The sun was setting on a weekend of adventure on the Island of Phi Phi in Southern Thailand, and my mates and I were riding a ferry to the mainland.
Arriving in Krabi with the intention of spending the day at Railay beach, our group made the decision to skip over it and spend the night in Krabi. Staying on Koh Phi Phi for a few nights, we’d had our fill of beaches. We caught a cab into town, and bunked up at a local guest house. Enjoying the rare comforts of backpacking like hot showers, and fans in the rooms, we relaxed, and got ready for a night on the town.
With a little bit of luck, our group happened upon a night market. Carnival games, live Thai music, authentic food, and the ability to buy almost anything kept us entertained for the better part of the night. Amongst my favourite stalls were the insects-as-food stall, and the one selling wooden furniture – both things I needed in my life at that exact moment.
With a good night’s sleep, we awoke and boarded buses for the rainforest. Krabi, while enthralling, had been but a short stop in our cross-country journey; we were making our way to Khao Sok National Park. A few hours along winding roads on a bus that may or may not have been on fire, we arrived in a 160 million year old rainforest, and our home for the next few days.
At this point in my worldly adventures, I had been relatively budget conscious. Rewriting this post a few years down the line, I can truly be thankful that I had friends encouraging me to penny pinch a little less. While it was nice to be able to travel the world on a budget, without this sage advice I might have missed out on quite a few opportunities simply because they costed too much. With this new advice instilled in my mind, we purchased a jungle tour from a local operator.
The hostel we stayed at was quite a treat. Located near a local village, the complex was tucked away underneath a canopy of trees. The main lounge was an open air, raised terrace that connected to rooms with a wooden bridge. Picture a very large complex of tree houses. It was my first time sleeping under mosquito netting, which was much appreciated after seeing the size of those critters.
The trip that we booked included a boat trip, lunch, jungle hike, cave exploration, and a couple other surprises, but unfortunately didn’t include the price of admission to the national park itself. No matter, student cards in hand, we each paid a cheap 100 baht and boarded our boat. I sure do miss that student discount sometimes.
Joining four other strangers in our boat, our skilled pilot took us skimming across the recently created lake, beneath mountains and around hydroelectric dams. Our hour long journey behind us, the boat arrived at a raft house (a floating series of structures) with our lunch waiting. Finishing a delicious meal, with a bit of extra time, we took a dip in the clear waters. The company had also laid out kayaks for us to explore our section of the lake.
Later on, our group and our new friends piled back on the boat and journeyed up river to a wooden dock. Alighting, we strapped on our hiking boots and followed our guide deep into the jungle. Crawling through plants, wading through mud and water, and fighting off insects became our lives for the next hour. Finally, we arrived our destination – a natural cave from which a river flowed outwards. The group donned headlamps, and away we went.
Before entering, the guide gave us specific instruction to watch our heads. Lacking a helmet, the first thing I did entering the cave was smack my head on a low hanging stalactite. Recovering from my stupidity, we ventured further into the cave, the cool water lapping at our feet. 100 meters ahead, the rock ledge we had been balancing on fell deep into the running water. Either we turned back and waited outside, or followed our guide swimming through the freezing waters.
I jumped into the water and started swimming forward, only to notice that the entire cave was filled with creatures; fish, spiders, insects, leeches, all of them were waiting for us. Swimming up a narrow passageway, we saw an indoor waterfall, but due to extreme flooding, we had to head back out the way we came.
The group spent a good five minutes on the outside of the cave picking the leeches off our bodies – an experience I can definitely live without – before hiking back to our boat, and riding to the raft house. We got an extra hour to swim, kayak, and eat pineapple before heading back to our hostel.
The rest of the night was spent drinking in our tree house, planning our next stages of the trip – Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao. Not a bad way to spend a day, eh?