11 July 2024

It’s 3pm and the pick-up truck growls as it negotiates the winding road towards Thailand’s largest National Park, Kaeng Krachan. Samrong Meekaew, an enthusiastic park ranger and guide, runs visitors through the wildlife they are likely to encounter – hornbills, dusky leaf monkeys, black giant squirrels, pheasants, red junglefowl, and elephants.

The mention of elephants jolts some travellers out of their somnolent state.

“Elephants? I thought this was supposed to be an easy trip, full of birdsong and misty mountain valleys. I don’t recall anyone mentioning wild elephants,” the concerned traveller says.

“Things happen in Kaeng Krachan National Park,” Samrong replies with a grin. “You really are in the heart of the wild.”

A haven for wildlife

Sightings of panthers have become increasingly common in Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi province. Most recently, the National Park Department posted photos of a black leopard family relaxing along the wooden path.

A panther, or black leopard, was photographed by a camper at Kaeng Krachan National Park.//Photo courtesy of National Park Department

Tucked away on Thailand’s western frontier, Kaeng Krachan National Park sprawls over 3,000 square kilometers, spanning both Phetchaburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan provinces. It’s twice the size of Bangkok and consists mainly of rainforest, extending to the eastern slopes of the Tenasserim Mountain Range in Myanmar.

Wildlife is abundant here, especially elephants, and visitors are almost guaranteed to spot elephant dung. However, it’s not the pachyderms that draw visitors to the park. Instead, they come to marvel at the rare and cherished birds and butterflies.

A pair of silver-breasted broadbills in Kaeng Krachan National Park.// Photo courtesy of National Park Department

Every year, avid ornithologists flock to Kaeng Krachan National Park in the hope of glimpsing rare and exotic birds like the ratchet-tailed treepie and silver-breasted broadbill. The park is also popular among butterfly enthusiasts. Five years ago, a group of lepidopterists joined a tour in Kaeng Krachan National Park and returned home, still in awe of the magnificence of the four-bar swordtail, skipper, birdwings, and swallowtails, which looked more like fairies than butterflies.

The ratchet-tailed treepie, often referred to as the ‘black beauty’, is the pride of Kaeng Krachan National Park.//Photo courtesy of National Park Department

Now, a group is once again pitching tents at Phanern Thung, the park’s remote campsite, but this time, they’re here to witness the sea of fog instead of creatures with wings.

A misty mountain paradise

Kaeng Krachan National Park made it to the list of Thailand’s Top 10 Dream Destinations released by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). While the other nine Dream Destinations, including Lipe Island in Satun and Wat Prathad Pha Sornkaew, boast unique beauty, Kaeng Krachan National Park won the vote for its year-round sea of fog.

A mountain valley shrouded by a sea of fog can be seen all year round at Kaeng Krachan National Park.//Photo/Phoowadon Duangmee

In fact, this sea of fog, or a misty mountain valley, is common to Thailand’s national parks. Every winter, campers, hikers, and photographers wake up before dawn to capture the mist as it floats over and around the deep valleys. What makes Kaeng Krachan National Park special is not just the fog itself but that you don’t have to wait for winter to see it.

“It’s there every morning,” says Samrong, “even in April when the days are the hottest. The best places to spot it are at the lookouts at KM.30 and KM.36 milestones.”

Around the KM 30 milestone outlook, you may encounter a group of cheerful campers who likely rose at the crack of dawn, embarked on a winding road adventure, and witnessed the sea of fog and captivating landscape.

Kaeng Krachan National Park is a rich rainforest that extends to the eastern slopes of the Tenasserim Mountain Range in Myanmar.//Photo by Phoowadon Duangmee

Soon enough, as the first rays of the sun illuminate the horizon, the fog slowly fills the valley. In the middle ground, you can see the green canopy of the rainforest through the wreaths of fog. In the far distance, you can just about make out the mountains rising to the left and right. It’s awe-inspiring, and you find yourself straining to identify the Tenasserim range that separates Myanmar and Thailand.

“Do you see that mountain in the distance?” asks Samrong, pointing in its direction. “That’s the highest summit, and Myanmar is beyond that peak.”

A haven for birdwatching enthusiasts

Thanks to its fertile and highly diverse forest, Kaeng Krachan National Park is home to 545 bird species, accounting for almost 50 percent of all birds found in Thailand. After witnessing the mesmerizing sea of fog flowing through misty valleys, birdwatching becomes a must-do activity when you’re in Kaeng Krachan National Park. Keep your eyes peeled for two of the park’s star avian residents: the ratchet-tailed treepie and the silver-breasted broadbill.

The ratchet-tailed treepie, often referred to as the ‘black beauty’ of Kaeng Krachan National Park, is a rarity outside this area, making it a source of pride for the park. As dark as a raven, it earns its name from its distinctive, jagged tail, resembling a chainsaw. The silver-breasted broadbill, on the other hand, is a charming, diminutive bird known for its soft, silky plumage that beckons birders with its unique appearance.

If you’re fortunate enough to spot the ratchet-tailed treepie and the silver-breasted broadbill, rest assured that Kaeng Krachan National Park offers a plethora of bird species, including the captivating kingfisher, to deepen your connection with the park.

Kingfishers are often found in Kaeng Krachan National Park.//Photo courtesy of the National Park Department.

Planning your trip

A weekender takes a photograph of a waterway sweeping through the rainforest.//Photo by Phoowadon Duangmee

Nestled in Phetchaburi province, Kaeng Krachan National Park lies approximately 190 kilometres to the south of Bangkok. This sprawling natural reserve boasts an extensive array of flora and fauna, making it an ideal destination for those seeking a quick weekend nature retreat. Visitors to the park can choose from various accommodation options, including camping areas equipped with basic lodges and small food stands. Moreover, several upscale resorts can be found just outside the park for those seeking a more luxurious experience. It’s important to note that there is no public transportation available within the park itself, so self-driving is the primary mode of travel.

By Thai PBS World Feature Desk