Khao Sok – River Rapids of Death

Day 25th

I woke in the night to a huge cracking, crashing sound outside. I guessed it was thunder, a gunshot or a tree falling. I could hear the rain pattering on the roof and desperately needed the loo. I walked to the toilets with only my torch to light the way, it was pitch black. Frogs jumped out of my way and the place felt quite eery, we were really alone out here in the jungle. I couldn’t get back to sleep, my mind was too active so I read my Kindle for an hour before drifting off again.

We were supposed to get up at 6:30am for a morning safari to try and see some of the animals. Unfortunately it was still raining and Ya Ya had said not to bother getting up if that was the case. So I went back to sleep and again slept through my alarm with Ya Ya knocking on my door to wake me up. The others were photographing some long tailed macaque monkeys who had come down to the shore to feed. It was still raining and Ya Ya said he’d take us up to a waterfall, usually you’d get to see inside caves but with all the water they’d be flooded. We had a quick breakfast, a swim to get washed (there’s no showers or sinks here) and set off on the longboat. The battery on the longboat was dead to begin with because of all the rain, so Ya Ya had to attach rope to the starter motor and yank it to manually start it. We cruised around a bit to charge the battery up and then up the inlet we’d explored first in the kayaks yesterday.

Path to the toilet block

We moored up to a tree at the only non-forested bit of the shore, a small path led through some low plants towards the forest. The footing was slippery in the mud. We entered the forest and it was chucking it down. Shortly we came to our first river crossing, the current was quite strong and the water was waist height. We all stashed our things into dry bags (waterproof bags that roll up and clip at the top). The river was probably 5 meters wide. A vine had been strung across it to help, so we grabbed it and moved forwards. As the water was muddy you couldn’t see where you were putting your feet, thankfully the ground was quite stable and not too rocky. You had to go slowly and double check your footing for each new step – the current was strong enough that a slip could get you swept away. We grabbed the vine with one arm and crossed without any problems.

The jungle was very wet and it was pouring with rain. There was no chance of seeing any animals, they’d be safely sheltering. I bagged up my good camera and switched to the waterproof one. Although the photos wouldn’t turn out very well in the wet, anything was better than nothing! As you’ll see in the following pictures, water gets on the lens easily and it’s impossible to keep clear in the wet conditions. We paddled along the windy muddy path occasionally finding a leech or two making an attempt to feast on our tasty flesh. The next river crossing was bigger and had a bamboo pole across it to hold on. The current was pushing away at our legs as we went over, and you really had to force yourself upstream to make it along in a straight line, as the water pushed you back.

Some more jungle and then we had to wade in the river upstream to continue. The going was slow and it was rocky. You had to watch your step because you could suddenly plunge into a much deeper section, and obstructions you couldn’t see were hidden underwater. We continued like this for a while, the river was quite shallow up here and we traversed across the whole thing a few times. Bits which looked really rapid and deep turned out to be manageable, they were shallow and in certain places were very strong, but other bits were deceptive and wasn’t too hard to wade through. But it was easy to slip and we had to be careful.

We came to some big rocky sections back on land where we had to go down a narrow rock gap covered in roots, and discovered a rock arch. From here we could see the cave entrance on the other side of the rushing river. Water was pouring out of it. People have died in these and other caves in the park, from flash flooding. Within minutes the caves can become a river inside, sweeping people into underwater chambers or smashing them against rocks. In one tour group everyone except one woman was killed and she was left trapped in a high section staring at glow worms before she was rescued the next day!

The dark bit at the top is the cave you can enter when it’s not the rainy season! Now it’s just another river mouth!

We continued zigzagging in the river along one side, clambering over rocks and braving dangerous rapid sections where although it was only a meter or two deep a wrong footing could see you slip and carried down-stream to smack against all the rocky bits on the way. With one arm I had been having some difficulties as I couldn’t effectively balance – and I could only grab things with my left hand. That was also the only hand that could save me if I slipped. When we were told the waterfall was only ten minutes away I laughed, as far as I was concerned we’d been wading through a waterfall the whole morning!

