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A short trip to Ratchaprapha lake and Khao Sok national park (05 June 2004)

This is a brief account of my two nights short trip to the southern Thailand, to Khao Sok national park and around, a mini break from my corporate employee life in the city landscape.

Ratchaprapha or Cheow Lan lake In the evening of 31 May 2004, I boarded on an express train at Hua Lam Phong central station. The train moved at 7:15 pm. A second class lower berth sleeper ticket in an air-conditioned car costs Thai Baht 668 per person for the route: Bangkok to Surat Thani (Punpin station). The tickets can be bought at any train station in Bangkok up to 60 days ahead. Only the central station's ticket boots are open 24 hours, the rest being closed at 6 pm.

You can also get on the Surat Thani train at Samsen station or Bansue station depending on where you come from. Each second class sleeper car consists of 20 lower berths and 20 upper berths. Upper berths are a bit cheaper and are less spacious without having a window. In the day time and evening the berths are folded and passengers can sit in the chairs. When the sleeping time comes a train attendant would transform the seats into berths and prepare the beddings for the passengers. Each car has two toilets and a place with washing basins and mirrors at one end where there are seats usually starting at 1,2, etc. All overnight trains carry an restaurant car.

My seat was next to the door (seat numbers 1,2,3,4 and 37, 38, 39, 40 are next to the doors) and there were people opening and closing the door throughout the night. A couple of passengers smoked just outside the door between two cars. Occasional loud metallic sound and rock and roll move of the train plus passengers' noices made me unable to have a sound sleep. During the entire night I waked up three times and had around 4 hours of sleep in total.

Tone Toey raft house on Chew Lan lake Just before 7 am the train pulled into Punpin station. There are several tour and travel agent offices closeby the station, offering transfer and tour services to Koh Samui, Koh Tao, Phuket, and so on. I got a car and a driver to send me to Ratchaprapha dam lake, also called Cheow Lan lake, for Thai Baht 600. We travelled along highway 401 and then on the right turn-off road at the kilometer marker 58 to get to a private boat station near the entrance fee collector house. It took about one hour. EGAT (Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand) keeps its own bungalows, offices, power station, and boat piers at the dam. The entrance fee to the lake, for two days stay, is Thai Baht 20 for Thai and 200 for non-Thais.

It was around 10 am when I left the pier in a long-tail boat. We were heading to Tone Toey raft houses run by Khao Sok national park. The tall limestone mountains formation, vertical slopes, caves, the emerald colour water and the fresh air all made me feel like in a dream. The limestone karsts here are said to be as high as 1000 meters, higher than those in Phang Nga bay. Before the dam was built in 1982, the area must had been uniquely beautiful with rivers and waterfalls flowing fast deep in the valleys amids tall mountain chains and lush thick rain forest. It was probably only one of its kind in whole of Thailand. Even after the making of the dam lake the karsts are amazingly beautiful. The lake may have made it easier now to reach to many parts of the forest by boat.

A floating hut at Krai Sorn Forty minutes boat ride took me to Tone Toey station where the park keeps several bamboo floating huts for rent. These huts of around 3 meters by 3.5 meters are very basic, including bedding, bed sheet, pillows and mosquito net. The roof is thatch. The wooden doors could be closed only as much as they could. Ones have to use a bamboo floating walkway to the toilets and shower rooms on the lake bank. Electricity is provided by an engine from 6 to 10 pm, then people have to use oil lamps provided by the station. The restaurant can cook Thai and some western foods. The staffs could speak Thai and very little English. I had my lunch of French toast and coffee. They were delicious.

There are nature trails leading to a camp site, a couple of caves and waterfalls. Tone Toey can also be reached by hiking 13 kilometers from the kilometer marker 99 on highway 401. Tourists must hike with a local guide. According to the staff at the rafthouses gibbons and hornbills can be spotted in the area.

The boat man on the lake My next stop was Krai Sorn raft houses in a northern part of the lake, 25 minutes boat ride from Tone Toey rafts. The floating huts here are of the same design as in Tone Toey. Here they do have two additional brick and wood bungalows on the lake bank. However they looked like they had not been in use for quite a long time. People there said that there were mosquitos in the land, but almost none on the lake water. Later in Khao Sok national park a local guide gave me his opinion that mosquito eggs laid on the lake water were eaten by fish thus making it almost impossible for mosquitos to survive on the lake waters.

