We entered the jungle on a paved pathway that winds through a couple of small caves inhabited by Buddhas. Eager for cave discoveries, my eyes interpreted the gold leaf littering the ground in these caves as mica or something akin to fool’s gold.
The cave tunnel exits toward the river to the west. We see woody hanging vines on our right and fluorescent colored lichen on the limestone wall to our left. We were hiking during the region’s dry season, so the trail was drowned in leaf debris from the deciduous plants shedding onto the path. I was then struck by perfectly vertical hanging vines on my left. Most of the vines that I have seen in the jungle thus far wind their way through the air or at least fall to the ground in curving and crooked manners. These vines draw a perfect line, a 180˚ angle, from somewhere in the limestone protrusions up above down to the sediment and debris trailside.
Giant Choke Palms
Each glance around the path took my breath away anew with the discovery of never-before-seen examples of Nature’s marvelousness. While negotiating over large tree roots, I looked up and discovered that these roots are from the GIANT palms growing along the trail. These are called Choke Palm, and the size of the fronds is breathtaking. Under some of these palms, I found the desiccated seed pods of the Choke Palm’s strands of grape-like clustered seeds. These piles are evocative of the pecan shells often used as a grass or gravel alternative in landscaping. After looking back down, I realized that the floor of the trail was painted with a dozen shades of green, each shade corresponding to a different biota feeding off of the rocks and ground.
The path, scattered with downed rocks, moved uphill to a gazebo structure. Stopping at the gazebo and looking in a southwest direction, I saw the shimmering river below and the terraced hill of a tea plantation next to a tree farm above the jungle foliage. To the right (to the north), I was taken aback by the majestic enormity of Khao Sok’s famous karsts.
Observing a giant boulder
The trail then seamlessly led us deeper into the dense foliage of the jungle. Somewhere down the wandering trail a huge boulder formed a trail boundary on the right. The boulder was striking in its dark color with a green tint (again from biotic residents). It was such a large chunk of rock that I had to stop and stare at the cliff above to see if I could pinpoint the spot from which it fell. After identifying a likely possibility, I spied a tree-boulder almost hidden by the boulders closer to the trail on the right. This sight was remarkable: the tree seemed to cover the entire top surface of the boulder – an impressively large surface – and the transition from boulder to tree is almost seamless.
After trudging through the bouldered hallway, the trail became more wooded. Peeking through the carpet of leaves, I could see streaks of dark red sediment. My eyes followed the colorful paint strokes to very distinct red oxidized iron streaks of red (probably iron-rich rock) in the limestone wall on my left.
The climb up to the cave
As with most hikes in search of a Khao Sok cave, the trail became steeper and the hiking became more adventurous. I needed the aid of a rope affixed alongside the trail as I climbed up alongside the massive karst face. Halfway up, I made the incredibly rewarding decision to pause and look back. Vistas of karsts cloaked in mist peered through the jungle canopy.
The trail then topped out with an impressive view of the limestone face on your left. Nature struck me yet again with the massive volume of limestone protrusions dripping from the side of the wall. My favorite (and probably the most immediately noticeable) somewhat resembles the head of an elephant capped with a green pointed headdress (made of green vines).
After passing the elephant head, the roof, created by the canopy above, suddenly lifts and more vertical space is revealed. I did not realize what a tunnel the jungle had created around me thus far until the vertical space above my head tripled and the feeling was similar to walking into a grand ballroom or cathedral.
Arriving at the cave
Soon after, the canopy opened up completely. The last bit of trail led through a field of dark green low viney leafy plants. The feeling was similar to walking through a field of short wildflowers or thick grasses. The entrance to our Khao Sok cave is guarded by a green field comprising of a minefield of tripping mechanisms. Their vines, although small and seemingly insignificant, inevitably caught my feet time and again to remind me of the appropriate humility in the face of nature. Apparently, I needed additional reminders on the way back, because the slippery rocks shifted beneath my feet and only broke my fall with their jagged points under my derriere. The scabs and bruising on my tailbone surprisingly served as delightful long-term reminders of the awe and magic that I experienced on that hike :)