Khao Phra Taeo National Park is effectively the only significant virgin rain forest left on Phuket. It covers an area of 22 sq kms. on the north of the island, and it is a conservation development centre.
The reserve has for hiking lovers several forest trails whether short and long trails to the other side of the forested mountain. The short one takes around 1-2 hours walk while the longer one to Bang Pae Waterfall requires more than 4 hours and an experienced guide. Visitors can contact and hire a guide at the reserve office near Ton Sai waterfall. There is also a small museum and information centre.
Khao Phra Taew is also known for the small waterfall there, one that flows only in rainy weather. Thai culture has a love affair with waterfalls, something akin to the Western passion for palm-fringed, tropical beaches. On weekends Thais come here to picnic and sit right under the cascading water.
The most fascinating thing to do here, though, is to walk one of the two forest paths through the rainforest that the National Parks maintains. There is a short 600 metre walk, and an especially beautiful two kilometre track. The longer track is not particularly arduous, though perhaps too much for those who are grossly overweight, very old or otherwise unhealthy. Children from about six or seven year could easily handle the track, and could gain a lot of knowledge from it.
The short 600 metre walk through the Khao Phra Taew’s rainforest will be enough for most people. And indeed they will get a glimpse of a natural world that has been so thoroughly destroyed on Phuket it is difficult to imagine without coming to see. Both the short and long walking tracks start by following the small stream that creates the waterfall. You have to do some scrambling over rocks, and get the feet wet from time to time. While the track might not be as well built as many National Parks walks in countries like Australia and the USA, it is still quite adequate.
The full beauty of this forest is not discovered, however, unless you take the longer of the tracks, and venture a little higher up the stream-cum-track. The thick mix of big trees, vines, brushes, bamboos and palms locks out the sun as you delve into a semi-dark world in which the track is sometimes difficult to see. It’s not for those who are old and infirm on their feet. There are occasional breaks in the canopy where the track crosses the stream, providing a wider view of the forest in sunlight.
As we climb this track up the mountain we find ourselves moving into and through a number of different floral worlds. Once up there we really understand the value of taking the longer of the two tracks.
Deep in the forest
The track scrambles along, following the bed of the small stream. If it has not rained recently this will be dry. Walking this trail is a great monsoon season activity, for during the wet months the vegetation explodes into lush abundance, the fungi bloom and an a weird, colourful world insect life emerges.
Sometimes it feels like you are on a ‘hash’ run, with the leaders wondering where the trail goes next. But here, after some uncertainty you realize that when no cut trail is evident, follow the river bed. While this track holds no footprints, reassurance soon arrives in the form of another information and rest station.
When deep in the rainforest those moments without the certainly of a man-made track can raise the heartbeat. This makes a great ‘soft adventure’ for kids. Also, be prepared to crawl through thick patches when large trees have fallen, and the trail has only been partially cleared.
Well up the mountainside the trail emerges from the deep shade of huge trees and high canopy into a brighter forest of the beautiful and rare ‘lang khao’ palm, or white-backed palm, (kerriodoxa elegans). The palm produces broad leaf-fans of exquisite form, but the real impact comes from walking under a complete canopy of them, with sunlight creating dazzling shadow patterns as it strikes leaves and filters between them.
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