Nathong National Park, Kao-sip-kao, and monkeys!

This entry is being done a little out of sequence, as Arin and I have been so busy that time enough at an Internet Cafe to blog is rare. But it just started raining, as it does about once a day where ever we are, and now is as good a time as any to remember time spent in Ko Samui.

It is hard to imagine that Arin and I were just leaving Ko Samui about a week ago. That realization hit us today while Arin was sipping on a pineapple shake, and me on a Shingtao.

Yes. I admit it: I may actually be developing a taste for beer. My friend Cynthia would be so proud.

But I digress. Just prior to leaving Ko Samui, Arin and I took a two day, one night kayaking trip through Nathong National Park. It was Thailand's first National Park and is made up of over 42 islands in an archipelago off the Southeastern coast of Thailand in the Gulf of Thailand.

It was on this trip that we were taken to a small lagoon located in the center of one of the park's islands. The lagoon was made famous by Alex Garland's book The Beach (a book I must reread after being here), in which characters had to swim through an underwater cave to reach this secluded area. As it turns out, reaching the lagoon via water - in any way shape or form - is impossible. So Arin and I hiked in. We did not have a chance to go swimming, as we had to hike back so that we could hop in our kayaks and head to our next destination: a small secluded beach for lunch. It was a whirlwind day. As soon as lunch began, we were back in the kayaks to head to the park's head quarters for swimming, snorkeling, eating, drinking beer, a shower, you-name-it.

The beach services a lot of tourists during the day, as Nathong is Thailand's most visited and most popular National Park. But, while Arin and I were hiking with our guide, Eon, to a cave not 250 grueling meters up the hill away from the beach, all the tourists loaded up on their long tail boats, headed back to the ferries, and boats to head back to Ko Samui, or Ko Penaeng, or even the mainland. So when Arin and I re-emerged from the forest, we discovered that we now had the island almost entirely to ourselves... save for a handful of rangers who live on the islands with their families, to protect endangered species that live there, to guide tourists, and to assist those boating and fishing through the archipelago.

I am so glad we spent the night, because at the time, it was the first time Arin and I felt like we were seeing a piece of Thailand no one else really gets to see. We sat and had beers with the rangers, enjoyed watching their children play, and watched the Asian World Cup on television with our guide.

After seeing how cheap things were in Thailand, Arin and I often joked about hiring a guide just for us to show us the country... little did we know that we actually would get our personal guide when Arin and I were the only ones to elect to go camping on the island. Eon, was our guide, and he was so incredibly nice. We taught him how to play a few card games, including Gin, and an old Hailey family favorite called 99 (here is a variant to the rules Arin and I play by).

Arin and I found this game to be an excellent teaching aid, and with the help of Eon, several beers, and much laughing at our horrible pronunciation, Arin and I learned how to count to 99, or "khao-sip-khao" (pronounced "gow-sip-gow") in Thai, a skill we have found invaluable in our stay here.

The next morning we hiked to the peak of the island for an amazing view (seen in the photo above). And on our way up, Arin and I were privileged to see a troop of Dusky Langurs.

Arin and I studied primates in college, as we were both Anthropology majors, but neither of us had ever seen monkeys in their natural habitats before. It was nothing short of amazing. There were three babies in the troop, all with literally golden hair. They were absolutely adorable. It was easily the most amazing part of the trip, and made possible only by the fact that there weren't any tourists around scaring them away (remember, they left the previous day, and would not return for several more hours).

Arin and I were supposed to spend the rest of the day kayaking, but the winds were so severe that it was impossible. In fact, the wind was so severe that at one point it wasn't even safe enough for the boat that was ferrying us to our drop off point. We were forced to find a small inlet that protected from the wind and wait out the storm.

In the end, it was an amazing adventure, and one Arin and I will remember fondly forever.