Le Grand Détour

Khao Sok, jurassic lake

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france_french_flag En route vers Khao Sok

Voilà, nous quittons Koh Tao… Il est 6 heures du matin, le soleil ne va pas tarder à se lever. Je monte sur le pont du catamaran qui file sur la mer calme. L’occasion d’un haiku de circonstance :

La mer de Thaïlande

Le soleil levant allume

Le tour des nuages

Un passager tape un scandale à Koh Phanang en gueulant littéralement qu’il a payé et il menace d’appeler la police. Un excité du matin.

Nous arrivons finalement sur la terre ferme thaïlandaise où nous montons dans un bus qui nous dépose quelque part en ville où l’on nous dit d’attendre 35 minutes. Puis un 4×4 arrive qui charge la grosse poignée de touristes que nous sommes et nous conduit à la gare de bus pour prendre un nouveau bus… Et là, le trajet sera long, très long. La climatisation ne fonctionne pas dans ce bus, il fait chaud à crever et nous n’avançons pas. D’abord à cause des embouteillages de sortie de ville mais surtout parce que le bus s’arrête toutes les 5 minutes pour prendre ou déposer des gens. En théorie nous devions arriver à Khao Sok, notre destination, vers 12:30 mais nous y arriverons finalement et péniblement vers 14:30… Tant pis pour notre repas du midi.

Un peu plus tard nous faisons la connaissance de Nan, l’adorable propriétaire de la Khao Sok Holiday Resort qui ne comprend que 4 bungalows très bon marchés mais hyper clean et confortables. Peut-être le meilleur rapport qualité-prix de tout notre séjour en Thaïlande, sans compter que Nan fait également la cuisine dans son restaurant attenant et que tous les plats que nous goûtons sont délicieux.

La fin d’après-midi se passe tranquillement. Nous optons pour l’excursion d’une journée au lac Cheow Lan le lendemain.

A la fin du dîner, une pluie torrentielle se met à tomber qui ne s’arrêtera qu’au petit matin. Khao Sok n’est pas l’endroit le plus humide de Thailande pour rien ! Comme le bungalow n’est équipé que de moustiquaires en guise de fenêtres, nous nous endormons en ayant l’impression de dormir dehors, avec le bruit de la pluie et le champ de la jungle pour bercer nos rêves. Ambiance…

english_flag Journey to Khao Sok

It’s too early!! We had to be up and ready to leave for our taxi to the boat at 5:30. The boat itself was the same high speed catamaran on which we’d arrived and was due to leave at 6am, taking us south stopping at a couple more islands before we’d arrive on the mainland where we could catch our bus to Khao Sok.

Unfortunately though the journey wasn’t all smooth sailing, due to a drunken man who was causing trouble for the crew. The captain came down to try and get him off the boat, but all that did was make the guy scream “Don’t touch me! Don’t ever touch me again. Call the police. They can touch me”.

In the end the crew left him where he was and, at the next stop (Koh Samui, I think), he got off the boat under the close scrutiny from every member of the crew. On his way out he grabbed a nearly empty bottle of water from one of the seats that had just been vacated and finished it off before throwing it onto the next seat…nice chap!

On the mainland there were a few buses waiting and we were shown which one were to get on …unfortunately it wouldn’t be this bus that takes us all the way to Khao Sok…no, that would be too easy and too comfortable! It took us as far as Surat Thanit where we were left in a café-cum-bus station at the side of the road.

A man, speaking pretty good English, gave us a map for Khao Sok and told us that we’d have to wait half an hour here before the bus would come. He also explained that the resorts at Khao Sok would send a pick-up to come and get us at the bus stop and that we shouldn’t have to pay for it ourselves.

When the time was up he shepherded about 10 of us into his own pick-up, ladies on the front with him and gents and backpacks in the back, for a twenty minute drive to the real bus station where we then had to wait another half an hour before the final bus (another rusty old wreck of a bus, but with no air conditioning this time!) was ready to leave.

