Waterfalls, caves and wildlife observing

Waterfalls, caves and wildlife observing

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More on Kaeng Krachan National Park

A hike into the wilderness of Kaeng Krachan National Park is the best way to spot some of the hundreds of bird species and other animals that thrive here, and while some trails were cut simply for enjoying nature walks most lead to spooky caves and refreshing waterfalls.

Travelfish says:

Apart from the trail to Pala-U Waterfall, the main central road, the “orchid trail” near Phanoen Thung Camp and the short trails near Ban Krang Camp, all hiking should be done with a guide. Rangers charge 400 baht for short excursions and 500 baht or more for a full day. They can be arranged at Ban Krang and Phanoen Thung camps; you’ll be lucky to get one who speaks much English. Experienced English-speaking guides can be arranged through Baan Maka, Kum Nang Paya and Samarn Bird Camp for 1,500 to 2,000 baht per day.

Just gorgeous. : David Luekens.
Just gorgeous. Photo: David Luekens

Around Ban Krang Camp
This is one of the best places in Thailand to go birdwatching. For a chance to spot banded kingfishers, pittas and partridges, among others, head down either of two nature trails that both run for around two kilometres. Both marked by signs, the first starts beyond the “youth camp” and the second begins where the road crosses a stream just west of camp. The stream crossings also attract hundreds of butterflies, while elephants and gaurs often hang out at salt licks found a few kilometres east of camp directly off the road.

Just past the salt licks to the east of Ban Krang, an unmarked trail cuts north for 500 metres over sharp limestone before ending at Tham Hua Chang, a dramatic cave named after a rock formation resembling an elephant head. This hike is ideal if you have limited time. On the way we noticed the shed skin of a large snake on a trail, and a small but lethal viper coiled on a branch. Our guide played dead when we asked what happens after it bites.

Inside Tham Hua Chang. : David Luekens.
Inside Tham Hua Chang. Photo: David Luekens

For a longer excursion, consider trekking four kilometres south to watch birds and reptiles amid the bubbling water of Pranburi Falls, or five kilometres down to the limestone massif and caverns at Tham Pakarang. There’s also the “Leopard Jungle” accessible around seven kilometres east of camp; our guide told us that he spotted three clouded leopards and one panther over the past year.

Thor Thip Waterfall
One of the best day hikes in the park runs along a five-kilometre trail from the western end of the road beyond Phanoen Thung Camp to Nam Tok Thor Thip. Within the first hour we were thrilled to watch gibbons and dusky langurs swing through the canopy. Up in this higher altitude jungle you also have a chance of spotting a great hornbill or ratchet-tailed treepie, a rare bird that exists only at a few isolated places in Asia.

The spectacular Thor Thip Waterfall. : David Luekens.
The spectacular Thor Thip Waterfall. Photo: David Luekens

After huffing up and down some fairly steep inclines and past snaking roots of dipterocarp trees and creaking bamboo, we reached a fork. Our guide told us that a right leads to the top of Thor Thip’s ninth and highest tier, from where we’d have to climb down an almost 90-degree rock wall to reach some natural pools suitable for swimming. We opted to go left for a broad view of the falls from across the valley. From there we continued downhill for lunch at a rarely used campsite beside the clear Phetchaburi River.

Pala-U Waterfall
Located much further south from the park’s central section and accessed by a completely separate road (Highway 3218), this multi-tiered waterfall makes for an easy three-kilometre hike that you can do on your own. The first five tiers are small, relaxing and easy to reach, with water splashing into pools filled with carp and catfish. Expect to share the trail with quite a few daytrippers from Hua Hin.

Pala-U waterfall. : David Luekens.
Pala-U waterfall. Photo: David Luekens

Pala-U’s upper ten tiers are supposedly more impressive but to see them you’ll have to climb up steep rocks off the trail, ignoring the warnings of park officials. Butterflies flutter around near the trailhead and restaurant, located more than four kilometres west of the ticket checkpoint and Visitor Centre. (Keep this distance in mind if coming by motorbikes, which are not allowed in the park).

Wild elephants often hang around the access road to the east of Pala-U Waterfall and have a reputation for being moody, evidenced by dozens of felled road signs. Do your best not to spook them when driving by. If you’re looking for a place to stay between Hua Hin and Pala-U, Ing Khao Glamping Resort (T: (092) 690 7279;(084) 523 8843) is a cool spot with air-con rooms and “luxury tents” in the 1,000 to 2,000 baht range.

Dusky langurs. : David Luekens.
Dusky langurs. Photo: David Luekens

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David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.

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