked down into the right hand opening.
What followed was a several hours hiking through the cave where we slowly worked our way up the mountain to the opening where the water entered.
The cave alternated between large open caverns with stalactites, large smooth rocks, and ankle deep water, narrow portions where the water was waist to neck deep, and really narrow sections where swimming was required. At 2 points water poured out of openings high up a rock wall and an ascent had to be made. A rope or wood stick with cross pieces tied to it aided climbing where an ascent was required.
Great care had to be taken where the stream bed was covered in large smooth rocks not visible because the footing was a foot or more underwater and the headlamps were weak. An ankle could easily get wedged or a foot could slip and you would go down with a broken leg or twisted ankle deep underground.
At the ascents, the water flow was choked down by the opening and poured out in a high speed torrent. Either you climbed a steep rock wall with the help of a rope, wedged yourself up by putting you back against one wall and braced your feet against the opposite wall, or climber a stick with cross pieces tied across that was propped against the rock. At the top you sort got a leg over the ledge and flopped over the top edge.
Transiting the cave was dangerous. Any slip on the narrow rocks or clambering up the walls would have resulted in a nasty fall that most likely would have led to a head injury or broken bone. Given how far we were from civilization, a 10km hike and a hour plus boat ride, I’m not sure how anyone injured and unable to walk would be recovered.
There was also the possibility that a thunderstorm would increase the water flow and the cave would go completely underwater and drown everyone inside. At parts there was only a foot or between your head and the cave roof and if a thunderstorm sent more water into the cave there would be no airspace at the top.
The cave branched several times and without the guide there would be no way to find the upper entrance or if you didn’t take care remembering each branch backtracking to the lower entrance.
Inside the cave was amazing. The air was cool, the water was refreshing and clean, and it felt like you had been transported to another world. The contrast with the hot steamy insect ridden jungle was striking. Plus the cave had a womblike aspect–being in small dark cavern, in the middle of the mountain, submerged in a stream of cool pure water, cut off from the outside world. I’m not a Freudian but maybe Freud was onto something.
In the U.S., the danger of falling, serious injury, and the lawyers would have been blocked off the cave long ago and the entrance would have been covered with warning signs, a locked age, and noone would be allowed to enter and enjoy it.
In Thailand, it’s up to you whether the risk/reward calculus comes out right and you bear the onus if you miscalculate or get unlucky .
This is what makes spending time in Thailand the bomb–no big brother, no rules, no lawyers suing one person to pay for another’s stupidity.
The cave was cool, the water was fast flowing and pure, the rock formations were stunning, and the risk left an adrenaline rush similar to one from piloting a motorcycle around a racetrack at triple digit speeds. Awesome.