‘Snake!” My guide’s shout shattered the peace of the lazy Sok river in Khao Sok nationwide park, southern Thailand. He grabbed the rubber ring I used to be floating in and dragged me to an overhanging department to gaze up on the black and yellow coils. For somebody with ophidiophobia – concern of snakes – it wasn’t the perfect begin to my community-based tourism journey. But even terror couldn’t totally detract from the fantastic thing about the river, meandering between dramatic karsts.
I’d needed to keep away from Thailand’s hotspots – akin to Phuket, Chiang Mai and Koh Samui – and discover a lesser-known a part of the nation on a visit that brings income to poorer communities, and this was positively off the crushed observe. Rickshaw Travel provides “bite-size” journeys lasting two to 4 days that may be mixed to create an extended itinerary (I used to be doing three mini itineraries). The concept is to supply a number of the flexibility of unbiased travel with out the effort of backpacking.
Dawn safari, Cheow Lan Lake. Photograph: Rachel Dixon for the Guardian
After a few days in Bangkok, we’d taken a sleeper prepare south to Surat Thani, which most travellers use as a gateway to the islands. We, nevertheless, turned inland as a substitute for a keep at Anurak Community Lodge, between Khao Sok and Khlong Phanom nationwide parks. The 18 stilted bungalows are surrounded by jungle, employees are primarily from the close by village, and native guides take guests out in Khao Sok park, a protected space of historical rainforest that’s home to round 50 mammals, together with elephants, leopards and tapirs. Out trekking, we noticed a troop of child long-tailed macaques taking part in within the timber, and again on the out of doors restaurant watched an enormous darkish cloud of flying foxes float off to their feeding grounds at nightfall.
The mist was nonetheless on the water and the clouds hung heavy on the mountains; ours was the one boat in sight
The subsequent day we moved on to Cheow Lan lake, about an hour away. We took a longtail boat to certainly one of a number of raft-houses constructed for vacationers to spend an evening on the lake that assist fund the maintenance of the nationwide park. The huge lake is simply 35 years outdated, created after the constructing of a dam flooded the world, and 385 households had been resettled. Surrounded by jungle-clad limestone cliffs, it resembles better-known Phang Nga Bay close to Phuket or Halong Bay in Vietnam. The solely clue to its origins are the dead timber that push up by way of the water, ghostly reminders of the flooded forest.
Raft homes on Cheow Lan Lake. Photograph: Rachel Dixon for the Guardian
The raft home’s floating bamboo bungalows are fundamental – ours slept two on mattresses on the ground – however the setting is unbelievable. I stepped out on to the deck and dived straight into the nice and cozy, clear water earlier than climbing right into a kayak for a paddle. Next day, we bought up at daybreak for a wildlife safari by boat, led by native information Ot; the creation of the nationwide park in 1980 meant jobs for guides and rangers.
The mist was nonetheless on the water and the clouds hung heavy on the mountains; ours was the one boat in sight. We may hear an ape’s mating calls, and noticed langurs and toucans earlier than lastly recognizing the noisy male gibbon swinging by way of the timber. Later, we trekked to a panoramic viewpoint – passing claw marks left on timber by an Asian black bear.
After the lake, it was time to expertise the river. We headed to Khlong Noi, between the Ta Pi and Phunphin rivers, about half an hour from Surat Thani. The village has been concerned with group tourism since 2006. Our host, Chay, advised us this has made an actual distinction to individuals’s lives: the rivers have been cleaned up and the fish and shrimp have returned, in order that fishermen could make a dwelling once more. Villagers work in cottage industries as a substitute of spending lengthy days in Surat Thani’s factories – we met boat builders, a person who makes fishing rods, plus growers of natural greens and coconut palms.
The writer (far proper) helps prepare dinner a meal
We stayed with Chay’s aunt, uncle and cousin of their riverside home (homestays are one other supply of revenue), the place we ate the very best meals of the journey – a feast of massaman curry, prawns with inexperienced chilli sauce, fried fish with ginger, minced rooster with basil, rooster and coconut soup, and Thai scrambled eggs with greens. The household spoke little English – besides younger cousin Boom, when he overcame his shyness – however had been extraordinarily welcoming, encouraging us to “help” with cooking and pruning the topiary animals within the backyard.
The home was maybe grander than a typical village residence, however nonetheless gave an perception into native life. We 4 visitors slept collectively on the ground in a single room, with the household in one other; there was a squat bathroom and a barrel of chilly water for laundry. When night time fell, our hosts took us right down to the river on the backside of the backyard to look at the fireflies flickering within the timber. It was magical – and much more welcome than looking for snakes.
How to do it
Flights and lodging had been offered by Rickshaw Travel. A 3-day Bangkok – Longtails & Tuk Tuks journey prices from £168pp; a three-day Giant Trees & Lakes of Khao Sok from £398pp; and a two-day Village Life by the River journey from £198pp.
Best time to go to
The dry season, between November and April. Songkran (Thai New Year, 13-15 April) is nice enjoyable, however lodging will get booked up properly upfront. Bargains might be bagged in May, June and late October; keep away from September, the wettest month.