Dramatic limestone karsts draped in vegetation and shores blanketed in pristine rainforest, the largest area of virgin forest in Southern Thailand, surround Cheow Lan Lake in the heart of Khao Sok National Park.
Tiny, lush islands once mountain peaks, rise out of tepid, emerald-green waters where water temperatures range between 27°C to 29 °C.
Wildlife in the national park includes Asian elephant, tiger, tapir and bear. A cacophony of jungle sounds fill the air: monkeys and gibbons chatter and howl; hornbills and other exotic birds cry and whistle; and a myriad of insects whine and shrill.
In 1982, Ratchaprapha Dam was built as a source of electricity by blocking off the Klong Saeng River and creating an artificial, 165 square kilometer lake.
Cheow Lan Lake is a popular destination for local and foreign tourists, accommodation provided by rustic, floating raft houses. Activities include trekking to view points, waterfalls and caves; fishing and kayaking; and boat safaris to glimpse wildlife and view the stunning scenery.
We stayed at Prai Wan raft houses, simple bamboo huts floating on the water. We opted for a private tour, that was well worth the money! It included: a knowledgeable and enthusiastic, English-speaking guide; wildlife safaris and cave trip by long-tail boat; hiking through rainforest to a spectacular viewpoint; kayak use and meals.
Here is just a handful from the hundreds of photos I took during our two-night stay. I plan to return to Cheow Lan Lake and to also explore other parts of Khao Sok National Park.
In the Andaman Sea between the island of Phuket and the mainland of southern Thailand, Phang Nga Bay’s sheer limestone cliffs tower majestically out of the sea.
Ko Khao Phing Kan, one of the many islands in the Phang Nga Bay archipelago, was the film location for Scaramanga’s hideout in The Man with the Golden Gun. Now more commonly called James Bond Island it’s become a popular tourist destination on boat trips around the scenic bay.
After my recent weekend trip to another Phang Nga Bay island Ko Yao Noi, I took a private day trip (to avoid the crowds) in a long-tail boat around the bay with my friend Paula and her parents.
Here are some images from that trip.
This lone lotus flower is so stunning it deserves a post all to itself! It was growing in an earthenware pot of water outside my local restaurant near where I was staying in Karon on the Thai island of Phuket.
Friend and fellow blogger Nicole of Thirdeyemom who I had the pleasure of taking on a whirlwind photographic tour of Antigua in Guatemala, my home town for five years, inspired me to publish a post on flowers of Thailand.
To brighten those last cold, bleak wintry days this is for you Nicole and for anyone else not lucky enough to rove where I do!
A random collection of luscious orchid, lotus, hibiscus and marigold blooms I’ve photographed from Phuket to Chiang Mai. Thai flowers that color everyday life here.
Earth laughs in flowers. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Hamatreya”
A river of scorching lava blazed and flowed from the crater’s rim as fire shot out of its belly. Last night Volcán de Fuego or volcano of fire, one of the most active volcanoes in Guatemala and one of the three volcanoes overlooking Antigua, erupted furiously.
Privileged to witness the spectacle from my rooftop terrace I watched and photographed it until after midnight. Here are just a couple of the shots I took.
Dramatic, ethereal volcanoes, summits softly draped in swathes of cloud, crouch serenely across an expanse of shimmering, rippling water. A melody of gently lapping waves and the breathless sighs of breeze-tickled leaves create a soothing soundtrack while the scent of exotic blooms wafts delicately through the air.
Formed in an enormous ancient caldera at 1,560 meters (5,120 feet) above sea level in the western highlands of Guatemala, and 18 kilometers long (11 miles), Lago de Atitlán (Lake Atitlan) is recognized as the deepest lake in Central America, reaching depths of around 340 meters (1,115 feet).
Three volcanoes dominate its southern fringe, Atitlán, Tolimán, and San Pedro, the latter two emerging from the lakeside.
Mayan culture prevails among the largely indigenous population of the various villages freckling the shoreline, many reached by dirt roads, some only by boat. Predominantly Kaqchikel and Tz’utujil, speaking different languages, inhabitants still practice ancient traditions and wear the typical hand-woven garb of their ancestors.
Tourism is a top income earner for the area. As one of Guatemala’s natural treasures and a highlight on any globetrotter’s itinerary, many jaded travelers believe it’s the world’s most beautiful lake.
