Jan 272006

Khuraburi (Friday, January 27, 2006)

“No hot water.” I eyed the earnest young man from the hotel staff incredulously and repeated “No hot water today.” He gave me the wai — the partial bow with hands pressed together — and departed. Not wanting anyone to lose face, I let him go, my resort fantasy in ruins. As I typed out some notes Friday morning, the room appeared to be swaying. I didn’t have anything to drink Thursday night, so I thought it might have been the residual effect of our somewhat rough ocean voyages the past few days, like the odd feeling you have after returning from an ocean cruise. Maybe a cold shower would help?

Over a leisurely breakfast of fried rice, we got an update on our itinerary. We stopped at the resort’s gift shop for a few items, especially “nam prik,” blends of herbs and spices for flavoring bland rice dishes (like our breakfast). Heading South toward Takua Pa, we took a side road for a short hike up to the Tamnang Waterfall in Sri Phang-nga National Park. The rain forest here was not as lush as the ones we will see later in the trip; on the other hand, it was nice cool temperature in the shade with hardly any annoying insects. Other dangers lurked, however. Positioning over the stream for a photo, my foot slid off a slippery rock, splashing water into all the wrong places, including the camera. I was able to dry the camera off right away, but the shorts and sandals took quite a while longer. At least the 63+ meter falls made an attractive subject.

Takua Pa

We stopped in Takua Pa at a roadside restaurant we had visited last year. At that time, helicopters were landing across the street as part of a major effort to recover tsunami victims from the Khao Lak area. This year, the street seemed dead, and the restaurant had cut back on its production of dough for roti, the elastic fried bread served with either savory or sweet dipping sauces. The day’s supply had already sold out! So we settled for turmeric chicken and rice and a variety of crunchy vegetables, and headed for the Khao Sok park. Before leaving town, we took a side trip to a market. In addition to the usual meat, fruit, and prepared dishes, many Chinese New Year treats and accoutrements were on sale. Wandering the side streets, I stumbled into a small business which offered us computers to check our email and refused to let us pay for the privilege. The air conditioning was priceless, and fortunately there were no emergencies that required attention. I bought a drink made from the juice of freshly pressed sugar cane. It was far less sweet than you might imagine, light and refreshing, the perfect way to start a long van ride.

Khao Sok Park

After twisting through the mountains, we rolled into the park around 3:30, and signed up the same boat and driver as last year. This jumbo-sized longtail was not the same shape as those in Surin, and most of the front passengers got a steady spritzing of lake water. In the heat of the day, it wasn’t objectionable, and the luggage appears to remain quite dry. Taking the scenic route, we spotted a lone hornbill flying overhead, and a few dusky langurs on the side of a karst. When we reached our accommodations, we lugged our bags up the steep staircase and over the various walkways to our cabins, noting with concern that the wood occasionally broke underfoot as the apparent result of dry rot. “Rustic” really doesn’t quite cover it.

Grabbing flashlights and cameras, we headed out for a late afternoon swim and/or beer, sunset on the lake, and bat viewing. As usual, the swim began from an older, even more dilapidated set of facilities: The Raft. While some in the group enjoyed the lake’s waters, the rest of us bought beers and hung out in the open-air dining area. I showed slides from our 2005 trip to the park, and the staff pointed out a pair of dusky langurs feeding in the trees not far away (binoculars came in handy for this). We clambered back into our boat and headed off toward a vantage point for viewing the emergence of a large group of fruit bats from their cave. The population has been declining as local fruit growers capture the bats as pests, but they seemed plentiful enough. After sunset, we sped back to our cabins for dinner.

With no time to do much more than plug in the charger for my camera battery, we sat down to a dinner of fried garani (a freshwater fish); a Southern “sour curry” with chicken (the curry is made sour with tamarind, although some of the unusual flavor may be attributable to fermented bamboo shoots); a winter melon soup with pork meatballs (unlike American meatballs, these are not rounded into balls, they are more like chunks of ground pork that just happened to stick together); and mixed vegetables with Oyster sauce. We planned to meet for breakfast at 8:30 AM, with pre-breakfast kayaking or canoeing optional. I shared a cabin with Kasma and her husband Michael. Having duly warned them of my reputation for snoring, I fell asleep well before the fans turned off at 10:00 PM.

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