Natural Gems of Thailand
The land known for its hospitality, multiple temples and great food has a host of natural wonders that beckon.
Text: Rachel Kwek
Photos: Tourism Authority of Thailand
Similan Islands (image above)
Comprising 11 islands and covering 140square kilometres, Mu Koh Similan National Park is an idyllic destination with clear turquoise waters and abundant wildlife. One can swim alongside many species of sharks, turtles and fish at the many dive sites in this divers’ paradise hailed as one of the top dive location in the world. Due to the fragility of the ecosystem in the park, it is designated as a protected area and some of the islands are not open for visitation. Visitors can only land on islands 4 and 8 while you get from one island to the other via paid boat rides provided by the Similan Islands National Park, schedules are not fixed and it might be more efficient to engage the services of a local dive company. Accomodation is unavailable within the park.
Where: Phang Nga province, 70km off the coast of Andaman Sea, 120km northwest of Phuket and 50km west of Khao Lak
Getting there: Take a car, taxi or bus to Khao Lak or Thap Lamu Port, the main gateway to the islands. Then, take a speedboat, which will take 60-80 minutes, or other vessels available through travel service providers. Travellers can also take a boat owned and operated by the national park (4 hours, 1500 baht); this service is not available from 17 May to 14 November during the monsoon season when the park is closed.
Khao Bin Cave
This 300m-long cave offers spectacular sights of stalactite and stalagmite — formations of calcium deposits that are shaped by dripping water. The cave has eight chambers and a formation that resembles a bird’s wings can be seen in one of the chambers. There is a well-defined path that makes exploring the cave easy and colourful lights illuminate the cave interiors. It takes less than an hour to reach the end of the cave but it can be quite hot and humid inside. All visitors need to pay a 20-baht entrance fee. Visitors may also want to visit Chomphon Cave which is 15 minutes drive away.
Where: Ratchaburi Province, 114km or a 2-hour drive from Bangkok
Getting there: Take a car from Bangkok. If you are travelling from elsewhere in Thailand, take a train to Ratchaburi Raiway Station or Ban Kluai Raiway Station, then take a car (about 30 minutes).
Opening hours: 8am-6pm
Pha Taem National Park
Spanning 340 square metres, the park is a haven with its intriguing rock formations, abundant wildlife, wild flower field and picturesque waterfalls. The numerous rock paintings that adorn the cliffs are believed to be about 3000 years old and provide a glimpse of life in the area in prehistoric times. Another must-see in the park are the peculiar mushroom-like rock formations at Sao Chaliang. The area is believed to be submerged some 1000 years ago and small fossils can be seen in the rocks.
As the park is located a mere 790m from the Mekong River where the Thailand-Laos border lies, one can see Phou Xieng Thong National Protected Area in Laos on the opposite side of the river from Pha Mon View Point. Its location in the easternmost part of Thailand means it sees the earliest sunrise and sunset in the country. The entrance fee is 400 baht for foreigners.
As there is no transport available within the park, visitors who do not have their own transport and do not wish to walk are advised to join a tour group. There are campsites with tents and bedding within the park and a few food and drink outlets near the visitors’ centre.
Where: Ubon Ratchathani province
Getting there: It takes about 1h 40minutes to drive there from Ubon Ratchathani Internatonal Airport.
Opening hours: 6am to 6pm