I woke up with a jolt as an alarm went off in the lake hut next door, had I really even been asleep? It felt like just minutes ago the French guy I'd ended up sharing a hut with had been telling me about life as a chiropractor. It took a moment to realise why the alarm was going off and why the heck I was awake when it was pitch black outside and the morning safari was two hours away, but then it all came flooding back. I was up at 5am, along with five others, to paddle out in canoes to watch the sun rise over the jungle. Quickly pulling on my bikini and meeting the others out at the jetty where the canoes lay waiting, some of us pulled on life jackets for a bit of warmth, it was pretty cool out in the jungle at that time. There was joy a single light on around the lake huts, we went by torch light until our eyes accustomed to the stars which lit the beautiful night sky above us.I won't lie, there's something about dark water that kind of freaks me out. I think it's just the not knowing what is beneath you, not having any warning if something comes for you.. Haha silly I know! I've never let it get in the way of doing anything, but I have to admit I hesitated slightly when I saw just how dark it was out there on the lake. I wasn't the only one who had second thoughts for a split second, but we quickly pushed any doubts to one side, and thank god we did! Climbing into the canoes, I was sharing with an Israeli friend, Joav, who was a bit of an all around Indiana Jones, so he happily took on paddling after we realised our badly timed paddling was more likely to tip us over if I joined in. Paddling like a pro, the canoe cut through the calm surface of the water cleanly and we were soon out in the middle of the lake, having left the others far behind in our dust. We waited, floating silently in the water, for the other two canoes to catch up and listened to the deafening silence. It amazed me that the jungle could ever be that quiet. Apparently earlier in the night, Joav and a local had overheard a wild elephant crashing around in the undergrowth, but now it was deathly silent with the birds and monkeys still yet to wake.The others finally steadied themselves and made it out to meet us, we joined the canoes as closely as possible and waited, taking in the whole experience. We floated around, chatting and enjoying the peace of the early morning. Then, shortly after, the sky began to lighten around a mountain to the east of us. The clouds started to form those beautiful patterns, reflecting the first rays of sunlight and the jungle started to come alive. It was beautiful, no words can describe this experience, it left me speechless which is no mean feat. By the time 7am came around the sun was still yet to appear over the mountain, but sadly we had to go back for the morning safari - nonetheless, the sky was beautiful at that time of the morning. It was worth the sheer exhaustion of the late night followed by the early start, the morning safari and a huge uphill hike later that morning.The hike was exhausting but great fun, taking us around the lake we started out at a new point with a national park guide leading the way. It was a fairly uphill climb and some people struggled, so beware of you take this one on, but anyone with a standard level of fitness would be fine. The hike took us to a viewpoint which was lovely, but the cave that followed was far more spectacular. This huge cave was filled with stalagmites and stalactites, vipers lay inside and there were huge parts to climb and explore. We all had a great time there, followed by a walk back to the boat where we ate lunch and swam - even inventing pineapple polo as a new game with the leftover peel from lunch. It was a perfect way to end our time as the A Team and sad goodbyes followed the end of this amazing weekend. A smaller group of us who were staying at the park an extra night met up for drinks and card games that might, which was a lovely way to say goodbye before we all parted ways the following day.Khao Sok was incredible. It was easily one of the most amazing places I have visited in my two-and-a-half months of travelling solo - and believe me I've seen a lot of different parts of Thailand in that time. If you love outdoor activities, hiking, canoeing, caving and the like - you will feel right at home here! There is so much to do and see, and you might even get lucky and meet some pretty amazing people like I did.
Tell me about the places you've travelled to that really stood out in your mind - what made them so special? Have you visited any national parks?
One of my favourite experiences in Thailand so far has definitely been my time spent in a 160 million year old rainforest slap bang in the centre of the country. When my Lonely Planet and a few websites all described Khao Sok as the 'real Jurassic Park' it definitely captured my imagination and conjured up a few images - but nothing prepared me for the real beauty of this completely wild landscape. Coming from the southern islands, it was a complete change of surroundings - from perfect beaches to untamed, lush green forest. It was just what I was in need of, after the bustling, busy time in Phuket Town I was craving some nature and exercise. I was in for a treat, and after a long day spent on a bus with my newfound friend, we pitched up at the road to the national park and were jumped on by the touts trying to sell rooms at their places. In an amazing coincidence, I had planned to stay at Jungle Huts which is recommended by Lonely Planet, the first to approach me was from Jungle Huts and was offering me a treehouse bungalow there for a few hundred less than I had planned to spend - winning!After settling in and taking a walk round the village, it was time for some serious food and a few drinks with a group of German and Swedish people I had met. That night I had the best nights sleep listening to the jungle sounds of crickets, bats and the occasional monkey and woke up ready to take on the rainforest. I actually headed into the park by myself that first day and planned to spend the day exploring by myself, but overhearing two very familiar accents at the entrance was one of the best things that could have happened. I ended up meeting a couple from Suffolk just minutes into my walk and before you knew it we had teamed up together and hiked around 15km through the park over the course of a day, stopping only to swim in waterfalls spread along the jungle path. It was brilliant, just the exercise my body had been craving and great to get off the beaten path a bit. The travellers you meet in Khao Sok are there on purpose and are a different type to those you meet elsewhere, so it was great to find other people who were after the same experience I was.The couple were actually staying at Jungle Huts as well so that evening we met for dinner and planned to take the overnight trip to the man-made lake that stood in the middle of the park. It was the best decision we could have made and we all went to bed really excited for what the next two days would hold - with promises of caving, hiking, swimming and much more! We also met a small group of people who would be in our tour group the next day which was brilliant and the A Team began to take shape. The next morning, we met our group early and set out on our trip with our tour leader, Mr A - a total legend. After a short drive to pick up snacks and out to the lake, we caught a long tail boat across - an amazing journey that showed us the beauty of the landscape with towering cliffs, vast open spaces and dense jungle all sitting alongside each other. It was heaven rushing across the open water like that and the group of 16 were all beyond excited to see where we would be staying that night. The group was a total mixture of ages from late teens to 60's, but we all had a great time together.We arrived at the lake huts which were all sitting on a giant raft that had been built on the water, the whole thing rocked like crazy every time anyone walked on it and we were all a bit nervous about what the walk would be like after a beer or two! After lunch, we set out for a long hike to a cave in the middle of the jungle, it was amazing. After a short ride on the boat, we hiked through jungle, under towering rocks and over fallen trees, to reach the cave, which we then started making our way through by torchlight. It definitely wasn't somewhere you wanted to be if the lights went out with snakes, massive spiders and huge frogs living deep within. There were several parts where we had to wade through rushing water, and one point where we actually had to swim with our torches in our mouths, it was awesome! Just the kind of adventurous stuff we were all craving, and the real lack of health and safety made it even more exciting! We all arrived back at the lake huts and dove straight into the lake, which we were told in some places reached depths of 120m, but never got cold. It was strangely warm at all times, but perfect for swimming!That night was spent eating a delicious dinner of freshly caught and barbecued fish with the A Team, followed by beers and a night safari where we saw monkeys and stargazed from the long tail boat. It was so beautiful and as someone who loves a bit of stargazing, it was gorgeous to get such an amazing open view of the sky where it was so dark, the stars have never looked to clear. We all went to bed happy and prepared to get up early - at 7am for the morning safari although as all group of us planned to be up even earlier for something very special. There was a group of about six of us who bonded pretty quickly and we decided we wanted to get up to watch the sun rise while out on the lake in canoes. It was amazing and I'll tell you more about that in part two of my posts.
Tell me about your favourite travelling experience - which places have really made an impact on you? Have you explored any national parks around the world?