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Khao Sok National Park

Khao Sok, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

The first thing you notice about the jungle is the humidity.  As soon as you take clothes out of the bag, they become damp.  Everything becomes damp. Our bed is damp.  Our money is damp.  Our 2004 Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a Shoestring is warped and buckled. And nothing ever, ever dries.  In fact, if you put things out to dry, they will just come back even more damp, science be damned.  If you sweat, get used to it, because it’s not going to evaporate in the next cool breeze. As the day goes on, it gets hotter and hotter and more and more humid until with a gust of cool wind, black clouds roll in and the late-afternoon thunderstorms roll in to reset the humidex.

The second thing you’ll notice is that everything here wants to take your blood.  It’s like a little invertebrate mafia.  You can stroll around during the day unhindered, but if you go out within an hour of dusk, the mosquito racket wants a cut.  And then there’s the leeches.  If you want to go near the river, well, that’s leech turf and they want a piece of the action.  Three days ago, I had never had a leech attached to my body.  Today, I’m an old hand at locating and plucking them off myself as they burrow through my socks to gorge on my tasty, tasty ankles.

All that said, though, I’m enjoying our little side trip to Khao Sok quite a lot.  I spent the past two days hiking well-groomed trails through lush jungle and bamboo forest.  Janelle’s not a huge fan of hiking, but she went with me on one rather sweaty hike, and then I did a more strenuous solo five-hour 8km hike to Sip-et-Chan waterfall myself yesterday, during which, well, I’m not going to go on record as having had an encounter with one of Khao Sok’s wild elephants, but there was something very large and scary crashing through the bamboo 100m ahead.  Evenings are spent sipping cocktails and playing made-up trivia games with Janelle at little bars surrounded by the jungle.  

Actually, *everything* is surrounded by jungle here: the bungalows, the minimart, the bus stop…  Which is the third thing you notice about the jungle.  It is filled with plant and animal life, all competing for a niche, and in the most vocal way they can manage.  The wet and rocky rainforests of my beloved Pacific Northwest have some resemblance to the Thai rainforest, but in British Columbia, the forests are usually deathly quiet except for the occasional woodpecker or crow.  My understanding is that the BC conifers don’t support a lot of insect life, which means fewer birds, reptiles and amphibians.  Not so here.  The rainforest may be peaceful, relaxing, pleasant, but it is very far from silent.  Frogs, birds, geckos and monkeys fill the air with noise all day and all night.  It’s like being in the middle of an orchestra perpetually tuning.  And when the cicadas start doing their thing, it drowns out music, conversation, even the rest of the jungle.  Seriously, it’s car-alarm loud.

We’re here an extra day in order to avoid having to take the notorious Surat Thani-Bangkok bus.  The route basically connects BKK to the resort and party islands of Koh Samui and Koh Phangnan, and to hear the Internet tell it, is staffed entirely by thieves, con artists and bait-and-switch ticket sellers.  I’m quite sure we will have to deal with such things eventually, so why rush into it?  

This also gives me a day to make use of the local restaurant’s wifi and recover from my past couple days of hiking.  Not only am I old, I am not in good hiking shape.  Even for an old.  Something I want to need to remedy as we go along: now that I have a taste for it, I’m looking forward to more Asian hiking.