Christmas at Cheow Lan Lake

94 days travelling and my back finally gave in on me.

24th-27th December 2018 (Khao Sok National Park/Cheow Lan Lake, Thailand)

Our Christmas Eve began with a 7 hour journey up into the jungles of Khao Sok, where we would be spending Christmas. Yet again we were the first to be picked from our accommodation (a recurring theme of our trip). It took a couple of hours before we were off the island, once we had finally finished picking up the other passengers. We were under the impression that the bus would go directly to Khao Sok, but we ended up having to change buses at Krabi. This meant waiting around for an hour between buses, and then a further 30 minute wait when the driver stopped for his lunch break an hour into our second bus journey. Despite these mild frustrations, the bus ride went rather quickly and we were looking forward to the activities we had planned over the next couple of days.

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We had decided to stay at Our Jungle Camp over Christmas, set in the middle of the jungle by the side of a river. It had an almost isolated feeling to it, which really made you connect with the natural surroundings. Huge limestone cliffs filled the skyline as we pulled into the eco resort. The camp is made up of around 15 huts and treehouses which were all nestled within the grounds of the resort. We had chosen to stay in the cheapest option, one of the small bamboo huts overlooking a rice paddy field. Once we had checked in and were shown to our hut, we (by this I mean mainly my wife – for once) had a slight moment of panic when we realised just how open to the elements the hut was. There were huge gaps everywhere and the bathroom especially had very little shielding it from the outside. As you may remember from our post on Goa, neither of us are very keen on bugs (especially spiders) and we were certain that some would end up paying us an unwelcome visit while we were staying here.

Bamboo Hut 2 at Our Jungle Camp
Bamboo Hut 2 at Our Jungle Camp

The resort had a much more Christmassy feel to it that the previous place we had been, complete with decorations and even a few of the standard tunes playing in the background. We had booked in to have the Christmas meal at the resort that evening, which we figured would be the closest we’d get to our usual Christmas roast. They even had the film Elf playing just before dinner, which my wife insisted we go and see with the other 5 year olds staying at the resort. We still made sure we were sitting at the edge of the bar with cocktails in tow to save face.

Dinner that evening was really delicious, fried fish with salad for a starter, roasted duck with mashed potato and gravy for a main, finished off with the traditional Thai dessert of mango and sticky rice. Not quite the roast we were craving, but it went down a treat. Santa even paid a visit and handed out parcels of banana sticky rice to all of the guests, as well as presents for the children. We went to bed that evening determined not to get up once during the night and took extra care to tuck our mosquito net in securely so we had no unexpected visitors joining us in bed (my wife maintains to this day that there was a cockroach on her foot in the middle of the night).

We woke up on Christmas morning having survived the night and headed off for breakfast at the resort restaurant – a full fry up for my wife and the usual omelette for me. We then set off our for trip to Cheow Lan Lake in the National Park. The park is famed for its stunning scenery and freshwater lake and we had booked a nights stay on the lake itself, where we’d be sleeping in floating bamboo huts.

Our floating huts on Cheow Lan Lake
Our floating huts on Cheow Lan Lake

Our transfer by minibus took a couple of hours to reach the lake, where we took a long tail boat for another hour and a half to reach our bamboo huts. As we skimmed along the water we were treated to amazing views across the lake, including more sky high limestone cliffs rising out of the water. We arrived at our accommodation complex which included about 30 bamboo huts, a kitchen and dining area and toilets, all tied together and floating on bamboo logs. It was crazy to think that was the only thing stopping it all sinking into the lake underneath.

Let’s just ignore this warning sign then
Let’s just ignore this warning sign then

Christmas lunch was a couple of traditional Thai curries and fruit for dessert. My wife had purchased some Lindt chocolate that morning at our pit stop at 7/11 as a Christmas Day treat, which she wolfed down before we set off for the afternoon. The plan was to hike to a viewpoint at the top of one of the cliffs. Arriving by long tail boat again, we noticed a large sign at the entrance to the trail telling us the pathway was closed and dangerous. This didn’t seem to deter our guide who happily led us up the pathway into the jungle. We had about 1.5km to climb until we reached the viewpoint which would take us deep into the jungle. We were keeping an eye out for pesky leeches, although we are happy to report we didn’t see any on our way up there – it must have been too warm and dry for them. Our group ended up hiking so fast that we actually overtook the group in front of us.

Once we reached the final part of the climb, the path disappeared and was replaced by a steep pile of jagged rocks. You definitely wouldn’t be taken this way without safety equipment back home. The last 500 metres would include scrambling over these rocks to reach the viewpoint – it was pretty sketchy and involved lots of precarious edges and jumping over casams. The last bit of the climb actually involved hauling ourselves up the rockface by a rope, but the view up top was totally worth it. We had panoramic views across the lake, with jungle stretching out as far as the eye could see. The pictures just don’t do it justice.

