I will pick up where I left off: our journey from Koh Phi Phi to Khao Sok National Park. We had to catch an early morning ferry from Koh Phi Phi back to Krabi Town, where we were picked up by a mini-van and driven to a tour agency. We waited around for half an hour before piling into another mini-van and beginning our several hour drive to the National Park. My biggest tip for these mini-van journeys? Resist the urge to be Canadian. Do not be polite and let everyone else board the mini-van first as you will be stuck in the very back seat where the air-con doesn’t reach, with absolutely no leg room whatsoever, leaving you glued to the person packed in beside you for hours on end. Board the mini-van immediately, scope out the best seat, and snag it. You won’t regret it.
We made it to Khao Sok late in the afternoon and checked into our adorable (and rather luxurious for our standards) bungalows, chatted with the owner about possible excursions, and immediately headed to the park to do a bit of a walk. As it was late in the day our walk was more similar to a jog, but the trail was lined with bamboo trees and made for a beautiful walk despite the pace. We attempted to visit a waterfall but realized quickly that the Thai version of waterfall and the Canadian version of waterfall are quite different; what they call a waterfall, we would call a brook. It was nonetheless entertaining and felt very good to be moving having atrophied our leg muscles with so many days spent lazing on the beach.
We splurged and went to a restaurant that served pizza as one of the guys had heard from a fellow traveller that the pizza was outstanding. The restaurant was run by an adorable family, with the two daughters who were both under the age of 8 being integrally involved in the family business. It was placed on the bank of the river that intersects the town, making for a lovely ambiance. The pizza was indeed outstanding, real wood-oven style and we were all very content after our meal. We headed to our soft-beds full, happy, and ready for our big excursion the following day.
We were picked up via mini-van bright and early the following morning and laughed as we boarded the van as the people we had met the previous day on the journey to Khao Sok were also partaking in the excursion (we drew the short end of the stick and were stuck in the back for this ride, which they teased us about relentlessly). Our guide for the day was an absolute nut and had us laughing the entire time, starting on the drive with his “rules” for the day. While we were stopped at a local market I saw yet another person wearing a, “Bike for Dad” t-shirt and was able to get to the bottom of what this campaign was all about. Ever since arriving in SE Asia we had seen signs, parades, t-shirts, etc with this slogan on it and had been confused about who “Dad” was. It turns out the people of SE Asia call the King of Thailand, “Dad” and the event was in celebration of his birthday. I was overjoyed to finally get to the bottom of the slogan!
Khao Sok National Park is a man-made lake created in 1982 by blocking off the Klong Saeng River with a dam. The dam provides electricity to much of the South of the country, and the resulting lake has become a major tourist attraction. Unfortunately, the stagnant water killed numerous fish and plant species, as well as necessitated the removal of many indigenous people living in the area. The people are paid a monthly stipend for relocating out of the area. The dramatic limestone karats that rise from the lake are the major draw for tourists.
We boarded a long-tail boat and after a sputtering start, took off at full-steam ahead with a boy of no more than 15 at the helm. Our tour guide cracked us all up as he sat on the bottom of the boat with a life-jacket used as a canopy to protect himself from the sun. We were rendered speechless as we made our way further into the lake, the scenery was out of this world. We snapped dozens of photos, none of which can come close to capturing the beauty of the park. We stopped the boat at one spot that is said to resemble both Ha Long Bay in Vietnam as well as a famous lake in China. Our tour guide had us all pose in hilarious positions while he commentated, and then we proceeded to the floating bungalow village for lunch.
The pictures of the bungalows advertised, and what we actually visited, were entirely different. As with the rest of Thailand, the high demand for tourism resulted in dodgy bungalows that looked like they were about to capsize at any minute. The floor in the restaurant area was rotting, meaning you had to be very careful where you stepped or you could easily end up in the water. In fact, at the end of the day, that exact thing happened to one of the girls in our group. Luckily she had wanted to go swimming anyway, and didn’t have anything of any value in her hands at the time of falling in.
After lunch we boarded the boat and were taken slightly upstream and dropped at the edge of a piece of land jutting into the lake. We then began our “jungle walk” to the soundtrack of the Lion King theme song being belted by our tour guide. We arrived at a point in the trail where our guide informed us was the point of no return; we either had to wait there while the group carried on to the cave, or go to the cave and walk through the entire cave. You were not able to back out of the cave walk once we reached the cave as we did not exit the same way we entered. I am not a super fan of caves, but I knew I would regret not going so I forged on.
