Discovery Travel's Khao Lak Travel Blog
Our Stories & Adventures
Hello, welcome, and congratulations! You have been skillful enough in your search through the internet and discover what is possibly the best and most exciting travel blog ever to come out of Khao Lak. Well done to you!
What follows is a short biography and a few insights into our adventures over the years. So sit back, grab a box of biscuits and a cup of coffee and enjoy our world. Hopefully you will enjoy reading about our adventures as much as we enjoyed living them.
In The Begining
Posted 08 December 2019
We are often asked how it all started. How did we become the world famous Khao Lak Mangrove Explorers? The truth is we don't really know, it just kind of happened. This might surprise you but originally we were just 2 normal people, who got paid to go snorkelling in some of the world’s top snorkel sites, normal everyday people just like you. Then we got lost.
It all started a few years ago when me and Chris were working in the beautiful Similan Islands. We had known each other for years on the islands but never actually worked together at that point, always with separate companies. But it was our job to take groups of people snorkelling around the islands and try to come back at the end of the day with approximately the same number of people that we started with. I think we would both agree that it was one of the best jobs in the world. Then one day Chris comes up to me on the beach for a chat. "Hey," he said, "you know I've got a long-tail boat,"
"Nope." I said.
"Yeah well I have. I got it when I was helping out with an eco-camp on Koh Ra a few years back and it has been sitting in Thaplamu harbour ever since. What do you say about taking out for a spin next time you get a day off?"
"Yeah ok. Where you thinking of going?"
"I was thinking we could go up river a bit, explore the mangroves. I was looking at Google Earth, there is over 70 square kilometres of mangroves there, and I don't know anyone who has ever been there!"
"Ok cool. Sounds fun. Let's do it."
"Great, just let me know when you get a day off. Better go, my boat will be here in a moment." And with that Chris turned away and started walking back to the beach. But after a few paces he turned back to me and said, "Oh by the way, do you know how to drive a long-tail boat?"
I was a bit surprised, I assumed he was planning to hire a captain. "No not really. Only in theory. How about you?"
"I tried it before a couple of times. Last time I got it stuck between 2 mangrove trees in Koh Ra and had to swim back to the pier. You will pick it up quick enough. I mean how hard can it be?" And off he went to find his snorkellers. I couldn’t help but laugh. How hard can it be indeed.
A few days later we found out exactly how hard it could be. I have driven all kinds of boats over the years, but nothing really handles the same as a long-tail boat. First of all, the engines are often cannibalised from old cars and therefore have their own personalities, meaning if you don't treat them in just right, they probably wont even start at all, and if they do you will only get one speed. Also, you have a tail. A big, long and very heavy tail which is difficult to get used to. It is also very ungainly, which makes getting out of small harbour towns where you are surrounded by 7 million Baht speedboats quite a tricky task. In the end we managed it without causing to much damage or mayhem, and headed up-river, into the unknown. We spent the whole day exploring the mangroves and came back as the sun was setting over the sea. We didn't plan on coming back so late but we had a rather interesting diversion involving 2 trees, a snake and a sandbank, which rather prolonged our expedition. We both agreed that the mangroves and the surrounding scenery were beautiful. Despite the snakes. And that night in the bar, Moe and everyone else who saw our videos and photos from the day said it looked "Awesome" and made us promise to take them there the following week. So, we did. This time with Chris's friend Ollie, who was a bit cleverer than we had been and packed sandwiches. Other than the sandwiches we had also managed to find a couple of battered old kayaks, which we 'borrowed' for the day. With the quiet kayaks we found monkeys this time! And more snakes. Also, we almost didn't get stuck at all! We did get lost though. Very lost. The kind of lost where you are not even sure which way is up. But the when we did manage to find our way back to the main river, after 5 hours of kayaking, the boat was still anchored where we had left it and we had another story to tell that night in the bar.
