Last February Jarel and I, attracted by the idea of exploring the tropical forest and plunging ourselves into nature, decided to spend a couple days at Khao Sok National Park.The park is rich with lakes, caves and limestone mountains that rise everywhere and, of course, the evergreen rainforest that covers the whole area. After our island hopping and snorkeling in Koh Tao, we were ready to switch from the blue horizon to the green one. Little did we know that the natural flora and the beautiful lakes weren’t the only things waiting for us. During our visit to the cave another guest joined our group: a 3 meter cobra and, trust me, it was certainly not welcome!
We arrived in Khao Sok in the late afternoon, after a never ending trip from Koh Tao that included 2 ferries, 2 busses and an improvised lift in the back of a pickup truck. Once at the Khao Sok River Lodge, we had a look at the excursion and booked one for the day after before to collapsing into bed, exhausted from the journey. The excursion that we picked included riding through Chiew Lan Lake, a lunch break at one of the floating villages with a couple hours for kayaking, swimming or just chilling on the bamboo platform, and an easy jungle trek that would have taken us to a cave.
There was no dangerous rafting or all day trekking to remote parts of the park, just an easy day in contact with the nature. Considering that when I’m out of the comfort of a city, every leaf, shadow or noise is a potential mortal danger, I was happy with the easy trip.
We started our day with an early breakfast at our guesthouse where the guide came to pick us up and took us to the lake. There we boarded the long boat that would take us around the lake. It was a beautiful sunny day, the lake was calm with some trees popping out of the water, surrounded by limestone mountains and an isolated green oasis. I kept thinking that everything was perfect; the colors were incredibly intense and it would have been a memorable day. It was memorable indeed.
We probably spent a little over an hour on the boat, taking pictures and observing nature. Someone managed to spot a few monkeys between the trees’ branches. Of course, with my hawk eyes, I didn’t.
We arrived at the village which was basically a bamboo platform with some huts where you can spend the night, if you are brave enough to sleep while floating there, and a couple kayaks. Jarel and I jumped (kind of) into a kayak and, after a lot of rowing in circles, we managed to straighten out and explore the area. There wasn’t anyone else around and it was awesome. When we went back it was time for our Thai lunch of fish, rice, veggies and fruits—then some more time for swimming and enjoying the sun and it was time to go trekking.
We got to the rainforest by boat and started our exploring. Even though I love these kinds of things, I’m really not a great hiker. There’s something wrong with my coordination, I always manage to put my feet in the wrong spot and I think that having short legs doesn’t help. Too many times people tell me “you just need to put your right foot on that rock and the left on that tree root over there” …hmmm… no man, I’m miles away from that tree root. Fail! There is also the fear factor that doesn’t help: my imagination can go wild when I’m out of my comfort zone! (You can read about my Fear, Silly Fear here.)
Anyway, even if I was always the last of the crew, I made it without major accidents. Carlotta 1, Jungle 0! If I only knew what was waiting for me, I would have kept my enthusiasm down.
We arrived at the cave entrance, where other groups of people were waiting. Crossing the cave would have taken about 30 minutes and each group was giving some space to the other so they wouldn’t get stuck together. We started getting ready to go in: cameras and phone in the waterproof bag, torch in hands, trainers well tied and off we go.
Do you want the long story short? It was hell!
I have been in caves before, in Europe, not in the rainforest, and there is a walkway, lights, you get an helmet with a light on top to be able to see even better the stalactites and all the rocks. I wasn’t expecting something like that of course, but this cave was too hardcore! The wet rocks were not just slippery, they were unwalkable slippery. The small torches were useless and it was pitch dark. I was too slow so Jarel and I were behind so it was even darker. There was water but you never knew the level, sometimes just your feet were in the water and the next step you were under up to your neck. There were bats, gigantic spiders and frogs that the guide was proudly illuminating with its bigger torch. I kept going, swearing like a truck driver, begging Jarel to go back until we couldn’t and kept saying that I never wanted to do something like that again. It was dark, claustrophobic and uncomfortable; I hated every bit of it. But the worst part was yet to come.
After falling and swearing for about 20 minutes, which felt like hours, I couldn’t wait to get out of that trap, but the nightmare was just to start. Jarel and I, and a few other uncoordinated fellows like me, were so far behind that the other group caught up to us, but after a few minutes we saw our group standing in front of us. “Great,” — I thought — “what’s going on now? The guide probably stopped to show some other disgusting animal that everybody somehow loves.” I was almost right. The stop was due to an animal, but no one liked it. It took us a few seconds to realize that head of the group, there was a 3 meter cobra and the guide didn’t have a clue of what to do. We stood there for a few minutes with the guide going a couple of steps ahead and then running back shouting at us to run. Oh, and during all of this, we were at a point where the water was at our hips, so moving wasn’t that easy and we didn’t know what was under the water or where we were in the dark.
As I always do in these situations, I tried to find our guide’s eyes. If the person taking care of you doesn’t look worried, there is still hope; if he does, you are fucked. I finally managed to point my small torch at his face and what I saw was pure panic. Great, someone will die.
I observed the people around me, picturing the newspaper title “THAILAND: An Italian tourist was enjoying her jungle excursion when bitten by a cobra. She didn’t make it to the rescue.” Who would have been in that title? The Italian? The American? The Chinese? How many people can that thing bite? How much poison does it have? My head was spinning. “Jarel, I want to go back!” I kept repeating. He tried to reasonably explain that going back wasn’t an option and we just had to wait. “Climb a rock and stay there, if people start panicking and run you might fall under them. Get away from the middle and climb a rock.” I wasn’t even listening to him. I wanted to go back and I didn’t want to touch the dark wet rocks. I wanted that to end, now!
In the meantime other groups were catching up and getting stuck with us and the guides were going ahead, trying to scare the cobra away with rocks and shouting. Nothing—the cobra was all rolled up in the rocks, a few steps away from the exit and it didn’t want to move.
40 minutes after and we were still in the water—wet, cold, smelly and with our feet and hands that were wrinkly and squishy. Finally the cobra moved. Alleluia! We didn’t know where it went exactly but it wasn’t there, so we just ran out of the cave to warm up under the sun. I was alive! Unbelievable!
On the way back to the boat everybody was kind of laughing at the experience. The guide showed me his scars from a snake bite and told me that they have never seen a cobra in that area and that he had been bitten by a really small snake but had to stay for weeks at the hospital. That’s why he was very scared. Apparently cobras have an incredible amount of poison, which acts fast, so there isn’t much hope if it bites you.
We were all kind of excited and extremely tired at the same time, so the boat went quiet quickly on the ride back. Oh and the cherry on the cake? Half way through it started to pour down rain. The classic heavy tropical rain, which only lasted the time of our ride, to get us soaked, again.
The day was over and so was our time in Khao Sok. In the morning we would have to head to Phuket, far from jungle and snakes.
Well, nearly death experience apart, I can say that we had the complete jungle adventure!