The falls

Sexy poncho for the win

The waterfall turned out to be small but wide, and was gushing fiercely. We stopped to take some triumphant photos. I wanted to climb up to the tree trunk but couldn’t with only one arm. We made our way back down, we’d probably taken about an hour and a half to get up here. The going was slower as descending was trickier. The river had swelled quite a bit and everything was deeper. When we got to the rock arch, which had previously been dry land, we found it was now part of the river! The water here was above shin-height already. Back at the main river, we stayed on the edge and the current was stronger than before. It was a lot deeper. At some parts we were at waist height where previously it had only been knee height. On one of the stronger parts, one of my sandal straps finally snapped off the bottom of the sandal. They’d been getting pulled so hard by the current the strain was too much. Now it was a sort of crap flip flop. I continued with it on.

The water was really strong now

Twenty minutes ago this had been knee height!

At the first full river crossing on the way back, what had been knee-height before was now above the waist and the current was very fast and strong. There was nothing to hold onto and it was a challenge to stay upright, especially in the middle where the current was almost wrenching your feet from under you. Ya Ya was leading the way and personally I wouldn’t have believed it was possible to cross until I saw him do it. Of course as he was the only guide, if anything had happened to him, we’d be on our own. He was a stocky, muscled bloke though with solid legs and stood strong against the currents. Unfortunately for me, this crossing is when the other sandal decided to snap. Now in the rivers I couldn’t keep them on my feet and would have to go barefoot on the stony riverbed. Joys.

This is where things really got hairy, look how deep it is with Anne on the right there

At the next river crossing the place was unrecognizable. The river was deeper by about a meter and was at about 10 meters wider at least. The current was raging. This looked impossible and this was the narrowest and shallowest point! As we watched Ya Ya wade deeper and deeper with the current raging around him, with his bag held over his head, I was wondering how much of a lunatic this guy was. Had he done crossings before in these conditions? Certainly he hadn’t predicted how much water would come in just an hour. The guy had a job to do but was it worth putting himself in danger? If worst came to worst we could hack our way through the jungle, he had a machete after all, or just wait for half a day for the waters to die down. But anyway, forge forward he did, and although he was up to his chest and the current wrenched him downriver as he took each step, he made it across, ending up about twenty meters downstream from us. This was really sketchy, if Ya Ya struggled and was a muscleman who’d done it before, how would the girls and me with one arm cope?

You can just about see Ya Ya grappling with a bamboo trunk here (see below)

Ya Ya talked Anne through what to do from the other side of the river, and stood downstream ready to catch her if she was carried off. But when she went a few meters into the deep part, the current was so strong it almost swept her off her feet and she managed to lurch/swim back to safety on our side. Andy made a good suggestion and shouted to Ya Ya if he could cut a bamboo down and make a bridge. So off went Ya Ya into the forest on the other side and we could hear him chopping away with his machete and the crashing of falling bamboo. He came into view and he’d felled a really big bamboo. We watched as he shortened it, and then maneuvered it into the river end first. It was almost swept away but he managed to correct it. Then he got under it and strode out into the river again carrying it underneath him. When the end closest to us was at our side, he let go and it was swept down to rest securely between trees at each side. Success!

The very precarious crossing!

The water was smashing against it and over it, bending it, but bamboo is amazingly strong and didn’t budge. I decided to go first. Ya Ya told me to cross down-river from it whilst grabbing it. It seemed like madness until he explained that if we went upriver from it, our weight pushing against it could snap it. So I went to chest height with my good arm wrapped around the bamboo at the elbow. Andy and Ya Ya tried to raise it a little so the current wouldn’t push it so much. I started to slide along leading with my arm, my feet slipping along underneath. The current got stronger and stronger and threatened to wrench my legs away. A few times I lost my footing but my elbow link was strong enough to save me from being swept away. In the middle the current was so strong I had to use all my strength just to keep moving. But I reached the other side and only a few meters away the current was weak enough to stand upright again and watch the others cross, which thankfully they managed without incident. Andy managed to stay completely upright and just used one arm, what a hero! His long Swiss legs put to good use!

