Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Khao Sok - in the running for "Most Beautiful Place. Ever."

I just got back from Khao Sok, a freshwater lake ~1.5 hours drive from Khao Lak, and I think it's definitely on the short list for "Most Beautiful Place Ever."

The cliffs around Khao Lak are made of limestone. This is not surprising given how many reefs are around, because limestone is composed of accumulated coral & skeletons. The limestone erodes into the most stunning, textured, steep mountains I've ever seen. It makes Half Dome seem silly (yes I realize Half Dome is granite) because there are some of the most insane, enormous structures coming out of the lake.  Khao Sok formed after they put in a dam in 1982, so there are still trees emerging from the depths and you can DIVE!

View from where we did our first dive
Freshwater diving was a new experience for me, and kinda freaky. There are incredibly sharp thermoclines, where warm and cold water separate, and you can see the light change as you go deeper. Around 70 feet, the thermocline shifts so there is NO light. It's like doing a night dive in the middle of day, surrounded by silt. Creepy, kinda scary, but AWESOME!

We went for 2 days, 1 night. The first day, we arrived around noon and promptly went for a dive along one of the more sloping sites, so there were plenty of fallen trees. Around 22 meters, it went pitch black and we literally couldn't see 2 inches in front of our face. That's the first time I've been in totally dark conditions during the day and 100% unable to see. It was scary at first, but once we group together and went a little bit shallower, it lightened up and wasn't so bad. I had just seen "The Impossible" about the 2004 tsunami, so I had all these horrible images in my mind of trees and people mashed together underwater... that definitely didn't help either. BUT it was still an awesome dive once I settled in, and we saw lots of cute catfish :)

It was so dark and silty at 50-60 feet depth that I was using a flashlight during the day. Reminds me of Monterey...

Grimy tree boogers! EW!
We also went to Catfish Cave, an iconic site because there's a large cavern with an opening from 12 to 18 meters in depth. It has stalectites and stalegmites - it just happens to be underwater. AMAZING!
Exciting about diving :D

Underwater caves! WHAT!?
At the entrance

Above water, there were also some very impressive caves. We walked through one of them and oggled the beautiful structures that are still really well preserved, despite all the tourists who walk through. I've been pretty impressed with how the Thai people structure tourism; the Similan Islands Marine Park closes for 6 months of the year to help it recover, and many of the other sites have a lot of protection as well. Yay! More for future generations to enjoy :)

We stayed in floating bungalows on the lake. These were built from bamboo poles and 2x4s, and seemed precariously stable, if that makes sense. We didn't fall through the bottoms, but it was a close call because some of the planks were old and tired. But there was also kayaking, night safaris (on loud boats that scare away any of the monkeys, etc), and good food, so no complaints here!
Floating bungalows where we stayed
Bungalows floating on the lake. AMAZING
I'm off to Cambodia in a few days, so I'll be packing and prepping and getting excited. This trip was incredible and I think the dive in Catfish Cave was probably the single coolest dive I've ever done. Not the most comfortable and easy, but definitely worth it and SO AMAZING. The world is such a beautiful place and I'm so lucky to be able to visit this part of it!

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