Sunday, September 21, 2014

Floating about in Khao Sok

Panvaree Resort
It was off the grid. It was off everything in fact. No GSM signal, we were out of touch with the world. Not a bad thing really the 3 days I was there at Panvaree Resort, floating lodges on a vast artificial lake behind a dam. They had two generators, one diesel and the other petrol driven. And to drive the air conditioner in up to 2 units while on partial occupancy, they burnt 20 over liters of petrol from 5pm to 9am the next morning. When all her 12 units were occupied, Panvaree ran the diesel brother, and it burnt 80 liters. No wonder the resorts in Khao Sok were expensive, everything from food to petrol, needed to be couriered by boats. There came a narrow wooden boat enough for one just after sunrise, he was selling pork dumplings and fried Chinese dough.

In the day time it got hot. Windless at times and humidity naturally high, about the only thing to do other then bath ourselves a hundred times over was to jump into the lake. Below beyond where my legs threaded water, an abyss of deep blue green. It was 60 meters to the lake floor I was told. Not my idea of relaxation although I love the water. Because, when one does not see bottom and with a bit of uncontrolled imagination, ancient giant monsters, grey swirling tentacles. Fear, shrank the size of my testicles. I did not like it too, where accidentally should into the water my iPhone fell, I could not see and retrieve it neither. Our guide, in the midst of this laughter, his walkie-talkie took the plunge. It was followed immediately by a much larger panic plunge of himself diving after. It was too late. If only they had made walkie-talkies that floats.

Our Room
It did get bored at times, all cooped up on a small resort isolated. Canoed, jumped in the lake, those were all there was to do. Kinda felt like Singapore in a way, limited landmass, living out in confined space. Walked to the restaurant for free tea, walked back to our unit. Climbed the ladder to the sleeping quarters beneath the ceiling but could not nap because it was an oven. Every unit has the capacity to sleep four. 2 on the big bed below, and 2 above where the oven I mentioned was. The marauding crowd that came the next day, Saturday, however could not care less about that. Some units slept more than four to max out whatever they had paid for. I was waiting for their unit to overturn like an iceberg and capsize.

While we were there on Friday, we had the whole resort to ourselves. The staffs were friendly, our dinner was truly enjoyable. Meal was followed later on by drinking and chit chats with the staffs. We learnt some were natives of Khao Sok whose villages went underwater when the dam was built. Others came from far away provinces to work in the hospitality segment waiting tables and as a tour guide. The water deep dark and still, the occasional pleasant breeze blew into the tungsten tinted restaurant. In the pauses between chats, the songs of insects, an occasional firefly blinked green in the darkness of night.

While it was still Quiet
Saturday was noisy compared to the Friday I had arrived. If it is peace you want, weekdays will be the time to go. Serenity, tranquility, steam floated from my hot tea in the early morning of sunrise before breakfast was served. Notebook opened, faced the mountain range, fantastic concentration punching keys making my presentation for the work week to come. That was only till later at 10 when the full crowd arrived. As usual, it began with exploring the tiny property, then the selfie shots, the feeding of fishes and then the looking for some corner to relax and literally melt in the heat and humidity. Inherent to Thai culture is alcohol. Heavy bellied businessmen took on a table and left their wives and kids to auto roam. They started drinking just after arrival and all the way over lunch and dinner into the after dark. What else was there to do for them I guessed.

The Greenery
In our package, there included a trip to coral cave. Into the long tail boat we hopped and our favorite boatman took us into the lake. Still recovering from his hangover drinking with us the night before, he made our journey very entertaining as he joked and chatted along the whole way. He stopped when he observed me focusing hard on subjects to shoot, he was pleasant, a good photographer’s friend. If Eddie Murphy had a half brother from a Thai mother, it would be our boatman. They way he spoke, the way he spewed out the stand up jokes, they way our boatman naturally was. That smile with a twitch of impending mischief.

Getting off the Raft
We had to trek a long distance into an enclosed lake. That body of water was connected to the main lake by underground waterways. I had mutated into a life form accustomed to only machine driven lifts that brings me from floor to floor. Stairs and climbing is alien to me. That trekking to our destination, my legs became jelly. We had to ascend steep into the forest made worst by the muddy walkways wet from rain. There was loud cracking in the tress above from time to time. We saw them monkeys, they were mocking my perspiration drenched body. I made it alive to the lake within eventually after 3 quarters of an hour.

Arrival at the Cave
Those engines they used on shoulder type grass cutting machines, they modified it to have a propeller attached. Tied it to about 30 odd large bamboo poles bound tightly together and what they got was a raft. That was our exciting transport across the lake to the opposite side where the cave was. If there were waves, passengers seated on the bare bamboo would have toppled over easy. Camera, phone, whatever that sinks will be gone into the abyss. Over the next hour when we waited our turn, none capsized making the journey thru and fro. That was when I deemed it safe to board. And so the coral cave we arrived.

Light Sabers in Action
A small cave, totally unlit. Our guide held modified florescent tubes driven by batteries and ushered us into the cavern of stalactites and stalagmites. Within, there were a number of groups, each lead by the light saber the different guides held. I think they got the idea from watching pirated versions of Star Wars. There were fossilized corals within the caves. This area was once under sea level. Many eons ago before the rise of the continents, it was an undersea cave.

And so after the short tour, the return ride on the raft which was followed by more mocking from monkeys in the forest, we returned to our resort in the evening. Tired and sticky from preparation, jumping into the lake was extremely pleasant. Except for the noise from all the other nine units now fully occupied and with most guests then trashing about all over in the water. Saturday, full occupancy. There was no more peace and quiet like the evening before, unless if I pushed the running generator into the lake to stun all of them. But that would kill all the fishes too. The dinner followed, sumptuous and fish from the lake again. It was a full board package, all meals inclusive.

The Morning
Panvaree, located in the shadows of surrounding high limestone caves. The water we bath in came naturally from the lake drawn to high tanks on the landmass next. The water we flushed went into septic tanks below our lodges next to pontoons. The treated fluids, yes they flow back into the water we floated in. So, try not to think too much. On the journey back, Eddie Murphy again. It included a detour to some corners of the national park where the limestone structures shot straight up from the water. That was why Khao Sok was nicknamed Guilin of Thailand. Wondered why Thailand is always naming attractions after the other wonders, why has it not been the other way round when you visit Guilin where Chinese will say Guilin is Khao Sok of China instead.

In the Lake
Where we left for the Resort
What Lies Beneath
Fishes at Panvaree
Sunset with the Peaks Painted Yellow
Dumpling Seller
While there was still Peace on Friday
Feeding the Fishes
Bamboo Raft
Kinda Exciting
Saturday when the Crowd Came
Still Peaceful Friday
Touring the Lake
Gulin of Thailand