We have been staying at Our Jungle House for the last week. It is the middle of dry season, the River Sok is running very low, usually no more than a foot deep in front of the lodge. Guests have inquired about the possibility of tubing Khao Sok, but the seasoned staff have had to be party poopers: “Oh no, you can’t go tubing. The water is too shallow. Sorry!” The last few days have seen thunderstorms every afternoon, with impressively soaking rains. Yet the river has not risen significantly. Last night we had another heavy storm, but this time the river surged up many feet. Perhaps the previous rains had saturated the ground. Perhaps it is related to upstream construction activity.
This morning, the river had fallen somewhat, but was still flowing strong and turbid, the color of hot cocoa. The morning was cool, not yet the sort of heat that drives one into the river. But then we hear from Bodhi, “If you want to tube, tube now. This might be the last opportunity until the wet season!” With orders like these from the management, what is one to do but obey? We scramble into swim trunks, grab tubes and hop into the bed of the truck, with camp dog Toast riding along.
The tubing put-in is below the bridge at Khao Sok. The river is wide and shallow, covered in cobbles that riffle the surface. The river level is lower than the town, giving the folks hanging out on the riverside patios ample opportunity to offer up hellos, heckles and good cheer. My two companions easily settle into their large donuts; I slip around awkwardly as I realize that my smaller tube was not the most brilliant decision I had made that day.
I look at the river banks and note how they change. In town, they are clearly artificial, built up with cobbles to preserve the defined channel. When passing riverside establishments, the banks are high, demonstrating how high the river must rise to flood the businesses, which it does with frequency. Often, when the river is shooting around a bend, the banks are exposed as skeletons of tree roots and large rocks - all the dirt has been removed by the scouring action of floods.
Wildlife abounds along the river. Frogs and snakes frequent the roots of the riverbank, countless bugs skip around the surface of the river and who knows how many fish swirl beneath our bums perched in donut holes. Stalking birds in wait for fish awkwardly take off into flight as we approach. The canopies are alive with song birds, and of course the macaques are shaking branches up above. Toast, a surprisingly impressive swimmer, charges a grassy patch, and almost instantly a serpentine form with a triangular head the size of a paperback is observed whipping rapidly across the water. It bisects a section of water that is bookended by my two friends, who shriek with simultaneous excitement and terror.
I lie back in my tube and look up at the sky. The clouds of Thailand are floating past, engaged in their daily drama of drifting, coalescing, building into thunderstorms, separating and dissipating. The canopy over the river is agreeably sparse, allowing me to visually explore each individual tree. I dip my head all the way back into the water, until my eyes are practically level with the river. Now the river is the ceiling, the canopy is the floor, and the sky is a terrifying long fall below. The river inexorably makes its way towards the 600 foot tall cliff that towers behind Our Jungle House. As it passes beneath the cliff, the dizzying sheer vertical wall appears to actually hang over the river.
Tubing Khao Sok isn't complete without landing breaks for fun and games. Rope swings hang from trees, inviting us to swing out and over the river, bellowing like Tarzan until the cliff echoes our joy. Slick muddy limestone, scoured smooth by floods, becomes a water slide. Even the cliff itself offers the prospect of a short climb and free fall. The shallow river is just deep enough for a round of water wrestling as well.
Soon, my burning skin tells me that it is time we reached our destination. We stealthily try to sneak past the first take-out, located in front of the reception area, but Toast gives our presence away. We decide to continue our journey anyway, floating past the cliff face to hit up one last rope swing in front of Romance Tree House before exiting our watery playground.