7 June 2013 Ao Po, Phuket - Khao Sok, Thailand
Yay, it’s time for my birthday trip to Khao Sok! BB was going to make it a surprise, but it got too complicated to decide what to do, so we planned the trip together. We left the yard around 10:30 a.m. & went home to pack, then left at noon. It was a gorgeous day - a nice day for a drive. The scenery was beautiful, especially when we got near the park. The karst formations are reminiscent of Guilin, China, but accentuated by palm oil & rubber tree plantations rather than rice paddies.
I had told BB of my intention to do 50 cartwheels in various locations in the next three days to celebrate being 50 years old. He suggested we take videos instead of photos this time, & offered to be my videographer. We started with a video in the parking lot of our condo, & then took another in a rubber tree plantation en route. I need to do at least 12 cartwheels a day to make the quota. It’s fun thinking of unusual places to perform cartwheels.
When we got to Our Jungle House, we were shown to our tree house & told not to keep any food in the house, on account of both the monkeys & the ants. We went for a short mosquito-y walk in the jungle around the bungalows, then swam in the river. Very refreshing.
We had one last bottle of Morton's champagne from NZ saved for this occasion, & BB had brought cheese & crackers to have with it. We decided to make a dinner of it on our pleasant porch overlooking the river, but only minutes after we were seated & made a toast, a long-tailed macaque monkey appeared. He sauntered to a spot on the rail only a few feet away from us, his yellow eyes trained on the cheese BB was opening with my Swiss Army knife. The macaque was clearly gonna make a jump for it if he got an opportunity. I scrambled & began putting things away in our cooler bag. I've been around aggressive monkeys before. BB felt we should defend our territory & thought maybe we could chase him off, so he picked up a chair & made scary monster sounds while chasing the monkey across the bridge to the neighboring tree house. But the monkey returned. We both tried to scare him away, but he just did a circuit of our tree house, checking to see if he could get in anywhere (it was monkey-proof as long as the windows & doors were closed & locked), then came back to within a few feet of us, still eyeing the food. Finally we realized we had to give up & go elsewhere to be able to relax & enjoy our champagne & appies, so we went to the main house where they have several dogs. The monkeys are afraid of dogs, so we had a lovely quiet evening playing backgammon, having dinner & enjoying the company of the resident calico cat. We had the resort to ourselves.
A fat lizard visited me in the loo while I was brushing my teeth. The tree house's bathroom is open to monkeys or whatever else chooses to come in, so we were advised not to leave our toiletries in there & to close the door to the room. Well, duh.
June 8, 2013 Khao Sok
We slept pretty well under our mosquito net, but it was an adventure to go to the loo in the night. The staff assured us that snakes tend to stay away from humans. Yah… okaaay.
After a pleasant breakfast by the river, we drove about an hour through the beautiful karst formations & terraced hillsides to Chiew Lan Lake. On the way, we passed the “Pier of Cipality” & followed the sign to “Deposit the Car”. We chose the 4-hour longtail tour for 2,600 Baht ($86) & we were assigned a guide: 24-year old Gob, a good-looking Thai kid who spoke very little English. But he turned out to be a great guide.
As we set out across the lake, we established ourselves on the prow of the 40-ft longtail boat, as far away from the noisy motor as possible. The traditional flat board used on the bow of the longtails makes for a comfortable viewing platform. The views of the oddly-shaped cliffs were spectacular; the water a gleaming hue of green; the weather perfect.
BB tried driving the longtail for a bit, but it was nice to be able to be far away from it. We were surprised how few boats were on the water. We'd thought the lake'd be crawling with tour boats. We felt so spoiled having such a big boat all to ourselves.
We went to the far end of one of the fingers, then went for a hike in the jungle. Gob pointed out lizards & birds, making very good bird calls as we walked. We heard a hornbill, but didn't see any. Gob spotted a flying fox attached to the trunk of a tree -- it took us quite a long time to figure out what it was, even with binocs, mostly cuz it was so much bigger than I expected. Gibbons sang in the jungle which echoed off the cliffs - very exotic sounding. We hiked about 3 km before ending at a lake where we took a narrow bamboo raft (I even did a cartwheel on that!) across to Coral Cave. It was very beautiful. And we had it to ourselves.
