After living in Khao Lak for nearly eight years, listening to locals, expats and visitors alike telling me about the unrivalled beauty of Khao Sok Lake I thought it was probably about time I should go to the lake to see what all the fuss was about. The lake being a large body of water, why not combine it with some diving too? Approaching the end of the rainy season we’d only done two dives on a wedding charter during the last six months and we were eager to get back in the water.
A few others in Khao Lak shared this feeling too, so plans were made for a two day trip to Khao Sok Lake. Joining us were partners and friends of Thailand Dive and Sail,Similan Seven Sea Club and a couple of volunteers from Volunteer Teacher Thailand. As this was my first time to the lake, why not experience it the right way and have Khao Lak’s leading lake guide Khun Sunai lead the expedition.
We planned to start early on 2nd October, timing is pretty important when diving with customers but when a bunch of professionals get together for a dive trip it usually ends up as a late start. The inventory was fairly simple, tanks, weights, weight belts, dive equipment, oxygen and mask, first aid box and ice box. This was ready in no time at all, filling the ice box with ice and beer took a while longer.
Heading north through Takua Pa we then turned east towards Surat Thani. Climbing into the hills Niko remarked that hill slides can be a danger at this time of year, but it wasn’t far to go, then once we hit the lower valleys only flash flooding would present any danger! There had been some recent rains but luckily not enough to hamper our progress. After around 40 minutes we stopped at the famous view point looking down into the heart of Khao Sok National Park. After a few photos we carried on down into the valley.
After passing the monkey temple on the left side of the road there is a great opportunity for a coffee break. Nestled on a small hill top there is a scenic resort called Baan Phu Pha Lae Lum Than. The hill slopes down to a small river which meanders through towering sheer limestone cliffs to the south west, while to the north east the Khao Sok valley stretches out as far as the eye can see. The resort also serves great coffee.
Around an hour later we arrived at the Ratchappapa Dam and the lake formed by the dam’s construction, the Choew Lan Lake. Here we found the pier, paid our national park fees, loaded and boarded our long tail boat. The Choew Lan Lake long tails differ slightly from their ocean going counterparts. The boats have a lower bow and sit closer to the water.
Departing from the pier our group was filled with wonder at the scenery that passed slowly by our boat. For many it was our first time at the lake. Khun Sunai, well accustomed to the spectacular views used the opportunity for a few last minute phone calls. From this point on we would see no more roads, no more electric lines and we would be cut off from the outside world with no telephone reception. It was like entering Jurassic Park, a mystic land that time seems to pass by.
Considering it was October, typically one of the rainiest months of the year, we were treated to blue skies and sunshine as we headed west further into the vast lake. The first part of the journey took us through narrow water ways walled in by limestone cliffs. Eventually the lake opened out and widened, surrounded by small hills and mounts, some rising out of the lake. Near the water edges old dead trees stuck out of the lake, monuments to the landscape now flooded by the dam’s construction.
Around 40 minutes after we departed the pier, we caught the first glimpses of our raft house accommodation. As we were treating the trip as a pre-high season holiday we had also decided to stay at the most luxurious accommodation available at the Choew Lan Lake. Khun Sunai had chosen the Kee Ree Warin Resort and a very fine choice it was indeed.
Lunch was served soon after arrival at Kee Ree Warin, a tasty combination of green curry, pork and vegetable soup and sweet and sour chicken. Despite the limited infrastructure staying on the lake, like most places in Thailand, decent tasty food can be served in the remotest of places. At Khao Sok Lake they do not stop serving dish after dish until everyone’s hunger is satisfied.
There were two choices on offer after lunch. One was to dive at the nearby Temple Cave dive site, the other was to chill out at the bungalows and raid the ice box full of beers. Most of us resisted the temptation, set up our equipment and set off for the twenty minute boat ride to the dive site. Of all on board only Peter our intrepid cavern instructor had dived in the lake before, the rest of us were intrigued as to what we would find under, Dive One at Temple Cave.
After the dive we climbed aboard our waiting long tail, stowed our equipment and enjoyed the short trip back to Kee Wee Warin Resort. The sun was low in the sky casting a golden light over Khao Sok Lake. The journey seemed a lot longer than the 16 minutes it actually took. Someone timed it, I guess we were all looking forward to our post dive beer waiting for us in the ice box!
