|Yes, Thailand can look like this (which was taken in Koh Samui)|
Because we visited Thailand on our honeymoon, we uncharacteristically stayed at five star hotels all over the country—and this is a place to do that, because even the bougiest places have rooms for under $200 a night. But there are no JW Mariotts in Surat Thani, a hub town built mostly of parking lot that tourists only buzz through on their way to either the jungles or the islands, so we stayed at a concrete box called the S Tara Grand. It was $30 for the night. When we walked in, there was an illustrated sign that said “No Smoking No Pet No Durian.”
|Overall, very good advice, I think|
We got hour long foot massages at the spa in the lobby, occasionally visited by a little gecko. Then we had some (delicious) noodles and a large Chang beer in the restaurant, which was empty except for us and a young Thai couple with a newborn, and turned in early to prepare for our adventure the next morning.
This was Christmas Eve. It was surreal and funny and magical and there was blessedly no durian.
|is this what heaven looks like?|
At six the next morning, a van picked us up at the hotel to drive into the jungle. The driver wished us Merry Christmas and offered no explanation for the teenage girl asleep in the front seat. About an hour into the ride, he dropped her off on the side of the road, and as we drove away I watched out the back window as she began to set up a food stall. (Getting into cars with strangers and riding until they motioned for us to get out was a real theme in Thailand. In these situations, I usually say something to Jared like, “At least if this is how we die, it’s an interesting story,” which I do not think he finds particularly reassuring.)
After some time and a stop at a Thai 7-11 for coffee and teeth-crackingly crunchy snacks, we pulled up to a Jungle themed treehouse hotel very well camouflaged in the middle of the jungle. Here, we had breakfast and then got into another van driven by a stranger who told us to call him “Big Man” (it was an appropriate moniker), who turned out to be our guide for the ensuing adventure. We drove to Cheow Lan Lake, left the vast majority of our worldly possessions in the back of the van, and got into a long tail boat. It was pouring rain as we took off into a magical world out of Fern Gully or Jurassic Park; Khao Sok is older than the Amazon.
Two hours later and soaked to the bone, we arrived at our floating raft houses. A thatched roofed, open walled dining space opened off of the long-tail boat parking lot. Two bright yellow kayaks floated in the green water, and a long line of wooden huts stretched along a rough-hewn walkway built of planks lashed together with rope. Inside each hut was a queen-sized mattress and a tent of mosquito netting. The bathroom was up a hill and we were told there were only two hours of electricity a night.
|Big Man builds some ducks|
Almost immediately upon arrival, Big Man loaded us back into the long tail boat and we headed out on a hike. After snaking through muddy trails, we came to a cave, which he helpfully told us would have water “to here,” indicating his waist, “to here,” indicating his chest, and “to here,” holding his hand above his head. I spent 45 minutes feeling like a badass aquatic version of SpiderMan, shimmying up pitch black waterfalls and swimming between slick boulders, before Big Man shined his flashlight on a wall to kindly illuminate a spider bigger than my head. And then we entered the bat cave.
|hard pass on the bats, thanks|
There were just millions of bats hanging around stalactites. I did not prefer the bats myself, but Rosa, the seven year old German girl in our group, plowed ahead gleefully at Big Man’s side.
Dirty hand, cold Chang
It's Khao Sok in a nutshell
Yes please, I'll take two
After two more hours of hiking, which included Jared wiping out down a muddy hill and finding a leech setting up shop on his ankle, and me being a super cool and fearless lady explorer who would charge anywhere through this verdant jungle as long as the bouncing seven year old and a guide doing the whole hike barefoot led the way, our long tail sliced back through the still waters to our huts. We drank some Changs on our tiny front porch and then dove right into the water for a swim. Toucans and macaques spotted the prehistoric trees. For dinner, we shared a whole fish with a Parisian couple who explained the underground Paris rap scene to us in French. It was still Christmas. At 10pm, our two hours of electricity expended, the string lights clicked off and we fell asleep in the middle of a profound darkness.