We were invited to follow along on a scientific research trip to the farthest reaches of Khao Sok lake… and beyond! The goal: collect 61 camera traps, visit 12 islands, and hike six animal trails along remote ridgetops and valleys in 8 days, covering nearly 100 km by foot through rough terrain in the rainy season. Here’s what I found joining for 4 days searching for wildlife in Thailand:
Day 1: We all meet up, board a week’s worth of supplies on the boat, and begin our day’s work. For me, it’s also a chance to spend time with an old friend, Pi Road, who is the boat driver for this expedition, known for his wealth of knowledge of the lake and wildlife in Thailand.
For today, we’re splitting into two groups: one going over a ridge along the Saeng River ending at the rafthouse where we’ll be staying tonight; the other collecting camera traps from several different islands. I stayed in the boat with Road and Jasdev, a field researcher currently working in Malaysia, to go by boat. The rain made the collecting slow-going, even for the short trips to collect traps from the islands.
We make it back as the light is fading so that Road can set up our makeshift kitchen for the next few days. As the night falls, the other group of Luke, Alex (a grad student at Mahidol University in Bangkok) and Grom (a long-time ranger who regularly walks these deep jungle trails) still hasn’t returned. Road indicates where they’ll be coming out and asks us to watch for their return. Just as I tell Jasdev I’m beginning to worry, we notice the beam of a headlight emerging from the opposite bank.
Covered in rain and mud, they explain the state of the trail held them back and caused them to miss the last camera trap. Their combination of exhaustion and frustration is pretty easy to see, but it to eases away after a shower and a hot meal together. We cover interesting topics, such as proper form for sitting in a hammock, who would try eating a leech for the least amount of money, and everyone’s scariest wildlife encounters. My dream of meeting elephants in the wild slowly becomes a phobia.
Day 2: We pile on to the boat the next morning to start our trip to the mouth of Klong Saeng, at the farthest edge of the lake. At full speed from several meters away, Road somehow spots a pregnant fish whose eggs have caused her to float upside down. Then, he has the skills to stop the boat right alongside the fish and catch it with his bare hands. The man is a wizard!
Once we’re on the trail, we’re greeted with a parade of downpours throughout our hike. The one positive: Dr. Gibson has no trouble finding plenty of new specimens for his research collection of leeches. I won the leech collecting contest, with nearly 50 bites all over my body. The days of itching in all kinds of strange and exotic places was quite the souvenir.
Even though the weather wasn’t ideal for wildlife spotting, we still had a bit of good luck. Aside from the armies of leeches trying to bite us, we saw several birds and snakes throughout the day, including a brief glimpse of the world’s largest pheasant, the Great Argus. Toward the end of our hike, we ran into an Asian Brown Tortoise.Day 3: We woke up the next morning to one of the most amazing mist displays I’ve ever seen. The lake is known for its beautiful, misty mornings, but this was… well, see for yourself. To top this all off, we got word from one of the rangers that there was an elephant out getting some water along the neighboring banks. Even I was able to spot this one from far away, and luckily, we were able to watch it from the boat at a safe distance. Today, we had the benefit of good weather throughout most of the day. We spent the morning collecting from another valley near the edge of Klong Saeng and spent the afternoon picking up the traps we missed from the first day. We even ran into a family of wild pigs, which quickly dispersed upon smelling us. Klong Saeng is unique from the other areas of the lake because of its transition from disturbed flooded forest back to undisturbed riverine forest. It is easy to see why this place is a sanctuary for wildlife in Thailand: Khao Sok lake has undisturbed habitat, like buffalo grass, that is rarely seen nowadays. Most of it was flooded by the creation of the dam inside the park and converted for agriculture outside of the park. Back here, the forest, and the wildlife, are both alive and well. When we got to the last trap of the day, we had a nice surprise waiting for us. Scorpions. Cute, cuddly, baby scorpions. The day ended with a heavy storm, which we watched pass from a floating supply shop tucked away in it’s own small bay. We were ready for a beer and a nap. Some of us more than others. Day 4: The group was slowly dissolving: Last night, Grom had leave to for Khao Yai National Park for a conservation management meeting among national park officials and Alex also had to make his way back up to school in Bangkok. For Luke, Road and Jasdev, nature called. For me, the working world called. Emails, emails, and of course, cooking up an excuse to get out into the jungle again. While Luke and Jasdev went off to do more hiking and camping, I went off to do some inbox management, and of course look at all the cool photos I had the chance to take while out on the lake.
