Asia’s most unique eco-sanctuary has teamed up with world-renowned naturalist, adventurer and author Thom Henley to blaze new trails into the heart of Thailand’s undiscovered gem, Khao Sok National Park.
Khao Sok is Thailand’s biggest national park; a mist-shrouded wonderland older than the Amazon and a treasure trove of biodiversity, with wild elephants, tigers, leopards, serow, banteng, guar, dusky langurs, Malayan sun bears, Asiatic black bears, barking deer, long tailed macaques, gibbons, 46 species of snake and almost 200 species of birds among the inhabitants of its 646 sq km of dense rainforest and spectacular limestone karsts.
A major watershed for Thailand’s south, the rainforest is also home to one of the world’s most rare and amazing flowers, Rafflesia kerri, which can reach almost a metre across.
Park rangers trained by Mr Henley will guide Thanyamundra guests on trail walks into the beating heart of this enchanting ‘Emerald Forest’. When in residence at Thanyamundra, the Canada-based Mr Henley will also guide some walks himself.
His definitive tome on Khao Sok, “Waterfalls and Gibbon Calls”, explains how today’s national park is what remains of a 160-million year forest eco-system that in its heyday would have dwarfed the Amazon and central Africa’s forests. He also points out that Khao Sok’s limestone karsts resemble those of nearby Phang Nga Bay, as they were once all part of a giant coral reef. Plate tectonics had over millions of years thrust the reef skywards until it became the mountain range of Khao Sok.
Thanyamundra is located on the edge of the park proper, nestled in the rolling green folds of gentle hills but flanked by towering ghostly sentinels of jagged limestone. It’s a setting of unsurpassed beauty, graced by two golden teak pavilions containing just nine suites, affording views over a mesmerizing, mist-shrouded valley. Over 70 rai of land has been devoted to organic farming and each crop is irrigated with water from a pristine mountain spring, resulting in exceptionally pure and sustainable produce.
Thanyamundra General Manager Shaun Dunhofen, who took over the reins of the resort last month, said he was thrilled to be co-operating with Mr Henley. “It’s fantastic to be working with a legend,” he said. “Mr Henley is a walking encyclopaedia on Khao Sok and his passion is infectious.
“The trail walks we have developed for our guests will offer a truly unique experience. Khao Sok really is Thailand’s ‘Emerald Forest’ and I have fallen deeply in love with it myself since starting my job. I’ve done some of the walks myself. I can truly say that I’ve never been in a forest that teemed with such a profusion of wildlife. Khao Sok really feels alive.
“Now, it’s my pleasure to extend an invitation to prospective guests and valued repeat customers to come and visit us at Thanyamundra for our ‘Jewels of the Emerald Forest’ Khao Sok trailwalkers program.”
Mr Dunhofen added that “birders” also had a treat in store for them. “The quality and variety of birds – given the diversity of foliage – is extraordinary. You’ll see everything from waders such as the Chinese Pond Heron and the Red Wattled Lapwing to Hornbills, Pitta and Trogons. There are also a large number of Raptors and quite a few that visit as migratory species. Then there are the huge number of colourful woodpeckers. It is incredible alone that the Great Slaty Woodpecker is common at Khao Sok.”
Khao Sok is connected to two other National Parks (Sri Phang nga and Klong Phanorn) and two wildlife sanctuaries (Klong Saen and Klong Nakkha), together forming the largest and most vital protected wildlife habitats in SE Asia.
According to Mr Henley: “By virtue of elimination these areas have become critical refuges, oases of life in landscapes that are now comparative biological deserts of oil palm and rubber plantations and logged over scrublands.” He said he had no doubt Khao Sok would have been UNESCO World Heritage listed long since if Thai authorities hadn’t dammed part of the mountain range to produce hydroelectric power. “It was an ecological disaster at the time … whole ecosystems were destroyed, entire species displaced. But the unintended upside today is that we now have an incredibly beautiful lake up in the mountains. And of course it features quite a lot along some of the best trail walks.”
The other great tragedy of Khao Sok, he said, was rampant poaching of everything from wild elephants and tigers to the park’s profusion of primates and birds. “There are many local poachers and it’s one of the most lucrative ways they have to earn a living.
“We are now doing outreach into local schools to teach children about how fragile and precious the park’s eco-system is, in the hope that we can steer them away from a life of poaching. The key to teaming up with Thanyamundra is that we now have a great chance to put Khao Sok firmly into the public eye by making these new trails famous.
“As upscale tourism grows, there will be more jobs available for locals, either as guides or related jobs. I’m also very proud of our lead guide and his son, Mr Nit and You Chanyoo. The father was a poacher himself until he quit to become a park ranger and the whole family has turned to dedicate their lives to conservation. Nit is a key part of the story, for his life encapsulates everything we are trying to do.”
Mr Henley is also the director of In Touch With Nature Education, a program that offers international students transformational learning adventures in countries throughout Asia, and he said Khao Sok could also feature more heavily in the program of trips he conducts with students each year to the world’s most pristine and important wildernesses.
Mr Dunhofen said that while the trail walks were a fantastic new addition to Thanyamundra, guests should not overlook the resort’s other considerable attractions. “There’s so much that’s unique,” he said. “The welcoming Thai hospitality, genuine antiques that grace each suite, organic fine dining with probably Thailand’s most pure produce, Thai cooking classes, the chance to swim a few laps in one of Asia’s highest 50m pools, or perhaps getting blissed in the mist with a spot of early morning yoga.”
Each of Thanyamundra’s spacious master suites and rooms are fully equipped with modern comforts from high-speed wireless Internet and LCD flat screen televisions to Thai silk interiors and spacious private bathrooms with separate rain showers.