So that’s kind of it really. It snowballed from there. We would take a day off work to get lost in the mangroves, emerge with a story to tell and go for a beer and a burrito at the Rusty Pelican or somewhere. We would then entertain the disbelieving regulars in the bar with our stories of getting lost in the jungles and then take them with us a few days later so they could get lost for themselves. It was great fun. As the requests got more and more, we found we were taking more and more days off work, and getting lost less and less each time. So that in short is how 2 bumbling Englishmen became known worldwide, as the famous and mysterious Khao Lak Mangrove Explorers.
Want to join us on one of our adventures into the mangroves? CLICK HERE!
Everest is for wimps, wait ‘til you see Khao Lak!
Posted 19 December 2019
Of the thousands of visitors who stay in Khao Lak each year, very few of them are aware that they are not actually staying in Khao Lak. They are in fact staying in a small village close to Khao Lak. I would say over half of them never even set foot on Khao Lak. For those of us in the know Khao Lak is not a town, sure there is a village named Khao Lak and in recent years most of the other surrounding villages have also become known as Khao Lak, but Khao Lak itself is actually a mountain. A large jungle covered mountain that separates the sea from the land.
Lak mountain got its name (translated as “Main Mountain”) due to the fact that it was higher than all the surrounding mountains, this coupled with the fact that it was located at the mouth of Thaplamu Harbor, made it the main landmark for sailors and traders looking for a safe haven. There has been a trading route all the way along the Khao Lak coastline since about the 14th century. The main trading centers in this area were in Takuapa (Then known as Takola) in the north, and Phuket in the south. Khao Lak was conveniently located in the middle so therefore became a popular stopping point, and a point where local people would come down to buy and trade their goods. These days however Lak Mountain is just a twisty road before a tourist town, with a shrine and a small national park center. Then we came along.
The story begins with me and Chris sitting on our long-tail boat fishing at the mouth of the Thaplamu River, looking up at this mountain. It was the low season, but the weather was good and it had been a slow couple of weeks so we were getting itchy feet. We were bored and wanted to go exploring again. As we sat there feeding the fish, how fish manage to get the bait off the hook without getting caught I will never know, the conversation turned to our surroundings.
“Hey I bet you get a great view from the top of that mountain.” I said to Chris. More thinking out loud than anything else.
“Yeah,” he said “I don’t think I know anyone who has ever been up there. Do you?”
“Nope. I bet there is a way up there though. Somewhere.”
“Yeah probably. Could be a really interesting jungle walk up there you know. There used to be gibbons in that jungle.”
We sat pondering this for a few moments before I spoke again.
“I did a jungle trek the other day, took some Aussies on a bike ride and then trekked up to a waterfall, I didn’t even know it was there before. It was really nice.”
Chris, who was in the middle of trying to un-hook his fishing line from an unseen submerged rock that wasn’t going to give in without a fight, said to me without even looking round,
“We should go check them out tomorrow. Might be fun. Do your waterfall trek as a warm up and then head up to the top of Khao Lak and check out the view.”
It was at that point that his fishing line finally gave in and Chris was sent rolling backwards into the boat.
So, it was decided. We would meet at 07:00 the next morning to begin our ascent! We also decided we were going to film the trek as we went. Let it never be said we were not impulsive.
The following morning, we met outside Chris’s house and headed up towards the waterfall trek. It was still cool and misty as we left the car. As soon as we started walking, we were faced with a river we had to cross. But we were unfazed, us being experienced adventurers and all, we simply paddled in. Then began to wade. Then started to swim. Before wading again to the opposite bank, 50 meters down river of where we started.