- The half-day hike is an intermediate three hour hike that begins in a lime orchard and proceeds up a hill with a stop at a small cave and a viewpoint over the river, a lovely spot to stop and picnic. Be advised that though this trail is generally easy, but there are a few places where you’ll need to use the wooden railings provided to ensure your safety
- The full-day hike visits a bat cave, some very large trees, a 51-meter vertical cave, and several viewpoints depending on the duration of the hike, which can last between 5 to 7 hours. Full-day trips include a coffee/lunch break underneath a natural rock overhang. Be aware that the trail here has not yet been fully cleared, and there are several narrow parts, some of which are thorny and several of which are slippery and muddy when wet. This trail is quite adventurous and requires good physical fitness. Long pants are recommended as well to protect from thorns and mosquitoes.
What to Bring:
|Students and Teachers of Khao Sok Jungle Academy 2014|
Where to stay…
There are two local hotels available in Ta Khun. Which provide air condition and wifi.
Where to eat…
There is a range of local restaurants, the choice of places with an english menue is fairly little though. But for those who are more adventurues we provide a textbook with basic translations in our Ta Khun office, so you can also order in Thai.
Of course you can find many coffee stands around Ta Khun, selling the sweetened Nescafe coffee. If you are the kind of person who appreciates real espresso, just around the corner of our office you‘ll find the best coffe in town.
No matter if you are strolling around Ta Khun for exploration or if you are just waiting for the bus, there is a massage shop close to our office which offers great massages for 200 Baht per hour.
River (Phum Duang)..
If you don‘t have the possibiliy to get a ride to the Dam to take a swim or if you are simply looking for a quick refreshment, there is a river passing by Ta Khun in which you can have a bath.
“Time flies” as the old saying goes, and this past month has been no different. It’s hard to believe that we are already halfway through the course. There is so much that the guides still need to learn. But having said that, there is so much that they have already learnt. The month of May has seen a mixed response from the trainees in the various groups but all in all it’s been a positive month.
Quite early on we lost the trainees from the canoe operator in Khao Sok. It’s hard to know exactly why this was the case but all we know is that for whatever reason or reasons they never really seemed fully committed at any stage of the process. It’s a shame because there is a real need for canoe guides in Khao Sok that speak English, and it was hoped that these guys could have been the ones.
Progress has been quite slow at the lake amongst the trainees there. Like with the canoe guides, some of this group doesn’t seem to be taking it very seriously, only showing up about half of the time, and even when they do they are often exceptionally late. Not good. There has also been a shortage of practical training due to lack of availability of boats to use. Nonetheless some progress has been made with their English, and a couple of the trainees are showing some real potential. We’ve had a meeting with the organizers there, and it is hoped that a more focused effort will be made next month, and then hopefully these promising trainees might really start to fulfill their potential.
Due to the canoe trainees pulling out it was decided that the two trainees from the kilometre 82 area join up with the group based at the park headquarters. This group has in stark contrast really put in a huge effort, and it has to date paid off. All of the group shows a genuine interest in the training and the subjects they are learning. Attendance is good, they are punctual, and scrupulously take notes every time we are out and about. Two or three of them are making significant steps to becoming good, competent guides, and there are several others that are coming along nicely as well. Now it’s going to be a case of honing their new skills as well as continuing the improvement in their English. The coming month will see them take the lead more often, and get plenty of practice guiding the group themselves instead of relying on the training team to prompt them. Let’s hope the June monsoon rains hold off enough to allow us to continue with the progress already made.
Whilst exploring the wilds of Khao Sok the different groups have had the privilege of some delightful wildlife experiences. During an overnight stay at Krai Sorn raft house the trainees got a memorable encounter with a female gaur and her young calf whilst out kayaking. The following morning dawn boat safari gave them an equally rewarding chance sighting of a Malayan sun bear as it was foraging in amongst the bamboo forest. The night safari gave us glimpses of palm civet, sambar deer, and mousedeer. There have been plenty of sightings of the langur and macaque monkeys and the evocative songs of the gibbons have always been resonating around the valleys.
There have been some special bird encounters as well. Rarely glimpsed species such as banded pitta, hooded pitta, blue-winged pitta, orange-breasted trogon, green broadbill, dusky broadbill, banded kingfisher, rufous-collared kingfisher, maroon woodpecker, and buffy fish owl have all been seen. Sightings of the large raptors and hornbills have been plentiful, including a great hornbill male and female flying about with their recently fledged youngster. There have also been glimpses of some of the snakes too – monocled cobra, mangrove snake, cave racer and Malayan rat snake.
A somber moment came when the group encountered a shy and secretive southern serow whilst out on a walk along one of the trails. This beautiful and rarely seen animal had been caught in a poacher’s snare and had its front left leg trapped in the wire noose. Thankfully we were able to get the national park to come and cut the animal free and so with a bit of luck the animal will be able to make enough of a recovery that the wound will not affect it. Whilst saddening this proved to be an invaluable lesson to the trainees as it helped to reinforce the importance of their role as guardians for these forests. Tourist activity is a key deterrent to poaching activity, and so the more trained and qualified guides we have guiding their guests in the Khao Sok area, the more these endangered and precious animals can enjoy a secure future.
