Southern Thailand’s Best Kept Secret
By Greg McCann
September 29, 2008
While votes were being tallied for Thailand’s most scenic locale, some travel companions and I set off to visit a little-known and seldom-visited national park in the south of the country called Sri Phang Nga. Bordering Khao Sok’s (an official contender for the Bangkok Post beauty spot award) eastern flank in Phang Nga province, this large tropical rainforest shows up in neither the Lonely Planet guidebook nor any English-language travel literature; furthermore, I have never seen it discussed on any online travel forum, and a Google search turns up little else besides the government park web sites and some confusions with Ao Phang Nga National Marine Park (yet another contender in the beauty contest).
Conservationist Thom Henley makes a geographical mention of the park in his book “Waterfalls and Gibbon Calls”, and a couple of regional maps list the park’s location; it was from the ladder source that I learned of this lonely jewel of a jungle a few years ago.
We set off on scooters from Khao Lak for a 90-minute ride through deep green countryside heading north towards Ranong. When tall, forest-covered hills came into view, I knew that Sri Phang Nga must be near. The park entrance is about 3km down a road off Highway 4, and as we approached the fog-lathered mountain forests, we decided to stop and take some pictures.
As soon as we cut our engines the sound of gibbons singing and wailing could be heard. We were soon inside the park hiking down a rocky trail toward Tamnang Waterfall. My first impression was that this was a more enchanted forest than it’s considerably more popular neighbor, Khao Sok. Not only were the trees much taller and thicker, but there was a silence and stillness in the misty air that I had never before observed in any Southeast Asian forest. No doubt this was partially due to the fact that we had arrived just after a heavy downpour and we were the only visitors to the park that day; July is also a very slow month in a very rainy season on the North Andaman coast that generally sees a major lull in tourism. But more than that, the park is basically unknown to foreign tourists and not much more popular among Thais.
Tamnang Waterfall was roaring. Located just 1.5km from park headquarters, this 63-kilometer plunging cataract sent a typhoon a mist blasting through the ravine, forcing my travel companions and I to shout at one another. From here we headed to the Nature Trail, which leads steeply up a hillside beneath a dark, multi-level rainforest canopy. If there was ever a trail where I expected a tiger to pounce out from the underbrush, this was the place. Heavy post-shower steam rose from every leaf, vine and twig, creating an eerie yet lovely world of chiaroscuro, waterdrops, and gibbon-calls.
We then set out on another trail heading north and soon had to ford a stream, finding a maze of trails on the other side. One of the paths go back for about 10 kilometers to the border with Khao Sok, a highly remote and wild region where, if there are any remnant populations of orangutans left in Southeast Asia outside of Borneo and Sumatra, that park border region has got to be the place. (note: a national park ranger in Gunung Leuser Nat’l Park in Sumatra opined that it was possibly –though unlikely- that a few small pockets of orangutans still occur in Thailand and Myanmar. Orangutans were once found throughout all of Southeast Asia). Anyway, it got me dreaming/planning for my next trip: a tailored trek beginning in Khao Sok, crossing the mountains and ending in Sri Phang Nga Nat’l Park.
There are numerous other waterfalls and sites in different areas of the park, some set deep within the jungle on overgrown trails that might be better visited as part of an overnight camping trip. Overall, the forest trails of Sri Phang Nga offers a wilderness experience not easily found in a country that sees millions upon millions of tourists per year. How a jungle park of this size and beauty has remained off the tourism radar for so long is an intriguing and delightful mystery.
For more information on Sri Phang Nga National Park, visit the national park’s web site on the place at: http://www.trekthailand.net/south18/index.html
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