The decision to head off for Surat Thani was easier said than done. I just needed to get away from work and Bangkok for the New Year. Surat Thani is known as the ‘City of Good People.’ I knew before we went that Surat Thani had some fantastic scenery, with its steep mountainous escarpments covered in dense forest.
We arrived at a typical small airport, that looked reminiscent something you’d find in Toy Town, it was that small, nestled between mountain ranges. Our resort was the Phunawa City Park Resort, which was some distance away, out in the middle of nowhere. Our accommodation was basic but comfortable and looked reminiscent of an extra large World War II, Anderson Shelter.
Our first activity was rafting on the local river. There was a group of us, all dressed in bright orange lifejackets. The Health and Saftey aspect, obviously being played out, even though the river was only around a 30cm deep. Still, I suppose, better to be safe than sorry.’
It was fun being on the river, more so watching the others’ reactions to rapids. It felt like a scene out of a Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn story, but not the rapids from the ‘African Queen,’ (Good film that is.)
For many, Surat Thani is a place that serves as a hub, in that as soon as people arrive, they head out somewhere else, but actually, there are lots to see here.
One of my favourite places was the Cheow Larn Lake, that has the Ratchapraha Dam. Within the lake, there are limestone islands, and pillars that are covered in forest scrub and topped by trees. This is similar to Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, as described by one of my students. And yes, in parts it does have similarities with the emerald waters and the jaw-dropping scenery.
One of the most famous places in Cheow Larn Lake, is the Khao Sam Kloe, the famous three towering limestone pillars.
For those that want to stay on the side of the lake, there are floating bungalows, along with an attractive restaurant, with the rugged backdrop of the mountainous scenery.
My favourite place here, however, was forest part of the Khao Sok National Park, which allowed us to have our feet firmly on the ground. With all the forests in this part of the world, you never know what you are going to see. The range of animals could vary from lizards to spiders to elephants to tigers. As always as a foreign citizen, I had to pay to get in but my wife (Annie) got in for free.
We are both being nature and wildlife lovers, but we were not too sure what we’d come across. Lizards and monkeys were a certainty, along with scores of butterflies and dragonflies. For anything else, well, we’d have to wait and see. What caught our eye at first was a cluster of mushrooms.
‘Do you think they’re edible?’ Annie asked.
‘I don’t know, why don’t you try one. If you wake up dead tomorrow, I’ll know not to try one.’ I said jokingly.
The next thing that caught our eye, was a blue fern, YES a blue fern. Ferns I know grow all over the world, where the conditions are right, but I’d never see anything like this before.
Fungi, was also in abundance, growing on any rotting platform that was available. A Canadian tourist advised us that in America, they pay high prices for this stuff in herbal medicine, and there it was, growing for free.
The attraction for me was that these forests were crawling with life and activity. If you go walking in a wood or forest in the UK, you are lucky if you see a bird, but here in the tropics, you have to be ready for the unusual.
We caught a group of tourists with their guide, he knew what he was looking for and bravo! He spotted it. There suspended between the trees was a spider’s web, and in the centre was an enormous spider, with a leg span that would have easily covered an adults face.
We decided to venture down a path to see a waterfall, believing that it wouldn’t amount to much, certainly nothing as spectacular as the Niagara Falls, or the Victoria Falls. The path looked as though it got used very rarely, possibly because of the tight squeezes between the rock boulders and the steep steps half way down. Our eyes scanned for the unusual if you could call it that. Annie led the way, but towards the bottom, my eye latched onto something that I’d been looking for. There, precariously balanced no more than a metre away was a Beautiful Bronzeback Tree Snake. Slender a wonderfully coloured.
‘Annie, don’t scream with what I’ve found.’ Straight away she realized what it was.
‘Aaaahhhh’ she said ‘A snake.’
Thankfully, the snake was not alarmed by her, and just pensively sat there. I got my camera out as the snake tested the air for danger with its red forked tongue. It was only after I disturbed an off-shoot branch did slither off.
Later we went trying to catch butterflies, something I’d done with pleasure as a child, but these were different: Common Mormons, Common Bluebottles, Painted Jezebels and a Yellow Archduke, which I managed to get a photograph of.
The few days here in Surat Thani had been a good chance to get away from the noisy Bangkok. Surat Thani would be a great place to go cycling around too if only we’d brought our bikes. Just a pity they’d been left locked up in Nonthaburi.