We have written this blog to inform travelers on the burning question: has the military coup affected tourism in Thailand?
In order to understand the current measures taken by the Thai Military and the resulting consequences we have to let’s look at some of the key recent events:
- • The year 2006 the Thai military ousted Thaksin Shinawatra in a coup. A former Thai business tycoon, he held the office of Prime Minister from 2001 till 2006. He won this office largely by promising billions of baht in subsidies to Thailand’s poor Northeastern rice and rubber farmers. This caused huge problems with Thailand’s economy and he was eventually tried and convicted by Thailands Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for abusing his political powers and embezzling billions. He has lived in exile since then.In the years from 2007-2011 Thailand found itself in a political turmoil. Governments were elected then accused of election manipulation and withdrawn from their administrative positions by the Military or due to the power of political protesters.
- • On the 3th of July 2011,Yingluck Shinawatra, without being previously involved into politics, became the first female prime minister of Thailand. Her political party slogan was “Thaksin thinks, Thai people act”. She was not only the first female minister but also the youngest sister of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. She was reviled by the public and thought of as a political puppet and somewhat of a joke by Thailand’s elite.
- • On 7 May 2014, the Constitutional Court ruled that Yingluck would have to step down as the Prime Minister as she was deemed to have abused her power by appointing a family member to a high- level government office without the support of her constituents. (Hodal, Kate. “Thai court orders Yingluck Shinawatra to step down as PM”. theguardian.com. Retrieved 7 May 2014.)This move followed six months of political deadlock as protesters rallied against Ms Yingluck’s government.
- • Political gatherings of more than five people banned, with penalties of up to a one-year jail term, 10,000 baht ($307) fine, or both. (Unless you are a political activist, this will have no affect on your vacation)
- • Curfew hours are 12 a.m till 5 a.m. This is only enforced in the densely populated areas such as Phuket or Bangkok, and even then as long as you carry your passport and the address of your hotel, you should be fine.
- • Mandatory check points at the entrance to all major towns , and provincial borders (although I have yet to hear of them stopping a bus or a train)
- • Overnight Buses / Planes are operating normally (no one will arrest you for being at a train or bus station between the hours of 12:00 and 5:00)
- • The social media site Facebook was not blocked (feel free to post, tweet, and chat to your hearts content!)
- • The national television was providing information on the first day of the coup has since returned to normal broadcasts. (Should you want to watch television in your hotel room, you may do so uninterrupted)
With the opportunity of joining a Khao Sok Lake Group Tour Experience last week, we got the chance to visit the fascinating Nam Taloo Cave and stay at TonToey Raft House, one of the oldest raft houses on the lake!
The first day we started with the visit to the Nam Taloo Cave, which we heard is over 500 meters long and in total darkness, but first we had to make it there. During the hike we crossed a small river several times which was a welcome cooling for the feet.Those who were skilful enough could try to swing on a Liana vine over the river and keep their feet dry!
But we knew our feet would get wet anyway, since the Nam Taloo cave was formed by the river erosion. Another interesting fact about the cave is that it was used as a hideout for a group of student activists between 1975 – 1982. These communist insurgents, in disagreement with the Thai government, were able to hold off the army for seven years. They also prevented loggers, miners and hunters from exploiting the area and therefore contributed to the preservation of the beautiful National Park we still find today. On the hike to the cave we passed some shelters, holes in the ground covered with bamboo roofs, which served as stash for the communists.
Before we entered the cave, our guide advised us to go to the “Pi Pi Island” around the corner, in order to keep the water level low;) Anyway, in the cave we were walking one after the other through narrow passages and water ponds amazed by the beauty of the stalagmites and stalactites. Everyone was so busy looking around and admiring the sparkling cave wall and the swarm of bats sleeping at the ceiling, that it was hard to watch your step. It was nice to see everyone taking care of one another since the ground was hard to see when we were walking in the water. We always got advices from the guide or persons walking in front: “watch out there is a big stone! Or “take care, it’s getting deep here”. Some of the water ponds were even so deep that we had to swim through.
When we came out of the cave again, the weather had changed completely from a bright sunny sky to pouring rain. Controversy to what most of us western people might think, that rain is a negative thing, it appeared to be a really nice experience.
The impression of the jungle is totally different. The dropping rain coming down the leaves, the grayish light in which the jungle looks even more mysterious and the soothing noise of the rain were sensational. The rain in the jungle also elicits different kind of animals such as leeches which some of us found on their legs. Luckily they don’t do any harm and can easily be removed when you grab them with some tobacco to get hold of them. The tobacco can also be used to put in the top of your socks as a leech deterrent.
