KANCHANABURI. THE RIVER KWAI AND WESTERN THAILAND NEAR MYANMAR

KANCHANABURI

Kanchanaburi (135 kilometers west of Bangkok) is home of the famous "Bridge over the River Kwai," immortalized by the Pierre Boulle novel, which coined the name, and the academy-award-winning David Lean movie with David Niven, which also used the same name. The original bridge was brought to Thailand from Java by the Japanese during World War II, and reassembled by prisoners of war and forced laborers, only to be destroyed by allied bombs in 1945. The present bridge was built after the war on arched supports left standing after the 1945 bombing.

Kanchanaburi is now a major tourist destination in Thailand. In addition to the bridge it attractions include several well-known waterfalls, caves that were once inhabited by Neolithic man, pristine national parks, tranquil rivers, virgin forests, several large reservoirs and activities like fishing, rafting, canoeing, mountain biking, bird-watching, star-gazing, golfing, elephant and jungle trekking, or even living in a bamboo raft. Rafting trips in Kanchanaburi are usually done on large bamboo rafts with a two story shelter that carries up to 20 people. Obviously rafts of this kind are better for negotiating relatively calm stretches of water not Class V whitewater rapids.

In north and west Kanchanaburi Province, the terrain is comprised mainly of mountains and high plains, with the Thanon Thongchai Range acts as a natural border between Thailand and Myanmar. The range is the source of Kanchanaburi’s two most important rivers Maenam Khwae Noi (Little Kwai River) and Maenam Khwae Yai (Big Kwai River), which form the famous Maenam Mae Klong. As a result of these major rivers and three of Thailand’s largest reservoirs, Kanchanaburi features several of Thailand’s largest Namtok (waterfalls) as well as a number of wildlife sanctuaries.

The most defining natural attractions in Kanchanaburi is arguably the Three Pagodas Pass, a break in the Thanon Thongchai Mountain Range that divides Thailand and Myanmar. Buddhism is thought to have first arrived in Thailand from India through the pass the A.D. 3rd century. In the 13th century the pass was controlled by the Khmer of Angkor, who built a fort there ( a Khmer temple from the time has been restored as a tourist attraction). The kingdom of Ayutthaya also built a military garrison in the area, yet it was through the pass that the Burmese swept into Siam and razed Ayutthaya in the 18th century. In World War II, the Japanese built a railway through the pass using forced labor, including western POWs. Later known as the Death Railway, the line included an infamous bridge crossing the Kwai River.

The Three Pagodas Pass area is also home to numerous hill tribes and other minority groups and today is serves as an arrival area of refugees fleeing Myanmar. For visitors, it is possible to get temporary one-day visas to cross the border for a sneak peak at Myanmar and do a little shopping there.

The city of Kanchanaburi is located at the point where the Khwae Noi and Khwae Yai Rivers meet and form the Maenam Mae Klong. The notorious Death Railway passed through the town, near which stands the site of the Bridge on the River Kwai. Nearby the reconstructed bridge are monuments including an Allied War Cemetery and a war museum. In economic terms, Kanchanaburi has been prospering for a number of years. Important industries include sugar, agricultural products, and jewelry. Tourism is also a main source of income for the locals, though most are engaged in agricultural activities. The province’s population is made up of Thai, Mon, and Karen peoples, most of whom are rural people. Only two hours from Bangkok, Kanchanaburi is accessible by road or rail, the latter of which includes sightseeing day trips that run on weekends and public holidays; these weekend special trains are reasonably priced and make hassle free and enjoyable adventures. The climate of Kanchanaburi is cooled by the altitude, forests, and rivers.

The original town of Kanchanaburi was established by King Rama I as a first line of defense against the Burmese, whom he believed might use the old invasion route through the Three Pagodas Pass to attack Siam. According to most historians, the old town of Kanchanaburi was located near Ban Lat Ya, a small village situated approximately 16 kilometers north of the present town. The present provincial capital is a relatively newer town built by King Rama III in 1833. Many visitors like to come to the town to rest along the river with a cold drink and a good book. Others come for a couple days and explore the attractions in the surrounding countryside and engage in activities like white water rafting, elephant trekking and golfing.

