November 9th (Continued)
"Close the windows or the monkeys will come."
This was the first thing I was told when I checked in and was one of the better pieces of advice I had received on this trip.
Welcome to the jungle. I had arrived in Khao Sok after 3 painful days of riding and I had somehow stumbled across this amazing guesthouse resort run by a local family. For the first time since arriving in Thailand, I decided to splurge on accommodations and spent a whopping $15 a night. This is what $15 a night gets you in Thailand:
My own private bungalow with a hot water shower (completely unnecessary) and laundry service.
That night I had one the best meals of my life. Very rarely is a meal a memorable moment in my life, but I will never forget my first dinner in Khao Sok. The cook/laundry service/housekeeping/mother of 3 was the owner's wife, and the restaurant was this fantastic open air patio with a thatched roof overlooking the river. I decided that I needed to step out of my comfort zone and asked the "cook" to make me anything she wanted. What I ended up with was "Chicken with Cashew Nut," and while it doesn't sound like much, it was absolutely unreal. It was hands down one of the best things I've ever eaten, period. That night, I ate dinner alone in the middle of the Thai jungle eating food that was out of this world and drinking beer that was unbelievably bad, and as uneventful as it may sound, I will never forget that night.
The jungle trek...
What was supposed to be a leisurely 2.5 mile hike through Khao Sok National Park turned into one of the most ridiculous days of my life. The hike was described as "one of the more spectacular hikes in the park but seldom done because of a deteriorating trail, steep hills and 6 river crossings." More or less, I figured it would be right up my alley. Interestingly enough, the guidebook said to allow 6 hours round trip for the hike. This is the point where I should have noticed that something wasn't quite right, but naturally all I thought was, "Challenge accepted. I bet I can knock it out in 3". Well I managed to do it in 4 hours- 4 hours of hell.
Before I explain the hike, I should explain where I was at this point in time. Khao Sok is the oldest living jungle in the world and the most bio-diverse place on the planet. What that means is that they have every scary animal and creepy crawler you can imagine. Here's the short list: elephants, sun bears, leopards, tigers (yeah, tigers), territorial monkeys and gibbons, tapirs, and wild pigs. If that wasn't exciting enough, Khao Sok is also home to foot-long centipedes with a nasty bite, bird eating spiders (the same bird eating spiders that you had studied in first grade and were elated that you'd never see one in person), crickets the size of mice, scorpions and countless varieties of hostile ants. Top it off with a number of pythons, vipers and water monitors, and you've got yourself a proper jungle.
Trekking through the Thai jungle would be comparable to running the Manitou Incline in 100 degree weather with 150% humidity and throw in some bushwhacking, endless mud, and leeches galore. It was a character building experience to say the least.
I have never sweat so much in my entire life and I doubt I will ever sweat that much ever again. It was literally raining off my face. This picture sums up exactly how my jungle trek went:
The worst part of the trek was having to stop every 5 minutes to pick the leeches off. It was endless. I started counting after a while and figured that I pulled roughly 175 leeches off my legs over the duration of my trek.
Mercifully, I finally made it to my destination, a spectacular waterfall in the middle of absolute nowhere.
I took some time to go swimming and pose for obligatory self-shot photos and then started the arduous trek back. On the way back, I managed to get lost 3 different times which is something that truly needs to be experienced to be fully understood. Being truly lost in the jungle by yourself is not a comforting feeling to say the least. All in all, it was great experience but not something that I plan on doing again anytime soon.
I spent that evening with a girl from Germany who's name I have completely misplaced. We spent the evening discussing everything from the differences in world healthcare to "traveler English." We talked for hours and it was one of the most engaging conversations I've ever had. All the while, we drank terrible, but well deserved, beer as I tried convincing her to ride an elephant with me the next day. Personally, I thought it was a fantastic idea. Unfortunately, her boyfriend wasn't too keen on the idea when he showed up later that evening. As the evening progressed, we made a few more new friends from all over the globe. The most memorable was a French guy, who's dream in life, of all things, was to, "Go to Florida and watch an NFL game." I did not see that one coming.
