PAUL BENJAMIN: Writer, Editor, Supermodel

Thailand That I Love – Part 3

Here we go, yet another post catching up on our recent vacation to Thailand. Things have been slow here in Tashkent since we returned. We’ve just been working and hibernating in the cold weather. It’s threatened to be Spring here with a few sunny days but then Winter resurfaces. It’s snowing in a massive whirlwind out there right now, looking like the inside of one of those tubes filled with a cyclone of cash swirling around on certain gameshows. I’m pretty sure Loki cracked open the Cask of Ancient Winters on us.
My Russian studies have continued at the embassy, reminding me of this awesome sign from a Russian bar in Khao Lak, featuring Russia’s famous Kalashnikov assault rifle. For you non-Russian speakers, it says:
Russkie Bar
RESTORAN
Informatsea
(all of which means exactly what you think it means)
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I took a few pics on the streets near our Khao Lak hotel. One of my favorite landmarks was the statues and shrines featuring a big, D&D style Gold Dragon and a couple of attack cats.
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Of course, we didn’t just stay in Khao Lak the entire time. We also went on an overnight trip to Khao Sok National Park. If you ever get the chance to visit Thailand, make this part of your trip!! I can’t recommend it enough. This park in Southern Thailand is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
Khao Sok features an enormous lake that was created when a dam was set up to provide hydroelectic power. The damming flooded the valley, making for some jaw-dropping views. We took a van on winding roads to reach the lake, then jumped onto this longtail boat.
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Even our fancy new camera could only capture a fraction of the natural beauty of this place. Imagine riding on a longtail, the misty breeze in your face as you skip across the water, the lake opening up before you. Treetops jut up from the flooded valley floor, their long trunks visible for several meters beneath the surface as you zip past.
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The mountains here jut up from the water in sudden bursts. At one point, we went between two massive mountains, the water flowing between them. Several people said at the same moment exactly what I was thinking: “It’s like the Gates of Argonath on the River Anduin!”
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Okay, what they really said was, “It’s like that river with the big statues on either side from Lord of the Rings!” because they’re not big LOTR geeks like me. Still, it was so impressive I had to look with my actual eyes instead of the camera.
As we continued on, there were many gorgeous sights.
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Then we reached our cabins! Each cabin is made of bamboo and they all rest side-by-side on bamboo rafts, floating right on the lake. For those who are wondering, there were also bathrooms on the shore at either side.
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Of course, we weren’t the only ones in our cabin. We also had a little visitor, seen here on the windowsill. We also had a lovely porch for relaxing in the breeze and drying our wet clothes.
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Here’s a view of the longtail boat where it docked with the cabin’s dining hall, plus a view of the fish swimming beneath our floating accomodations.
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A third our group of around ten spent our first day kayaking near the cabins while the others went scuba diving in the lake. Later that day, we all got together for a little trip. It started with a hike through the tropical jungle on the mountainside until we reached a nearby village and hopped on board a bamboo raft.
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Here’s a shot of me and Lisa on our raft ride. I’m wearing my Camelbak water backpack for the first time, an excellent purchase for our travels (plus drinking from the tube makes me feel like a Fremen in a stillsuit from Dune).
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Soon enough, our bamboo raft approached its destination: a mountainside cave.
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Outside the cave was a small shrine. We waited there a while with our friend Noelle from L.A. and her mom, both on the trip for some scuba diving fun. Noelle is the one we went to Thailand to visit and we had a fabulous time hanging with her whenever she wasn’t out being a dive master.
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We took a few shots inside the cave, but it was difficult to figure out how to do it properly, using the flash in near absolute darkness where our only light came from a guide with a flourscent bulb jury-rigged into a handheld lantern. We saw no sign of D&D style Piercers though there were some normal stalactites hanging from the ceiling. The cave formations were all pretty incredible. It almost made me want to run through the caves fleeing rom murderers like in Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber’s creator-owned graphic novel Underground.
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The next day was another day of perfect weather. Aah, what a gorgeous view to wake up to when stepping out onto your porch in the morning!

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While others went for more scuba, we went kayaking over to the Cliffs of Insanity (aka, tall cliffs that reminded us of the ones in The Princess Bride).
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At the Cliffs of Insanity, we decided to do some climbing. We didn’t get quite as high up as Fezzik or Westley, but it was fun to some climbing and diving.
Ready? Action shot!!
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And that, my friends, is sequential storytelling.
My lovely bride also did some diving. Here are my two favorite pics from the trip, each featuring a different beauty.
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After Khao Sok, we returned to Khao Lak. We never did make it out to one South Thailand destination: James Bond Island (aka Ko Tapu). From what I’ve heard, while the island is quite lovely, it’s something of an undewhelming tourist trap, made a little too famous by its appearance in 1974’s “The Man With the Golden Gun.”  I felt like I was really going to disappoint my pal Alan Porter, author of The History of the Illustrated 007 by skipping this one. Sorry, Alan!
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Unfortunately, because we had originally planned on spending only a week in Khao Lak, we had to book new rooms for our second week. Prices had gone up for rooms at our original hotel, the Bhandari, and its sister hotel, the Oriental. However, Lisa found a website with rooms at the original price. After booking them we discovered that the website was selling rooms that were no longer avaiable. As a result, the folks at our hotel told us they would have to put us in the Bhandari one night, the Oriental another, and then in a hotel down the street for our third night. To make up for this, they provided vouchers for each of us to enjoy free dinner at the hotel each night and a free massage each day! How’s that for customer service?
Well, upon our return from Khao Sok, they managed to find room for us at the Bhandari for our first two nights, which was very nice. The room was lovely and we didn’t have to move every day. On that third night though, we had to suffer hopping in the hotel van to drive five minutes down the road to the other hotel…
…Where they put us in a beachfront bungalow! This was the view from our deck.
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Yeah, it’s a rough life.

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