We went South this visit to Thailand because we’d spent last year gallivanting in the North (hiking up the monstrous Phu Kradueng Trek). Figuring we’d see another National Park, Jackson found Khao Sok National Park as a likely place to get in a good hike, see some nature, and maybe eat some yummy food along the way.
Kaho Sok is located above Phuket, about 5 hours drive, and sits in the mountains. It’s famous for its dam, the Ratchaphrapa Dam which is the largest in South East Asia. Built in 1982, it was constructed as a way to generate hydroelectric energy for the region. The subsequent 64 sq. mile (165 sq. kilometer) lake that formed flooded the valleys of the park and created a vast watery wonderland that boats will go out onto.
Jackson and I signed up for a full-day excursion at our hotel. Unfortunately, you need to book a pass onto the lake because you have to rent a boat to get around and a guide to take you around the park. You can enter the park on foot at different entrances and tickets will cost 300 Bhat ($10USD) each for a hike around. We opted to see the lake and paid 1,500 Bhat ($50USD) each for the excursion. This included breakfast, lunch, a guide, a boat ride and water for the whole day. It was an expensive day, but SO WORTH IT.
Here’s why it was all so worth it:
This boat ride was incredible. The mountains jut out of the water like Dr. Seuss pictures. They’re jagged, crooked, like the spines of ancient dragons now covered in green. I was reminded of Milford Sound in New Zealand. There was a “land before time” quality to the views. The boat ride took 1 hour 20 min to get to the small port at the end of one of the fingers of the lake. As we approached, little huts floated on the water and we observed people jumping off the pier and splashing around.
After a lunch of fish and curry (yummy!) our group of 10.5 (we had a 3-year-old coming with us on her daddy’s back!) set off on a jungle trek to a motherfucking massive cave!
The trek was awesome. There were rivers, mud patches, massive trees, monkeys, leeches (thankfully we didn’t get any biting us although others were not so lucky…), birds, vines, and finally: the entrance to the Nam Talu cave.
Nam Talu translates to “water through it” and it is a very accurate description of this 800+ meter (.5 mile) cave. What sets this apart from other caves I’ve explored is that it has an entrance and exit so you don’t have to turn around and go out the way you came in. Following the river that has cut through the rock over eons, you can make your way through the pitch dark to the other side of the mountain and then hike back to the beginning of the trek.
Which is exactly what we did.
The cave was massive: at some points opening up into large halls where the floor was covered in nasty looking crickets, huge spiders, and crabs. Then, glancing up at the ceiling with the flashlight on your head, we’d see thousands and thousands of bats hanging. The river was cool, but not cold, and flowed over rocks and boulders, looping around massive stalagmites (one of which looked like a huge turtle as our guide pointed out!). We stumbled and cursed our way through the bowels of the mountain, at one point turning off our lights to get an idea of how dark the cave was (it was super dark! Like, couldn’t tell if my eyes were open or closed).
Our guide, a really jovial Thai named Two, would whistle and sing as he led us, coaxing us onward with promises of getting soaked near the end. “You see!” he’d croon. “Water up to your chest!”
I prayed my sandals wouldn’t break as each step seemed to test their endurance by flipping the soles and twisting the straps (thank you, Columbia sportwear!! They held!!) . As we neared the end Two took off his shirt and with a massive grin told us that the time had come to take a dip. Here, the water went from knee and ankle deep to chest and shoulders and we each scooted our way over rocks into the cool river.
This was my favorite part! The cave closed in on us and at some points the opening to get through was only a foot or two wide. The daddy with the daughter managed to limbo through (although he was the size of a bean pole) if he could do it with a three-year-old then we could do it! (I did pity anyone who was overweight; if you are do NOT go on this hike, I seriously don’t think you’d fit). Two cackled like a madman tripping over the walls and stones like spiderman as we lumbered and splashed our way through the river. (How did he manage to do those moves!?).
After the muddy hike back (and by this point it was MUDDY- so many tourists had shown up at this point and we splashing through the rivers and tracking the water into the soil) Jackson and I took a dip in the lake which was surprisingly warm, like bathwater!
This was a seriously fun day. The hike to the cave took about an hour, inside the cave took another hour and then the same hike back. All told, you’re on your feet for 3+ hours of strenuous, slippery walking. Bring good sport shoes that can get wet and have a good grip on the soles. (We were shocked to see some people walking this hike barefooted. This struck us as a BAD idea because it is so slippery and at some points really sharp and jagged. Also: one daddy was holding a little kid in both hands while hiking barefoot and one of the Thai guides was like: “Bro, that’s super dangerous, you could drop the kid and yourself in a nasty fall.” and the tourist ignored him. Ugh. People are so dumb.)
Oh, this cave is not normally open during the monsoon. Two was getting a bit concerned about rain on the walk (it didn’t rain at all, thankfully) because if it did rain, the river would flood and we all could drown in a flash flood. So, like, don’t go during the rainy season.