I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming. In front of me hung a gigantic mass of fog filling up the entire valley and obscuring from view the beautiful natural surroundings of Khao Panoen Thung mountain in Kaeng Krachan National Park, the largest of its kind in Thailand.
The fog envelopes the valley early morning. We were up before the crack of dawn to witness this stunning phenomena. The mountain stands 1,207 metres above sea level. Reaching the viewpoint, however, was no child's play, since we had to drive up steep and often narrow roads. Fortunately, we had a very competent driver who admitted that the terrain was one of the most challenging he had encountered.
By the time we hit the highest point dawn was breaking. From that vantage point we looked down the forest and the valley and were amazed at the endless sea of fog it held in its embrace.
Being a long holiday, there were a number of visitors who had come equipped to capture the spectacle on their cameras. As the sun rose higher the view became more clear. It included a striking panorama of green forest, mountains and a sunrise that was spiritually uplifting. The mountain runs north-south forming a natural divide between Thailand and Burma.
After taking our fill of the experience, we decided to trek to the peak that also has accommodations for members of the royalty. On the way, we marvelled at the flora and fauna. I made note of the breathtaking view of the grassland and evergreen forest because they made for a good camping spot, especially after learning that the weather here stayed cool all year round.
Kaeng Krachan in Petchaburi Province offers a host of activities for nature lovers. It is an excellent place to visit for recreation and educational purposes as the park headquarters are a mere four hours drive from Bangkok, making it a convenient spot for family vacation.
The park occupies a largely unexplored 2,915 square kilometres of forest and mountain land. Rangers are available to answer questions at camp sites. There is a dam - it takes its name from the national park - just three kilometres from park headquarters around which there are several boutique style resorts and guest houses.
Driving through the uncharted territory infested with wildlife such as elephant, gaur, banteng, barking deer and gibbon to mention a few, felt like being on an exploration mission. However, the only animal we spotted was a boar, and then there were birds, butterflies and several huts scattered at random.
Due to the high humidity, many economic plants thrive under the conditions: afzelia, hopea, dipterocarpus, lagerstroemia, pterocarpus, aquilaria and many others.
In general guides are required for any travel off the main Khao Panoen Thung Road. As first-time visitors, however, we availed the services of two student guides for a tour of the forest along the road that would eventually take us to Tham Hua Chang, a spectacular cave with interesting rock formations.
The steep trail and forest terrain made it difficult for an amateur like myself to keep pace with the energetic teenage pair. I also had to overcome my deep-rooted fear of snakes that has a knack of surfacing on such trips. It drove me to try to complete the trek as quickly as possible.
So I wasn't amused when one of the boys said we had lost our way. Luckily, I didn't take us long to get back on track. The detour was good in a kind of way because we found that this part of the forest was more humid than the ones we had traversed earlier, although we had to drink copious amounts of water to keep going.
The artificial reservoir created by the building of Kaeng Krachan Dam covers an area of 46.5 square kilometers. It's an excellent place to hire a boat and go sightseeing. The dam spans the Petchaburi River.
Other attractions are a nine-storey waterfall, the Thorthip, deep in the forest which can be reached by going over a steep four-kilometre trail at the end of Nam Tok Thorthip Road on kilometre marker 36.
Bangkok Post May 06 www.bangkokpost.com
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