Click to enlarge. Paddling in Khao Sok National Park.The Students Meet the Jungle

We took thirteen high school students and two teachers from an international school to Khao Sok National Park in February. Most of the students described themselves as city people since they live in Bangkok. In the quiet and isolation of the bungalows at the end of the reservoir, they became absorbed in the abundant jungle life around them. One student returned to school to establish a school kayak club. Two boys stated with certainty one morning they were going to learn the Eskimo roll that day. And they did. After the trip, the email responses from the students were very special.

A main feature of the Khao Sok trip is wildlife viewing. To prepare for this, we went through the basics of paddling the boats. We included wet re-entry so the students would understand that capsizing wasn't the end of the world. Indeed, the assisted re-entry and the cowboy scramble became popular moves to practice. We had racing games. Some of the students excelled in brisk forward strokes, others found rear stroke racing to be more exciting and unpredictable. Everyone liked racing.

Great Hornbill.Once we were confident the students had basic boating skills, we divided into smaller groups and moved to different coves. Some students saw Long-tail macaques. Hornbill sightings, including the Great hornbill, were common. Dusky langurs, oddly enough, seemed to have moved deeper into the jungle.

However, we did see a coal-black Banded langur. Several students saw a White-handed gibbon high in a tree, but it quickly moved away.

Macaque sitting.The last evening of our stay, we paddled to a large cove some distance from the bungalows. After the sun had dropped behind the hill, two students heard wild pigs thrashing around the vegetation near the shore. One girl was just waiting for her friends when she noticed a pig moving from the water into the jungle. In the dusk, as we were paddling back toward the bungalows, we heard the rhythmic breaking of bamboo as an elephant walked near us but out of sight. My flashlight could not penetrate far enough to get a look.

Another highlight of this trip was a trip through the cave. There are many caves in the area, but this one is ideal for most people. It is like a demonstration project to understand the diversity of life within a limestone cave. Bat droppings are food to crickets and spiders. Fish approach us as we cross the stream that flows through the cave. We are well past rainy season so the water level is low. The cave narrows further in and we descend between two rock walls into the deeper water for a little swim. The students were in great spirits as we emerged from the darkness into the warmth of the jungle.

The group was booked on a morning flight out of Phuket, so the last day we had to get an early start. The previous night Dave and I tied the kayaks in two lines, bow to stern. Then in the morning we loaded the two longtail boats, tied a line of 'yaks to the back of each, and left the bungalows well before sunrise. The group easily made their flight; good planning pays off. We look forward to taking another group of students for a kayaking trip next year.

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