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?”

Khao Lak waterfalls

“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.”

A waterfall near Khao Lak

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.

“We could do a Khao Lak Jungle Safari.”

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

Khao Lak Jungle Trek

“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,

Bird nest in the Khao Lak jungle

“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, and 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.”

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