Some of the best conversations I've ever had in life have been with complete strangers that I'd met while traveling. Despite the fact that you're talking to complete strangers from all over the world, it always feels more like you're talking to someone you've known your whole life but somehow know absolutely nothing about. When people ask me why I travel alone, it's because it allows you to meet people who you'd never otherwise meet and do things you'd never otherwise do. To me, that's the best part of traveling. The places you go are not nearly as memorable as the people you meet.
I didn't do a darn thing. It rained on and off all day, so I sat on my porch and read my book cover to cover. It was awesome.
Khao Sok is one of the most unique places I've ever been and the fact that it was further off of the normal tourist track made it that much better. After a few days in the jungle though I was ready for some excitement, and the next day, I was headed south to Phuket to meet up with a friend of mine to do some climbing.
After a nice stay in Kanchanaburi, it was time to start the long journey south. I spent the morning packing my bag and then got back on the bike. Today's goal was to ride to the town of Phetachburi. Because I wasn't very comfortable on the bike yet, I figured this would be a manageable distance for my first long day of riding.
Well, the ride was awful. In order to get to Phetchaburi, I had to ride back towards the chaos of Bangkok before dropping south onto the Malay Peninsula. Navigating the major highways was fairly straight forward since the English/Roman character city names were always printed below the Thai. Because of this convenient touch, getting from city to city was fairly easy. However, once you had arrived at your destination city, navigating became extremely difficult. In smaller cities, the street signs are only in Thai, which meant you could never tell what road you were on. I should reiterate that these street signs weren't just in a different language but also in a different alphabet, so there was absolutely no hope of even guessing what the signs said. Long story short after a number of circles through town and an hour or two of walking around aimlessly, I found the river and followed it until I ran into a guesthouse. The place was abysmal, but it had a nice bar overlooking the river so it met my criteria nonetheless.
My bike with all my possessions parked outside the guesthouse in Phetchaburi.
I spent the majority of the evening wandering the town taking pictures of overweight monkeys and relaxing in the bar at the guesthouse. At the bar I met Chris and Deanne, an American couple from Maryland. After a few drinks, we all went out for dinner at the local night market. Dinner was great as always and again unbelievably cheap. Before we left, Chris and I decided we should try some of the local mystery desserts. One bight each was enough to tell us that we had both chosen wrong, although my green blob was definitely better than Chris's pink blob solely based on the lack of noodles in it.
$4 worth of accommodations and our even more memorable mystery desserts
Long ride, short story.
I woke up early and rode 280 miles south to the town of Ranong. I spent the majority of the day dodging large trucks on the freeway and becoming more comfortable with riding a motorcycle overall. The last section of the ride was terrifying as the road narrowed to one lane through the mountains, but I survived nonetheless. After a long day of riding I made it to Ranong, and after an hour or so I eventually found a place to stay. I started to figure out that the key to navigating smaller cities was to do it on foot. This way you could focus more on looking around for a place to stay rather than focusing on not dying on your motorcycle.
Ranong wasn't all that eventful and was really just a rest stop on my way to Khao Sok National Park. I stayed at place called the Asia Hotel, which looked more like a prison than a hotel, but it served its purpose.
I left Ranong and continued south towards Khao Sok. This was the first time on the trip I truly enjoyed the motorcycle. There was no traffic on the road, stunning scenery and a wicked fun winding road that kept you on your toes just enough throughout the ride. After three days of riding, I finally arrived in one of the most stunning places you will ever see, huge valleys full of towering karsts as far as the eye could see. This was going to be home for the next few days as I explored the jungle and gave my rear end a much deserved break from the bike seat. Somehow, I had yet again landed in paradise.
A collection of stories and adventures from the FAMS director and instructors.