Panajachel, the main town on the lake’s shores and the jumping off point to smaller lakeside villages, is about 150 kilometers (93 miles) from the popular colonial city of Antigua. Agriculture, primarily coffee and corn also boost the economy.
I spent a chilled out Christmas in Santa Cruz la Laguna, a sleepy pueblo accessed only by boat or foot. At the tranquil lakeside Hotel Arca de Noé, lush gardens tumble down to the water’s edge and volcano vistas dominate the horizon, soothing the soul.
The lake changes guise as wistful breeze or surly gale whip up the sleek, glassy surface, the ever-shifting light reflecting off its belly creating varying hues of metallic gray, emerald green and turquoise.
Vibrant exotic blooms wrestle for the limelight against spectacular lakeside scenery dominated by conical-shaped volcanoes. Guatemala exudes color both natural and manmade and the shores of Lago de Atitlán (Lake Atitlan), a glistening treasure in the Western highlands about 150 kilometers from colonial Antigua, are no exception.
These beauties begged my attention as I wandered along the shoreline gardens of Hotel Arca de Noé in Santa Cruz La Laguna where I spent a peaceful Christmas cocooned in the arms of Mother Nature. Eye catching form and color at almost every step, it’s an outdoor lover’s Eden.
The early morning glow caressing blooms picked by the hotel owner from her verdant lakeshore gardens also pleaded a click of the shutter.
The lake with its stunning volcano views deserves a separate post.
In ankle-length skirt and dance pumps, our 12-year old guide Verónica led us daintily along the windy, muddy path between steep fields of broccoli and maize upwards into the pristine mist-shrouded cloud forest, known as el bosque nuboso.
We were headed towards the remote Salto de Chilascó, claimed by locals to be Central America´s highest waterfall at 130 meters. It lies deep in the Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve in north-central Guatemala in the largest cloud forest in Central America.
The path at times left us floundering and slithering in a quagmire of mud, a drawback of hiking in the rainy season (although the cloud forest is humid year round) but the upside was the impressive volume of water cascading down from the mountaintop through lush vegetation.
The only sign of humanity we came across were a returning group of three hikers with their guide near the trailhead and a handful of campesinos on foot and horseback resting or headed to their tracts of crops.
As we climbed from hand-tilled patches of land to cloud forest, we were engulfed in the luxuriant growth of trees swimming with vivid orchids and lush giant bromeliads and ferns thriving in the heavy moisture. A tiny cobra surprised us as it slithered delicately off the narrow path, then a giant shiny beetle with snapping pincers stopped us in our tracks.
We heard the roar of water long before reaching the mirador, where we first glimpsed the lofty falls almost hidden behind a mesh of swirling cloud, about an hour from the start of the trail. Another 20 minutes downhill and we reached a closer viewpoint of the thundering, towering torrent of water. We would’ve descended to the cataract’s belly but due to heavy rainfall in the morning forcing us to start late, we had little daylight to play with so turned back.
From Guatemala City take the highway to Cobán in Alta Verapaz, turning off at Km. 145 signposted to Chilascó and continue along the dirt road for 12 kilometers. The village of San Rafael Chilascó is 157 kilometers from the capital.
Stop at the Centro Turístico to pay an admission fee of $4.50 and hire a guide for the same amount. There is also the option of going on horseback for about $13/hour. Verónica’s father, the Tourism administrator, welcomed us warmly and was very keen to get more visitors to the falls. Wet weather gear and good walking boots are advisable during the rainy season and can be rented very cheaply at the tourist center.
Drive about two kilometers to the parking lot by the trailhead and trek another three kilometers to the falls. Take a separate path to the smaller Saltito where you can swim before taking another trail down to the imposing Salto de Chilascó. Verónica told us that the waterfall was only discovered in 1995. Since then, scant visitors (due to its remoteness) have left no obvious impact on the area and the trail remains unspoiled.
A tranquil place to stay just a few kilometers away is the eco-lodge Ram Tzul set in a private nature reserve. It has an imposing restaurant/reception building that they claim to be the largest bamboo construction in Central America! Private cabins cost $35/double and have lavish wooden interiors and ample windows overlooking vistas of forest and hills. Outdoor activities in this sanctuary include walking trails, horseback riding, mountain biking, bird watching and camping.
Finally, any visitor to the area should sample the traditional, regional Mayan dish Kak’iq, a tasty turkey broth served with hunks of meat, rice and tamales found in most local restaurants. It goes down a treat after a long hike.