One day, while the others were busy, Tom and I went for a day trip to the mainland. The plan for the day read: cross by ferry to the mainland, visit to a bat cave and temple, drive to Koh Sak national park for lunch, take a kayak trip down river, return on the 6pm ferry, arriving back at Nathon (Koh Samui’s port) about 7.30pm….
We got up at 6.30am to be collected at 7.30am. Tom and I were driven to Nathon to take the Sea Tran ferry to Donsak on the main land, along with our guide for the day, Marc, and 3 other British travellers who were going to stay overnight in the Koh Sak park. Marc, who is Dutch, is married to a Thai girl and speaks fluent Thai. We arrived at Donsak at 9.40 and set off. We stopped en route so that Edward could buy some Jack fruit and a bit later, stopped for what proved to be an over-long coffee stop. We sampled the Jack fruit (my first time) which tastes a bit like banana-flavoured bubble-gum and the juice is extremely sticky. We set off again but were shortly forced off the highway due a cycle race taking place on our side. We were obliged to drive the wrong way up the other side of the highway, against the on-coming traffic until our driver and guide considered it was too dangerous to continue.
We arrived at the Than Singkhon cave temple about midday. We walked through the grounds and into the temple and up the stairs towards the bat cave. Even before we entered it we could hear the squeaking of thousands of bats. Tom and I braved the dangers and entered the cave, feeling drops of liquid fall on our skin and feet scrunching on the ground. I was surprised that the smell, although ammoniacal, was not totally overpowering.
We explored a bit further into the rest of the cave which had various devotional shrines and Buddhha figures.
The ceilings were covered with paintings and had, at one time, been decorated with porcelain plates stuck to the ceiling as well as the occasional bas relief.
We had a quick look around the grounds
but were limited by time and regretfully had to leave.
We continued our drive to the KhaoSok national park passing through some extraordinary landscapes with huge upthrusts of limestone rocks. Apparently the whole area resembles the Chinese region of Guilin. We had a late lunch at Art’s Riverview lodge in the middle of the national park where we bid farewell to the other 3. The lodge is built at the river’s edge and apparently monkeys come down to drink on the far side in the early mornings.
It was also possible to swim in the river, ride the river in inflatable tyres or go kayaking or trekking. The Khao Sok park is also one of the few places where the giant carnivorous Rafflesia plant grows. Tom and and I were then driven to another temple situated at the foot of the cliff.
We went through a tunnel in the cliff past this fiercesome looking fellow in a tiger suit
and came out on the other side at the edge of the river
where we climbed into an inflatable kayak and used our lifejackets as cushions and were ferried downriver for about half an hour. Huge cliffs towered over us and luxuriant undergrowth covered the river banks.
We climbed out of the kayak and set off on the return journey. By now it was 16.50 and we knew that we were not going to make it back to Donsak in time for our scheduled crossing, or even the last one at 19.00. Marc asked if it was a problem for us to stay overnight on the mainland, to which we replied that it wasn’t. (Not, of course, that we had any overnight things or toilet bags with us!).
The drive back to Donsak lasted well over 2 hours as our driver seemed not to want to use the 5th gear. He then wanted to turn down the air-conditioning because he said it hurt his back. Then he started to feel sleepy and was trying to drive at 120 kph! Eventually at 18.45 we stopped for him to get petrol and a coffee and Marc treated us both to noodle soup. (The first time we had had noodle soup, and from a street stall as well). Then we drove on to Ton Tarn where we finally arrived about 8pm. Marc, Tom and I all showered and then re-convened in the bar, where we ate a yellow, a green and a red curry washed down with a few beers. The red one being the hottest, needless to say, but all three were delicious. We were given a taste of a couple of strong digestifs that they produce locally as well. After dinner Tom and I sat on the terrace of our bungalow for a final glass of water before turning in for the night.
Next moring we showered and dressed and then Tom and I went for a walk in the grounds.
Wild bees and their honeycomb hung up in the bar area
Met up with Marc for breakfast.
Without no prior consultation we were fed an “english” breakfast of bacon, eggs and sausage and sampled fermented bean tea, I’ll give that a miss another time. I think all 3 of us would have preferred fruit but the staff were only doing their best to please us and we were the only guests in the place which had only opened 3 weeks before. After breakfast Marc took us for a walk around the grounds which consisted of fruit plantations – papayas and mangos
as well as other unidentified trees whos fruit and flowers grew straight off the branches
Hidden in the undergrowth was a cock-fighting ring – supposedly illegal in Thailand. Then three of us were driven back to Donsak, where Tom and I caught the 10 o’clock ferry, arrivng back in Nathon in pouring rain. Fortunately the owner of the travel agency had come to collect us in the car and drove us back to the house.