Apr 13 2012
Unknown to many, the small island of Ko Ra off Thailand‘s west coast offers a unique nature oriented experience for environmentally conscious travellers who don’t mind roughing it a bit. The one place to stay, Koh Ra Eco Lodge, began as a base for the non-profit Reef Check Thailand some years ago and continues to run an eco-friendly operation that offers basic but comfortable accommodation and a range of activities. Snorkelling, kayaking, birdwatching and yoga are among the most popular pastimes, but I recently did a guided trek through Ko Ra’s rugged jungle interior.
My veteran guide Si and I began by wandering through the forest near the Lodge, where fruit and herb trees grow, and Si shared his wealth of knowledge on Ko Ra’s plant and wildlife as we went. He walked slowly, quietly and deliberately. It was obvious he had an acute sense of the jungle around him, and was ready to spot any wildlife that might be hiding nearby. A few of the Eco Lodge’s trail dogs joined us for the hike.
Ever fascinated by what might be lurking in Thailand’s tropical jungles, I asked Si if there were many snakes on Ko Ra. His eyes widened as he dramatically told of how he once witnessed a six metre-long king cobra slowly devour a smaller (but still quite large) green tree viper on the island. So, that would be a “yes” — Ko Ra is home to some snakes, but don’t let that deter you from visiting. Plenty of cobras and other snakes slither throughout the entire southern Thai region but it’s very uncommon for a visitor to come across one in the wild. Si’s story was enough, however, to get my blood pumping a tad faster.
Soon after, as we began to climb a steep rocky path that led deeper into the jungle, we heard one of the dogs let out a bark from far away. Si turned to me and explained (again with eyes bulging) that an animal — a “white something” — is found in these hills. He has a thick accent and I couldn’t quite understand that second word. What I did understand was that this animal can weigh up to 200 kilograms, can be deadly and has massive teeth or fangs. “I worry some day it will kill my dogs,” he said. Admittedly nervous, I followed on.
Now, I felt confident in my guide, but at this point — as the dogs’ barking grew more insistent in the distance — my mind began reeling off images of massive king cobras and terrifying white beasts with deadly fangs that live only on Ko Ra and have some how never been discovered except by a handful of local islanders. Fans of the TV show, Lost, might remember those polar bear-type beasts that occasionally killed people on the fictional south Pacific island where the show took place. “Maybe there was some truth to that,” I began to think.
Okay, so I’m exaggerating a bit. I wasn’t really frightened, honestly. Well, maybe a little, especially when the dogs began yipping furiously from deep within the jungle and Si turned to me saying, “I think we have to run and see what it is!” He clearly seemed to think the dogs might be in danger, and was perhaps a bit torn as to whether or not he should lead me into possible danger as well. I’d like to think he had the impression I was a worthy jungle trekker, so we urgently strayed off the trail and bushwhacked through thick jungle towards the sound of the dogs.
Finally, at the top of a hill amid dense jungle, we reached them. No cobras or terrifying white beasts were to be found, but Si was very excited to see what the dogs had been fussing about. It was an endangered elongated tortoise, which live only in remote hills of Southeast Asia and are extremely rare in the wild. Si was thrilled to have found one, and I quickly began to share his enthusiasm, not to mention breathe a sigh of relief that we didn’t discover an elongated white sabre tooth tiger, or whatever it was.
The dogs had unfortunately scuffed up the tortoise’s shell and broke off its outer layer in a couple of places. It was a minor injury, but nonetheless Si felt it warranted carrying the tortoise down to the Eco Lodge, where several turtle experts working for a non-profit sea turtle conservation project just happened to be staying.
We climbed back down the path, and after exploring some of Ko Ra’s savannah landscape, headed back to the Lodge where the tortoise would receive treatment before being returned to the exact spot we’d found it early the following morning. Meeting the endangered tortoise proved to be a big thrill for the turtle experts.
Later that evening, around a communal buffet dinner at the Eco Lodge’s open-air dining area near the beach, I asked Si to clarify exactly what the white “thing” was. He took out a book and pointed to a photo of a particularly large wild boar. “Ah, the ‘white boar’ I said,” and then told the whole story of how I’d prepared myself to meet Ko Ra’s version of a polar bear while trekking with Si. If nothing else, I was glad to provide the turtle experts with a good laugh.
If interested in a similar experience — and I highly recommend both the trek with Si and the Eco Lodge in general — you’ll need to get to the town of Khuraburi from where the Lodge can arrange transport to Ko Ra. Khuraburi may be reached by bus from Bangkok or most southern destinations, including Ranong, Krabi, Phang Nga, and Phuket. Koh Ra Eco Lodge shuts down between May 1 and November 1.
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