Surviving 12/12/12 mostly unscathed, we led our six fearless friends on a race to see as much as Southern Thailand as their remaining five vacation days would allow. On the docket: Khao Sok virgin rainforest, Phang Na Bay’s karst islands, party Phuket, and the mellow beaches of Racha island. GO!
Khao Sok National park
Beaches are a given in a Thai vacation but to mix it up we wanted to see what other natural wonders were hiding a little off the tourist track. Khao Sok National Park was just the ticket. It’s the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world and said to be more diverse than the Amazon. When staying in the KS rainforest, tree houses are the only way to go. The jungle innkeeper, warned us about the monkeys who like to swing into the outdoor showers but he neglected to mention to the tarantula-size spiders. Way to hang in their city kids!
Cheow Lan Lake
As if being one of the most impressive rainforests in the world wasn’t reason enough to visit, Khao Sok is home to the absolutely breath-taking Cheow Lan Lake. Imagine those karst cliffs that shoot out of the water on Thai postcards and Microsoft screen-savers and then line them up around a milky teal lake and there you have Cheow Lan. We took a whole day tour on the lake and the surrounding forest for a true day of adventure.
Floating Bungalows & Café
We stopped at this (barely) floating guesthouse for lunch and a swim. Tip-toeing down the teetering boardwalk we dove in and found a 10-foot+ bamboo stalk….the original fun noodle! Attempting to balance on it, dive from it, launch each other off it, we giggled our way through the better part of an hour with this thing.
After a delicious lunch of fresh fish, curries, and fruits, we hopped into a smaller boat to head up the river for a hike. Going through the valley between limestone mountains, dense jungle, and a network of streams, we arrived at the mouth of a cave…
Spelunking Tham Nam Thalu Cave
We knew we were going to see a cave but had no idea it was going to be 90 minutes of straight spelunking through an underground river cavern with only a dim headlight and our bare feet (okay mike and I were the only ones dumb enough to go without shoes). Swimming into the black water then pulling ourselves up with old ropes and shimming up cracks…it was a full-on physical affair. A total adrenaline rush rewarded with a surreal landscape of stalagmites and drip-castle-like rock formations…amazing!
Phang Nga Bay & James Bond Island
The next day on our way to Phuket we made a full-day detour to check out the islands of Phang Nga Bay, most famously, James Bond Island. This is where the 1971 movie Man with a Golden Gun was filmed and tourists (ourselves included) have been making sultry poses with “hand guns” ever since. People come flocking to this vertical island for the 007 novelty, but this is actually just one of a dozens of beauties in the area.
Kayaking the Andaman Sea Caves
Cruising through the middle of the bay, a floating kayak shop appears. We figured it must be for a good reason so we rented four. The surrounding rock formations at first glance seemed like the others, but actually had openings big enough to contort your body and pass under them. Sucking in and trying not scrap our faces off, we made it through only to find a gorgeous ocean pool surrounded by sheer cliffs! We worked our way into a half-dozen more of these, in awe each time by the beauty on the other side.
Panyee Fishing Village
Our final stop on the longtail boat tour was Panyee, a Muslim fishing village built entirely on stilts. Our driver tried to shuffle us into a touristy restaurant there but then we saw all the locals eating neon hotdogs over ramen garnished with fresh spouts and lime. Curious and starving, we asked this surprisingly punkish local lady about it. She said it was their most typical dish…when in Panyee. We pulled up a plastic stool and shared stories and soup with our new friend.
Craziness of Phuket
It was late and we still had to get two hours south to Phuket so we convinced this guy with a pickup truck to pile us in and to whisk us off to the bus stop. We arrived late at night not quiet sure whether we should stay in the notoriously wild Patong beach or the slightly more chill and beautiful Kata. This street is from a night out in Patong (ping pong show anyone? Yikes!) but we happily stayed in Kata Beach.
Kata Beach Bars
Let it be known, Kata is more mellow but still crazy. Lady boy bars abound, the beaches are packed, and there is plenty of hustle bustle. After going to this fantastic local hot-pot joint, we found a seemingly normal bar (as in, lady boys work there but they aren’t actively trying to take you home) and had a blast! It somehow became 4AM and were dancing on the bar, belting out “Gangnam Style” in our best Korean. Thanks to Scott for finding out what happens when you ring the bell by the bar…shots and stars for everyone!
The realities of limited vacation days were creeping in for the12/12/12 crew and it was sadly time for TJ, Carolyn, and Scott to head back to NYC. We bid our Hoboken contingency a bittersweet goodbye but the remaining five continued the fun in their honor with a trip to Racha Island. It’s only accessible through day-long boat tours from Phuket, but in our typical HoneyTrek and Howard fashion, we hacked the system and made our own renegade trip. Ryan, Chelsea, Ashley, Mike and I took the boat over with the tour, used their snorkel gear, and got lunch but stayed over the night at this cute hotel on the beach. All the tourists go home by 3pm so we had the whole island to ourselves for snorkeling, sunsets, and strolls on the white sand beaches.
Strolling the sandy streets we came across this tiny Tequila bar run by a mixologist surfer. When he wasn’t riding waves, he made herb-infused tequilas with names like “Tiger Power” and “Blind Eye” and served them at his four-stool bar (notice, they are all palm tree stumps). Between his crazy stories, great music, delicious drinks, and the perfect island vibe, it had to be one of the best chill bars in Thailand!
12 Days of 12/12/12: The Music Video
So much happened during the 12 days of 12/12/12 that we felt compelled to make a music video about it. See the shenanigans relived in four-minutes of silly song and dance.
Ryan, Chelsea, Ashley, TJ, Carolyn, and Scott…if we haven’t said it enough times, we love you guys and thank you so much for being a part of the HoneyTrek!