Guatape deja-vu: Khao Sok National Park

I had first come across the park overhearing other travellers the night I first arrived in Surat Thani early January. Its meant to be beautiful. Further, after three days in (beach tourist packed) Krabi I figured outdoor makes for a nice cure. As it turned out, the artificial reservoir comprising of many islands looked akin to Guatape near Medellin, Colombia, which I visited only in Nov’17. Just not the same nice viewpoint and certainly no Pablo Escobar property.

Memories of Guatape, Colombia

Day one coming here was mostly lost on travel. While I took the first transfer out of Krabi, this one didn’t leave before 11:30am (300THB) and was then also taking longer. By 4pm I checked into the hostel (khao sok secret), where I met team Fulda – two fellow German travellers called Alex and Julian. Given my late arrival, I only managed brief 2h walking tour on day together with my new German friends. However, we didn’t get to see much more than bamboo jungle, loads of monkeys and a brief river swim. There was no time for waterfalls either, but i had a nice refreshing swim.

We ended up spending the rest of the evening together and shared plenty of travel anecdotes (they had already been in Vietnam on moped and Cambodia) and probably touched on all other current issues over pizza & Chang+Leo beers.

Khao Sok National Park 

  • Park boasts rainforest, waterfalls, limestone cliffs and island stubbed lake
  • Established 1980
  • Located in Southern Thailand’s Surat Thani province covering 739sqkm
  • Highest level of rainfall in thailand at 3,500mm/year

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Day trip to the lake: Given that solo jungle experiences are actively undermined here as elsewhere in Thailand (less money), I opted to book a day trip to the lake (1,500THB excl. THB300 daily park fee) for convenience. I takes 1,5h drive to get to Ratchprapa dam from where you go by long boat across the Cheow Lan lake for about 50min (c25km). Pretty scenic stuff from here.

25km boat ride across the lake + 7km jungle/cave hike

By 11:30 we stopped at the floating houses, enjoyed a swim in the (warm) sweet water lake and finally had lunch (the usual & fried fish directly from underneath your bottom so to say). From there its a few mins further by boat before the 3h (7km) jungle walk to the cave begins. Pretty slippery stuff. I went on my five finger vibrams, which was great in the cave but not in the jungle mud. Best rent some of the rubber shoes (THB50) at the lunch place.

What to take?

  • Rubber boots (trainers, vibrams)
  • Swim suit
  • Camera (ideally water proof case)
  • Sun screen
  • Mosquito repellent (i was ok without)
  • Dry bag as water is chest high in some places in the cave
  • Head torch
  • Light rain jacket (if getting wet on the 2x50min boat rides bothers you)

The cave is some 800m to walk and host to loads of spiders with shiny eyes once you point your torch on them. There are also plenty of bats – never i have seen them as close up. Cool. The stone formations are pretty average and getting through the cave not a huge physical challenyge though by no means a walk in the park. By 6.30pm i was back at the hostel. Nice day.

The end of the was a bit akin to the night before – this time not team Fulda, but team Kiel (Anna & Valentine) shared their stories and were patient enough to listen to mine. Good place this hostel here. Recommended.

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A few days in Krabi (2): Kayaking & Railey beach

The kayak tour on Sunday afternoon appeared to have almost exclusively Asian participants at first until Inna arrived on a separate bus. Born originally in Odessa, Ukraine, she now lives in Berlin and spends a 2w holiday in Thailand. We shared a kayak and took in the scenery together. Enjoyable views and conversation as we paddled along.

After the tour I relocated to Krabi town and made it to the guesthouse just in time before all floodgates opened and it rained heavily. I didn’t manage to do much more than a brief dinner and a call with Alex before getting to bed. I was dead.

Krabi town: Come here to get a more local experience as tourists & locals mingle, enjoy the food market (big night market on weekends), visit the Kaewkorawaram temple and stroll along Krabi river. As in Aonang, you can connect here to surounding islands & start daytours.

