The last remaining virgin rainforest in Phuket
In the past, the government purposefully set a policy to develop the Phuket Province to serve the growing tourism industry in the region. At the time, Phuket was rich not only in splendid aquatic resources, but also in fertile forests. "Khao Phra Thaew" represents the last remains of the evergreen rainforest that in the past covered most of Phuket, and was one of the most fertile tropical rainforests in the province. The remaining forest today occupies a total surface area of 22.3 square kilometers, which makes up 4% of Phuket's total land surface.
"Polyalthia cauliflora is a rare plant."
(P000 1 @Suwit Punnadee)
The island has recently witnessed dramatic deforestation rates. The Royal Forest Department established this woodland area as "Khao Phra Thaew Wildlife Park" in 1977 with the purpose of simultaneously promoting tourism and forest conservation. In response to the deforestation, KPT forest was designated one of Thailand’s 55 non-hunting areas in 1980, under the Conservation and Wildlife Protection Act of1960. This ensured that the forest was fully protected. In addition, the Thai National Parks, Wildlife and Plants Conservation Department (DNP) currently controls a total of 16 areas of protected forest on the island, of which seven are mangrove and nine are inland forests. Of the latter, the Department considers KPT Park as one of the most important remaining ecosystems.
KPT National Park has three stations run by the Department of National Parks (DNP). The first is headquarters, at "Baan Taak" is situated on the western border of the forest, which is the enforcement center of the park. The second is on the eastern side of forest where the Bang Pae sub-station is situated. This is the most used park entrance, with access to Bang Pae Waterfall, the GRP information center for tourists and the GRP rehabilitation site. Apart from KPT's two stations, a third place of importance is the Khao Phra Thaew Wildlife Conservation Development and Extension Centre (KW center), situated in the vicinity of Ton Sai waterfall on the south-western side of the forest. It is an authorized body responsible for promotion of, dissemination of information about, and education about the forest and wildlife conservation. As with the park, the centre is run under the authority of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, but each has its own distinct function. The park is responsible for preserving the forest area and protecting the fauna and flora.
KPT Park is the only forest reserve area in Thailand protected with a permanent fence surrounding the forest area, which clearly defines the boundaries. Mr Awat Nitikul, Khao Phra Thaew Park's director, created a comprehensive solution with associated parties in order to identify an unambiguous boundary, especially with local inhabitants who have earned their livings from the forest produce. Finally, the 27.45 kilometer fence was completed on 21 April 1998. This permanent boundary has ensured that illegal activites are restricted within the forest.
Mr Awat Nitikul
According to the DNP, in 1980 the forest consisted of 60% "dry virgin forest", 15% of "wet virgin forest", and 25% was in use by the residents. The primary forest seems best conserved on the west side of the area, as well as in the middle. However, almost all of the outer fringes have been encroached upon and consist of secondary growth.
A high abundance and diversity of palm species
in KPT forest such as a Fish tail palm, Pinanga sp,
Nenga sp and Daemonorops sp can be seen
in this photo. (P00O2 @Suwit Punnadee)
KPT forest offers an example of Malaysian equatorial flora which ranges up to the Southern part of Thailand. There are 3 endemic species of palm plant including Kerriodoxa elegans, Iguanura thalangensis, and Pinanga watanaiana. The soil structure is variable, as some slopes are dotted with small rocks, but the greater part of the range is made up of deeply decomposed ochre soils that cover all the hills. The soils consist of brown humus near the surface, and may be crumbly and even soft at the foot of the slopes. The evergreen rainforest has developed on this ochre-brown soil which results from granite decomposition and receives abundant rainfall. The vegetation remains green all year long. The wet weather accounts for the presence of species that are not found in tropical climates with a long dry season and also results in the abundance of certain undergrowth plants which are usually only encountered in low sheltered sites, but which are present here everywhere along the range.
