To associate the words “peace and quiet” with nature is a misnomer. Anyone who has found peace and quiet isn’t really listening. A twenty-first century kid, I began taking notes on how natural sounds compare to those of our technocratic existence. I found Khao Sok in south-central Thailand the perfect spot for this.
I will always remember the sound of my laptop – mid thesis – as I spilled a full bottle of hard lemonade. Often times, this noise comes back to haunt me. In Khao Sok, the electric popping of cicadas clung deep in my ear setting the knobby hairs of my inner lobe dancing in the frenzy of its electric charge. No other noise in the jungle came close to the immensity, the overwhelming trumpet blow of the cicadas buzz. At times a solid hum, and at times an electronic fritz, these hand-sized cicadas sounded like early Prodigy, searching for a dial tone for the World Wide Web.
There were the monkeys that frolicked above, snapping thin branches on their leaps of faith like ponderous typists. Or, the swimming porcupine that warbled like an icemaker. At nightfall, the rooftop bats spasmodically sucked from their hairy wild-eyed faces. The result was a high-pitched screech that irritated like the sound of a static television. A night in Khao Sok was a night of anthropomorphizing.
In terms of noise pollution, Khao Sok is the Bangkok of Thailand’s national parks. Boasting a 160 million year old rainforest that it is older and richer than both the Amazon and central Africa, this teeming jungle is operatic. Sharp limestone mountains trap and reflect the sound like the finest auditorium and from a front row seat in my floating bungalow, I shut my eyes and opened my ears.
Yet, not all of Khao Sok’s creatures were so boisterous. The leeches were silent and stealthy, injecting a numbing spell and sucking pain-free and unnoticed. Mute chameleons morphed into mossy branches. And in the still of the night, mammalian eyes shimmered in the spotlight of high-output flashlights, scared and immobilized.
A large portion of Khao Sok’s virgin forest was buried under the Chiao Lan reservoir, a fingering lake created by the Ratchaprapha dam. The captain steered our longtail boat around the lake atop the town where he was born – a town buried in a flooded valley back in 1982 when the dam was built.
On the banks of the lake, far from mankind, Khao Sok housed an exotic family. Wild elephants, tigers, Malayan tapir, sunbears, gaur, pig-tailed macaque and white-headed gibbon lay stake to various parts of the park. Its flora was equally impressive, with carnivorous pitcher plants and the world’s largest flower, the wild lotus Rafflesia, which can grow up to 90cm in diameter and weigh around 7kg.
Khao Sok was pure, pristine, and pondersom – but it was hardly peace and quiet.