Inna and I met up the next day and headed for Railey beach. While this beach is not located on an island, it can only be reached by boat (THB150 one way). There you can visit caves, enjoy nice beaches (though they were busy), do rock climbing & caving (not for us as Inna nursed a twisted ankle & I a broken toe) as well as some rather adventurous hiking to one of the many viewpoints (note of caution … difficult path!).

So who is Phra Nang? There are different theories about Phra Nang and how she came to be associated with this particular cave in Krabi. One legend says that an Indian princess was killed in a shipwreck offshore and her ghost occupied the cave. Another story says that Phra Nang was the wife of a local fisherman. One day her husband set out to sea but never returned. According to this story, the woman lived out the rest of her years living in the cave and looking out to sea waiting for her husband to come back.

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Good Luck Offerings: Fishermen and boatmen still make offerings in the form of incense and flowers to ensure a safe journey. More curious though, are the phallic symbols or lingams that are in prominence at the entrance to the cave (pictured). Lingams are a symbol of the Hindu god Shiva and are associated with fertility and virility. In Thailand, Hindu and animist beliefs are incorporated alongside Buddhism. Over the centuries, Phra Nang cave has become associated with fertility and the lingams placed here take the form of carved wooden penises. Local folklore says that if somebody carves a wooden lingam and releases it at high tide anywhere along the Krabi coast, it will eventually end up in Phra Nang cave.

By the time I got home in the evening I was shattered. Too much fresh air, too much hiking and way too much sun. I got myself a take away pizza, booked a ticket to Khao Sok National Park for the day after and went to bed. So tired again. I am getting old man …

A few days in Krabi (1): Aonang & Koh Phi Phi

My trip south to Krabi was not entirely of my own making, but a good location to meet my good friend & former Morgan Stanley colleague Ioana. She works in Singapore nowadays and jetted over for the weekend. My journey from Koh Phangan was a straightforward 4,5h boat & ferry combo (seemingly as much time as Ioana needed to clear immigration ;o).

We actually didn’t stay in Krabi town, but rather Aonang (the main tourist hub) some 15km to the west. While there was much to catch-up about, we didn’t last too long on Friday and retired fairly early after a brief look around town, some (Indian) food and a bit of live music. I really loved the aircon, a hot shower and nice bed linen in our ‘kokotel oasis’ hotel after three weeks in a very basic bamboo hut on Koh Phangan. Sleep tight!

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For Saturday we decided on a day trip to the Koh Phi Phi islands by speedboat. It wasn’t straightforward to locate the boat, but worked out eventually. The whole trip (THB2600, lunch/water included) is pretty scenic, gets you to a few different islands and involves some snorkelling too (well, for those that brought their swimsuit). The typical 8hour tour includes stops at monkey beach, maya bay (featured in Leonardo Di Caprio movie “the beach”), viking cave (locals collect swallow nests here), lunch at Phi Phi Don, Bamboo island and Pileh Bay (beautiful lagoon ).

Not sure it’s really good value for money, but given we had done little research beforehand it was a good choice to spend the day. I even got my Russian homework done while we hopped from island to island … puhhh. Initially we thought to just take the ferry to Koh Phi Phi (much cheaper), but unless you go there only to hang out on the beach or to stay there it’s not advisable in my view.

After some ok-ish Thaifood in a family restaurant, Ioana managed to get her Thai massage (a steal for anyone knowing Singapore price levels at ca USD10 per hour) while I enjoyed some good live music in one of the many pubs / bars in Aonang. I kept wondering though where the Thai people were given there were mostly tourists around (which I found reasonably annoying to be frank).

Sunday was already the last day for Ioana in Thailand (though she will be back shortly with her family up North in Chiang Mai). We went down the cultural route and visited the Tiger Cave Temple involving your typical temple buildings, a jungle trek and (for me at least) a 1,200 step hike to a viewing point. The steps are very steep (think of a staircase in a Dutch canal house) and together with the heat make for a good work out. There is free drinking water at the top.

And so quickly time was up! Ioana jetted off to the airport while I made my way back to the hotel for my Russian skype class and pickup for the sunset kayaking later in the afternoon.

Bye Koh Phangan & Muay Thai, bye friends!

