EXPLORING LAKESIDE CAVES IN KHAO SOK
Today we rode a long tail boat across Thailand’s largest man-made lake, trekked through the steamy jungles of Khao Sok National Park, explored the Coral Cave, and swam in the emerald green waters of Lake Cheow Lan. It was unbelievably hot, humid, muddy, and insect-infested; it was also AWESOME!
Cheow Lan Lake is an artificial lake created when the Klong Saeng River was dammed in 1987. This immense water reservoir covers and area of 165 square kilometres and is one of the most spectacular water bodies we’ve ever had the pleasure of exploring.
Peppered with flooded karst pillars and encircled by limestone mountains, the scenery around Cheow Lan Lake is reminiscent of Halong Bay in Vietnam, just cleaner, quieter, and far less touristy. It’s a stunning corner of the world and one best explored by long tail boat, as we discovered today.
Our 2 hour long tail boat ride took us around the central and southern parts of the lake, weaving in and around the karst peaks, giving an ample opportunities to marvel at the densely forested landscape.
Vines, palm trees, and giant jungle trees all clamber over one another, eager to reach the sunshine. We could hear monkeys gibbering in the trees and even got to watch a toucan feasting on forest fruits. Of the 54 species of hornbills worldwide, 8 are found in Khao Sok National Park. The one we saw was a white-crowned hornbill, a large bird with contrasting white and black plumage. We think the one we saw was a male as it’s currently nesting season and at this time of year females sequester themselves in holes to protect themselves and their young from predators. During this time the males feed her and the chicks through a tiny hole in the protective barrier.
After our boat tour around the lake we pulled into a small floating village where we were transferred on to a bamboo raft (i.e. a few pieces of bamboo strapped together to make a raft – about as precarious as it sounds).
The raft carried us down a small inlet where we disembarked and were taken on an hour long trek through the steaming jungle. Our final destination: Coral Cave.
Passing carefully hidden trap-door spiders and perfectly camouflaged lizards, we sweated our way up-hill and down for an hour or more before reaching the cave. Like the multitude of caverns in this area, Coral Cave is an immense limestone formation lined with stalagmites and stalactites. It’s also home to some rather interesting creatures, including bats, spiders, snakes, scorpions, and even crabs. Suffice to say we were happy to view these critters from a safe distance!
Walking back through the jungle to our bamboo raft cost us another litre or 2 of sweat, and boy were we glad to get back across to our long-tail boat and hear that our next stop was lunch and a swim!
Surrounded by national park, the lake is pristine; its green waters unpolluted by petrochemicals, plastics, or human waste. There are no villages around the lakeshore and just a dozen or so “floating resorts” tucked around the edges. These basic hotels are run and staffed by families who were forcibly resettled when the dam was built. Each of the 385 families who had to move received a parcel of land where they could establish farms, as well the right to run tourist facilities (e.g. long tail boats, accommodation) on and around the lake.
We stopped at one of these floating resorts for lunch, which consisted of some delicious lake-caught fish, a chicken green curry, stir fried vegetables, and steamed rice. After this grand repast we stripped off our sweaty trekking clothes and swapped these for swimming apparel. The next 2 hours past in a pleasant haze of cool, refreshing, lake-bound fun. It was great!
Around 4:00pm our long-boat driver called out that we would be leaving soon so we extricated ourselves from the cool embrace of Cheow Lan Lake, changed back into our stinky trekking clothes, and bid farewell to Ton Toey Resort. It must be amazing to stay the night in one of these floating hotels and awaken to the sounds of the jungle around you. Mind you, the shared bathroom facilities, lack of electricity, and remote location probably also means that one night in a floating bungalow is enough!
On the boat ride back to the mainland it started to rain, but none of us really minded as it helped keep us cool and gave us an excuse to use the ponchos we’d been given earlier in the day.
From the main tourist boat pier it was a bumpy, hour-long drive back to our accommodation, and when we arrived we were exhausted. Exploring Cheow Lan Lake in a day makes for a long trip, and stopping on the lake at a floating resort for 1 night would actually make it more fun. Something to bear in mind for next time! For now though dinner awaits (spicy Thai curry and steamed rice… mmmm….), and the nightly battle against the hordes of biting, stinging insects continues. Tonight I have 2 different types of insect repellent on, so we’ll see who’s victorious!
Addendum: The insects won.