Monday, March 17, 2014

Krabi to Khao Lak

Transfer from Ao Nang to Khao Lak was organised though ‘Andaman Camp & Cruise’ otherwise known as ‘Krabi shuttle’. We waited at reception for our pick up, watching a driver with a Krabi shuttle sign, not knowing it was for us. Finally the hotel staff alerted us to each other and we were soon on our way. 

Our driver was very quiet but drove very fast, so we arrived at Than Bok Khorani (or Thanboke Koranee) national park in no time. After some initial confusion (i.e. I though our quote included activities but it turned out it did not), J and I paid 1000 bhat to take a longtail through Tham Lot (or Lot cave) and to Phi Hua To cave (or Big headed Ghost cave). The former is a river passageway through a lovely cave beneath a limestone karst mountain full of crystal stalactites and stalagmites surrounded by jungle. Most visitors kayak through, but we didn’t want to get wet. It was as we entered Tham Lot that the only camera we had with us decided to overheat (or whatever) and refused to work.

The Phi Hua To cave is also known as the ‘skeleton’ cave with many ancient rock paintings. There, we got out of the boat and were able to wonder around to discover the cave by ourselves. If you go with a guide, you’ll be shown the various paintings – not just the most famous one of the ‘big headed ghost’ on the ceiling near the entrance. On the rear and side walls are many figures of fish, people and other animals. Many are faded so I suggest to take a torch to help you spot them. J and I just examined the walls to find the many paintings ourselves. There’s also a boardwalk to view the mangrove forest that was a pleasant shady stroll. The whole area around the river is very scenic too. And, it was mostly quiet, a little bit off the tourist trail and well worth a visit.

From there, it was a very short distance to main national park headquarters where a creek runs below the limestone mountains and emerges to form stunning emerald-coloured lagoons.

In the lush forest, there are some small waterfalls where locals like to cool off with a dip in the clear ponds. Not far along one of the paths, there's a hidden cave, with a Buddha statue and ‘Buddha footprint’ shrine. Still visited by locals, the smell of burned incense hung inside.

We were almost the only ones there, with a few local families arriving as we left. It’s not a large area and you can easily walk through in half an hour. But J and I spent some time cooling off, taking photos and enjoying the many bright butterflies fluttering around – it was like the butterfly garden that you might find in a zoo. Peaceful and beautiful. A true little highlight.

It was about an hour drive to our last stop, Wat Bang Riang, a mountain temple that houses a sacred Buddha Tooth relic. Circumambulating three times, I paid my respects and made an offering before taking photos of the magnificent view and beautiful temple, its walls covered in murals depicting stores of The Buddha. 

Out and to the side of the temple was a pavilion offering a stunning view of the valley. It also gave a great perspective view of the temple. A giant Guan Yin ( the Buddha of Compassion and Love the equivalent of Tara in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition) stood overlooking the valley a little down the hill. Despite hunting and looking for a sign, I couldn’t find the path to get to it for a closer look. 

However, I did check out the three large Buddhas on a seemingly abandoned platform close to the top of the mountain. I needed to do a little bush bashing to get to them much to Js amusement. Flights of concrete stair with serpent banisters lead up to the three giants, but the jungle was re-claiming them, the sight seemingly abandoned. 

As we drew closer to Khao Lak, we were pulled over by police. The driver was made to get out and we observed him being man-handled away to the police car. J and I sat in the car pondering our fate, wondering what was happening. Sure, he’d been speeding a bit, but I wondered whether there were speed cameras along the road we’d come from. After ten minutes he returned, flustered, tisk tisking about the 2000 baht fine he’d been made to pay. Language got in the way of us finding out what really happened, but I think it was half bribe, half speeding ticket. Not too long later we were happily at Lah Own resort in Khao Lak where we gave our driver (wish I recalled his name as he was a nice guy) a large tip (to help him pay his fine) and bade him farewell after a magnificent day of sightseeing. 

- K

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