Dip into a more natural side of life
Just a short 2-hour drive from downtown Ao Nang lays an oasis of wildlife preservation and untouched nature. This region has been preserved for decades by the Thai government, therefore allowing the wildlife populations to explode. This park is inside the Khao Sok National Park and is called Klong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary.
Krabi is a wonderful province, full of colorful reefs, green leafy forests, vast national parks, fresh air and so much more, but many of the true primary forests of Krabi have been replaced by ubiquitous palm and rubber trees which has supported growth in the local economy, however this growth comes with an ecological cost. The many species of plants and animals that live in our forests, deserts, oceans, and jungles and many other environments, have evolved to survive to in these environments. When their natural environment is changed the animals that live here either adapt or die off. In many places in Thailand and around the world, population growth has sparked global change, which has caused many of our planets species to die off. This is not the case in the Klong Saeng wildlife sanctuary.
Klong Saeng is nestled comfortably on the edges of the Chaow Lern Lake, a huge manmade lake encompassing over 165 sq. kilometers. The lake was created in 1982 after the Rajjaprapha dam was built by the Electrical Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) for generating electricity from a hydroelectric power station.
Originally the Klong Saeng river, which ran through this forest, was an untouched, slow moving, wide river which at some points extended to over 100 meters wide. Around 400 rural families lived by the rivers edge, fishing, farming and making their livelihood from the river. The Thai government decided to build the Rajjaprabha Dam (which in Thai actually means ‘The Light of the Kingdom”) in 1982. This necessitated the resettlement of people who lived on the rivers edge to areas in the surrounding regions. Each family was given approximately 20 Rai of land on which they could grow rubber, palm or other crops to make their livelihood.
The homes and small villages, which were abandoned, can now be dived with proper SCUBA gear from one of the many scuba companies in the region. But be warned this lake is deep; some parts extend to over 100 meters deep!
To enter the lake, you must go to the dam area and hire a long tail boat to take you to one of the 20 or more floating resorts on the lake or to just travel around the lake and explore, but either way this is the only entry/exit point. The dam is not located in the village of Khao Sok, which is about 60 kilometers away at the entrance to the Khao Sok National Park. Don’t get confused!
On the Northern edges of the lake lays a small floating guard post which acts to monitor the incoming and outgoing traffic through the area, they are typically looking for poachers or illegal traders so you may have a short stop and chat with the guards. This is just so they can make sure you are not a threat and then you’ll be sent on your way.
Immediately you’ll notice from the area that the lake takes on a smaller stature, the cliffs are shorter, the distance from one edge of the lake to another is much shorter and a much more intimate feeling descends on you as you venture further and further into the sanctuary. The edges of the lake has transformed from the towering monolithic limestone cliffs of the Chaew Larn Lake to grassy edges, which gradually slope away from the water’s edge. It seems as though this area allows for forest dwelling animals to gain easy access to the fresh drinking water. It is the main reason this area was selected as a wildlife sanctuary, and that makes perfect sense.
We now pull into a small docking area alongside a number of other long tail boats, as we venture out with our guide to learn some of the secrets of the lake.
Khun Nappon, our guide and translator is a Khao Sok local who has travelled the forests of Khao Sok National Park for over a decade now and has intimate knowledge of it’s history, dangers but most of all wonders. As we climb up the sides of the main trail we take our first stop at an old tree with a large hole dug in the side of it. Some black hardened sap has covered the edges of the hole (this is a natural glue the locals use to plug up holes in their boats, bind ropes together or do any other number of tasks that glue is helpful for.) As we continue our trek through the jungle, Khun Nippon collects a small seed pod, shows it off to us and explains that he and his friends used to gather bags of these pods together and fire them with large slings off into the forest canopy, the pods would land sometimes over 100 meters away.
Getting back into the boat we travel further northwards in search of the renowned wild forest elephants (or any wildlife to be honest) and up at the helm Khun Nippon shouts from behind his binoculars, “wild pigs up ahead”. I grab my camera gear and sure enough, off in the distance I can see a small herd of wild pigs, adults and babies alike drinking by the waters edge. The boatman cuts the engine and we drift towards them. Everyone on board is silent, hoping that we can approach without their hearing us. We get within 50 meters of the pigs then one sounds an alert and they disperse into the backdrop jungle.
As we turn the boat back onto the main body of water, a great hornbill swoops overhead and finds a perch in a tree just above the pigs’ drinking hole. A loud cry echoes forth from the hornbill’s beak and fills the air with a powerful beauty. A sense of uselessness descends over me as I wonder how this bird can create such sounds with only its tiny body, which I can’t even do with any human’s invention.
Around the next bend we encounter a water buffalo with its calf nearby, calmly grazing on the grass and reeds at the lakes edge. They are half submerged in the fresh waters, absorbing the water through their pores and hydrating themselves for their journey back into the forest. “These animals come down to the waters edge every day to drink and take in the minerals from the lake.” Khun Nippon tells us, “Everyday around 4-7pm the edges of the lake come alive with the many different animal species that call this forest home.”
Arriving at 3:30, we are in place with perfect timing, to observe the prolific fauna of the region.
Further up the waterway we venture, our eyes looking ahead as we are hoping to catch a glimpse one of the elusive forest elephants. Being the national animal of Thailand, elephants are revered throughout the kingdom. It is a tragedy that only 2,000 elephants remain in the wild through the kingdom. The Chinese interest in ivory has lead to increased poaching throughout the globe, and Thai/Asian elephants are not safe from this.
Our spirits are high since we have already seen a number of wild animals from the region, and our boat is full of joyous travelers, With ear to ear grins pasted on our faces and the telephoto camera ready, we cross the next bend to find another group of water buffalos drinking their daily fill.
“As a lover of nature I feel at home” I say to our Khun Nippon, “I can’t believe all that we’ve seen in a short 2 hour trip”. As the sun approaches the horizon we begin to make out way back to Keerawarin resort, which is one of the many floating resorts on Chiew Larn Lake.
As we round a bend on our way southward, Khun Nippon shoots straight up in his seat, His binoculars are pressed hard against his eyes as he points to the opposite bank; “Elephant!” He whispers. The boatman turns the boat ever so gently and starts to cross the lake to get closer. Giving the boat one more jolt, the boatman increased the power to his engine then cuts it all together. “We can only hope the elephant doesn’t hear us or at least doesn’t feel threatened,” Khun Nippon explains as we all sit motionless. The camera’s viewfinder is pressed to my eye sockets so tightly that not one photon of light can impede my vision.
As we approach the elephant, it turns its head up to meet our boat with its curious yet cautious gaze. Forest elephants have been known to charge and even sink boats so our eyes also contain a bit of the same emotions. We are lucky however, as this elephant not only doesn’t run, it lowers its trunk and continues to drink. Our boat gets within 20 meters of this amazing animal, my heart is thumping through my chest, and I can actually see the individual hairs on the elephants’ back.
Later, back at the Keerawarin we all sit around the dinner table, devour fresh gourami caught just this evening, sip on some tasty French wine provided by the tour organizer and exchange stories on the emotions we all felt from this encounter.
A truly amazing experience for anyone interested in seeing, first hand, the wonders of nature within a short two hour drive from Ao Nang. For more information feel free to email Krabi magazine staff at: firstname.lastname@example.org