It was a long day yesterday getting from Koh Tao to Khao Sok -- two boats on a rather choppy sea, followed by two buses -- but I had hoped that at the end of the journey I would have the peace and quiet of the national park. However, that is not what I found. I should have known that the place I had reserved was trouble when, upon my mentioning that there is no toilet paper in the cabin, they responded that, well, they ran out, and would I mind hosing down instead. Any decent place that caters to the farang knows and respects the fact that the Western farang likes to wipe their behinds. Even much poorer places in Cambodia and Laos respected the farang's behinds by servicing them with toilet paper, but apparently, here it's optional. It went from there... then I discovered that there were feces on the cover of the toilet (just a gecko, they assured me, though they were in quantities more suitable for a rat). They didn't seem to think that it warrants cleaning, but per my insistence, hosed it down with the same hose they were suggesting I clean my behind with - that was the extent of the cleaning. Then, I noticed that the sheet appeared dirty; so I lifted it and saw that the mattress is covered with mold. The cleaning lady confirmed that yeah, it's 'just mold'. I tried flipping it, just to discover that the other side had large urine stains all over. Their excuse was, well, what do you want, this is the rainforest. But I've been to the rainforest before, in places like CR and Ecuador. And I firmly believe that rain forest does not have to equal feces and moldy mattress. Seems like the folk here is spoiled by the farang who, in its attempts to be adventurous and without any frame of reference is willing to accept lazy for rustic. Though I planned to stay at least three days, I changed my reservation to only 2 nights, just enough time to do the park tour that was the bare minimum of the park experience I wanted.
The tour, which I did today, consisted of a boat ride through the big lake in the center of the national park, lunch at the cabins on the lake, followed by a hike through the jungle. The boat ride was through rather picturesque landscape, which does remind of the Halong Bay in Vietnam. Limestone carsts, piercing the deep-blue waters.
However, there is one huge difference between the Halong Bay and the Khao Sok lake. While the bay was crafted through millions of years and carved by the waves, the lake is a very recent man-made creation, and is younger than I. In 1982, Thai government, in its search for cheap energy, decided to dam the area, flooding this landscape of steep mountains and deep crevasses, creating this lake of some 160 square kilometers in area. While there are many sites that are dramatically impressive, there are no beaches of any kind, as the 'shoreline' is just some random watermark on these steep mountains, where the elements didn't yet have a chance to leave its gradual mark of a shoreline. I found it fascinating to ponder the flooding from the standpoint of the mountain, and the life that existed on its slopes. Of the countless peaks of varying elevation, some managed to keep their heads above water, but for every proud white beauty there are countless almost-made-it runner ups, sometimes not any less beautiful, just below the surface. It also saddens me to think what happened to the wildlife that inhabited its slopes, as these dilapidated reminders of the tropical forest silently tell the story of the life lost in the name of progress:
The hike, in the afternoon, was just ok. We walked for about two hours each way to a cave. While we forded several streams, we only got to experience the undergrowth of the jungle which often looked like it could have been New Jersey in the summer, with only an occasional glimpse of primary forest giants. This experience made me appreciate even more the beautiful rainforest of Central/South America. On the upside, I was happy to discover that leeches, which are rather vicious here, were not as fond of me as fish, dogs, and elephants.
I considered spending more time in the national park, but decided to check out early. Tomorrow, I'm heading to the Andaman coast, with the first stop being Koh Lanta.