National parks around Krabi

The landscape around Krabi is perfect for national parks

The landscape around Krabi is perfect for national parks

By Jan Schauseil

When people think of Krabi, the first thing that usually springs to mind is the stunning scenery of the Andaman Sea. The white sandy beaches and calm seas punctuated by monolithic limestone karsts are certainly the highlight of the Krabi region, but what few visitors realise is there’s a wealth of amazing nature to be found in Krabi’s inland national parks.

Scattered around Krabi’s mainland interior are several national parks covered in verdant forest that feature natural highlights such as hot springs, caves, waterfalls, and hiking trails. Wildlife is also a prominent aspect of Krabi’s national parks. The relatively low number of visitors has helped the wild inhabitants of these areas thrive in peace, allowing hikers a chance to see some truly rare creatures.

Thailand’s national parks impose an entry fee of 200 baht for foreigners. But this money is used to sustain the parks and is well worth it if you want to experience the unique tropical environment of the country’s isthmus. Naturally, weekends and major holidays attract large crowds of locals to Krabi’s parks so if you want to enjoy the tranquility of the nature, it’s best to visit on a weekday.

A number of tour companies, including a handful of ecotourism outfits, organise excursions of all kinds into Krabi’s national parks. This way of exploring the parks can be useful if you want to add activities such as kayaking, rock climbing, or overnight camping to your adventure. Otherwise, all of Krabi’s national parks are easily explored without a guide.

One of the closest national parks to Krabi is Khao Phanom Bencha National Park, located about 20kms north of town. This area is densely forested with classic tropical jungle. Its atmosphere is decidedly tranquil, featuring some impressive caves and several picturesque waterfalls, all of which are accessible by well-marked trails.

Tham Khao Ping is the most developed cave in the park. This limestone beauty is filled with large stalagmite and stalactite formations, and just a three kilometre walk from the main Park Office. There are numerous other caves in the area, but these are not very well developed so it’s best to hire a guide if you’re serious about doing some off-track spelunking.

Of the park’s numerous waterfalls, Nam Tok Huay Toh is the closest to the Park Office. It’s rather popular due to the short walk to the falls, but it’s still a lovely destination. If you want a longer hike leading to a waterfall, then consider Nam Tok Klong Hang, which is a 10km hike from the Park Office, or Nam Tok Ton Hahn, which is 16kms into the park. Both of these are excellent day hikes, and there are rarely other people this far out.

Like something out of a Lord of the Rings set

Like something out of a Lord of the Rings set

Khao Nor Chuchi Wildlife Sanctuary has the only remaining patch of lowland rainforest left in Thailand. A trip to this special park is a must for anyone who is keen on bird watching as it is home to more species of bird than any other national park in southern Thailand.

Among the beautiful birds that thrive in the sanctuary are black-breasted pittas, black hornbills, crestwood partridges, chesnut-coloured kingfishers, and gurneys. Khao Nor Chuchi Sanctuary is the only place in the world where you can spot the rare gurney’s pitta.

A 2.7km nature trail has been thoughtfully developed through the rainforest to showcase the biodiversity of the Krabi region. The well-maintained trail ends at the Emerald Pool, where hikers can cool off with a swim in the stunning waters of this magical site that cascade down from Thung Teao Waterfall. There are even some natural hot springs near the pool if you’d prefer to soak your muscles after the casual hike.

Than Bokkharani National Park is located in the Ao Luk district of Krabi. It borders the Andaman Sea, allowing visitors the chance to mix Krabi’s forest environment with the amazing scenery of the Andaman. This park is famous for the limestone karst formations that rise out of the sea along its coastal section.

Many of the karst monoliths contain extensive cave systems that have been hollowed out over the millennia. These ‘rooms’ contain their own unique ecosystems and can only be accessed via tunnels when the tides are just right. But making the effort to explore these hong, as they’re called in Thai, is well worth it. Not only are they home to some exotic wildlife, some also contain prehistoric cave paintings.

Kayaking is the best way to explore Than Bokkharani National Park, as most of the highlights are along the sea. Tours can be arranged from Krabi Town, Ao Nang, or Railay for whatever kind of experience you desire. However, a very impressive section is found just off the main road between Krabi and Phuket and worth stopping at to marvel at the cascading pools flanked by towering karst and set about with lush forest.

Inland, the park offers visitors a cool, shady forest dotted by several waterfalls and small swimming pools. It’s an ideal spot for picnics and a refreshing swim. This park can get quite busy on weekends and holidays due to its easy access from Krabi. You can bring your own food or buy snacks, fruit, drinks and barbecue from the onsite vendors at the park entrance.

The largest park in Krabi Province is Hat Nopparat Thara National Park. This is one of Thailand’s major parks, covering a huge area of Krabi’s coastline as well as more than 80 islands offshore. The dominant feature here is the Andaman Sea and all its glory, and there are myriad ways to experience it.

Island hopping is one way to see the park’s beauty from a memorable perspective. You can affordably and easily hire your own longtail boat from Ao Nang, Railay or Krabi and visit any of the dozens of deserted little islands dotting the sea such as Koh Poda, Koh Gai and Koh Si.

Within the park, near the beach town of Ao Nang, is the Shell Cemetery. This interesting place is a stretch of coast where fossilised shells lie perfectly preserved as they have piled up layer by layer over thousands of years. The fossils date all the way back to when Krabi was a massive freshwater swamp inhabited by millions of tiny creatures who remain exactly where they died.

If you are interested in things like fossils, the Shell Cemetery is well worth a visit. There are only two other known sites like it on the planet: one in Japan and the other in the United States. A small museum depicts the history of the site and gives useful information regarding the fossils.

So even if you make your way to Krabi with the beaches and sea as your priority, don’t overlook the prospect of spending a day or two exploring the wealth of natural beauty that waits just inland. Krabi’s national parks offer a great chance to check out the unique ecosystems of wildlife and nature that can only be found in this tropical region of Thailand.

When visiting these parks, there is potential for danger, particularly when climbing the limestone karst. Always set out with a companion, and ensure your travel insurance is in order. Although Thai hospitalisation is affordable and the local pronvincial hospitals are decent, you never know when you might need expensive medical attention. We suggest you buy gap year or single trip insurance online before leave.

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