The viewpoint we hiked up to
The viewpoint we hiked up to

Once we had all climbed back down to solid ground, we ended up having to wait for the group behind us to finish getting up and down to the viewpoint as the plan was for all of us to walk back to the boats together. As we stood around waiting, we noticed the skies had got very dark and it was only 4pm – strange. We decided to ask our guide if we could start walking back as none of us wanted to be hiking in the dark. Just as we set off, we felt the first drop of rain fall. Moving as quickly as we could, it wasn’t long before the heavens opened and the path in front of us turned into a fast flowing river – not an exaggeration. We were completely unprepared for weather like this and were soaked through in minutes, rain streaming down our faces. We ended up making no effort to keep out of the water, as it was becoming more dangerous to try and avoid it.

My wife kept slipping over as the path got more and more treacherous, and got so frustrated that she ended up momentarily bursting into tears. One of the things that no one mentions much when they’re travelling long term is how tough it can be sometimes and my wife was feeling especially homesick over Christmas. I managed to make her laugh at the ridiculous situation we found ourselves in and we soldiered on. When we finally made it out of the jungle, the rain had miraculously stopped – just bloody typical. We all got on the boat back to our accommodation and did a short safari on the way home where we managed to spot a toucan, although we were mostly desperate to get home and get into some dry clothes.

Not a bad view to wake up to
Not a bad view to wake up to

As soon as we were back, we all jumped into the lake to wash away the mud, sweat and rain from the hike. There were no showers where we were staying so the lake was our best option. Our group leader gave us coconut sweets to eat while we bobbed about in the lake and it was a lovely chance to chat to everyone in our group and really relax. It was Christmas Day after all. Dinner that evening included a whole fried fish, more curry (including our favourite masaman) and fruit for dessert. It wasn’t you’re average Christmas, but it was still an incredible experience. We even wore our Santa hats for the occasion that we picked up in Ko Lanta.

It was barely 8pm before we decided to head back to our bamboo hut and relaxed on the front of our hut before calling it a night. It had been a very busy and exhausting day and we were completely wiped out – seems the hike really took it out of us all. Our bamboo hut literally only had a mattress on the floor, so we went to sleep trying desperately not to think of anything crawling in to join us during the night.

Our floating bamboo hut
Our floating bamboo hut

We woke up on Boxing Day having slept pretty soundly considering how basic the accommodation was. We even managed to avoid a perilous trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night, which would have involved navigating the narrow walkways in the pitch darkness. We had an early start today as we set off for another safari on a long tail boat to spot some more wildlife. Sadly we didn’t have any luck this time, but it was lovely to see some more views across the lake and feel the breeze through our hair before the heat of the day.

Once we got back to our accommodation, we had a quick breakfast of pancakes and eggs before having some more time to relax before we left our accommodation. My wife chose to relax out in front of our bamboo hut while I took one last refreshing dip in the lake with some of the others in our group. Around 9.30am we left our accommodation for the last time and made our way to a cave about an hours boat ride away. Our guide cheerily told us the cave was home to many huge spiders and a large group of bats. Trying not to think about that fact as we reached the cave, we grabbed our torches and headed inside. The cave itself was much darker than the one we had explored in Ko Lanta, and a little flooded in places. Our shoes had got completely soaked through the day before on our hike, so my wife and I were attempting to explore the cave in flip flops – which he claimed was perfectly fine (it really wasn’t). Although we spotted a few bats, we managed to avoid any major run ins with spiders, much to our relief. After about 30 minutes exploring the cave, we did a bit more sight seeing around the lake, including a quick stop off where they had filmed some scenes from Avatar.

A little bit of bird watching on our lake safari
A little bit of bird watching on our lake safari

Our final stop for the day was a small island where we were given a lunch of fried rice while we sat on the beach. There was an opportunity to swim again but we opted to continue relaxing on the beach instead. We then had a quick boat ride back to the pier where our mini bus took us the couple of hours back to our hotel (my wife was out cold the entire journey back). We arrived back to our resort around 3pm and were completely exhausted by this point – it had been an incredibly active Christmas by our usual standards. That evening, we indulged in a couple of lychee mojitos from the resort bar as a Boxing Day treat. I think the barman was generous with his servings, as we were pretty giddy by the time we had dinner.

We still had another day left at the jungle camp resort before we moved onto our last destination. Unfortunately, I managed to bugger up my back. It happens every so often and is pretty debilitating, as the pain radiates around to my chest and hurts when I breath. Not ideal, so I mainly spent the rest of the time laying down as much as possible in hope that it would pass. I wish my GP could figure out the exact cause and how to prevent it, but that’s an issue for when I get back (I’ve seen them countless times about it before we left). This restricted what we could do and gave my wife the perfect excuse to treat herself to a massage. The next day we would be taking another bus back down south to the seaside town of Khao Lak.

Until next time.

P.S. As much fun as it was connecting with nature, we realised that we really cherish enclosed rooms and air conditioning.

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