Unfortunately, it seems that the DNP arrived a couple of years too late to safe-guard KPT wildlife. This is evident from the numerous accounts of species that have already become extinct in this forest patch such as tigers, leopards, elephants, gibbons, langurs, hornbills, many other species of birds, sambar deer, barking deer, and Malaysian sun bear. In addition lesser mouse-deer, porcupines, pangolins, various species of flying squirrels, civets, and many species of snake, used to be abundant in the area but are now rare. Most of these species probably disappeared about 30 years ago. Tigers and elephants probably disappeared earlier. Wild gibbons have certainly all together disappeared. However, large quantities of wild boar, small quantities of lesser mouse deer, pig-tailed macaque groups, reintroduced gibbons, along with numerous species of butterflies and almost two hundred species of birds can still be seen in the forest. Also certain species of reptile are commonly found, for example the Phuket Round-eyed Gecko (Cnemaspis phuketensis) which is an endemic species.
"On the left, a Black giant squirrel feeding on fruits of Tetracera indica.
It is one of many
species of mammals
which compete with
Several times in the
forest, we have seen
tease, play and follow them to pull
their tail. In the center, a spider awaits its prey as an adult cicada is emerging and suspended under the Streblus ilicifolius leaf at night. On the right, jungle trekking after heavy rainfall." (M00O5, I0010, K0012 @Suwit Punnadee)
When to go
Phuket's seasons are primarily divided into two spells, the wet season and the dry season. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.
Dry Season (November-April)
The obvious advantage of visiting the national park during the dry season would be the lack of rain. Although the heat can become stifling, the air is not quite as humid as in rainy season. With the lack of rain the paths become much easier to walk along plus more are accessible at this time of year as the ground soon dries up. This also benefits those wishing to stay overnight in the forest, as camping is much easier on dry terrain. Night treks are also recommended during the dry season, since wildlife is hard enough to spot at night without the added distraction from the rain.
Most wildlife species are easier to spot at this time of the year. Many reptiles can be seen basking in the sun and the rehabilitated gibbons released here are also easier to spot when the sun is shining. Also there is a better chance of hearing them sing to celebrate the glorious weather. One downfall of the dry season is that ticks become more abundant. Also, the whole island of Phuket is swarming with tourists during the dry season as it is a much safer time to visit the beaches and neighboring islands.
Rainy Season (May-November)
The rainy season lives up to its name: when it rains it pours! But what better way to see the rainforest than in the rain?
More often than not the heavy downpours only last an hour or so, then the sky clears and the sun shines again. After a heavy bout of rain the rainforest is a truly majestic place; mist begins to rise from the forest floor creating a breathtaking scene you will never forget. The rivers and waterfalls are flowing rapidly, a much more triumphant display than during the dry season, when the waterfalls are a meager trickle. This is the best time to see many plant species especially ferns and herbs.
"Arun family curled up on a Knema sp tree,
waiting for the
rain to cease so they can
start to forage again. The dense canopy
thick fur covering are useful at
their bodies from
(M00O65 @Suwit Punnadee)
The heat and humidity can occasionally be a little stifling at this time of year, but the cooling breezes before an approaching rain can make for a comfortable walk.
There are some elements of danger also at this time of year. After heavy rainfall, it is not uncommon for there to be land slides and falling trees or bamboo in some areas of the park, and some of the paths can become difficult to walk along or even inaccessible. But don't be too put off. Sometimes days or even weeks can go by without a single drop, and long lasting torrential downpours are not too regular.
The Khao Phra Theaw National Park is an amazing experience wind, rain or shine, an unforgettable time will be had whatever time of year you choose to visit.
Park entry fees and trip cost
The park entry fee is 200 baht per person. The ticket is valid for 24 hours from time of purchase, meaning that if one enters in the afternoon the ticket is still valid the next morning. The Park and project may also consider adopting other provisions related to the distribution of the entrance fee and trip cost. For instance, school children or university students who visit the Park as part of their school activities are exempt from the entrance fee. In addition, discounts on the Park entrance fee and trip cost could be provided if visiting groups undertook a clean-up project, or assisted with research during their visit.