Tuesday, 2 February 2010

kanchanaburi -- Lake Heaven: ALMOST HEAVEN

I love it when my partner and I do things simultaneously. No, no, no, not what you're thinking ... in this case it was a simple exclamation of 'WOW!'

You see, we'd just driven in on the hilly and somewhat serpentine road past Erawan Falls, when suddenly this panoramic vista opened up in front of us: Forested limestone mountains and a huge lake with colourful alpine chalets dotting its shore.

'It feels like I'm in another country,' she said. I doublechecked the map. We were still in Thailand by my reckoning (although one is very close to the Burmese border in this northwestern corner of Thailand and we had taken the odd wrong turn when she was navigating and ... oh, I really don't want to go into all of that again ...). But the other country this felt like was what ... maybe Queenstown New Zealand, with the Remarkables behind it? Perhaps Canada. Or even Chingis Khan Mountain in Terelj, Mongolia. With its autumnal colours it certainly didn't look nor feel like Thailand.

Then we got out of the car. Oh yes, it did feel like Thailand after all I thought as the mid-afternoon heat nailed us. Oh, and a glittering gold temple radiating from among the trees made it unmistakably Thai.

This is Lake Heaven, one of several resorts dotted around the Srinakarin Dam, about an hour north of Kanchanaburi city. Jaunty wooden chalets in a variety of chirpy colours look more like Swiss ski lodges than tropical lodgings. The whole thing is built out on a series of pontoons. There are about 25 accommodation units built on the water, plus communal areas such as restaurants, and jetties where a dizzying area of water-borne contraptions and vehicles await us. There are jet-skis, waveriders, kayaks, zorb balls, banana boats, donuts, trampolines, and an inflatable see-saw (where a teenaged boy and girl are having a rocking, giggling good time). On land, you can trash the forest tracks on ATVs.

We opted for a jet ski to check out this impressive lake -- ringed by mountains -- which disappeared tantalisingly off past islands and headlands to the left and right of us.

I fired the thing up, having stumped the operator by asking where the brakes were (er, trick question, it was an automatic). We were soon skimming along the mirror-like surface at near on 80km. I do double that on my motorbike sometimes, but on the water you can feel every single ripple at this speed. Overloaded boats ferry excited passengers to Huai Khamin waterfalls, where they can spot elephants, deer and even tigers. Jing jing!

This 1500 sq kilometre national park came into being 20 years ago to honour the Princess Mother's 90th birthday (although it's unclear whether she went out jet-skiing that day or not). The dam itself was put into the Kwai Yai River to provide hydro-electric power. Many locals can be seen dangling a fishing rod in at various points to catch barb fish. Elsewhere, house boats occupy secluded coves.

'Wow!' I said it again. It is achingly beautiful. We jet-skiid for half an hour and still got nowhere near the end of this massive dam.

Heading back to Lake Heaven, we splashed about in the waters. Had fun with some of the inflatables (no, no, no, not what you're thinking). It was just good clean fun. One of those days it felt really great to be alive ... and not in, er, Heaven. Ya wouldn't be dead for quids.

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