We entered the cave and turned on our “flashlights” that we were provided by our guesthouse. The lights were capable of illuminating no more than a pencil thin stream of light that just barely sufficed in allowing us to see where we were stepping. Out guide wasted no time pointing out the massive huntsmen spiders scattered amongst the rocks we were stepping on, cautioning us to watch where we stepped. Easier said than done with our ridiculously underpowered lights. The further in to the cave we went, the higher the concentration of bats hanging dangerously low on the roof. I have an intense fear of bats owing to their status of the animal that carries the highest risk of rabies, and my unrealistic fear that one will swoop down and become entangled in my hair. I was quietly dealing with being stricken with fear and panic over the bats when we came to our first section requiring us to wade through water. My fears were immediately surpassed by Rilla’s all encompassing fear of being in water in which she cannot see the bottom. I went into survival mode and focused all of my intention on getting her through the water as there was no other option at this point. We gingerly made our way through this cave in the same fashion as the last cave we had tackled together; holding hands. It felt like a lifetime passed as we slowly traversed the caves obstacle course, having a near miss when Rilla thought a stick was an eel and had us all in hysterics. We exited the cave with a massive sigh of relief, thankful to be back in the light and on solid ground.
A quick stop at the bungalows to gather our belongings before boarding our boat one again to head back to the mainland. The drive out was just as, if not more, beautiful than the ride in. I mused to myself how entirely different the park felt compared to Koh Phi Phi; if you told me it was part of a different country I would have believed you.
We had one final supper together that night at the pizza restaurant. The next day Rilla was leaving to meet up with her friends, the guys were heading to Koh Phangan for the infamous full moon party, and I was staying at the national park. We had some very fun and interesting conversation over our pizza, discussing our life plans over the next five years. We joked we would have to have a reunion in 5 years to see how accurate our predictions were.
The following day everyone departed and I was left alone in my beautiful bungalow. I opted not to go to the full moon party as I wanted time to relax and unwind at the end of such a massive trip- the last thing I was looking for was a party with approximately ten thousand (literally) 18-22 year olds. I spent my day planning how to get from Khao Sok to Koh Tao, and finding a place to stay on Koh Tao.
The following day had be rising ridiculously early and with 2 bus transfers, 1 boat transfer and 8 hours later I arrived to Koh Tao. I had booked a room at a small hotel nestled in the hills overlooking one of the islands bays. I was picked up at the pier by one of the workers on his scooter-and experienced a thrilling ride uphill to the hotel. When I arrived I was overjoyed with my room as it had floor to ceiling windows overlooking the bay, as well as a deck to sit and relax on. I spent the afternoon Journaling and taking in the view before spoiling myself at the onsite restaurant with a delightful steak dinner.
The next day I was dropped in town by the free shuttle service from hotel on which I met two Canadian guys who were going to grab a quick bite and invited me to tag along. They had been laid off from their mining jobs back in Canada and decided to use the opportunity to travel, the ultimate lemons into lemonade story. We had a lovely lunch together before parting ways, they to their diving course and me to my thai massage. I decided to spoil myself with one final massage before leaving Thailand, and it turned out to be the best yet. I was one happy girl!
I then walked the beach back to town where I was once again picked up by the hotel. It was an early night for me in my king sized bed.
The next day had Chris join me at my luxury hotel while the guys opted to stay in the town for more of an atmosphere. Chris and I had a lovely sunset dinner at our hotel before sitting on the deck and filling each other in on our 3 days apart. That may sound ridiculous, but having spent every waking moment together for over a year meant 3 days felt like a month.
The next day we had a lazy start to the day before heading into town to check out the Canadian poutine restaurant called (I kid you not), ‘The Moose Knuckle.’ The poutine was mouthwatering, we had no regrets about our decision. We then headed to the guys hotel where we had a few social beverages before heading to a beer pong bar. We had fun playing a few social games before heading back to our oasis in the hills.
The following day was a long travel day from Koh Tao, to the mainland where we caught a flight back to Bangkok. We spent one night in Bangkok, did a bit of last minute shopping the next day, and then headed to the airport to catch our flight back to Canada.
Just like that, 380 days on the road came to an end. It felt as abrupt and rushed as the tone of this post; time morphed into warp-speed and before we could process what was happening we were on our flirst flight home. We had a 5 hour layover in Shanghai, in an airport terminal with no insulation or heating in sub-zero weather. However, there was a Starbucks. We proceeded to Toronto where we had a very short layover, during which I fulfilled a life long dream of being driven through an airport in the airport golf carts (Home Alone style) before arriving to Stanfield International Airport a mere 27 hours later. In my minds eye, it was the fastest 27 hours of my life.
All at once, it was back to business as usual. Life rushed at us from all angles and we quickly had to adjust to keep up. I will cover in much more detail what it has been like being back in Canada in my next post.
Cheers everyone, to the journey of a lifetime. Thank you for joining us every step of the way. I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed writing the blog, and how very happy I am that people other than my loving parents have read it. I hope to continue writing (forewarning: much more bland content) as a hobby. Who knows, maybe one day I will even follow my dream of publishing a book.