I arrived back to the dam at about 3 pm after a 40 minutes boat from Krai Sorn. The boat owner sent me in his pick up truck to Khao Sok national park. The park entrance road is at kilometer marker 109 on highway 401. The 1.5 km long entrance road is lined on both sides by not fewer than 20 establishments of bungalows and restaurants. There were several internet cafes too. I checked into a bungalow room beside the Sok stream, just 500 meters from the park gate.

Map of Khao Sok national park 1 = Dam and boat piers
2 = Nang Prai raft house
3 = Tone Toey raft house
4 = Krai Sorn raft house
5 = Khao Sok national park headquarters
A = to Surat Thani
B =Phanom
C = To Krabi, Phuket on highway 4118
D = Klong Phanom national park headquarters
E = To Takuapa, Phuket, Phang Nga
F = Klong Nakha wildlife sanctuary
G = Klong Saeng wildlife sanctuary

Evening time was spent just walking in the forest together with a guide from the park headquarters. We walked along a trail to nowhere using torch lights, and talked. The area is all around full of many plant life and it is green the whole year. Due to the richness in the plant diversity there are always leaves both on the ground level, and in the upper layers of the plants. Being on the path of both south-west and north-east monsoons the area receives rain around 10 months a year from February to November. The guides in the park office are not able to speak English. However many guides at private bungalows are quite good at speaking English. Many of them are native people born here before the creation of the dam lake. Their parents have been living here since before the establishment of the national park.

At that night when I woke up in the middle of the night amids the sounds of insects, I found that electricity was gone already. I slept with windows open letting the cold air blowing pass the room. The night was cool, filled with fresh air and music sung by insects. Apart from the insects it was amazingly quiet. No one else at all; I was the only tourist in the guest house. The faint sound of water flowing over the stones in the Sok stream could be heard occasionally.

In the moring of 2nd June I had about an hour to visit the park headquarters. They have few books, souveniors and ku-green food packs to sell. They can be contacted to book the bungalows and rafthouses run under royal forest department. There are around three private bungalows operating inside the park boundary.

At about 10:30 am I got a tour bus on the highway 401 to Phang Nga Bay where my friend picked me to his home. In the lake evening my friend sent me to Phuket airport where I took a no-frill cheap flight back to Bangkok at mid-night.

In the morning of 3rd June I was again in my Bangkok office high in a tall building. People in thick coat and tie business suites, and long trousers or skirts working amids electronic getgets like computers, printers, phones, copy machines. Air-conditioners and lights being turn on. There are artificial flowers, and pieces of papers and plastics everywhere, and cosmetic smell filling the air.

Somethings useful
  • Bangkok's Hua Lam Phone central train station hot line: 1690
  • Khao Sok national park headquarters phone: 077-299 150, 299 151, 395 134
  • Ratchaprapha dam office of national park: 077-240 740 ~ 5
  • Entrance fees at dam lake and national park are Thai Baht 20 each place for Thai people, and Thai Baht 200 each place for foreigners per person
  • There are air-con tour buses between Surat Thani and Phuket, that run on highway 401
  • Mobile phones do not have signals at rafthouse areas and on the roads passing close to the high mountains
  • For overnight hiking and camping in the park contact the park headquarters or a good local guide from the private bungalows. To book park's bungalows and/or rafthouses contact the park directly or book at royal forest department in Bangkok at 02-579 7223, 02-579 5734, 02-561 4292 ~ 3. Rafthouses are Thai Baht 200 per person per night. Book several days ahead so they can inform the rafthouse by radio to prepare the hut
  • Since there are so many interesting things to see I personally recommend spending at least two days at the dam lake, and another two days at Khao Sok
  • Bring a rain coat, torch light and spare batteries; and prepare for the encounter with leeches during wet season
  • Khao Sok is good to travel whole year, but December and January are said to offer the best weather and thus very crowded. I would recommend people to visit Klong Phanom national park located south of highway 401. The forest type and landscape are the same as Khao Sok except that it does not have a man-made large lake. Phone number of Khlong Phanom national park is 077-299 298 (Thai language)
  • Try not to disturb the natural life of plants and animals. Read books, instructions, and ask to know more information. Just because you have time, chance and money you do not need to go frequently into the homes of plants and animals for your own pleasure, feeling and knowledge. If possible let other unfortunate people have or share the knowledge and experience too. You can also help make your own home, city and office space a bit cleaner, more beautiful, more energy saving, and healthy
Pan (05 June 2004)

Salawin river, Mae Hong Son province, northern Thailand
Hike & Hilltribe village homestay to Salawin river, Mae Hong Son

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