After sampling the cool, clear water of the mountain stream at the Ton Kloi swimming hole, we were keen to explore further. The locals refer to the swimming hole as “the first step”, and apparently the mountain has nine steps which can only be reached on foot.
Our hosts organised a team of locals to take us to the waterfall at the second step for an overnight stay. The second step is an easy walk of ninety minutes to two hours, depending on the conditions. The ascent is very gentle, following the stream bed, but you will be required to scramble over rocks, and to cross the stream several times. Depending on the depth of the water and the slipperiness of the rocks, you may find yourself wet to the knee or ankle.
It’s much more fun than tramping along an enclosed jungle trail, though, and the scenery is spectacular. For most of the journey, we were walking through bamboo forest, with bamboo trunks towering three or for storeys high over our heads. The team carried everything except our personal packs of clothing, and they would have carried those, too, had we wanted to walk completely unencumbered. There was always someone close by to offer a hand across the stream or up a large rock, making the walk an easy and pleasant experience, even for someone who hasn’t done much trekking.
During the wet season, the entire valley is flooded several metres deep, so if you go up the mountain early in the dry season, you will sometimes need to wait while the team uses machetes to clear fallen bamboo from the trail. Occasionally, we had a rest break while one of the guys took to the water with a mask and harpoon in search of fish for dinner.
There was so much to see and do that the walk passed very quickly, and before we knew it we were at the second step. The waterfall is around a bend from the last rock platform, so the final stage is to swim around the bend and admire the cascades. After the walk, we were more than ready to leap into the pool!
Refreshed from our dip, we put on warm, dry clothes and relaxed in the late afternoon sun while the team put up tents, made a fire, and cooked dinner. Dinner was a veritable feast – rice, barbecued fish, and tom yum pla (spicy soup with fish). After the sun set, the team took to the water again to catch shrimp, and we had a second round of dinner, which included the barbecued shrimp and dessert – Thai sweet rolls and sweet bean soup. Western food is available as an option, but we always prefer to eat local style when we can.
The moon was almost full, so it was easy to see at the campsite, but the team was well-supplied with head torches, and gave us one each. We left them turned off while we lay on the rock platform, still warm from the day’s sun, and watched Orion appear in the sky – in this part of the world, Orion is sideways!
The guys also caught another brace of fish after dark, which were kept cool in the running water until breakfast. Breakfast was another feast, with shrimp-infused rice porridge, fish curry, rice and bread.
We created our own fusion cuisine by dipping bread into the fish curry sauce. In Thailand, bread is considered a dessert food, so the locals were a little surprised to see it dipped in curry. We encouraged them to try it, and one of them really liked it, but the others reverted to the Thai version of bread, covered with condensed milk.
We had instant coffee, made from “3-in-1” mix with sugar and creamer. Even though we usually don’t take sugar in our coffee, this day it seemed to go well with the early morning light and the sound of running water. Coffee was served in freshly-carved bamboo mugs, with freshly-cut bamboo stirrers. Some of the team also made themselves horns from palm fronds, so they could mimic gibbon calls.
It was sad to see the tent come down after breakfast – we would have liked to stay longer. We wished we had stayed another night when the team told us a couple of days later that two wild elephants had come close to the campsite the next night.
The higher up the mountain you go, the more common it is to see wildlife, including gibbons, elephants, and even tigers. It is necessary to register with the National Parks Office and take a National Parks ranger with you to reach the higher levels, because the wildlife can be dangerous.
Our guide translated the team’s description of the ruins and the wildlife at the tenth and highest step, a full eight hours of walking from the National Parks Office. It certainly sounds like a magical place to visit for anyone who likes to wander far from the beaten track. In Khao Sok National Park, you would need to walk for three or four days to reach similarly untouched jungle.
We only saw smaller wildlife on our trip – birds, lizards, insects, and one tiny snake – but the campsite is regularly visited by gibbons, and the day after our visit the team saw elephants. It’s amazing that wild elephants range so close to civilisation – just a ninety minute walk from the road and restaurant at Ton Kloi swimming hole.
We also saw a fascinating range of flora – many different palms, huge stands of bamboo, thick lianas, and colourful mushrooms and fungi. On the walk back, we sampled rose apples, and the flesh of the cocoa fruit – both quite tasty.
We finished up with a swim and some food at the Ton Kloi swimming hole, before heading back to our homestay host family to shower and do our laundry. The house was lovely, with Muslim style tiled floors, and a cool, shady, tiled outdoor area. Our room was the most beautiful homestay room we have seen so far, and we had the best night’s sleep we have had for a long time.
The Ton Kloi mountain area is an amazing resource. The forest has probably survived in such good condition because it is relatively unknown – it is not on Google Maps yet, there is no commercial accommodation nearby, and very few foreigners ever come to the area. Word will get out at some stage, but until then, this little-known area is a must-visit for nature-lovers and adventure travellers.