Some more trudging through the jungle (it was still raining) and I slipped on the sloping water-slicked mud path, landing on bum and my elbow on my bad arm, which jarred my shoulder badly. Shit. Fortunately although sore it didn’t feel broken again, so I carried on. Soon after, I slipped again and exactly the same thing happened! These paths were lethal! I’d probably put the heal time for my shoulder back a few weeks… We reached the last crossing. Again the river here was unrecognizable. You couldn’t even see the vine from before and the river was about double the size in width and depth and it was raging. Ya Ya forged ahead and found the vine underwater. He used it as he waded up to his neck, and then was grabbing it with both hands going hand over hand. At the middle the current was so strong he couldn’t hold on and he was swept off! Luckily he still had some footing and managed to half-swim, half-run to the other side, just within our view about twenty meters down-river. That was a close one! He came up the other side and explained we couldn’t use the vine as the current was so strong there. We’d have to come downriver a bit where it was weaker. He crossed back over at the vine, swimming across and at the strongest bit, doing a leap and grabbing for the vine on the other side. He made it over and led one of the girls down the river a bit. Then he talked her through what they were going to do, and he led the way as they half-ran, half-swam facing up the river, with him supporting her with one arm. The current was sweeping them down-stream with every step, so they went in a diagonal line down, the water going up to their necks at some points. There were some wirey little trees poking out of the water on the other side which they grabbed at the end. One person safely accross. He repeated this process with the others, then it was my turn. I reminded him which my good arm was, if he grabbed my bad one to save me it would probably snap my shoulder again. Then off we went. There was no winning against this current, it battered into you like a car. We hopped along getting swept down. In my bare feet twice I lost my footing and would have been swept away if Ya Ya hadn’t grabbed me. Once you lost your footing it was really hard to get your legs down to find it again. If Ya Ya hadn’t been there I definitely would have ended up down that river somewhere grabbing out for branches and trying to swim with one arm! Definitely the most dangerous point so far in my travels (followed by the previous crossing and crazy dog attack). At the other side I grabbed the little trees and yanked myself to the shore. Phew.

We plodded back to the longboat, which hadn’t been swept away yet. The river came out here and so everything was higher. The motor wouldn’t start again, and nothing Ya Ya could do would revive it. So the poor guy had to paddle us back to base with a little wooden paddle, which took a while. When we got in  view of the raft houses he called out and a guy came out on another boat laughing. They tied the boats together and he towed us back. After our adventurous morning, it was now about 2pm and we devoured lunch, it had been tiring work! Then we had a nice swim (we were soaking anyway) and it was soon time to go.

Another unwanted visitor

My master plan – why waste energy swimming when I could float around in a life jacket?

The trip back was dry, which was nice. We sat back and enjoyed the views. We stopped at one of the cliffs where Ya Ya had spotted some monkeys in the trees on this sheer face. Monkeys are mental, go and live in the flat bits, you fools. Further on I lay down in the sun and had a wee nap, I was knackered!

Goodbye lodge!

One of the other 3 floating lodges

We got back to the dock and drove home in the back of the pickup. I was dropped at my lodge, bid Ya Ya goodbye and got organized. Nothing had dried at all in the two days I’d been gone. Mr Bao was quite surprised by the story of our wet day, especially when I showed him the photos. When I posted them on Facebook, Mark, who does guiding around the area too, commented that the guides shouldn’t take people out there when it’s been raining that much because it’s dangerous – but agreed it makes for a good adventure!

That evening I met my tour buddies for a nice meal at a restaurant near the park entrance. We chatted and exchanged photos from our tour. Unfortunately they were all heading off the next day in different directions, I was hoping they might be around a bit longer for some company. I decided to stay one more day in Khao Sok. In the time I had before I needed to return to Bangkok, I wouldn’t have time to do anything meaningful on the west coast, so I may as well spend my time in the jungle instead. We bid our farewells and headed home.

Please share, it helps my photography reach more people! Thanks!
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on TumblrShare on Reddit