“It wasn’t that deep last time I was here,” I said to Chris as we squeezed water out of our shirts. “It must have rained last night.” And with that we hacked out way through the brambles and back to the path we were following. The trek was beautiful. The path we were on followed the valley between two mountains. It rose so gently that it hardly felt as if we were climbing at all. As we walked, we chatted and filmed wild orchids and birds as we imagined we were David Attenborough in a newly discovered jungle. The river bubbled alongside us and everything was calm and peaceful, until a wild pig sprinted out of the tall grass right next to us and almost sent us both flying as it shot off again into the undergrowth. Other than that, the trek was almost completely uneventful, so much so that when we arrived at the waterfall, we were feeling very relaxed and confident. The waterfall was steep. A wide cascade of white water thundering down onto the rocks below. With only the smallest of shallow pools at the bottom before the water was again thrown off another cliff to continue its journey down river. As we stood admiring the view, we noticed that the path seemed to continue on the other side, and it was accessible by a single plank of wood, no more than 10cm wide, wedged between the rocks directly in front of the cascade. We looked at each other and shrugged before clambering over the rocks towards the ‘bridge’. The noise of the water was so loud it would have been pointless to chat about it. We then wobbled out way carefully, one by one, over the plank of wood, which bounced with every step and felt as if it could snap at any moment. Once we got to the other side we didn’t even look back as we began to clamber up the muddy bank, using the trees to pull ourselves up. What we discovered at the top made all the mud worth it. A beautiful cool and shallow pool with a sandy bottom, fed by yet another waterfall. Perfect for bathing and rinsing off the mud. We cleaned ourselves up a bit and sat on a rock to watch the water. We sat there for several minutes before I turned to Chris and said,
“Hey, you know what would make this better. A ham sandwich and a cup of coffee.”
Chris considered this statement carefully before replying.
“Yes,” he said slowly. “well I think we have had a pretty good warm up by now don’t you? How about we head back down and stop off at Walkers Inn for a bacon sarnie and a coffee on our way to climb Khao Lak?
“Sounds like a plan!” I said. And with that we swung our bags onto our backs and headed off back down the hillside to the car. We even managed to find a bridge across the river this time so by the time we got to the car we were almost dry.
A short while later we were sitting in Walkers, munching bacon sandwiches and attracting strange looks from other customers. But we didn’t care, for we were mountain men!
After lunch we found ourselves standing at the base of Lak Mountain. Lak Mountain towers a massive 670 meters above the sea below. That might not sound like much, but in 40-degree heat and oppressive humidity trust me, it might as well be the highest thing on earth! As we started to climb, we found that we weren’t in fact the first people to set foot on the mountain. Large areas of the mountain had already been transformed into rubber plantations by the locals. Still at least there was a path we could follow. The path was criss-crossed with little streams that were full of tiny fish. But it was steep. Very steep, and it seemed to get steeper with every step until we were forced to lean forward and walk at a strange angle to avoid falling over backwards. Then it stopped. Just like that. The path ended in a wall of small trees and overgrown shrubs. But hey, we were mountain men, what did we care? We pulled out our machete and ploughed on. After a couple of hours of hacking our way through the jungle we were both soaking wet again. This time however it was sweat, not water. The heat was almost unbearable by the time we decided to take a break in a small clearing. For a long time neither of us spoke. Then Chris put down his now empty water bottle and said,
“Who’s stupid idea was this anyway? I’m exhausted.”
“Me to. It can’t be much further can it?”
“Yeah but if we have to hack our way through the jungle like that with no water it isn’t going to be much fun. I haven’t seen a stream in ages.”
“No.” I agreed. “tell you what, you wait here for a moment, I’m going to have a quick scout up the hillside and see if it thins out a bit.”
So I did. It didn’t. After just a few short meters of easier trekking the jungle was thicker than ever. I managed to find a small gap in the leaves and looked towards the summit. I couldn’t see it. The trees were to dense. So I went back to report my findings to Chris.
“Screw it.” He said. “I’ve had a better idea. Let’s go find a stream and walk through the water back to the car. That will help us to cool off and then we can go for a beer. A nice cold refreshing beer. What do you say?”
“I think you just read my mind.”
So that was what we did. We climbed back down the mountain until we found a stream, which we then followed all the way back down to where we had left the car. A few hours later we were both sitting in a bar close to the beach enjoying ice-cold beers as the sun set.
As we were paying up Chris said,
“It’s a shame we didn’t get to the top. But in that heat, it could be really dangerous without water. Better be safe than sorry. Anyway, there is always next week.”
Want to join us on one of our adventures into the jungle? CLICK HERE!