We had been told, when buying our tickets, that the bus would arrive at 12:30 at Khao Sok. As it was, at 12:30 we were still driving around Surat Thanit picking up local passengers who would stand in the aisle of the bus for the rest of the journey!

We eventually arrived at 14:30 at the drop off point just outside Khao Sok where a couple of pick-up drivers were waiting and asking for 50 baht per person to take us to our resort. We refused to pay and Stéphane rang the hotel to ask them to come and pick us up. After about 15 minutes, one of the initial two pick-ups came back having dropped off their group of other tourists and told us to get in…he would take us to the Khao Sok Holiday resort for no charge.

On arrival we met Nan who is a very nice lady owner and who showed us to our bungalow which was down the lane next to her restaurant and through a beautiful little garden full of exotic plants the likes of which we’d never before seen. Our bungalow was number two, there were four in total so it’s a nice small place.

That evening, as we were eating our delicious dinner in Nan’s restaurant (which is open on two sides), the surrounding mountains lit up with lightning and it wasn’t long before the storms reached us. The man from another couple in the restaurant went sprinting back to their bungalow, obviously they’d left something out in the rain…we smirked at that thought! As the rain poured down outside, the insects all came into the restaurant to find shelter from the rain and attracted by the neon strips overhead. Our table was fairly protected but another couple had their table directly under the lights and so enjoyed a constant shower of flying ants falling onto their table and into their food throughout their meal! Yum yum!

They eventually moved and were shortly replaced by a little frog which had also come into the restaurant for his dinner, though his main dish wasn’t on the menu, it consisted of the variety of insects that were lying on the floor. There were also, suddenly, lots of geckos on the walls and roof of the restaurant also attracted by the influx of insects. To complete the zoological picture Nan’s cat then arrived and started chasing the geckos….luckily nothing bigger arrived! ^_^

When we got back to our bungalow we saw that Stéphane’s shoes had been outside during the whole storm and weren’t under the protection of the porch…and he’d need them tomorrow for the trek…we bought them into the bungalow where it was still quite warm and pulled out the insoles….maybe they could dry overnight?! Let’s see.

As it had been a long day it didn’t take us long to fall asleep accompanied by the pitter patter of the raindrops on the leaves of the banana trees outside and the other noises through the mosquito nets on the windows.

france_french_flag Le lac Cheow Lan

Aujourd’hui nous partons à la découverte du lac Cheow Lan, au milieu du parc national de Khao Sok. Les rives de cet énorme lac abritent notamment l’une des forêts primaires les plus préservées du globe, recouvrant des formations calcaires de plus de 160 milions d’années. Les quelques photos que nous en avons vues font rêver. Cependant, sans rien changer de la majesté du lieu, l’expérience s’avérera plus touristique que prévue.

Nous partons en minivan vers 9h pour parcourir les 62 kilomètres qui nous séparent du lac Cheow Lan. Nous pensions que nous ne serions qu’un petit groupe mais nous partageons d’ores et déjà cette excursion avec 8 autres passagers, qui se transformeront en 16 autres passagers pour la suite des activités.

L’arrivée au bord du lac est noire de monde et tout ce monde embarque sur des dizaines de Longtail boats amarrés non loin de là. Et nous avec. Heureusement que ce lac est gigantesque et permet à tous ces bateaux de s’éparpiller si loin que l’on aura souvent l’impression d’être les seuls.

Nous partons à notre tour sur le lac, au milieu des falaises, des à pics, des tombants, des gigantesques formations calcaires qui nous dominent jusqu’à 960m de haut. Si le lac existait auparavant, la construction du barrage en 1982 a certainement changé sa physionomie. Nous en voyons la trace dans les arbres morts dont les cimes surgissent encore ça-et-là au-dessus des eaux, preuve que le niveau a dû sérieusement s’élevé. Le lac atteint aujourd’hui une profondeur de 80 mètres.