Back at Ton Toey raft house, we really couldn’t complain about the food provided. The table was fully served with delicious Thai food including Green Curry, Massaman Curry, stir fried vegetables and fresh fish. And after having eaten we could already chose our breakfast ranging from Congee (rice porridge), fried eggs to pineapple pancakes. Ton Toey Raft House is one of the oldest raft houses at the lake and was a former ranger station. Its’ location is a perfect spot for kayaking because there are many inlets which are nice to paddle around and the chances to see some Macaque monkeys on your own by kayak are fairly high.The next morning we started with a Morning Mist Safari where we got incredibly close to some Long-tailed Maquac monkeys. They were having breakfast in a tree which branches were hanging down into the water. I was quite surprised how little they were afraid of falling into the water and our guide told us that they are very well able to swim and even dive for up to 5 minutes.
They like to sleep in trees close to the water and stay in groups together. Macaques also have cheek pouches in which they can store food and transport it away to still enjoy it to a later time.
Furthermore we saw some Lar Gibbons (White Handed Gibbons), they were hiding in the tree and with a closer look one could even spot a Lar Gobbon family. In the morning hours Gibbons can be heard singing in the trees. It sounds like they are responding each other from one tree to another and our guide even joined in doing Gibbon calls.
While quietly waiting in the boat for some animals to appear in the trees, we heard a whooping sound coming closer and when we looked up the sky, we saw some hornbills passing by. One might think that it is a weird sound for a bird, but what actually causes this noise are their wings.
Hornbills owe their name to their physical appearance. The bill is way bigger than the rest of the head and roundly shaped like a horn in yellowish color.
“ The way is the goal” this was the motto of the following hike to the viewpoint. The jungle and its’ variety of plants were wonderful to see. What especially amazed me were the huge buttressed roots of the so called Ban Yen trees. If you would look at the bottom profile of the trees trunk, it looks rather stellar than round and if you knock against it, it sounds almost like a drum.There are several theories why the roots of the tree are formed like this. One of them is that due to intense winds and tropical storms they built up strong roots which don’t go deep into the ground because the water is near the surface. Instead the root systems of large trees are often partially exposed, spreading wide and shallow and keeping the tree upright. Another or further explanation of this feature is that flared roots greatly expand the surface area of the bark at the base of the tree. Nutrients are important to supply the massive foliage in the canopy.
Those Ban Yen trees can measure a size of 65m above the ground and generally get between 150 – 300 years old. The one on the picture for example is estimated to be 120+ years old.
Summarizing, we had a great tour experienced and would have loved to stay even longer. It was incredibly relaxing to be out at the lake and at the same time exciting to see the wildlife and astonishing natural environment.
STAY INFORMED ABOUT WHAT’S GOING ON AT KHAO SOK LAKE AND THE SURROUNDING AREAS
STAY INFORMED ABOUT WHAT’S GOING ON AT KHAO SOK LAKE AND THE SURROUNDING AREAS
Volunteers at Khao Sok Lake April 6, 2014
We decided to write this blog to share our experience as the first volunteers at Andaman Discoveries Ta Khun and to give an insight to what it is like to dive into the Thai culture.
To introduce ourselves, we are two tourism students from Germany, Marius and Anika, currently doing our practical semester here at Andaman Discoveries Ta Khun. We are personally interested in sustainable tourism development meaning to put great consideration on local culture, welfare and the nature protection. Lucky as we are, we now have the opportunity to start working on this, directly involved on site.
Getting settled in Ta Khun…
After the first working weeks have passed, we now are rather well known in Ta Khun. I mean being a “farang” (foreigner) is a guarantee for attention, but in Ta Khun which is not really touristy, we stick out even more 🙂 After we came back the second and third time to the same places, buying coffee or food, people were starting to ask us what we do and how long we are here for. All the people we met so far immediately introduced themselves to us with their nickname, because it is the common way to address Thai people with their nickname even if you just met them.
We are basically step by step becoming part of the Ta Khun community, people greet us and we talk to neighbors and even got invited to a Thai wedding which took place right next to our office. When we offered to give a hand when they set up all the tables and decoration for the wedding, they were really surprised and appreciated our help a lot. It was quiet funny because within a few seconds we became the center of attention and they wanted to take pictures showing how we work together. I think this was another important step of integration because we are becoming part of the community instead of being just tourists or guests.
To summarize the features of the Thai wedding, it was rich in colors, flowers, music and amazing food. Dancing in general is not really a big thing in Thailand, but for entertainment they hired a dance group of young girls who sang and danced on the stage almost the whole evening and ensured a good atmosphere. We used the opportunity to absorb all the impressions of Thai culture and exchanged with locals. The conversations were rather funny because they were more like sign language than a verbal exchange, since our Thai is still in progress :).
So besides the cultural integration we are still looking forward to explore the surroundings of Ta Khun and are curious what awaits us next…