Mountains in the mist

Thailand March 26, 2014 00:00

By Phoowadon Duangmee
The Nation

9,675 Viewed

Dusky leaf monkeys, orange-breasted Trogons and a picturesque sea of fog are among Mother Nature's treats at Kaeng Krachan National Park

It’s 3pm and our pick-up truck growls as it negotiates the winding road towards Thailand’s largest National Park, Kaeng Krachan in Phetchaburi province. Samrong Meekaew, an enthusiastic park ranger and our guide for this trip, runs us through the wildlife we are likely to encounter – hornbills, dusky leaf monkeys, black giant squirrels, pheasants, red junglefowl and elephants.
It’s the “elephant” that pulls me of my somnolent state.
“Elephants? I thought this was supposed to be an easy trip, you know, full of birdsong and a sea of fog. I don’t recall anyone mentioning wild elephants,” I say with concern.
“Things happen in Kaeng Krachan National Park,” Samrong replies with a grin. “You really are in the heart of the wild.”
Tucked away on Thailand’s western frontier, Kaeng Krachan National Park occupies 3,000 square kilometres and is spread over Phetchaburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan provinces. Twice the size of Bangkok, the national park consists mainly of rain forest and reaches to the eastern slopes of the Tenasserim Mountain Range in Myanmar. Wildlife is common here – especially the elephant – and visitors are almost sure to spot elephant dung. Yet the pachyderms are not what draws visitors to the park. They come instead to wonder at rare and much treasured birds and butterflies. 
Every year keen ornithologists flock to Kaeng Krachan National Park in the hope of glimpsing such rare and exotic birds as the ratchet-tailed treepie and silver-breasted broadbill. The park is also popular with butterfly-watchers. Five years ago, I joined a group of lepidopterists in Kaeng Krachan National Park and returned home still marvelling at the magnificence of the Fourbar Swordtail, Skipper, Birdwings and Swallowtails, who looked more like fairies than butterflies.
Now I’m once again pitching a tent at Phanern Thung – the park’s remote campsite – but this time, I’m here to see the sea of fog instead of creatures with wings.
Kaeng Krachan National Park recently made it to the list of Thailand’s Top 10 Dream Destinations released by Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). While the other nine Dream Destinations, which include Lipe Island in Satun and Wat Prathad Pha Sornkaew, are blessed with unique beauty, Kaeng Krachan National Park won the vote for its year-round sea of fog. 
In fact, this sea of fog is common to every one of Thailand’s national parks. Every winter campers, hikers and photographers wake up before dawn to capture the mist as it floats over and around the deep valleys. What makes Kaeng Krachan National Park so special is not the fog itself but that you don’t have to wait for winter to see it.
“It’s there every morning,” says Samrong, “and yes, even in April when the days are hottest. The best places to spot it are at the lookouts at KM.30 and KM36 milestones.”
We’re not about to argue and are up and ready to jump into the truck well before dawn the next morning and brave the high road to the outlook at KM.36 milestone. 
We’re not the first to arrive. A group of young travellers are already standing on the escarpment, their faces intent as they stare out at breath-taking panoramic view. Soon enough, as the first rays of the sun bring light to the horizon, the fog slowly fills the valley. In the middle ground, we can see the green canopy of the rainforest through the wreaths of white fog while, in the far distance, our eyes can just about make out the mountains rising to the left and right. It’s awesome and I find myself straining to pick out the Tenasserim range that separates Myanmar and Thailand.
“Do you see that mountain in the distance?” asks Samrong, indicating where he means with a finger. “That’s the highest summit, and Myanmar is beyond that peak.”
We make our way back to Phanern Thung, brace ourselves with coffee, and leave the campground for the park headquarters some 30 kilometres away. 
Our route takes us along a path inhabited by the park’s famed fauna. We come upon families of dusky leaf monkeys who stare at us with their amazing white eyes and even get close enough to see a monkey mum with baby clinging to her chest flying from one tree to another. It’s a truly magical moment when mum stops briefly to return our gaze.
We don’t spot the promised elephant but Samrong is quick to point out a number of beautiful birds including the silver-breasted broadbill and orange-breasted trogon. 
“Any chance of seeing a ratchet-tailed treepie?” I ask hopefully.
If you go
_ Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi province, is about 220 kilometres south of Bangkok. You can pitch a tent at Baan Krang and Phanern Thung campgrounds. There are small restaurants selling food and drink at both campsites. Birdwatchers should avoid Kaeng Krachan National Park on the weekends when visitor numbers are up.