We mooched around in the morning, sorting out the stuff for our mini-trip and then having a relaxing breakfast. The morning drifted along and a small van came to pick us up at about 10 to take us to the Ratchaprapha Marina – about 5km away, which was the start of the boat trip.
Once we arrived, we had to find the “Smiley Group” – the tour group we had signed up with. That was more difficult than it sounded amongst the hundreds of tourists who arrived in minibuses, were herded like sheep onto a pontoon and then send out into the lake on narrow boats with covers to keep them from the strengthening sun. Suddenly, after paddling our own canoes (or cycling our own bicycles) for 2 weeks largely on our own, we were in “tourist-land” – big time. We were told to wait and so waited but the time ticked well past 10.45am with no sign of any Smiley Group.
Indolence went to panic amongst the men who did not appear to have a job other than to tell jokes to each other, smoke and tell tourists to wait. They started gesticulating that we might have missed the boat – literally – and pointed us towards the massed ranks of tourists milling around the water’s edge.
After running along the pontoon, establishing that none of the boats about to leave were the “Smiley Group”, we eventually found our “group”, and were told to sit down to wait again. About an hour later, we were herded onto the pontoon, on to a longboat and were off.
The reservoir was created by the Ratchaprapha dam which was started in 1982. Its purpose includes electricity generation, irrigation, flood control, and fishing – and now tourism. It was inaugurated on 30 September 1987 by which time the Cheow Lan lake covered 71sq miles or 185 sq km, and has a depth of over 100m in places. To put that in context, it has a surface which is over 15 times bigger than Lake Windermere. The scenery was stunning with jungle coming down steeply to the sides of the lake, and trees poking out in places. The lake was low at this time of the year, and fills up when the rainy season starts in June. There were a huge variety of trees and other vegetation on the banks, as well as huge rock faces coming up directly from the water.
After about an hour we reached the “Smiley Raft House” – which was a series of raft buildings tacked together with a club house in the middle. We got allocated a simple room (electricity but no AC) and were left to enjoy ourselves for the afternoon. Our fellow travellers were almost all Europeans, and were a mixture of Dutch, Swedish, Lithuanians, Germans and Russians (plus a few we did not identify), as well as a nice retired Canadian couple from Vancouver who were fleeing the damp and cold of winder in Canada.
We swam in the lake – refreshing but a bit more like a bath than a lake swim – and canoed across to the other bank and amongst dead trees poking through the lake surface. Then we went on a boat trip to see wildlife – somewhat difficult in a boat of 20 people and a loud engine. But we stood on the back with binoculars and got a great sight of hornbills flying majestically across the upper reaches of the forest. There were also a variety of monkeys and the occasional gibbon, swinging Tarzan like from tree to tree.
As we returned, the sun set across the lake (they get the timing right because they do this every day). Then back for communal supper and finishing my book – William Boyd’s “An ice cream war” about the British/German war in East Africa as part of the First World War. Great writing and brought home the utter stupidity of this (as all) conflicts.
A different day to being on the bike but really good.