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Khao Sok National Park in Thailand
By:Grahame Pike

Khao Sok National Park is especially well worth visiting should you be a nature orientated traveller. Together with the nearby preserves, this wildlife sanctuary forms the largest and most dramatic tract of virgin rain forest in southern Thailand. Not only does the park offer you some of the best hiking trails in the area, it also offers you some spectacular sites in a wilderness of breathtaking limestone crags. The park is also dotted with dozens of waterfalls, caves and valley view points.

Limestone cliffs dominate just about every vista both on and off the enormous Cheow Lan Lake and never more so than in the early morning. Very often this is when the lake is covered in a thick white mist that appears to transcend and curl effortlessly around the countless krast formations. It is an experience not to be missed and it will surely remain embedded in your memory for years to come if not forever. Best time to visit is between January and April when the skies are clear.

Though the park is mostly thickly carpeted in impenetrable rain forest and home to an array of animals such as elephants, tigers, monkeys, bears, boars and deer among others, along with almost two hundred species of bird, it appears to have more than enough attractions to cater for the enthusiastic adventure seeker.

Khao Sok covers an area of some 738 square kilometres (285 square miles) then rises to a height of over 1,000 metres (3,300 feet) and includes 100 spectacular islands that were formed when the Rachabrapha Dam was constructed in 1982.

There are two pivotal points in which to begin your exploration of the park. The main one is at the tourist village concentrated around the park visitor centre and trail-heads and another one at the Rachabrapha Dam at the Cheow Lan Lake.

Depending on how long you want to stay, it is probably better to start your tour from the tourist village as various trips can comfortably be organized from there. It's also possible to spend a night at the lake if you so wish. I'll leave it to you.

The park is a popular wildlife sanctuary for families to go elephant trekking, hiking in the jungle, canoeing on the lake, swimming in the Sok River, bird watching or animal spotting. Many of the hiking trails are sign-posted, straightforward, easy to navigate on your own and suitable for all levels of fitness. There are however some trails for the more mature person. It may be well worth your while to make at least a one off-trail trek into the jungle with an experienced tour guide.

The best jungle guides will not only educate you in rudimentary jungle tactics but will also open your eyes to a wealth of unexpected wonders you may have missed should you enter the wilderness on your own. To give you an example, there is a chance you could see the claw marks left behind by a sun-bear scaling a tree in search of honey or the medicinal plants used to cure malarial fever or stomach upsets. If you are even luckier, you may spot the largest flower in the world.

This particular national park is one of the few places in the world where you may be lucky enough to spot the gigantic Rafflesia Kirri. The flower is believed to be the largest of it's kind in the world although some say that it's classified as being the second biggest flower in the world. Nevertheless it's one enormous blossom. In full bloom, the flower can reach a diameter of up to 80 centimeters (31inches).

This most foul smelling darker than amber cabbage-like tropical plant has no roots or leaves and is wholly parasitic. For most of the year it lies dormant in the form of microscopic threads inside the roots of a host tree. Once a year a small flower breaks the surface of it's host bark. Over several months the bud will swell to the size of a giant watermelon and then unfurls it's enormous russet-coloured petals.

To witness this phenomena you would have to visit the park between the months of December and March. It is during this period the Rafflesia Kirri emits a rather disgusting fetid smell in order to attract green-headed houseflies who then assist in it's pollination process. After a few days the orange-red flower shrivels to a vile unsightly putrescent mass. See the fly in the photo grabbing pollen from the plant.

At the entrance to the park you'll more than likely be met by guest-house staff offering free lifts to their accommodation within the grounds, but you can ignore them should you only be staying the day. At the tourist village there are around twenty sets of bungalows along with half a dozen mini-markets, laundry services, email centres, and some very welcome massage spas, a true life-saver especially after a grueling jungle trek. Be aware that Khao Sok can get notoriously humid.

I have to admit that just one tour of this magnificent park is not nearly enough. You may want to stay one, two or even three nights depending on how long it takes you to explore all the wonderful sights and sounds here. If so there are several guest houses within the park in which to choose. Take your time to find one to suit your special needs. There are family size bamboo and wooden guest houses, mountain view bungalows, river-raft chalets on the lake and tree-style houses in the jungle. Contact me anytime if you need help in this department.

The park is located about halfway between the southern peninsula's two coasts, that of the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. It is easily accessible by road from Phuket, Khao Lak and Surat Thani but you can drive up from Krabi too.

The main access road to the visitor centre at the park is from the junction town of Takua Pa so should you be driving north from Phuket, take the coastal route towards the town of Khao Lak and from there it's about a ninety minute drive to the park. The drive from Takua Pa is less than an hour. Take Highway 401 if you are coming from Surat Thani in which case the travel time is about two hours.

Hi my name is Grahame Pike and the author of this article. My passion is travel, art, writing and meeting new and interesting people in strange and exotic locations. If you enjoyed reading this page and would like to see the photos relating to this article as well as some of my other editorials on Thailand, please follow me at: http://www.luxury-thailand-travel.com/

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