Due to the region's inaccessibility and rugged terrain, very little logging or settlement has taken place, meaning primary forest dominates -- covers 95% of the vast area.
It's truly a nature lover's paradise.
The park is situated on the eastern slope of the Tenasserin Mountain Range, where the highest mountain, Khao Panoen Thung, reaches 1,207 metres but the main peaks are actually over the border in Burma. The terrain in this part of the park is covered by steep, rugged slopes with numerous caves, waterfalls and river gorges. A large part of the park also extends into the watershed area of the Phetchaburi and Pranburi river systems.
Kaeng Krachan has some of Thailand's highest rainfall and as a result, the forest is exceptionally lush, adding to its appeal. Kaeng Krachan national park contains a wide variety of flora and fauna. Its location at the 'junction' of continental Southeast Asia and the Malayan Peninsula means northern deciduous forest, with its accompanying wildlife, meets the tropical evergreen jungle typical of the Malayan/Sumatran region, creating a haven for several unique species. Large mammals are abundant in the park, where elephants and tigers have been seen, along with the Asian black bear, panthers, leopards, a variety of monkeys and the very rare Fea's barking deer. Birdlife is diverse with more than 400 species having been identified, including the ratchet-tailed tree pie only discovered in 1991 and unrecorded elsewhere in Thailand. The park also holds a small community of the endangered woolly-necked stork.
The only human inhabitants are in several small mixed Karen and Karang settlements, which forestry officials would dearly like to relocate. The park is pretty much closed from August to November for the rainy season (with October being the wettest month), with December to March being the ideal time to visit. For a quieter time you may want to avoid weekends. In December and January the higher altitudes require warm clothes.
Kaeng Krachan is well organised, with excellent facilities and English-speaking wardens, yet is very rarely visited by either Thais or foreigners. Certain parts of the park can be visited on your own, namely the trails heading off from the 36-kilometre road leading through the centre, from the park entrance to near Khao Panoen Thung. You do however need permission from the park headquarters before you wander up the road.
Phanoen Thung Mountain is reached by a difficult six-kilometre track from the road starting at the 27-kilometre marker. There is only one other road in the southern part of the park, which leads to the waterfall Namtok Pala-u. Otherwise guides can be hired from the park headquarters at 200 baht per day. You will be expected to provide your own food (and the guide's food) and tents, though the latter can be hired. A two- or three-day hike should work out reasonably cheap. For a supplement, rafting is available on the walk and boat trips on the reservoir can be organised through the headquarters. A more destructive 4WD and a guide goes for 800 baht per day. If you are only here for a day try the Tortip Waterfall, which is a three-hour walk from the 33-kilometre marker off the road. The final section is very steep.
The 45 square kilometre artificial lake known as Kaeng Krachan Reservoir, formed in 1965 by the damming of the Phetchaburi River, is part of the park as well as being a tourist destination in itself. The dam is 2.5 kilometres past the Kaeng Krachan village checkpoint and is home to many bird, fish and reptile species, including the Malayan giant frog, which can grow up to 30 centimetres long.
Former peaks now form wooded islands dotting the scenic lake. Thailand's King Bhumibol is a regular visitor and has had a pavilion constructed for himself so he can enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Boat trips can be organised from the park office and the village of Ban Tha Rua. If you are doing it on your own, do not stray off the track. You will still see some stunning scenery and plenty of wildlife and several campsites have been established along the way with washing facilities for your convenience. A tremendous advantage of the walks is that stream water is plentiful and drinkable so you do not need to weigh yourself down with water. However mosquito repellent and nets are essential — this is a malarial area. Leeches can also be a problem, so take some matches, a lighter or cigarettes to burn them off (any brand will do!)
How to get there
There are two main routes to the park. From Phetchaburi, drive or ride 20 kilometres south towards Tha Yang, take the indicated right and then follow the signs for the next 38 kilometres. Otherwise drive through Tha Yang and Cha Am to Hua Hin, then follow the signs for the 60 odd kilometres into the park. Direct songthaews leave from Matayawong Road near the digital clocktower. These stop in Tha Yang for 20 minutes then continue the remaining 40 kilometres to Ban Kaeng Krachan. Once you reach Ban Kaeng Krachan, you will need to either walk, hitch or take a motorbike taxi for the remaining five kilometres to the park headquarters. This trip takes all up around 1.5 hours. Otherwise you can get a songthaew from Phetchaburi or Cha Am to Tha Yang and from there pick up another songthaew to Ban Kaeng Krachan.
From further afield, all buses plying the Bangkok to Prachuap Khiri Khan route stop at Tha Yang. There is even a direct air-con bus to Tha Yang from Bangkok.
From Hua Hin
The best way to reach the park from Hua Hin is by hired motorcycle via Route 3219. Follow the signs to the park ranger's office some 60 kilometres away. You will enter via the southern reaches of the park, and Namtok Pala-u is four kilometres further on. There is no accommodation available in this area yet, but there are a number of other waterfalls you can visit.
By public transport your best bet is to get a songthaew to Ban Nong Phlab, though we would suggest that Phetchaburi is a better approach point for those entering by public transport.
By Stuart McDonald
Last updated on 15th September, 2013.