Khao Sok National Park
What the hell am I doing here? Speeding across a vast, deep, dammed lake with 15 other randoms, sat low in a motor-canoe type thing, all the while on the way to a trek into dense Thai jungle, to then go potholing through a daylight-void cave of inky blackness. Oh I know – it’s because Alex wants to do it. And what Alex wants, Alex gets. And actually – I didn’t find it all that bad either.
Our day starts with an hour long (and not very comfortable) juggle around in the back of a taxi-truck vehicle. I really do wish to know what these are called, as it’s not a taxi, it’s not a tuk-tuk, and it’s not a truck. It’s kind of a combination of all three. You’re crammed in, sitting facing each other, knees up to the chin, and at the mercy of the elements, while the vehicle’s distinct lack of any notable suspension becomes achingly apparent. It’s fun for about 5 minutes.
From one crazy transport to another, we’re shuffled into one of those boats that always look like they come from Vietnam. You know the kind – the really long thin ones that have an outboard motor ten feet behind the stern, and that can go from naught to sixty before you shit your pants. No, it’s not racist! I always think they look like they come from Vietnam! Anyway, we’re bundled onto one of those and all given a lifejacket, even though the rest of the crew are clearly too hard and too cool for school to wear one. And then off we go, us and another gazillion boats, scattered across the lake, all clearly visible from the high-res tourists on board.
Cheow Lan Lake sits in an area of rainforest older than its Amazon counterpart, and is entirely man-made, with an ambitious dam project being completed in 1982. And it’s pretty damn beautiful; as I’m sure you can tell from some of the snaps I managed to take. The area is home to some wonderfully diverse flora and fauna, some of which we were hoping to see, others we can do without.
We’re taken to a floating hotel thing and I thank god that we’re not staying in it. It’s not that it isn’t nice – it’s perfectly pleasant – but on the edge of the jungle and with this abundance of water, you’ve no idea how many flying or crawling things are going to come and visit. This is especially true during a visit to the bathroom, where Alex chances on a monkey raiding a litter bin. This isn’t too bad really, but the cobwebs in the little boy’s room are a different matter entirely, forcing me to bung up – and I decide I’ll poo later. I do so love how my body works sometimes. Very similar to attending music festivals when I was younger – my system (not wanting to visit those ghastly chemical toilets full of pebble-dashed-post-drug-binge-defecation) would simply shut down. I went four days at V97 without so much as a turtle’s head. The same applies when entering a jungle commode potentially filled with eight legged freaks. I’ll wait for a fully enclosed stall thank you. I don’t want anything crawling up my anus.
I’m sorry I got carried away there. Where was I? Oh yes – the beauty of nature! God’s gorgeous creations! The delightful content of the jungle. The first of which we discover as we set sail for a trek deep into the undergrowth – a large, brightly coloured arachnid just hanging from a tree – deliberately waiting for someone like me to just walk into it. Selfish bastard. Either that or the tour staff have just hung it there five minutes prior to our arrival. Either way – so long as I know where they are I’m ok.
As it’s been raining – obviously – the trekking path is a mud pool. We’re covered in filth within moments, and it becomes a struggle to stand up in places. We’re also wading through deep sections of water – which once again I’m apprehensive about, as I don’t know what is attempting to swim up my penis. But in spite all of this outside of comfort zone shit, I actually begin to enjoy it.
Once I’ve settled into the fear of the things that are out there – I can feel myself becoming used to it. I don’t shit myself every time I duck under a twisted vine, or I’m forced to wade through muddy waters. This is something I’ve always admired about the locals – who of course take all of this in their stride. It doesn’t faze them one bit what could be lurking in the shadows – because they’ve lived with it all their lives. Ahhh but imagine their fear if they saw a highland cow! They’d run a country mile.
About 2.5 kilometres in, we reach the cave, and with headlamps and flashlights ready, we file inside. It’s pitch dark without the aid the lamps, and this time we’re armpit deep in water. It reminds me of the time I went ghyll-scrambling as part of a school team building weekend when I was about 13. Except that trip didn’t have tarantulas. On the way back from scaling a waterfall (really cool by the way) there he is. Finally, I spot my nemesis. He’s a good distance above us (thank Christ) but the unmistakable horror of a black tarantula lumbers off into the darkness, hiding from the intrusion of flashlight. I fucking hate you, you giant hairy bastard!
It was pretty cool to see one though. The closest I’ve ever come before was when it scuttled across the road as we drove an Ambulance on a charity rally through Mexico. We were just not close enough to hit it.
As far as I had controlled aspects of my fear – I was still very relieved when we return to the boat and finally to the ride home. Jungles aren’t exactly my thing – as much as I actually love snakes, being the complete opposite of Indiana Jones – this habitat is generally one I’m happy to see only in movies. It’s just unfortunate that I’m stuck with them for the next 6 countries.
Please enjoy a selection of the photographs I wasn’t too afraid to take, dear readers. From the comfort of your spider-free living room. Let me in. Please let me in.