We decided to stay at Art's Riverview Lodge, which cost 400B a night for an ensuite wooden hut. It was a lovely room and the restaurant was beautiful - set on stilts overlooking a river and rocky outcrop where monkeys came to feed each morning and evening. When we got there we went for lunch in the restaurant and got talking to the other people from our minibus - two English girls and a Dutch couple. We all decided to book a night safari (400B) for that night and trip to the lake (1000B) the next day as it is cheaper if there are more people. The night safari was a bit disappointing after the excellent one we did at Uncle Tan's. We actually only walked through plantation rather than National Park and the guide didn't know anything about the animals or plants. We did see quite a few Slow Loris in the trees though.
The lake trip the next day was really good though. We took a songthaew for two hours to the lake and then a longtail boat for two hours to the far side. The scenery was spectacular as there were huge limestone outcrops on both sides and half submerged trees from before the dam was built. At the other side of the lake was an isolated floating guesthouse. When we got there we wished we had booked the two day trip with an overnight stay as it was so nice. Each room had a little balcony on the lake side from which you could swim.
After some lunch and a swim, we were about to start the hiking trail when the guide casually told us that we couldn't take anything that we minded getting wet as we would have to swim through a cave. This was news to us. He took our passports and money with him in a dry bag but we had to leave our bags and cameras. We took a boat the 50m along the lake to the start of the trail. As we pulled away, the boat driver tried to light his cigarette and ended up falling out of the boat - luckily there were two other guides in the boat to take control and go and get him. None of us could stop laughing.
The hiking trail to the cave was scenic and quite easy despite having to wade up the river for most of it. We had four guides for our group of eight and they were all a really good laugh (one of them still soaking wet). After an hour or so we got to the cave. The two Italians who were on our trip decided to walk round instead so two of the guides went with them. The rest of us were given waterproof torches and we went in. Initially the cave was very big, the water was only ankle deep and there was often a dry section to walk on. We soon lost sight of daylight and could see bats and stalactites hanging from the roof. After about 20 minutes we came to a waterfall. We then backtracked slightly and entered a narrower side cave. There was a brief deep section up to our shoulders and then the cave got lower and required some climbing over rocks. Another 10 minutes later and we got to a long narrow channel that we had to swim through. There were ropes strung all along and the guides helped us. A short walk later and we sighted daylight. We came out in another cave and found the others waiting for us. From here it was only a 30 minute walk back to the boat.
After a drink at the floating guesthouse we took the long-tailed boat back across the lake. The same boat driver as before was driving and his earlier accident hadn't stopped him chain smoking the whole way back. When we got back to the songthaew, as it was Christmas Eve, everyone bought beer from the stalls there for the journey back. We had to get the songthaew driver to stop lots of times for toilet breaks. Back at Art's we had more drinks and their Christmas barbeque.
Christmas Day was a bit quieter as all the people we had met the day before were leaving. We lazed about all day and then had fish and rice for our Christmas dinner in a Thai restaurant. The next day we took a minibus to Surat Thani to catch the overnight train to Bangkok.