Plastic Free or Not Plastic Free, Is That A Question?
Posted 30 December 2019
In recent years the pitfalls of our modern lifestyles have been forced kicking and screaming into the spotlight, driven mostly it seems by the devil that is social media. We have had statements from young and old alike, coupled with some truly disturbing photos and videos of the effects we are having on our planet and the wildlife that live on it.
Yet still there is debate. Mostly it seems there is an agreement, that although our lifestyles are no longer sustainable, science and technology is not yet advanced enough to allow us to continue living the lavish and comfortable lives we have grown used to without the unpleasant and unsustainable side effects. Every solution seems to come with new, often even more serious problems and many companies are seeing sustainability targets purely as a marketing opportunity. Take electric cars for example, making and selling electric cars enables companies to state that they are producing cars that are well within the emissions regulations. Which is great. But the cars have a much shorter driving range than standard petrol or diesel cars and run on batteries which take ages to re-charge. Also, these batteries have a very limited lifespan and can not yet be recycled. So, they must sit in a landfill and leak chemicals for the rest of eternity. I’m not sure that is the answer.
Anyway, this got me thinking. There is a point to this rambling I promise. What parts of our life style is it possible to be more sustainable without too much sacrifice? Would it be possible with holidays? Well some things it is difficult to change. Flights for example. That is a lot of aviation fuel being burned, but improvements are being made. When the Airbus A380 first came out a few years ago Airbus announce that it consumed less fuel per person than a Ford Fiesta. Of course, that was a few years ago now, but it shows that actually they are working on it. Mass travel could be the answer. Next, we have the hotel. Over the last year I have noticed several hotels here in Khao Lak that are encouraging customers to re-fill water bottles rather than throwing them away. They are also only providing drinking straws on request. Some hotels are even encouraging customers to join their staff on weekly beach cleans. So there seems to be positive steps being taken there.
So that leads us on to the holiday activities. The seasoning that makes the holiday memorable. For many years now I have worked on speed boats, doing snorkeling trips to the beautiful Similan and Surin islands. On an average trip throughout the day each customer drinks at least 3 small bottles of water and 3 cans of soft drink. Most boats carry between 35-45 people each day. This adds up to a staggering 3-5 large black bags full of rubbish each day from each boat. When you consider that there are probably over 100 boats operating each day just in this area, that is a lot!
Now of course on our tours we never had nearly that much. But hey, every little helps. We have now replaced all our single use plastic bottles with aluminum, re-usable bottles. That can be refilled and used throughout the trip. Our empty soft drink cans are collected and sent away for recycling. We wash and re-use our refreshing cold towels, so we have now reduced the single use plastic on the boat to almost nothing. Unfortunately, we cannot claim that there in 100% no single use plastic involved because of course everything we buy, whether it is cans of Coke or new masks and fins, all seems to come wrapped in several layers of plastic. But we can claim that we do our best to reduce and re-use whenever we can. We are also continuing in our efforts to find solutions to all the little niggles.
Now you might say “Oh it is all well and good re-using things, but they still need to be cleaned. What about the harmful chemicals and the waste water?” And of course, that is a very valid question. One that we thought about long and hard. Each day we have to wash equipment, plates, cutlery and cool towels. Each day we use cleaning products made from 100% natural materials, mostly lime leaves so far as I can tell. So far, I think we are doing fairly well.
We also work along side other sustainable companies to help promote sustainable tourism whenever we can. Similancharter & Tour are the only speedboat operators, possibly in the world, to run their boats using E85 Sustainable Bio-Fuel. This helps to reduce their carbon footprint by up to 85%. There is also a carbon neutral transfer company operating out of Phuket called Mangrove Tree Thailand that aims to provide sustainable travel options that have positive effect on not only the environment but also the customers and the local people. So, things are happening, you just have to look for them.
Oh, and I am sorry I went a bit off topic this time. I promise to come back with more stories of me and Chris getting lost soon. In the mean time I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and I wish you all a happy new year from all of us here at Discovery Travel.
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