There are eleven deluxe bungalows at the Kee Ree Warin Resort, a floating restaurant with large tables and comfortable seating and a great view. Looking out over the lake a lone tree rises out of the water dominating the foreground. Water stretches along way to the south before meeting dense jungle and hills. All around the resort, orchids hang from roofs in the shade. At the water’s edge kayaks bob in the gentle waters tempting the guests to go out exploring. The rooms are nicely finished in polished wood, have a small veranda at the front with table, chairs and sun loungers, a balcony and shower at the rear. There is a double bed on the ground floor and two single beds on a second floor in the roof of the bungalow. All bungalows have en-suite bathrooms with hot showers.
A few beers later we boarded our boat again, this time to embark on a sunset safari. The idea was to search the shore line, looking for eyes reflecting light as we shone torches hoping to catch sight of nocturnal animals taking a drink at the lake edge. However, the nocturnal animals on the boat had already done their fair share of drinking and our loud chatter and laughter probably scared all the creatures away before we had chance to spot them. We killed the long tail engine and listened instead to the sounds of the jungle and admired the stars above our heads. Without any light for miles around we could clearly see the Milky Way as it stretched across our universe.
We returned to the raft house for dinner of Masaman chicken, stir fried vegetables, omelette and fresh water fish, spending a nice evening listening to improtue acoustic guitar performances from Tong and Sunai. Khun Sunai is also owner of a live music bar, One Two Bar in Bang Niang near Khao Lak. Yet another benefit of having Khun Sunai as our guide.
Surprisingly quite a few of the group awoke at dawn on our second for a sunrise safari which was essentially a more sober version of our raucous sunset safari. Sunrise at Cheow Lan Lake is an inspiring sight. The jungle clad hills and mountains are shrouded with a low lying mist. As the sun rises so too does the sound of the forest. Gibbons provide the bass to accompany the shrill sounds of the many birds. Great Hornbills can be heard, the distinctive flapping of their wings give away their location as they fly around in search of Banyan trees for their breakfast of the tree’s fruit. For any visitor to the lake, dawn is always the best time to get close to nature. Taking off alone in a kayak is highly recommended to explore the area where forest meets the water. Most raft houses have kayaks available for the guests to use.
After breakfast there was time to relax enjoying the panoramic views, listening to the monkeys in the forest. Breakfast is a more frugal affair at the raft house which serves traditional Thai rice soup or pancakes. The early morning offers great lighting conditions for photography. As the sun rises higher and temperatures start to soar, the cooling waters of the lake beckon.
Around 10 o’clock we were getting impatient to dive again, we checked out of Kee Wee Warin Resort and loaded our long tail boat to head to a different region of the lake. We retraced our route east through the wider areas of the lake before turning north into the narrower steep valleys. There was no hint of the rainy season, just blue skies and amazing views.
Dive Two was at the cliffs opposite Plean Prai Raft Houses, this time there was a much better turn out for the dive. After the dive it was just a short ride to the other side of the lake for lunch at Plean Prai. Although not our deluxe resort, the restaurant served a tasty Thai lunch. There was also a lot of information there about the lake. A detailed map showed all the key locations and with some posters illustrating the local wildlife both above and below the water.
After lunch we headed back to the pier, loaded the pick-up trucks and began the journey back to Khao Lak. Afer roughly half an hour there is a temple set into the limestone cliffs. We made a brief stop here, stocked up on fish food and headed into the caves. The caves run straight through the rock to reveal a river teeming with fish. The fish belong to the temple and it’s believed to bring good luck if you feed the fish. There are a lot of fish which we whipped up into a feeding frenzy throwing in our supply of food.
It had been a great trip to the lake and a fantastic introduction to diving in the emerald waters of Choew Lan Lake. The trip had also been a trial run for Thailand Dive and Sail as a week later we planned to do the whole thing again with our first guests of the approaching 2012-2013 diving season. My first trip to Khao Sok had certainly lived up to all the hype, it truly is a spectacular area of southern Thailand and one of the most beautiful places I have visited. I remember kicking myself so many times during the trip for never having ventured here sooner. That said I hope I can lead many more dive trips to the lake in the not too distant future.
It was also great to make my first trip to the lake with Khao Lak’s leading Khao Sok expert. Khun Sunai made everything run smoothly, keeping everything relaxed while adding his extensive knowledge to proceedings. Although he’s probably done as many lake trips as I have made dives in the Andaman Sea it was clear that every moment spent at the lake was as exhilarating as the very first time he came here. He knows everyone who lives on or surrounding the lake. Arrive at any raft house with Khun Sunai, or simply ‘Nai’ and you will always receive a warm welcome. Should you wish to experience Khao Sok Lake without the diving portion, Nai is owner of Green Andaman Travel who run the best Khao Sok trips.