I managed to come across the most beautiful gem I’ve ever seen in Thailand so far, and it was by sheer accident.
Since I’m the only (new) weekend teacher, I have the full responsibility of just doing what I want to do. It’s something I’m an expert on, based on how I’ve been doing everything solo for the past two years. I absolutely love it.
As per usual, I raced to the bus station today as early as possible, pulled out a map, and pointed to where I wanted to go: Ratchaprapha Dam.
If I had done my research (which is rare), I would have known that this is just another name for Cheow Lan Lake, part of Khao Sok National Park. It’s a famous lake that everyone told me about, but I wanted to save it for a long weekend when we started getting better weather.
Khao Sok National Park is covered by the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world, huge limestone cliffs (mountains?) that tower above you higher than you can imagine, deep valleys, lakes, caves, and wildlife. Khao Sok is perfectly situated on the mainland between Phuket, Krabi, Khao Lak and Koh Samui, the most popular destinations in Southern Thailand – and lucky me, it’s only about a 2-hour bus ride from Suratthani city since it’s still considered the province of Suratthani.
Between Khao Sok National Park and Klong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary is Cheow Lan Lake, which offers the most beautiful scenic view I’ve ever seen in Thailand. It was formed in 1982 when the existing valleys were flooded after the construction of the Ratchapraba Dam. The lake now covers an area of 165 km². The jungle surrounding Khao Sok Lake is only accessible by traditional Thai Long Tail boats which operate the lake’s numerous waterways. It is one of the few places in Thailand that is free from roads, electricity, and cell reception. In other words, for me, it’s a dream come true.
I didn’t realize that the dam and the lake were the same thing until the end of the tour. I confess to even playing ditz and asked our guide, “Does this happen to be Cheow Lan Lake?” and he nodded, saying, “Same same, Ratchaprapha Dam and Cheow Lan Lake. Very famous.” I was flabbergasted that it took me six hours for the lightbulb to finally go off.
One of the Brits I was hanging out with just threw his head back in laughter. Dumbass American, he probably thought.
Regardless, I’m through the moon – this actually was my favorite part about Thailand thus far, even trumping Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai (and I sure love elephants).
Here’s why I loved this lake: Imagine Jurassic World meets The Great River scene from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring meets Halong Bay, Vietnam. Our guide mentioned that this scenery certainly does compare to Halong Bay, and because of that, it made me slightly consider venturing to Vietnam.
I loved that the boat ride took an hour, since it gave us ample time to take photos (although most of my shots came out terrible because I never angle a camera correctly). However, all 18 of us got sprayed with water on both journeys – the other boats were pretty lucky and came out dry – so I’d advise packing a poncho or just accepting the fact that you’re going to take a shower before you even get to the floating bungalows.
Before and after lunch, we had the chance to swim and frolic about in the lake. The water was emerald-green and the absolute perfect temperature – warm, but not gross warm, so it almost served as a relaxing spa. Since the lake is 20m deep (you can scuba dive in that depth!), the majority of us tried to balance on giant logs and ended up just trying to tip each other over when we clearly couldn’t stay on top of them.
One of the guys (same Brit who laughed at my stupidity) raised an interesting point about how our group was 90% non-native English speakers. The rest of the group was speaking to each other in German or French, most of whom didn’t even know each other before the tour. Definitely raised an interesting point about the types of travelers who come to Thailand, which contrasts with the demographic of travelers/tourists in Australia and New Zealand (primarily native English speakers in day tours there). Our guide was hilarious, well-versed in English, and incredibly friendly, but he even noted to me that it’s very hard to lead tours with those who can’t understand or speak English very well.
Since this beautiful lake is part of the national park, it’s definitely for the rough n’ rugged outdoorsy types of people. It’s far more tranquil and beautiful than Krabi – sure, Railay Beach is known for its towering limestone cliffs, but the ones we passed through here were about a thousand times more insane. I’d visit this national park a hundred more times before I ever consider going back to tourist-ridden Krabi. I’ve yet to do Phuket, Ko Samui, Ko Tao, Ko Phangan, etc., but I’m going to take a wild guess and anticipate that I’ll like Khao Sok more than any of those combined.
Being the ever-clueless person I am who always agrees to things without actually knowing what I’m doing, I didn’t even realize I was also booked into a cave trekking tour. The cave was much bigger than the one I randomly trekked through in Ko Lanta, and I preferred this cave since there was plenty of open spaces and no slippery mud.
We trekked through the forest and swam in neck-high streams to get to Nam Talu Cave, which was filled with bats in one section. The inside of the cave was stunning, much like the formations in New Zealand’s Waitomo Glowworm Cave. We had to lower ourselves backwards via rope against a gushing narrow waterfall at one point, which was amazing. While I don’t get scared easily, the possibility of breaking a body part in some of these Thai adventures certainly flashes through my mind all the time. I’m fully aware that the only instances where I’ve fully put my life in danger overseas have all been in Thailand. Either Thailand is forcing me out of my comfort zone, or it just wants me to be bruised and battered for the next country…
And finally, because I anger the nature gods whenever I have a day off, it started showering on our trek back through the forest. I was the only “lucky” one who slipped in the mud, but to be fair, it was because I had sandals on (that’s so Hawaiian).
This is basically everything I did (with all the GoPro videos I take, you think I’d actually sit down and put one together, but no). I can’t wait to revisit and actually stay overnight in the bungalows now that I know that the dam and the lake are one special place.