Jungle and Rainforest Trekking.....
Where have all the rainforests gone...?
Jungle trekking should be an easy activity to find on a lush tropical island like Phuket, one might imagine?
But no, sad to say, there is precious little original rainforest left on Phuket, most having long since been cut and converted into rubber plantations that now completely blanket the island.
Yet there is one good-sized patch of untouched rainforest at Khao Phra Taew National Park in the northeast corner of the island, and this is definitely worth a visit by those with the interest. The forest here is of great beauty, and gives an appreciation of how much Thailand and other regional countries have lost through the wonton destruction of their forests.
There are several tours sold to Khao Phra Taew (in fact, all serious jungle tours will visit and take similar trails), though you can easily go there by yourself. All you need is the transport to get to Talang Town, where one turns east for another three kilometres. This brings you to Khao Phra Taew National Park, and waterfall. There is a ranger’s guard post with signs, but no entry fee.
The waterfall, a short distance inside the gate, is nice, but hardly remarkable since it is neither very high nor does it carry much water. In the dry/high season it all but dries up. The forest on the mountain behind the waterfall is the really interesting part, and an attractive walking trail crosses the mountain, coming out on the other side near the Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre at Paklok. Certainly the best way is to cross the mountain, emerging from the forest on the other side, but this can only be done if transport is waiting for you on the other side. But a walk to the top of the mountain, with some side detours, followed by the return to the waterfall, takes one through a magnificent example of tropical rainforest and can make a rewarding half day trip or more.
There are two ways to begin on the trail: at the base of the waterfall there is a steep track off to the right. It clambers up the side of the stream, then goes a few hundred metres before joining the main track. The other entry to the main track is found by turning right at the park gate, following the signs to ‘Accommodation’. Another sign to ‘Paklok’ puts one on the trail up the mountain – it’s the only trail.
The trek to the top of the mountain range is probably less than two kilometres, and can be done in a half-hour by those really fit. Allow an hour and you will have an easy time. About one-third of the way up a trail, announced by a sign ‘Waterfall’, leads to the left. This also winds through deep, interesting forest.
Close to the top of the mountain the rangers have cleared some brush alongside the track, revealing a glen of exceptionally beautiful and rare palms called ‘Lang Khao’, or White Backs’. The backside of their leaves is a silvery white. Exceptionally rare, they are now found only in this park and in Khao Sok National Park on the mainland.
At the very top the trail splits left and right. The left branch is sign-posted, indicating that this goes down to Paklok, where one can find the road again. The right turn also meets the road down the other side, though it quickly runs out of forest and into rubber plantations. Take the left turn to continue enjoying rainforest.
The rainforest is beautiful at all times of the year, though during the monsoon season – June to October – it is particularly lush. If one can catch a sunny day at this time of year you will experience the forest at its very finest. Sunny weather is best, for when the sun’s rays penetrate the forest. With a million narrow shafts they highlight strange and remarkable shapes and forms, creating a beam-and-shadow atmosphere on the forest floor that makes the rainforest experience truly memorable.
An even better means of seeing pristine rainforest is to take two or more days and head north off Phuket Island to Khao Sok National Park on the mainland. Again, this can be done either by joining a tour, or by driving yourself.