Last Saturday my girlfriend and me decided to visit the famous national park Kaw Sok. Just north of Phuket lies the province of Phang Nga. The province is famous for its tourist hotspot Kaw Lak, from which trips to the Similan and Surin islands, world-class diving destinations, are hold during the high season. But the province is also close to the amazing beautiful national park Kaw Sok (sometimes also written “Khao Sok”), which lies itself in the province of Surat Thani. We traveled there with my Kawa Er-6n, first to the city of Phang Nga and then just over the province’s border to the national park Kaw Sok. After we crossed the Sarasin bridge – the bridge connecting Phuket to the mainland – and headed towards Phang Nga on the highway Nr. 4, the rubber tree farms were more and more replaced by natural forests and after one hour driving only, we saw the first limestone mountains of Phang Nga province (see picture above). At Phang Nga we left highway Nr. 4 to take the highway Nr. 4118 to Kaw Sok (see picture right). After 3 hours driving through the amazing natural landscape of Phang Nga we finally arrived at our place at Kaw Sok National Park. Kaw Sok has dimension of 739 km2 , but together with two other national parks called Kaeng Krung and Phang Nga, as well two wild sanctuaries called Khlong Saen and Khlong Nakha, the park forms a forest complex of about 4000 km2. Not only is its forest area huge, Kaw Sok is also one of the oldest and most diverse forest areas on our planet (according to some source, it’s even more diverse than the Amazon rainforest).
The place we stayed was called “Tree house”, because there are real trees going through all those rooms and the main building. The owners are a Thai couple, quiet and very friendly people. The man is specialized in bird’s photography and has a huge 10’000 dollar lens on his camera. The pictures of the birds are amazingly sharp and detailed, and are presented on the tables and walls of the main building and restaurant. As it was low season, and I told the owner that I permanently live in Thailand, she gave me the superior 2000 baht room for just 1000 baht a night, an offer which I gladly accepted. The room was great, but the main reason I chose the tree house resort wasn’t the room, but the various trips and activities for affordable prices, which were offered at the resort. We started with the 2-3 hour canoe tour, for which we were just in time. The guide picked us up with his truck and drove us approximately 30 min upwards the Sok river. We left the car and entered a small plastic canoe, just made for at most 3 people. The landscape we drove through blew our minds. As far as we could see there was pristine rainforest and the area was spotted with limestone rock formations covered with trees and bushes. Our guide tried to find snakes at the river bank, but because the river was high, this was a rather difficult task. At least we found one, though it was too far away to really identify. According to the guide, in the dry season it should be easy to spot snakes sunbathing on the riverbank. After floating a while downstream, I couldn’t resist any longer but to jump in the cooling water. Unfortunately the guide didn’t tell me where to go out until it was almost too late. With quite an effort, I managed to swim back towards the river movements and to finally reach the exit point. We drove back, took a shower and relaxed for nearly an hour, until it was time to go out again for the night safari tour. Here we spotted many insects, though the guide couldn’t tell the scientific names in English for the most part. At least we could identify one species, the cobalt blue tarantula (see picture left), a medium seized tarantula native to Thailand and Myanmar. Another highlight of the night trip was a family of civets up in the tree. They starred at us with big eyes, while they were eating the fruits of the tree (as I don’t have a zoom lens, I couldn’t make any pictures of them). We also discovered another quite big spider, a smaller spider, some caterpillars, a grasshopper, a tree frog (probably the common tree frog) and a pretty interesting insect (specifications are more than welcomed, just leave a comment if you know more).
After about 2 hours (the guide wanted to stay longer, but my girlfriend was afraid of nocturnal ghosts) we walked back to our tree hut to get some sleep. For just 500 baht for the night safari, and 700 baht for the canoe tour, I was more than pleased for what I had seen.
We woke up 7 am to get some breakfast, before going on our trekking day trip. Our guide was a young Thai man, who worked for a scientific institution before. Though he never studied in an university, he knew a lot about wildlife, plants and medicine. Beside that he was a talented reader of tracks. After just a while we spotted the first monkeys, precisely long tailed macaques or crab-eating macaques, on the other site of the river. It was a family of about 10-20 animals. We also heard the loud shouts of gibbons regularly, but were too far away to see them. During our trip we also spotted a centipede (family Polydesmidae, see picture right) and two forest lizards, maybe an Ayeyarwady Forest Lizard (family agamidae, left picture) and a Vietnamese Forest Lizard (family agamidae, right picture).
At lunch time we rested at a place near the river and treated our leech bites. Leeches are everywhere in the wet rainforest and they loved to hide between my toes. To stop the bleeding our guide gave us some leaves, which he picked up from the surrounding trees and directed us to put those on our wounds. We did so and the bleeding seemed to stop. As it was very humid and hot, I jumped in the quite still water and enjoyed the cooling water for a while before heading away from the river into the forest again.
On our way through the forest, our guide found tracks and ondors of monkeys, wild boars, elephants and even a track of a bigger cat (leopard or tiger). On the way back, our guide showed us a palm with fruits (Salacca wallichiana, see picture below) which looked like the famous salak fruits (Salacca zalacca), but far less sweet than them. As I really love Salak (Thai: salaa), I asked him, if we could eat those fruits. He agreed but warned us: The fruit would taste extremely sour. As I love sour things, I didn’t care, removed the snakeskin-like peel and bit into it. The taste “was” indeed extremely sour and I didn’t manage to eat the whole fruit. As we didn’t see any other animals, expect from some butterflies, our guide tried to entertain us with another demonstration. He showed us how to make a fire with only two bamboo sticks. All we needed for that was some dry bamboo, which was abundant around here. We cut the bamboo in two halves and than produced some fine bamboo shavings from the dry inside of the tube, which were then placed inside the half-pipe. We made a small hole from the outside of the tube and carved a slim bamboo stick. This bamboo stick was now hold into the small hole and moved quickly backwards and forwards. It was just a demonstration “how to do”, so the guide didn’t continue after a while, and we didn’t actually make a fire. As we were very tried from the walk and looked forward to go back anyway, we didn’t bother.
On the next morning, we jumped on our bike again and drove back, this time we choose the way over Kaw Lak, instead of Phang Nga. As it is durian season in July, we saw lots of durian and mangosteen street shops. One local variation of durian was called thurian baan, a quite small fruit compared to the famous mo thong thurian, which can be bought in the supermarkets everywhere. The fruits were dirt cheap, 20 baht for a kilo of mangosteen and about 30 baht per kilo thurian. We packed as many fruits as possible, and drove back to Phuket.
In conclusion: The night safari was surprisingly interesting and we discovered in fact more animals in 2 hours than we did on our whole day trip next day. The canoe tour was great as well, due to the amazing landscape around the river Sok. But the raining season isn’t the ideal season for Kaw Sok adventures. First of all, many animals hide themselves when it’s raining and secondly, many trekking trails are closed anyway, due to inundation. The ideal season to explore national parks in Southern Thailand is from January to March, when it hardly rains. Nevertheless, at least the prices usually go down during the raining season and advanced booking is usually not necessary. Also trails, restaurants and resort are very quiet at this time.