J’essaye d’imaginer la musique que jouent ce paysage jurassique et ces géants de pierre recouverts de forêt primaire.

30 minutes plus tard nous faisons un premier arrêt pour accoster sur une série de bungalows flottants… c’était une option que nous aurions pu choisir, passer la nuit sur une cabane flottante au milieu du lac. Ca a l’air effectivement très sympa et apparemment l’occasion de voir un peu plus de faune locale à la tombée de la nuit et au petit matin. Nous repartons. L’arrêt ne semblait avoir d’autre but que nous expliquer que nous y reviendrons pour déjeuner et nager après la visite de la grotte.

Nous accostons sur la terre ferme pour 25 minutes de marche à travers la jungle. Nous aimerions bien voir des animaux mais la route s’avère être une petite autoroute à touristes qui parlent fort dans les deux sens, sans compter que nous sommes samedi et donc que pas mal de thaïs ont également fait le déplacement. Nous croisons cependant la route d’une fourmi, d’une petite biche et d’une tarentule. Enfin, la patte d’une tarentule, que le guide nous montre avec sa torche dans son nid. Timide l’arachnide.

Nous parvenons de l’autre côté de la coline, sous le regard d’un portrait géant du roi. Oui, même au fin fond du parc national antédiluvien au bout de la jungle, le roi est là qui veille. C’est le moment de prendre une nouvelle embarcation, cette fois plus petite, en montant sur un radeau en bambou à moteur. C’est lui qui va nous conduire à la grotte aux coraux, découverte il y a seulement onze ans.

Armés de lampes frontale nous découvrons de superbes formations qui rappelent en effet les coraux vus sous l’eau à Kho Tao. D’autres touristes du groupe sont déçus : apparemment ce qu’il leur a été vendu c’est la visite d’une autre grotte qui nécessite de marcher avec de l’eau jusqu’à la taille. Mais les rangers qui nous accompagnent ont préféré ne pas y aller à cause des fortes pluies de la veille qui ont fait monté le niveau de l’eau.

Trajet de retour sur le raft en bambou, puis marche dans l’autre sens, puis 15 minutes de longtail boat pour retrouver le restaurant flottant où nous déjeunons… Un délicieux repas pour nous qui nous attendions à un simple pique-nique avec du riz enveloppé dans des feuilles de bananiers.

Après le repas, nous avons quartier libre pour nager dans le lac et faire du kayak. Nous préférons barboter dans l’eau et bronzer au soleil. Ce lac est vraiment énorme, il faudrait une vie entière pour en explorer tous les contours. Je suis sûr qu’il doit encore exister des grottes et des endroits inexplorés.

Sur le retour nous passons en bateau devant le clou du spectacle, à savoir la vue des « 3 montagnes », qui nous donne un aperçu de ce que nous verrons dans la baie d’Halong en janvier. C’est très beau en effet. Le temps de prendre une, photo le bateau repart. Je m’endors à moitié avec le bruit du moteur.

De retour à notre bungalow nous aurons une discussion intéressante avec Nan au sujet du roi. Pour elle le souverain a été un bon roi même s’il se fait vieux maintenant. Elle semble bien dubitative quant au prochain roi qui sera vraisemblablement le fils du roi actuel. Encore une belle journée.

english_flag Day trip to Cheow Lan lake

The bus would be here to get us between 8:40 and 8:50 so we had time…that’s what we’d thought, but after a nice little row and some untimely stomach upset we were officially being waited for by the time I made it to the resort’s entrance. Nan kindly gave us a couple of red towels and a headlamp for in the cave.

Once again we weren’t sitting together on the mini-bus again…maybe we’ve got a mini-bus curse?

After nearly one hour’s drive we stopped at a market where we had ten minutes to do whatever tickled our fancy. We needed cash and I also bought a chocolate milkshake (seriously missing milk since we’ve left France) and we also stocked up on some snacks just in case we got hungry at any point.

