After 3 days of glorious sun, today thick low clouds dominate the sky, threatening rain. I am off to visit some of the attractions to be found in the not so much visited Ao Luk district. Our Thai guide Khun Ying is a smiley and enthusiastic young lady who speaks fluent English. The minibus driver sets off to pick up our fellow travelers, and soon we are on the way for what is branded “a high quality trip for real nature lovers”. Tharnboke Koranee National Park is an hour drive away from Krabi or Ao Nang. During the journey, the heavens open and the rain falls thick; this will not prevent us from enjoying our day out. From the wet windows we observe how the van passes mountains entirely covered by lush vegetation and surmounted by limestone rock formations, the Krabi ‘karsts’.
Located between Krabi and Phang Nga regions, Tharnboke Koranee, established as a National Park in 1998 by the then Prime Minister, also borders the Andaman Sea and covers a total area of 104 square kilometers, of which only 40 are in the terrestrial zone. Once at teh park, we start our walk along a concrete narrow path, crossing some wooden bridges or short trails that take to the most incredible spots. The park is home to an outstanding flora, with trees of impressive heights that grow alongside limestone rock walls modeled by time and erosion that practically surround the whole area. It is a relatively small national park, yet it impresses with its lush tropical foliage, the endless number of waterfalls and streams through which emerald-green water flow fast and copiously, and some small natural pools ideal for a swim – perhaps not today, we all agree. Most of the small pools come from a large lotus-shaped lake after which the park is named: the Sa Than Bok Khoranee, which flows through a wind passage in the tall cliff. Swimming can be dangerous in most of the pools as the water swirls in the strong currents and can easily take you down. Several notice boards reminds you constantly about this.
Our guide continuously engages in conversations to keep us entertained. It is a perfect day to visit the park: in the shade, the palette of a dozen variations of greens and browns is unforgettable. The placid noise of the water accompanies us at all time, and my eyes are a hungry camera capturing images at every spot: here a gigantic butterfly the colors of autumn, there a big spider with yellow and red spots all over its body – its web flexes but does not break under the pressure of my fingers. Small water spiders glide and jump carelessly in the few pools where the water is calm. I urge to walk every path, climb every rock, and I am often left behind but quickly regain my way. It is impossible to get lost; every path directs you to the way out in a circular system with several variations. There is a well-shaded camping ground where Thai students can spend the weekend and learn about the natural features of the park.
Now a warm breeze contrasts the few drops of cool rain falling on us, while the guide talks about the park, the flora, and the fact that the Royal Family plays an important part in the conservation of the Krabi’s endemic Lady’s Slipper Orchid. All trees have botanical names, both in Thai and English; species include the Wild Gardenia, the Asoka and the Apocynaceae. Along the main path, we stop to visit San Tho Chong–Tho Yuan, a colorful and sacred Chinese shrine inside a wooden pagoda, complete with several flags and flowers wrapped around porcelain tigers, copper candle holders and a central wide incense holder in which some sticks are burning. According to the guide, being at such close contact with reproducing nature, this temple has the power of giving fertility to people and it is visited by women who wish to get pregnant: they offer food, chicken, fruit and various fizzy drinks to the Tho Chong–Tho Yuan entity, making their wish.
Further down the path, a cemented staircase takes us to Tam Roi Phraphuthabaht Chamrong, where we find a one-meter long 40cm wide footprint of the Buddha beautifully crafted out of copper; all around it are floral offers and candle holders. Inside a crack in the rock, a narrow passageway 50cm wide and takes to a well-concealed Buddha stone statue. Above us, the crack extends to a height of around 15 meters; rays of light penetrate from the ceiling to strike the statue and reveal its beauty.
We finally make our way back to the visitors center. A strong wind now howls through the gigantic rocks, hitting the trees and swaying their huge leaves. Roots of the most eerie shapes emerge from everywhere; some have managed to crack the cement of the path and stand there, victoriously. Tharnboke Koranee National Park is definitely the perfect place for real nature lovers.