Head inland to enjoy Thailand


What comes to mind if you are planning to visit Thailand? Beautiful sea views, island hopping, or Tom Yum soup? Why not leave those ideas behind and try something fresh, such as an inland tour to discover a different Thailand?

In the South Thailand province of Surat Thani, you will experience another side of Thailand. Granted the name from King Rama IV, Surat Thani means “city of the good people”. Most Chinese tourists are fascinated by the province’s islands, such as Koh Samui and Koh Tao.

Few have explored Thailand’s amazing inland, which includes one of the oldest evergreen rainforests in the world - Khao Sok National Park - or the magnificent Buddhist temples in the Khao Na Nai Luang Dharma Park, and boat trips along the rivers

For most travellers who arrive in Surat Thani by plane, the nearest site to explore will be the provincial centre. Located close to the sea, the provincial centre has countless small rivers connecting residences to the east Thailand Bay.

Taking a boat along the river, you can witness fishermen’s lives in the Bang Bai Mai community. Also known as “Nai Bang”, the community still lives in a simple way. In this area, hundreds of small canals flow into the Tapi river, which finally meets the ocean.

On a small wooden boat, you can see the mangrove nipa palm trees and coconut trees lined up on both sides of the canal. For animal lovers, the trip will provide a chance to closely observe local birds and water lizards.

Nipa palm trees are important to us. The leaves can be used for wrapping sweets or making brooms. It can be also processed to make desserts,” a boatman told us.

Every Sunday, the sightseeing boat can also take you to Bang Bai Mai Market - an old floating market in Surat Thani known for a wide selection of local dishes and Thai snacks such as Toddy Palm Cake, Black Coconut Sweet Pudding, and Mango Sticky Rice.

The market is surrounded by greenery and a canal, which makes it stand out from other markets in the city. While the market offers plenty of food stalls, it’s a good choice to try the deep-fried banana blossom and the Thai curry puff, each priced at about 30 Bhat ($0.89).

After exploring the market, visitors can drop by a nearby coffee shop with outdoor seating next to the canal. A local cafe named Korjak sitting at the riverbank is one of the most popular choices with a forestlike atmosphere due to its lush surroundings.

As some travellers may be interested in local coconut products, Suan Lung Song is on the recommended list. It is a knowledge centre where people can learn every aspect of coconut farming. They can also experience making cold-pressed coconut oil and soap.

Tourists kayak up the stream in Ban Nam Rat Watershed Forest where they can explore lagoons and admire the lush jungle. (YANG WANLI / CHINA DAILY)

National Park

Surrounded by one of the oldest evergreen rainforests in the world, Khao Sok National Park will impress you with its huge limestone mountains, deep valleys, breathtaking lakes, exciting caves and wild animals.

Together with adjacent wildlife sanctuaries in Khlong Saeng, Khlong Yan and Khlong Naka, the combined area of the park is more than 3,500 square kilometres, making up an area more than half the size of Bali.

In the park, tourists can choose different ways to explore, such as personal elephant encounters, jungle trekking or canoeing. One of the most interesting areas is the beautiful Cheow Larn Lake in the heart of the national park, complete with floating raft houses and luxury tents.

On a limited budget, visitors have options to live in those small but cosy hotels or family stays at an acceptable price. It is convenient to book a tuk-tuk, the local motorcycle taxi, at the hotel to visit Cheow Larn Lake.

Among the Thai people, Cheow Larn Lake is famous for its landmark: three limestone peaks nicknamed mini Guilin. Guilin refers to the city in South China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, which is known for its karst landforms and limestone peaks.

For travellers who are willing to explore wildlife, Khao Sok is unmissable.

Thailand boasts some of the most biodiverse regions on Earth, and Khao Sok is one of them. Thanks to it being relatively unchanged over millions of years, Khao Sok has become a haven for a variety of birds, insects, reptiles and mammals.

According to the Khao Sok National Park’s official website, the park is home to 311 species of birds, 48 species of mammals, more than 30 species of bats, countless insects and reptiles, endangered tigers and an estimated 200 wild Asian elephants.

Moreover, there are around 200 species of plants per hectare in Khao Sok, with a combination of ginormous trees, trailing vines and exotic flowers. Some plants are unique to the rainforest. For example, the largest flower on Earth, rafflesia, can grow up to 90 centimetres in width.

The Khao Na Nai Luang Dharma Park consists a total of six pagodas in different shapes and colors from brick red to white and gold. (YANG WANLI / CHINA DAILY)

Jungle exploration

Nearby the Khao Sok National Park, there are two sites with jungle experiences. About 40 minutes by car from the Cheow Larn Lake, visitors can enjoy a breathtaking view of the Khao Na Nai Luang Dharma Park, especially in the early morning or evening with sunlight passing through the park’s front arch.

The Khao Na Nai Luang Dharma Park consists of a total of six pagodas in different shapes and colours from brick red to white and gold. The most impressive one to me is what local people called the “floating pagoda” with a small pond underneath it.

Both the pond and the pagoda are built on the top of a small mountain. Lotus and small fishes give the pond a sense of Zen. Religious text is written carefully in gold powder on the red bricks. Standing on the pagoda, an overhead view of the forest is an unforgettable moment.

After the soul baptism in the park, Ban Nam Rat Watershed Forest, which only takes 30 minutes by car, is a destination not to be missed. It offers crystal-clear waters of a flooded forest, consisting of a lake, various jungle canals and stunning lagoons.

“In the past, the forest used to be a small freshwater canal that looked like a peat swamp forest. This magical place, referred to as Khlong Rood by the locals, is a hidden gem and a true highlight of the region,” an officer from the forest ticket office said.

Limestone peaks stick out of the water in Cheow Larn Lake, which sits in the heart of Khao Sok National Park. (YANG WANLI / CHINA DAILY)

The lake itself mirrors the various tree stumps and rocks that stick out of the surface, creating the illusion of no horizon. In the forest, visitors will see many species of plants, including water lilies, orchids and tropical pitcher plants.

You can kayak up the stream and explore breathtaking lagoons, surrounded by lush jungle greenery. You can have a fantastic end to the day by parking your kayak and taking a dip in the crystal-blue waters of the jungle among colourful fish.

China Daily

Asia News Network