When one thinks of Thailand, the general idea that comes to mind is that of the ocean, of the beaches and of sipping on the iconic young coconuts with the small straw hats whilst overlooking the vastness of the sea. We often tend to overlook however, the fact that Thailand is a region that possesses one of the most ecologically diverse and rich environments in the world, open to the greatest gamma of fauna and flora. So if you have the luck of being aware, the destination to turn your holiday dream true is not in Phuket, Pattaya or Hua Hin, it is most probably in Ratchaprapha.
The natural beauty in Ratchaprapha, which is located in the Surat Thani province, is nothing short of stunning, but not all of it was left to the works of Mother Nature herself, so why don’t we start with a bit of history to find out why? It is believed that the area that we today is known to us as Ratchaprapha was inhabited for the first time over thirty seven thousand years before Christ. At this height, humanity was at the mercy of the Ice Age and settlers reportedly moved to this land from the island of Borneo, modern day Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. Permanent residents however, are reported to have been known to move to these areas no longer than two hundred years ago, something surprising given the long and rich history of Thailand. At the dawn of the sixties, this area began to receive more attention from the outside, as a larger and wider road was built to provide an easier access. Ratchaprapha’s most famous destination is without a shadow of a doubt Khao Sok National Park. It was inaugurated in 1980 and from there received the name that it bears today. Given by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej on the opening day of his sixtieth birthday, Ratchaprapha means “the light of the kingdom” in Thai and within it is contained the beauty that it can boast of, something one sees immediately upon arrival.
The curious anecdote of this small enclosed paradise is in the fact that the calmness and stillness of its crystalline waters was duly aided by a man made construct. Today it is known as the Ratchaprapha Dam and it falls merely four metres short of a hundred imposing metres in length. The dam was built to strategically block the Klong Saeng River, which weaves its way across the area. It was done so in foresight by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand of Khao Sok holding the largest watershed in Thailand. This was done in 1982 and since then, the area has transformed itself into what is known today as the Cheow Lan Lake. Visitors to the area have since then grown in number, but it is not the type of tourism one usually associates Thailand with. Far are the beach seekers and those who prefer the close quarters of the sea life. Ratchaprapha attracts many geologists, conservationists, biologists, geographers and botanists because of its incredibly rich diversity or animals, plants and rock structures.
Because Khao Sok National Park contains Thailand’s largest expansion of virgin forest, the wildlife is something crucial to have a look out for when you go visit. It is said to be not only older, but more diverse than the fauna in the Amazon Rain Forest, an attractive prospect for any person devoted to nature. Five percent of the world’s species are found in the area, including the white handed, gibbon, the pig tailed macaque, the Malayan tapir, the muntjak, the Asian elephant, tigers a variety of deer and reptiles, such as the notorious King Cobra and the Reticulated Python as well as the more curious flying lizard. An incredibly large variety of fish can be found too, especially across its stunning coral reef, which is an impressive five times larger than Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. If you rent a kayak or small boat to go through it, you can be assured that beauty will take a new meaning for you.
This takes us to talk about the flora, in an incredibly rich soil grow plenty of vines and plants, as well as exotic fruits such as the mangosteen, the jackfruit, the jujube, rambutan and the infamous durian. However, if we talk about something that stimulates the senses, Ratchaprapha’s most famous plant is the Rafflesia Kerrii. Known as Bua Phut in Thai, it has two unique qualities: First of all, it is the largest flower in the world, at times measuring almost a metre in diameter. Secondly and more notoriously, the Rafflesia is probably the plant with the most terrible and nauseating smell in the world, as it exudes a stench of rotten flesh in order to attract flies that pollinate it. Worth a visit, go near it only if you dare!
We then turn out attention to the landscape. Taking your time to gaze at the stunning scenery that Ratchaprapha has to offer is nothing short of a gift and a privilege. The multitude of limestone rocks eroded throughout the years, even centuries, bear testimony to what is a marvel to the spectator and a gold mine to the geologist. The vast quantity of Karst Topography is something that has brought many to study the vicinities of the reservoir. The limestone formations tower to commanding heights and are perfect to snap pictures of from below.
The temperature in Ratchaprapha is tropical, much like in most of Thailand. The hot season is between January and June where temperatures go from between twenty five all the way up to thirty six degrees. This peaks in the months of March and April during which we see temperatures reaching thirty seven or at times even thirty eight degrees. During the wet season however beginning in May and ending in November, we witness more suitable temperatures which range between twenty to thirty degrees. Days become cooler and the breeze becomes stronger, especially aided by the torrential rains when the heavens open. Thus the period to encounter more enjoyable temperatures is around this time of the year. The good news is that that water temperatures are always fairly standard, varying only in a degree or two across the year.
Getting to Ratchaprapha is easy, one can use an array of different transportation methods: the most common and cheapest way to get there is by car or by bus on the 401 route. Surat Thani is around six hundred and fifty kilometres from Bangkok and buses there depart from the Southern Bus Terminal. An easier way to get there, especially for the impatient ones, is by air. Thai Smile offers reasonable rates that fly from Bangkok to Surat Thani airport twice on a daily basis. This commute takes only an hour and fifteen minutes and allows for you to travel with much more comfort. If you’re not fussy over the comfort however, you can decided to take the train, which leaves Bangkok’s Hua Lumpong station at eight in the morning. This adventurous means of transport will get you all the way to the province in a fair number of hours. You will reach your final station around five in the evening.
Once there, there are number of wonderful places to stay, be they of more prestige like the Marriot hotel, or be they of a cosier more family-like type homes, there’s plenty to choose from, most of them at great value. Many are lined up in the form of small cabins along the shores of the lake, which make your residential experience all the more endearing.
Ratchaprapha is all in all a wonderful place to go and spend a magical holiday at. Whether you like the stunning beauty of the landscape’s greenery or whether you prefer the array of different flora and fauna in the area, this rich and diverse vacation spot is sure to bring your Thailand experience to a whole new previously undiscovered level. As mentioned earlier, this time of the year is a good time to go, so if you have not decided what to do for the next month, what are you waiting for to pack your bags?