Khao Luang National Park stretches over 570 square kilometres of virgin forest to the west of Nakhon Si Thammarat town. Highlights include four spectacular waterfalls, over 300 wild orchid species and the highest peak in Southern Thailand. Often bathed in fog, 1,835-metre-tall Khao Luang anchors some of Thailand’s finest mountain scenery outside of the North.
The park contains a mix of limestone outcrops and granite massifs with a correspondingly varied flora including tropical rainforest, tropical deciduous and bamboo forest. You might spot the giant Mahasadam fern, which is older than the dinosaurs and still flourishes here. Locals claim that the rare Rafflesia flower, supposedly found only in Kaeng Krachan National Park, can also be found at Khao Luang.
Hundreds of animal species thrive amid the park’s dense old-growth jungle, which is often shrouded in fog that helps fruit orchards to thrive at the foot of the mountains. If packing your patience you’ll have a reasonable chance of spotting pigtailed macaques, two types of languars, wild boars, black eagles and four types of hornbills. Park officials claim that the rare Malayan tapir, panther, clouded leopard and tiger can be found here as well.
The park’s main attractions are spread out over a large area; hitting all of them requires using local highways to scoot around to different sides of Khao Luang. Some can be accessed by public songthaew from Nakhon Si Thammarat town (see below), making the park a good option for travellers who are on a tight budget and aren’t into motorbiking. Park-run restaurants are found near the two visitors centres, located at Karom Waterfall and Krung Ching Waterfall.
Those seeking a serious trek can reach the summit of Khao Luang on a three-day, two-night adventure that involves two campouts. This must be done with a guide; park rangers quoted us 5,000 baht for three people. Local guides are also available in Baan Khiri Wong, a beautiful fruit-growing village set at the start of the Khao Luang trailhead. Climbing Khao Luang can only be done between January 1 and September 30, and we were told that the best time is from March to May.
The most easily reached attraction is Karom Waterfall, located just beyond the main visitor centre and accommodation area to the south of Khao Luang. The falls flow down over a series of cliffs and boulder-strewn slopes, creating 19 different levels with some great bathing spots. A well-maintained trail traverses the lower seven levels of the waterfall, and only these are open to the public. Lush jungle, giant ferns and lots of bird and butterfly life surround the falls.
To the east of Khao Luang, Phrom Lok Waterfall and Ai Khiao Waterfall are located only four kilometres apart as the crow flies. Both were closed due to safety concerns from the roaring water when we visited in December. We were told that Phrom Lok contains over 50 levels with the lower four open; the first level is said to be especially beautiful thanks to the Mahasadam ferns. Ai Khiao boasts a whopping 100 levels, with the lowest nine accessable to the public.
The park’s most spectacular set of falls and quite possibly the most impressive in all of Southern Thailand — so we’ve heard — is Krung Ching Waterfall. It’s an 85 km drive north of the Karom Waterfall and 75 kilometres northwest of Nakhon town, but by all accounts it’s worth the effort to reach (it was also closed during our visit). One of the tiers appeared on the 1992 version of the 1,000 baht note, while another drops down a 100-metre rock face. A second visitor centre is found here along with Hong Cave, several hiking trails and accommodation.
Park-provided accommodation and campgrounds are available at both Karom Waterfall and Krung Ching Waterfall. All are fan cooled and equipped with hot water. Prices range from 600 baht up to 2,000 baht per night, depending on the size of the bungalow, and tents can be rented for 250 baht a night. Many travellers choose to stay at one of the homestays or small resorts in Baan Khiri Wong, which makes an excellent base for exploring the park.
The park has no specific guidelines on exactly when the waterfalls will be closed, but there’s a good chance that they’ll be off limits during the October to December monsoon, especially if you arrive after a good soaking. We were told that water flows at all four of the waterfalls all year long.
How to get there
To reach Karom Waterfall and the related visitor centre and accommodation from Nakhon Si Thammarat town, catch one of the dark-blue songthaews that depart for Lan Saka and Khao Kaew at least once an hour until 16:00 and ask to be dropped at "Nam Tok Karom." The cost is 30 baht per person and the driver may take you all the way up to the visitor centre; otherwise you'll have to walk uphill for a km. If coming on your own, take Route 4016 west out of Nakhon town, hang a left (west) on Route 4016 and you'll see signs for Karom Waterfall.
Phrom Lok Waterfall and Ai Khiao Waterfall can be reached from Nakhon town by taking a songthaew to Phrom Khiri. From here you can walk two km west to Phrom Lok and then take a motorbike taxi to Ai Khiao, which is around eight km northwest of Phrom Lok, though you might want to just arrange a motorbike taxi for both waterfalls. If coming on your own, take Route 4016 west out of Nakhon town and keep going for around 25 km. The turnoffs for both waterfalls are clearly signposted along the highway.
Krung Ching Waterfall is a lot further north and cannot be reached by public transport as far as we know, though you could arrange a day trip by taxi in Nakhon town for around 1,500 to 2,000 baht. To get here on your own, take either Route 401 north or 4016 west and then cut left (west) on Route 4140. This turns into Route 4186, from where a left turn (south) on Route 4188 will take you straight to the waterfall. Krung Ching Waterfall can also be reached as a day trip from Surat Thani (90 km to the northwest) or the Khanom and Sichon area (around 100 km to the northeast).
By David Luekens
Last updated on 1st February, 2016.