We were given jackfruit & rambutan at the floating resort where I had some hammock time, then we hiked back to the longtail. Gob took us to a restaurant where people were feeding fish off the dock, but we opted to just eat our snacks & instead save our time for swimming. Little did we know that Gob was in no hurry -- our 4-hour tour turned into nearly 6 hours! That was awesome. We got to swim & play in a gorgeous setting of smaller pinnacles - the area they call Guilin's Thailand. And again, we had the place to ourselves. Once Gob got the boat tied up, he stripped to his boxers & also got in the water, hanging onto the shaft & watching the trees for signs of gibbons. We saw some movement, but it was too far to see the animals. The water was a divine temperature & a beautiful hue of green. Magical.
Gob seemed in no hurry to go, but we had a long drive back to the treehouse, & BB wanted to get back before dark, so we longtailed back to the pier & gave Gob a good tip for such a lovely, relaxing day.
June 9, 2013 Khao Sok - Ao Po, Phuket
It rained in the night & continued raining in the morning. After another fine breakfast, we drove to the Nt'l Park just a couple miles away & set out for a hike. Once again, we had the place to ourselves. It stopped raining, but there were enough muddy spots & puddles that we had to watch our step. We had been warned about the leeches in this area, but had only brought sandals, so we were fair game. BB stepped into a mushy area up to his ankle very early on & we quickly inspected for leeches, finding a small one squirming next to his little toe. We were a bit unsure what they looked like & stared hard into the puddles to try to see them, but they're just invisible. Yet they're everywhere. So we walked very cautiously, skirting the wettest areas as best we could.
We came to a beautiful river & couldn't resist stripping down for a cooling dip, but we didn't linger, since we were unsure whether there are leeches in running water. There were no gibbons singing & we saw little evidence of wildlife. Didn't hear any hornbills, either. But it was exactly what I wanted to do for my birthday & just where I wanted to be. We've done so little hiking since we hauled out -- no walking at all, actually. I really miss it.
The road narrowed to just a track after we passed the ranger station next to a bigger river, making it more challenging to stay out of the mud. We arrived at a slow-moving river where we chose not to swim. Sat & had our lunch, & while we were enjoying the view from a rock beside the water, I felt something moving on my toe. A leech! It had already worked itself into the webbing between my big toe & middle toe, & although I know I wasn't supposed to, I couldn't help but get it off as quickly as possible. It had gotten its hooks in deep enough that my foot bled from the two little holes for about 15 minutes. Weird. BB had brought a lighter for removal & we knew that bug spray works, but I don't think I could've waited that long. Leeches give me the creeps.
We moved away from the water to finish our lunch, then hiked back to the car with no further leech incidents. It was difficult to thoroughly enjoy this hike when we were so obsessed with the leech thing, but we were both pleased that we'd gotten away pretty easy. In our room was a book showing photos of people covered with fat leeches. Ugh.
It began raining again as we drove back south, so we chose not to swim at the waterfall on the way. We were surprised to see elephants along the road — we’ve not yet seen that in Thailand. BB was in very much of a hurry, driving like a bit of a mad man, which is unusual. He said it was cuz he wanted to get back before dark, but I wasn't totally convinced. I suspected something was up…. And sure enough, when we got to Ban Pae Seafood (he hadn't told me where we were going for dinner), there were a dozen people waiting for us who all yelled "surprise" as we walked in. I can't believe BB went to such an effort to plan not only a weekend getaway, but also a surprise party. He had pre-ordered all the food, so it arrived immediately & we told the stories of our weekend over an excellent dinner.
But the party didn't end there. Everyone drove back to the villa where Sue had baked me a cake. Also, she & Jon had decorated our whole condo. I later learned that they spent the whole weekend there. Everyone gave me a gift -- all very thoughtful things. Leo, our neighbor, had her birthday on June 8th, so there was a cake for her too. It was a really fun party, with all the racket indoors drowning out the pounding rain outside.
I'm feeling pretty good about being 50. A lot of people tell me I don't look it, & doing the cartwheels all weekend certainly made me feel youthful. We just need to remember that as long as we're both healthy, it doesn't matter how old we are.
I know it was stressful for BB to make all these plans & arrangements while still trying to keep up with the boat work, but he did it nonetheless, & I so appreciate it. Overall it was a lovely weekend which allowed us both to rejuvenate & return to the boat project again with renewed energy. I'm lucky to be with such a wonderful, thoughtful man.