A fellow who’d just hopped onto the bus tapped me on the shoulder. We were nearing my stop, Khao Sok National Park in southern Thailand. He suggested, or rather insisted, that I check out his place, Jungle Huts. When the bus stopped, he grabbed my backpack and tossed it into the back of his jeep, while touts from the other two guesthouses chased after us. Usually, situations like these turn out badly, but in this case I was greeted by a “crazy, happy family,” as advertised on the Jungle Huts sign, and shown to a relatively comfortable tree house.
I didn‘t really know what to expect from Khao Sok. There were only a few lines about it in my guidebook. I guess I hoped the jungle would offer some sort of mild adventure, since I don’t particularly care for adventure of the dangerous sort. I hadn‘t really thought about all the bugs that might live there. So after checking out the orientation center, where I discovered it was leech season, I headed out along a trail that in midafternoon was deserted except for a few folks straggling back. The main road where all the guesthouses were located was set in a valley surrounded by jungle and dramatic, jutting limestone cliffs. But soon the cliffs disappeared as the trail wandered into gorgeous, lush rain forest punctuated with giant butterflies, crazy-colored lizards and garishly ornamented pheasants. Tarzan-style vines hung down, and, according to the orientation center, gibbons danced around in the treetops. Bugs wailed like rush-hour traffic.
There were supposed to be several points of interest along the trail, but the signs were confusing and I couldn’t find any of them. Little side trails would always end at the rapids of the river. I sensed a giant waterfall, but couldn‘t figure out where it was. (Someone later told me that it was spectacular.) Then it started raining, and I headed back at just the right time, reaching the main road as it was getting dark. A green snake (poisonous, I was later told) wriggled across my path. Soon after, the power cut out in the huts along the road, and I found myself stumbling along in the mud. It was a nearly moonless night, filled with dazzling fireflies. I looked for the “crazy, happy family” sign and the trail to the tree houses, but could only see things in the headlights of jeeps that passed by. I walked back and forth until I passed a couple of guys who realized I was lost and pointed me in the right direction.
Everyone who was staying at Jungle Huts, as well as several members of the crazy, happy family, was huddled around a table with a couple of candles. The group included a Dutch couple (the guy’s ankle was bleeding profusely from a leech), another Dutch guy, a dreadlocked English fellow who had been there for three days, another English guy and a French-speaking Belgian couple, who asked me what tofu was. Among the family members present were “Spider,” who handled all the cooking, and her potbellied brother, who was in charge of the tours. “I cannot guarantee you will see an elephant,” he said, “but I can guarantee you will see elephant poo.” An uninvited guest was a giant cicadalike insect, which was attracted to the candles and dive-bombed us repeatedly. The potbellied brother would grab the ugly bug and chuck it into the darkness, but it always returned, unbowed.
With the power out for three hours, we sat around drinking Singha beer and discussing soccer hooligans, the Nepali living goddess (Raj Kumari, a young girl who‘s sort of like Nepal’s version of the Dalai Lama), the latest Bangkok tourist scams, George W. Bush, the merits and dangers of Ecstasy, and leeches. Everyone had leeches. When I finally headed to my tree house (actually more of a stilt house, but up in the trees), I discovered one on my ankle. I ripped it off and chucked it out the window. Yuck. Then, to my horror, I noticed a rat-size cockroach on the wall, which, after much hesitation, I smashed with my boot. (The dreadlocked English fellow in the tree house next to mine found that an actual rat had eaten through his bag.)
I didn‘t sleep at all. And the next day I hightailed it back to civilization like a crazy, happy city boy.