Khao Sok National Park, Thailand
Khao Sok National Park is a nature reserve in southern Thailand containing dense virgin jungle, towerlike limestone karst formations and the man-made Cheow Lan Lake. It’s home to rare species such as the giant parasitic Rafflesia flower, hornbill birds, gibbons and tigers. The park can be explored by elephant-back safari, hiking trail, and raft, canoe or kayak via the Sok river.
You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a George of the Jungle movie when you take the time to visit extraordinary Khao Sok National Park (0 7739 5025; www.khaosok.com; admission 200B). It offers a good break from dozing in the sand and encompasses 646 sq km of thick native rainforest and rugged mountains. Here, waterfalls tumble over soaring limestone cliffs and hiking trails follow rivers to an island-studded lake. Enjoy the solitude as your feet squish through deep brown dirt and the sun filters through gnarled and ancient trees. Keep an eye out for the plethora of wildlife the park shelters – wild elephants, leopards, serow, banteng, gaur, dusky langurs and, if you’re really lucky, tigers and Malayan sun bears, not to mention more than 180 species of bird.
Established in 1980, Khao Sok lies in the western part of Surat Thani Province, off Rte 401 about a third of the way from Takua Pa to Surat Thani. According to Thom Henley, author of the highly informative Waterfalls and Gibbon Calls, the Khao Sok rainforest is in fact a remnant of a 160-million-year-old forest ecosystem that is much older and richer than the forests of the Amazon and central African regions.
Khao Sok is connected to two other national parks, Kaeng Krung and Phang-Nga, as well as the Khlong Saen and Khlong Nakha wildlife sanctuaries. Together, these reserves form the largest contiguous nature preserve – around 4000 sq km – on the Thai peninsula. A major watershed for the south, the park is filled with lianas, bamboo, ferns and rattan, including the wǎi tào phráw (giant rattan) with a stem more than 10cm in diameter. A floral rarity in the park is the Rafflesia kerrii Meijer, known to the Thais as bua phút (wild lotus), one of the largest flowers in the world. Found only in Khao Sok and an adjacent wildlife sanctuary (different varieties of the same species are present in Malaysia and Indonesia), mature specimens can reach 80cm in diameter. The flower has no roots or leaves of its own; instead it lives parasitically inside the roots of the liana, a jungle vine. From October to December buds burst forth from the liana root and swell to football size. When the bud blooms in January and February it emits a potent stench resembling rotten meat, which attracts pollinating insects