Samui Wining & Dining
A Different Perspective

Discovering the true ‘rainforest’ Thailand at The Cliff and River Jungle Resort in Khao Sok.

58A holiday within a holiday? Many people seem reluctant to even think about it. More so if it involves taking a boat. But why not? Adventure beckons on the mainland and it’s just a drive away once you’ve made the short hop to the mainland. Most guide books don’t go into the details but it’s quite easy to get from Samui into the heart of one of the country’s most amazing national parks – Khao Sok. You can stay in a friendly, beautifully located resort that won’t leave you drained of cash. Once there, you'll find plenty to do. And it’s all radically different to anything you can find on Samui.

Your journey starts at the ferry port in Nathon. Leaving Samui by sea is an adventure in itself. As the island disappears, the mainland grows ever closer, a serrated line of peaks and valleys that step away into a bluish haze. Off the ferry, simply follow Route 401, which you pick up soon after you begin following the signs to Suratthani. You’ll automatically by-pass Suratthani itself and find yourself in wilder natural territory. You’ll also discover that there’s remarkably less traffic, fewer houses and turnings. Just follow the road, go past Phanom and you’ll see the clear signs for ‘The Cliff and River Jungle Resort’. And it’s exactly 175 kilometres from the ferry ramp and a most pleasant journey. 

Arrive at from the reception and you’ll see a view that couldn’t be more dramatic. A path leads down toward your chalet but you'll probably want to look upwards. Right in front of you there’s a mountain which rears straight up out the ground, its faces almost vertical. At the bottom, a small river meanders along its base and out of sight. As countryside goes, this is breathtakingly dramatic. The mountains are all covered in thick jungle, with primordial rainforest taking over all except the steepest of slopes. It looks more like the setting for a fantasy movie rather than a venue for a holiday.

And because Khao Sok is a national park, little of the land has been built on and the only nightlife you’ll experience are the calls of the cicadas, bullfrogs and dogs. People tend to go to bed early in these parts and the resort’s restaurant has last food orders at 8:00 pm. 

By now, you may be thinking that the area would only attract outdoor types who are as sturdy as their hiking boots. But the holidaymakers staying at the resort tend to be quite diverse in nature. Most are relaxed and not hell-bent on tackling five or so peaks before sun-up! Many come simply for a break and are content to sit out on the wide balconies that the each chalet has. Others are here on conferences, whilst some have chosen this as a place to get married – it would be hard to find a more unusual and spectacular backdrop for those wedding photos.

The chalets are both simple and elegant at the same time – and totally in keeping with nature. Expect to share your shower with a large plant or two and have a bathroom that’s partially open to the skies (although totally private). Bedrooms, meanwhile, are generous-sized and have much the same feel as a Swiss chalet, although with air-conditioning instead of radiators. Throughout the resort as much wood has been used as possible. You'll find relatively little glass, steel and plastic here, giving the entire setting a timeless feel. It’s also very restful on the eye, if not the entire body, and you may find yourself just wanting to relax and do nothing but soak up the atmosphere.

If you’ve come for sporting activities you may have to exert yourself to escape the pull of the resort. But it’s relatively easy to do. Once you’ve made your mind up, there are all kinds of activities on offer. Canoeing on the river is practically a must – kayaks are stocked just outside the reception. There are also jungle walks, safaris and plenty of tours.

One of the biggest attractions, however, is man-made. The Rajaphapa Dam area takes weeks to explore. When the authorities decided to make a large reservoir 30 years ago, they probably didn’t envision it to be quite so popular as a sight-seeing destination. The lake is totally irregular in shape with a cartography that resembles Norwegian fjords more than anything else. It can be explored by kayak or long-tail boat. And there are also many scenic waterfalls and lakes in the area as well as a handful of caves. The dam’s Visitor Centre is just a 15-minute drive, heading back in the direction of Samui. The rest of the national park is largely inaccessible, not because the authorities stop you from exploring, but simply because most of the land here is so vertiginous and wild. This gives you an idea of just how far away it is from the rat-race and big-city life (and the regular ‘tourist traps’!).

The Cliff and River Jungle Resort is a good place to base yourself if you’re in the mood to explore. And when you come back you’ll find a warm welcome awaits you. The restaurant serves excellent Thai food – try the outrageously tasty green curry or garlic shrimps – whilst a further treat awaits anyone who’s been out walking all day or who’s just plain stressed from modern living. And that’s a small spa that’s discreetly located next to the reception and which offers great massages. An hour of Thai traditional massage only costs a snip of the price charged by Samui’s resorts, but is just as good.

Even if you’re a dedicated lover of beaches and the ocean, you’ll find Khao Sok an entrancing place to visit. And definitely a place that fully justifies having a holiday within a holiday.

 


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