When most people think of Thailand they think beaches, nightlife, spicy food, and historic temples. One of the pleasant surprises after arriving, however, are the country’s numerous national parks. From the mountains of the north to the islands in the deep south, every corner of the country has a national park or two, and with no less than a total of 102, Thailand’s national parks are equal in number to all those found in Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Indonesia, combined.
While some — like Khao Yai, Khao Sok, and Ko Tarutao — are known as premier global destinations, most of Thailand’s national parks go unnoticed by the average traveller. With so many, it’s easy to pass them by as “just another national park”, but if you have the chance while in Thailand, stop in to one of the more obscure national parks and you will likely not be disappointed. I certainly wasn’t when I recently gave Ranong's Ngao National Park a shot.
The star attraction here is Ngao waterfall and for this alone it’s worth the trip. The falls are impressive, especially during rainy season when the roaring waters cascade dramatically down a rocky series of cliffs from some 50 metres above. During dry season, which is when I was there, the waterfall is more a trickle than a roar, but it’s still a picturesque sight with peaceful surrounds.
In either direction away from the falls there are some good hiking trails, including one leading to a western viewpoint and some of the park’s treehouse-style accommodation. This is a great place to stay if you just need to get away from it all.
After hiking around the lush hills for a while, I headed back to my motorbike but before I could speed away the friendly lady at the visitor centre ran over to tell me the national park also includes the Porn Rang hot springs just up the road.
I’d already been to the better known Rahsawarin hot springs in Ranong town and didn’t expect the Porn Rang springs to be any better, but after arriving I found a far more extensive network of pools of varying temperatures. Unlike those closer to town these hot springs are away from any roads and set in a quiet, tranquil area filled with flowers, trees, foot paths and bridges that collectively lend a Japanese Zen garden feel to the place. Before long, what I thought would be a quick peek had turned in to a two-hour excursion.
Some comfortable and stylish cottages are also available at Porn Rang for 500 baht per night. I wasn’t able to stay the night here, but after (literally) soaking it all in for a while I was relaxed as could be, and had officially become Ngao National Park’s newest fan.
If you find yourself in Ranong en route to Ko Chang Noi, Ko Phayam, or Burma, try to fit in Ngao National Park. It’s located 12 kilometres south of Ranong on Phet Kasem Road with the hot springs a couple of kilometres closer to town. Like many of Thailand’s national parks Ngao may not have a “can’t miss” reputation, but it’s an unexpectedly enjoyable spot that helps turn a trip from good to great.
How to get there
Follow the road south along Phet Kasem Rd (Rte. 4) and turn left at the sign about 12kms from Ranong. Follow the road for about 700m to reach the park headquarters. While the park makes for a good motorbiking adventure, it may also be reached by some of the long distance larger songthaews that depart from the market on Ruangrat Rd.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 3rd August, 2015.