Getting into boat based trouble is something that you would by now think I am a little bit used to, particularly after that Seychelles based boat adventure I told you about.
You might assume that as a result of that, any boat based adventure I decide to undertake, however short it is supposed to be, might involve me doing a little bit of fore planning, such that I won’t end up sitting in the baking sun, at the wrong end of an enormous man made reservoir, with no sun cream or water to speak of, in a boat whose engine firmly refuses to start.
You would of course, assume wrong.
Because this was the situation I found myself in when we visited the Chiao Lan reservoir in the Khao Sok National Park in Thailand, one of the most stunning places we had the privilege of visiting on our trip around Thailand, which is saying something.
Let’s start at the beginning.
The beginning started well. We left our accommodation in Khao Sok village and drove the 90 or so minutes to the pier where a long tailed boat was waiting to whisk us to our lake house, home for the next couple of days.
If you’re not familiar with the long tail boats that feature heavily in this part of the world, just imagine a normal boat with what appears to be a truck engine bolted onto the back of it, and an improbably large propeller shaft sticking out the back. I have no idea who came up with this boat design, or why it is so popular (if you know, do enlighten me in the comments), but I do know that they a) look the part and b) are noisy as hell.
Anyway, the boat trip to the lake house was around forty minutes. We were in a group of around nine, who had all signed up for an overnight stay at Smiley’s lake house, arranged by the nice people of Smiley’s guesthouse in Khao Sok village. More on that in an upcoming post.
The scenery was quite spectacular as our boat roared across the lake. Huge limestone karsts towered around us, along with the long dead remnants of trees, bleached white by the sun and drowned by the water when the reservoir was created. Along, rather sadly, with a great number of animals. The price of progress.
We made it safe and sound to the lake house, which was pretty much everything I had hoped for in a floating bit of paradise. Simple (en-suite!) rooms bobbed on floats, with a central bar / restaurant area. The lake was beautifully warm, ideal for swimming, and given how warm a day it was, it wasn’t long before everyone was in the water or enjoying a paddle in the kayaks.
With chilled beer on hand, the ingredients for a wonderful day were all in place, meeting fellow travellers and generally just gawping in amazement at the scenery.
But Laurence, you say, tell us about this ship disaster. It’s coming, I promise. I am setting the scene and building suspense. Exciting stuff, eh?
After our lake house lunch, our host, who went by the letter D, informed us with a twinkle in his eye that the afternoon was going to be a bit different to the norm (although none of us really knew what the norm on a floating hotel was), as they had received instruction from the park management that the lake house had to be moved to a new location, a few kilometres away.
It seemed that this wasn’t an operation that was undertaken very often, in fact in the four or five years that the lake house had been in operation it had been moved precisely once. And despite their ability to bob gently, lake houses are generally not designed with movement in mind.
Still, this didn’t seem to perturb the various boat drivers and helpful staff, who nosed up some long tail boats to the back of the raft house, fired up their engines, and started to push.
in a lake filled with dried out tree stumps which require careful navigation, steering is quite important. And lake houses don’t come with steering wheels. The best you can do is shout at the drivers of each boat to adjust their power accordingly.
Although, as I mentioned previously, long tailed boats aren’t exactly silent running. So what actually happens is someone runs around a lot between the three boats, shouting instructions at the drivers, as the lake house slowly and carefully manages to narrowly miss every obstacle out there, and pipes and joints groan and mutter under the strain.
Three hours of narrowly avoiding these obstacles later, and having had a ringside view of spectacular Khao Sok scenery as it gently puttered by, we arrived at our new spot, which came with just as magnificent a view as the original spot.
Time for sunset and an evening long boat safari before an early night was had by all. We were to get up early after all – the following morning held the promise of a cave adventure and an early morning boat safari.
No, we’re still not stranded. I am totally getting to it though.
After a peaceful nights sleep, we awoke before the dawn to this view.
Not bad, hmm? And just perfect for an early morning half hour long tail boat safari to see some monkeys and other assorted wildlife, especially as the clouds cleared with the sunrise.
And so we set off, the five brave souls who made it up early, the boat driver, and D, our ever cheerful guide. We cruised to inlets, past other lake houses, and to a hidden corner of the lake where monkeys could be seen hopping between the trees. The driver killed the engine, and we drifted toward the bank, happily snapping shots of blurry monkeys and wild pigs on the banks of the lake. What a way to kick off the day!
After many photos of excited monkeys by excited people, the driver went to fire up the engine, which made an ominous clicking noise followed by some silence. We all looked at the driver, wondering if this was a cunning Thai practical joke. When he started hitting the engine with a spanner, it seemed that perhaps it wasn’t.
After much peering at the engine, complex use of a spanner as a hammer, and even changing to a spare battery, it was fairly clear that the engine wasn’t going to be taking us anywhere. Which was a bit of a shame, as we were a fair old distance from our guesthouse, and a significant distance from the nearest lake house where mechanical help might be forthcoming.
We surveyed our supplies. The journey had started at 7am, and had been scheduled for half an hour, so no-one had thought to bring water, sun cream or a spare engine. There was one paddle, which D bravely got about using. Another feature of long tail boats that you might not be familiar with is that they aren’t exactly lightweight, especially with a truck engine bolted onto the back. Progress was a little on the slow side.
After a while of paddling, and covering at least two hundred metres, a boat was spied far off in the distance. There was much standing up and waving and yelling, which achieved precisely nothing other than to make our boat wobble a bit, and the potential rescuer dwindled into a speck of nothing.
At this point we figured that it was a little unfair that poor old D had to do all the paddling, so we cast around for ways to help. Seizing upon the planks that made up the benches, we transformed them into paddles, and set about helping. Progress continued to be slow, but at least we were doing something.
Still, all is well that ends well. We eventually made it to close enough to the nearest lake house to summon help, with nothing worse to show for it than a few blisters from paddling and a bit of sweat. Bottles of water were thankfully consumed, and we were returned in fine style to our lake house by the kind crew of a slightly upmarket looking guesthouse. Here, our vessel’s engine was fixed up for the next voyage, which involved exploring a cave. After which our lake house adventure came to an end.
If you do happen to go to Thailand, then I can recommend a trip to Smiley’s lake house. I can’t guarantee that you’ll be shipwrecked, but I can guarantee you’ll have an awesome time!
Want to learn more about Khao Sok National Park, including the logistics of getting here and away, as well as other options for things to do in Khao Sok? Check out this post on visiting Khao Sok National Park… which may or may not involve leeches!