Three weeks on Koh Phangan are up. It didn’t play out as planned, as injury forced an early end to my Muay Thai training plans and while I enjoyed other aspects of island life … i am happy to move on now and look forward to seeing more of Thailand. Next stop is Krabi.

I do, however, leave many new friends behind. People that I spent some serious quality in time with in the camp, at Pae Pae’s (here some live action), crazy psy trance parties or exploring the islands (in all its colours ;o). I have come to realise that this time is rare … I mean how often do you get to spend a day with a good old friend (now that all have family etc) … not to mention a week or two or three. Its fantastic.

Diversity rocks! The people i met come in all shapes and sizes. Some are craftsmen on a break, some are junkies (not true, but just to make sure Ricky doesn’t feel left out), some grow marijuana (second farmer i met in 3 month), some sell sunglasses on a ferry and love to dance (& talk), many believe in conspiracy and educated me on climate engineering, some grow their own food & hide gold in their garden … you just cant make it up. 

Diamond Muay Thai – review: It’s not easy to give a full review with partial training. Loved the people and atmosphere in the camp. Good trainers too. Didn’t like the dogs everywhere (and dirty ones at that), noisy bungalows (hard to sleep even after 4h workout) that are aslo a fetile breeding ground for all sort of funghi (my black belt turned into a moudly blue after 3w!) and think they should really reconsider if sparring for beginners is wise – I estimate some 10-20% of folks got injured and missed training. It’s also too crowded. You literally have space limitations. Would probably pick another gym next time though it will remain a great experience. 

Less training, more time to go out: I tried to train a little, but after a few sessions had to true up. Just doesn’t feel right with a broken toe. Instead i spent time watching quite a few documentaries (from climate engineering to detective Poirot), many late nights in camp with/without movies & xxx, another fight night this time at our gym (again, most fights don’t go the full distance … see here for a great summary video), some good time out with Elisa (thanks for excellent visit at your friends), Ricky (we laughed a lot that night & dance like 18!) Kevin (good luck for ya fight dude … immer wieder Oesterreich) & co, a long night with Frits (see you in holland, get well soon … and take it easy!) and some excellent island exploring with Jason helped by some excellent special juice we picked up in another boxing gym (of all places) – best last day ever. Switch on the colours and go out to meet the world man! Its worth every moment. 

Time to move on, but time unforgotten. Hope to see you guys all very soon. If not in this life, then in a 7eleven over beer & BBQ chips ;o)

Injury strikes early

Before coming to Thailand, my main concern was always to get injured. I remember it well from my preparations to climb Mt. Lhotse last year. Back then it was typically running related. Sadly, injury didn’t wait long here as I fractured my big toe during sparring. 3w off the doctor recommended though I still do light training here and there with focus on the upper body. Aside from that the last week was also quite eventful.

 

Monday we went to Koh Samui to extend my visa beyond the 30d initial period (pretty painless I have to say). While I didn’t get to see the beach there, it seems the island is much busier than here (probably due to the airport). Koh Phangan seems more relaxed. Good times together with Jason (also injured after he fell badly on his back during sparring) and Elisa as well as her friend (both from Finland).

 

I also went back to see the Chinese temple given  my camera didnt work the first time round and got to chat a bit to fellow boxer Mercedes from Spain whi hadn’t done much sightseeing during her stay (its easy to get stuck in a train – eat – sleep routine here).

 

Koh Phangan’s fruit shakes … tasty!

The fruit shakes on the island are outstanding and at c1USD pretty cheap. If you need some inspiration … there should be plenty on the menu of my favorite shop right on Koh Phangan’s food market.

 

And then it was fight night with Holly and two trainers representing Diamond Muay Thai gym. 2 victories and one defeat – not bad. Admittedly, its a fairly brutal sport. Out of 6 fights, three fighters had plenty of blood in their face and four fights didn’t go the full, five round distance.

The weekend showed the island a bit more from its party side as we headed out Friday to celebrate a few Danish birthdays and Saturday the beachside house of Elisa’s friend. Nice spot and some great times altogether … be it a little exhausting at times.