Back in the bus we drove on towards the docks where there were hundreds of people bustling around. It’s Saturday and also, according to our guide, it’s a holiday here today and tomorrow for the local people. We were put on a nice big long boat…just the 10 of us…too good to be true? Oh yes, we realised when we didn’t leave straight away that we were, in fact, waiting for another mini-bus of tourists to complete (and cram) the boat! We were four to a bench in the end which made it complicated to take any photos and impossible for us to take photos out of the left side of the boat.

The first part of the boat journey was a little long as we crossed the main, man-made lake with the dam on our left. Eventually though, we passed through a beautiful gorge and onto a second, smaller lake where we headed up until we arrived at a lake resort. Here there were a couple of dozen bungalows and a large restaurant and the other guide told us not to get out of the boat, it was just to tell them how many of us there were and if there were any vegetarians in the group. He explained that we would come back here for lunch after the cave and then we could swim and kayak around here after lunch.

The next stop, where we were allowed to get off the boat, was the “hike” to the cave. It was a 25 minute walk along a fairly well established mud road…not what we’d call a hike back home. The guide did show us a tarantula nest on the way though and, with the light of his torch, I got a glimpse of a couple of very hairy legs deep in the hole…this is the first time I’ve seen a tarantula that wasn’t behind glass and I quickly moved away to let the next person take a look! ^_^

The “hike” ended next to another lake (or, at least, a different part of the same lake) where we were to take the bamboo boats across to the entrance to the cave. These bamboo boats weren’t as solid as the ones that we’d seen in China during our cruise in Guilin, but we got onto one of them with about 14 other people!! Is this why they told us to bring waterproof bags? How many tourists end up in the lake when these boats capsize?!

At the entrance to the cave I was given a lamp in addition to the one that Nan had given us this morning and we headed inside. One of the guides was carrying a neon strip light and some kind of power source in a bag over his shoulder. A lot of the stalagmites looked like underwater corals and I imagined that maybe this was all sea water at some point…or maybe they just grew like this in a cave! There wasn’t a lot of explanations apart from when we arrived at a glass box containing bank notes at which point we were told that the locals believe that if you leave some kind of offering here then good things will happen to you…yeah right!

After the “hike” back to the big boat we stopped, as planned, for lunch at the lake resort. It was pretty good (rice, grilled fresh fish, green curry (very mild), stir fried vegetables, fried chicken and onion and a spicy little sauce for on the fish) and there was lots of it too. Stéphane was, as usual, the main source of conversation at our table, asking lots of questions to the other people to find out about their trips. After lunch though, everyone seemed to split off and do their own thing for a bit until we all found ourselves swimming in the lake and sitting on a HUGE log that had been fixed about 2 metres from the walkway. It was great as you could stand on it and dive off into the lake…hoping that there weren’t any big nasty beasts lurking below! ^_-

Getting out of the water I grabbed one of the red towels that Nan had given us for the day and dried my face and arms off…as I was drying I noticed that the towel was leaving lots of red fluff all over my skin and blue bikini…the towels were obviously brand new… I rubbed my arm and ended up with lots of rolls of red all over it…only one thing to do, jump back into the lake and wash myself before drying off in the sunshine….forget the towels!

On the boat trip back to the docks we stopped at a place called the three mountains in order to take a few photos before our trip was over and all that remained was the return journey to Khao Sok Holiday Resort.

Back with Nan in the resort’s restaurant I ordered a vegetarian green curry and it was absolutely gorgeous once again. Nan is a great cook and the food is obviously really fresh. She was so smiley when we told her this and thanked her. In the restaurant she’s helped by a couple of other girls who seem to be her cousins or nieces and her son is there too, he’s nearly two and pretty chunky for his height. He likes to help out in the restaurant by bringing over the menus and “helps” to carry the beer bottle too (though the ladies don’t let him carry it on his own!!). He even shook hands with another guest who was leaving…it was very cute!