The stone was warm. Not hot, just pleasantly warm. My left leg was propped over my right, topping the bent knee like the trees and brush blanketing the valley walls. Before my rocky podium, which stood taller than my height with fingers stretched, a green world rose. A great wall of trees hid the horizon.
Behind me a couple splashed and laughed as they dipped their toes in the river sidling past. Unfamiliar birds belted out their cries from the stillness of the trees. Elephants sauntered through this forest. Somehow. It looked impenetrable to me. My confusion tugged at my sleeve for attention so I played with it.
Why was it that the world’s largest land-roaming creature could be found in such a dense environment? I mean the savanna made sense with its wide-open plains, but why a tropical forest with its overwhelming mass of tress? How do the elephants move about? How do they reach water? Do they hammer out a path? Are they forever chained to that path?
Maybe the forest is less dense then it looks? Maybe I was seeing the jungle lining the forest (and yes jungles and forests are considered different but can be part of one entity)?
I guess this really shows just how unfamiliar I am with tropical environments.
Welcome to Khao Sok National Park.
I’d arrived by the overnight train from Bangkok at a hefty 600 baht (well not so hefty if you convert to dollars or euros).
Night trains are the best transport I’ve experienced in Thailand so far. With a bottom bunk (the more expensive option because the cheap ones were booked solid) I had plenty of room, a window and a cozy mattress. Chugging along as I faded into sleep it reminded me of sleeping in the RV as a kid while my family roamed the Rocky Mountains. Sleeping in a real bed, not the chairs that could lean back, was bliss.
When I arrived at Surat Thani I was dismayed to find that the buses to Khao Sok were full and the vans seemed to be hiking their prices. They wanted 250 baht from me to get to the park. I was expecting to pay 120 for the public bus. The van also wouldn’t leave until it was full.
I managed to tag along with a group of tourists who banded together to get a songthaew for 200 baht each.
When we arrived I set off for a place to stay. It was high season after all and things didn’t look promising.
You’d think I’d learn to book rooms for once. I ended up staying at Bamboo House with a room for 350 baht despite it being the worst hut there… High tourist season sucks.
The highlight of that stay was sharing my bathroom with a spider the size of my palm! I seriously was settling on the toilet when I looked at the wall to my left and found this spider gawking right back at me! That was the tensest washroom break I’ve ever had.
And don’t tell me that a spider that size is nothing! I come from a country where the spiders are the size of my thumb at most.
Moving away from spiders.
I was catching up to a group of friends from my university. When I arrived they had already left for a two-day tour of Cheow Larn Lake (Chiew Lan Lake) so I booked a one-day 1500 baht tour (that’s the most I’ve spent on one thing in Thailand aside from rent!) for the next day and set off to explore the park paths situated close to where I was staying.
Now the woman at the Bamboo House had told me I could get into the park for 100 baht as a student as opposed to 200 baht normally charged to foreigners. I was pretty stoked because it was late afternoon and I didn’t really want to pay that much for a short hike.
The park warden at the ticket book flat out refused to let me pay that rate even after I showed her my student card. When I politely said that I was told about the discount at the place I was staying she said, “I don’t care. I don’t know that woman. She knows nothing.”
Sigh. So I paid 200 baht for entry into the park for the three hours of daylight left in the day (the next day on the lake day tour I was allowed to pay 40 baht, which is the same as a local Thai, when I presented my student ID).
I was grumbling as I started up the path but I quickly let my disappointment fall away. I was starting to get used to this form of racism. From the local perspective it makes sense. I do have more funds at my disposal than most Thais despite being a student on a budget. And maybe the woman had, had a bad day. We all get those.
When I arrived at the first checkpoint—there are a number of places you are required to sign into—I was able to smile whole-heartedly at the woman in the booth. She gave me a wide smile back and I was fully energized once more.
I took off down the path and got lost in the mesmerizing crisscrosses formed by leaning bamboo. Bamboo. It was my first time being in a bamboo forest. I was enthralled by it.
At a brisk walk I soon found myself at a sign pointing toward a winding scraggly side-path leading down to the sound of rushing water.
It led to open air and a garden of massive stones growing from a river. Of course I didn’t see just rocks. I gleefully saw stepping-stones.
After a bout of prancing around these behemoths I slipped back onto the original path and went deeper into the forest.
When I arrived at the next checkpoint a vast valley stretched open from right to left as far as the eye could see.
Emerging from under the cover of trees and bamboo my sight shifted to the roof of my eye sockets. My eyebrows leapt upward and tugged my chin up to take in the mass of green before me.
I didn’t get to see a proper waterfall so I must have done only a fraction of the hike but the valley left a deep impression. Looking at my photos today I’m sad to see that they poorly represent that startling bowl of life.
I’ve noticed over my 21 years that many authors favour the description, “the bosom of the world” to describe a central or inspiring location. It sounds comforting, protective, lively and supportive all at once. Originally when I came across this line I’d smirk a bit, but get the gist of the feeling.
After the few minutes I spent in this valley though, I truly feel like I rested within the bosom of the world.