On our second day in Khao Sok we joined a day trip to Cheow Lan lake. Whoever we talked to seemed to agree that the lake was an absolute must see. Despite spending a lot of money for an organised tour, we didn’t regret our decision.
We browsed travel blogs and forums for independent alternatives but it seemed the only way of getting to the lake would be hitch-hiking. More importantly, reaching the lake without the possibility of taking a boat or going with a guide to the Namtaloo Cave would be rather pointless.
THE BEST ORGANISED TRIP IN THAILAND
There were just eight people in our group led by a very friendly, knowledgeable guide who spoke fluent English. We were picked up by a minivan and rode for over an hour to get to a dam (Cheow Lan was actually an artificial lake) from where we took a long tail boat.
STUNNING CHEOW LAN LAKE
This one hour we spent on the long tail was already far more impressive than the entire trip to Phang Nga bay. The lake was enormous and empty. We passed by maybe one or two boats.
The morning mist was giving it an eerie atmosphere. Towering karst rocks were all around us, while further in the distance an entire mountain range covered with rainforest stretched for miles. The water itself had an emerald green hue. The cloudy sky made us afraid it could start raining any time but luckily it didn’t happen and eventually the sun pierced through the clouds.
We arrived at the raft houses before noon and were served a decent lunch. While we were eating, we could hear gibbon calls from the distance. After the lunch we got ready for a hike through the jungle. I had my hiking boots ready but they turned out to be totally useless as we were going to walk through countless streams. I had my sport sandals on and decided to risk the leech attacks. Sayak opted for hiring rubber sneakers for 50 baht.
SHORT HIKE TO NAMTALOO CAVE
We took a short boat ride to the mouth of the river and got off the boat straight into the river. The hike wasn’t long but it was really enjoyable and adventurous. We were walking through muddy, narrow jungle paths overgrown by roots and wading knee- or even thigh- deep in a cool stream which was constantly criss-crossing our path. Eventually, we approached a rock with a small opening through which the water was flowing. That was the entrance to Namtaloo Cave, our destination.
In fact, we were not sure till the last moment whether we’d be able to enter. It was 29th May and the cave was going to be closed for the wet season from the 1st June. We had read before that the cave would be inaccessible in case of rain and it was actually raining heavily the night before. I was a bit apprehensive to enter since there were a few cases of tourists drowning in the flash floods in the past.
Our guide assured us that the water level wasn’t high and we’d go through just the first 100 meters of the cave, rather than its entire half -kilometer length. Two girls found it too claustrophobic and stayed outside. The rest of us stripped to swimming gear, took head torches and followed the guide inside a rather chilly stream coming out of the cave.
FROM THE CAVE TO THE GIBBONS- COULD IT GET ANY BETTER?
The passage didn’t turn out to be that narrow once we got inside. The experience of walking through the wet cave was incredible. We saw a massive black frog and a giant spider inside and watched the stalagmites in the torchlight. At some point our guide told us to switch off the torches. The blackness enveloping us was impregnable. Even though I did enjoy the walk, I was relieved to re-emerge from the cave safely.
I was already on cloud nine after this experience but another surprise awaited us just before boarding the boat. The boat driver spotted a family of gibbons right above us. It required binoculars to see them clearly and I could congratulate myself for taking them. I had just a few minutes to admire those beautiful creatures but my dream was fulfilled.
We still had around 20 minutes for swimming and jumping into surprisingly warm waters of the lake before heading back home. With the mist lifted, the landscape changed completely. We came back around 8 pm. It was definitely one of the most enjoyable days of the entire trip.
MORNING WALK TO MAE YAI
The last day we woke up very early to take a long walk along the concrete road leading to a Mae Yai waterfall. We read there would be panoramic views throughout the way but we forgot that in the morning everything would be covered with fog so we actually missed on the views.
Nevertheless, we enjoyed the walk. The normally busy road was completely deserted at that early hour (apart from two dogs which accompanied us) and it was pleasantly cool.
The waterfall itself was nice but not really worth such a long walk. It was quite high though it wasn’t carrying water. Nevertheless, it was still a pleasant morning, particularly that on the way back we heard some gibbons singing again.
We were almost back when the mist lifted enough to take some amazing photos at the viewpoint close to the crossroads.
After the walk, we grabbed our things and walked back to the crossroads to catch the bus. This time the bus arrived slightly before the scheduled time given to us at the guesthouse. We hopped on, heading for Phuket, a very unexpected destination.
How to get there?
You can take a cheap public bus from Surat Thani (direct) or Krabi or Phuket (changing in Takua Pa). There are a number of more expensive tourist minibuses from the main tourist destinations to Khao Sok as well.
Prices [in Thai baht as of May 2018]:
1500 THB day trip to Cheow Lake (excluding the entrance fee to the park)
300 THB entrance to Khao Sok National Park (valid 24 hours)
220 THB bus to Phuket Town
175 THB a bargained minivan from Phang Nga Town to Khao Sok crossroads
90 THB cheapest item on a guesthouse restaurant menu
60 THB meal at the roadside stall
50 THB rubber shoe rental for the Namtaloo Cave trail