Tourist Office and Website: Tourism Authority of Thailand, Kanchanaburi Office, 14 Saengchuto Road , Tambon Bannua,Amphoe Mueang, Kanchanaburi 71000, Tel. +66 3451 1200 , +66 3451 2500, Fax. +66 3462 3691, E-mail Address: tatkan@tat.or.th, Website: http://www.tourismthailand.org/kanchanaburi . Accommodation: Because of Kanchanaburi’s popularity and stunning beauty there are a wide range of accommodation options, with the finer establishments making ample use of the province’s expansive natural beauty and the more economical ones situated in the center of town. There are a number of guesthouses, both budget and boutique, on the banks of the river along River Khwae Road, where most of the town’s nightlife is located, and others along the quieter Soi Rong Heep Oi nearer to the Kanchanaburi Allied War Cemetery. Soi Rong Heep Oi is also a fine place to try staying in a distinctive Thai raft house. Kanchanaburi’s finer hotels and resorts (including those with golf courses) tend to be located farther from the town, towards the national parks, though there are several fine resorts and boutique hotels located a short drive from the center of Kanchanaburi town.

Getting to Kanchanaburi: Kanchanaburi and its surrounding attractions can be reached via private car, public bus, or train from Bangkok. By Car: Route 1: A two hour drive along Highway No. 4 (Petchakasem Rd.) via Nakhon Chaisi Province, Nakhon Pathom Province, Ban Pong, Tha Maka and Tha Muang (of Ratchaburi Province) to Kanchanaburi. Route 2: Drive along Highway No. 338 from Bangkok to Nakhon Chaisi Province then switch to Highway No. 4 to Kanchanaburi.

By Train: Ordinary trains leave Bangkok’s Thonburi Railway Station (Bangkok Noi Station) daily. Only 3rd class seats are available. The journey takes approximately 3 hours. For more information, call Thon Buri Railway Station at tel. 02 411 3102 or Kanchanaburi Railway Station at tel. 034 511285. The weekend special train leaves Bangkok’s Hua Lumphong Railway Station (MRT Hua Lamphong) at 6.30am, returning at 7.55pm on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. The trip usually includes several stop-overs at Phra Pathom Chedi (Nakhon Pathom), the Death Railway Bridge, and a transfer (by minibus) to Prasat Muang Singh Historical Park, among other points of interest. There are also special steam trains operating between Kanchanaburi and Wang Pho. For more information, call the State Railway of Thailand at tel. 1690, or 02 223 7010, 02 223 7020 or visit http://www.railway.co.th/English/Travel.asp

By Bus: Non air-conditioned daily buses leave Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal every 15 minutes from 4am to 8pm The trip takes about 3 hours. Call 02 434 5557-8 for more information. First-class air-conditioned buses (blue color) leave Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal depart every 25 minutes daily. Call 02 435 5012, 0 2435 1199 or 02 884 6249 or visit www.transport.co.th for more information. There are also buses leaving frequently daily for Kanchanaburi from Nakhon Pathom. The journey takes up to 1.5 hours. From Ratchaburi and Suphan Buri Bus Stations there are several buses leaving directly to Kanchanaburi. The trip takes some 2.5 - 3 hours.

Getting Around in Kanchanaburi; Kanchanaburi is quite spread out so getting around on foot isn’t always practical. Normally, bicycles, motorcycles and cars are common means of transportation. Bicycles and motorcycles can be rented from shops, guesthouses and hotels located along Maenam Khwae Road. For visitors who enjoy driving themselves, cars can be rented on a daily or weekly basis at several outlets on Saeng Chuto Road and around the Song Khwae Road area. The two major routes used to explore Kanchanaburi’s attractions are Highway No. 323 and Highway No. 3199. Highway No. 323 runs parallel to Maenam Khwae Noi to Sangkhla Buri District (approximately 230 kilometers from the city) via Sai Yok, Thong Pha Phum, and Vajiralongkorn Dam, while Highway No. 3199 follows the Khwae Yai River to Sri Nakharin Dam (69 kilometers away from the city).

SIGHTS IN KANCHANABURI

There are many waterfalls in the Kanchanaburi area. The most accessible is Erawan waterfall (a 1½ hour bus ride from Kanchanaburi), a beautiful terraced cascade with many swimming holes. Huay Khamin Falls relatively little-visited Si Nakharon National Park has large and deep pools that are ideal for swimming. There are also some caves in the area. Tham Nam Klong Ngu, a cave at Kanchanaburi contains the world's tallest stalagmite. According to the Guinness Book of Records, it is 200 feet high. Ban Lomtuan used to be famous for fireflies that lit up trees along the banks of the Mae Klong River. The fireflies began disappearing in large numbers in the early 2000s.

Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi is one of the few places in the world where visitors are allowed to pet and pose for pictures with the tigers. Fast becoming one of Thailand's most popular tourist attractions, the sanctuary was set up for for orphaned tigers by Buddhist monks in 1999 when the first female cub was brought to Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno, a Buddhist sanctuary, and was cared for by the monks. [Source: Kerry Mcqueeney, Daily Mail, April 24, 2012]

Kerry Mcqueeney wrote in the Daily Mail: “For a basic entrance fee - or 'donation' - of 1,000 baht (about £20), visitors get a tour of the site and the chance to enter the sanctuary's Tiger Canyon, a quarry with a rocky pool at one end containing a dozen or so sleeping tigers chained to the ground. During a small half-hour window, tourists have the option of being escorted around the quarry with two volunteers so they can pet each tiger while they sleep. One volunteer keeps an eye on the tiger while the other takes charge of tourist's camera and snaps away as they touch the big cats. For an extra fee, visitors can have their picture taken with the largest tiger's head resting in their lap. And for more money, they can have a front row seat - in a cage near the water front - to watch the cats playing in the pool.

Despite its status as a sanctuary, the Tiger Temple has been dogged by controversy as it has grown as a tourist attraction. Many online forums discussing the temple contain fierce debate of the ethical issues surrounding such a tourist attraction. The temple has been forced to strenuously deny accusations that its big cat residents are sedated to allow tourists to have their pictures taken with them. They say the reason the carnivores are so docile is because they have been hand-reared by the monks from an early age, which means their aggressive behaviour has been controlled and they do not see human contact as a threat. However, many remain suspicious over why the cats are so calm and sleepy during the visiting

Visitors to the sanctuary are made to sign a disclaimer before they are allowed to enter - to ensure the temple does not get sued in case someone is attacked by a tiger - and signs at the gate explain why the tigers are so used to human contact. Tourists are also advised to steer clear of dressing in brightly-coloured clothes to avoid getting the tigers excited. Nevertheless, for the most part, tourists who visit the Tiger Temple come away from it with a unique experience - a chance to get up close with the majestic big cats.

A review in Lonely Planet's website reads: 'Kanchanaburi’s most expensive tourist attraction is also its most controversial. 'This monastery affords incredible photo opportunities for visitors to get up close and personal with the big cats. 'Some of the temple’s 30 tigers pose for pictures in a canyon while visitors are shepherded in and out in quick succession.'

Prasat Muang Sing Historical Park (6 miles north of Kanchanaburi) features 800-year-old, Bayon-style Khmer building from the Lop Buri period. Prasat Muang Sing is the westernmost Khmer temple in Thailand.

Rama II Monument Park (Samut Songkhram) was established at the birthplace of King Phra Phuttha Lertla (King Rama II). It contains five traditional Thai houses, including one which was used by the King and famous Thai literary figures. There are also a number of trees depicted in books written by the king.

Wat Tham Mangkon Thong (The Cave Temple of Golden Dragon) is famous for its floating nun—a mai chii (Thai Buddhist nun) who meditated while floating on her back in a pool of water. According to Lonely Planet: “The original nun passed away, but a disciple continues the tradition - sort of. The current floating nun does not meditate but instead she strikes Buddha-like poses based upon traditional mudra (ritual hand movements). Shows do not have a set schedule but instead are timed for the arrival of tour groups. Most Western visitors prefer to visit the temple cave instead of the swimming antics.” A long, steep series of steps with dragon-sculpted handrails leads on up the craggy mountainside to complex of limestone stine caves used by Buddhist monks and nuns as meditation chambers. Other caves like this are found at different locations around Kanchanaburi.

Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi (about 80 kilometers west from Bangkok) is one of the few places in the world where visitors are allowed to pet and pose for pictures with the tigers. Fast becoming one of Thailand's most popular tourist attractions, the sanctuary was set up for for orphaned tigers by Buddhist monks in 1999 when the first female cub was brought to Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno, a Buddhist sanctuary, and was cared for by the monks. [Source: Kerry Mcqueeney, Daily Mail, April 24, 2012 *]

Kerry Mcqueeney wrote in the Daily Mail: “For a basic entrance fee - or 'donation' - of 1,000 baht (about £20), visitors get a tour of the site and the chance to enter the sanctuary's Tiger Canyon, a quarry with a rocky pool at one end containing a dozen or so sleeping tigers chained to the ground. During a small half-hour window, tourists have the option of being escorted around the quarry with two volunteers so they can pet each tiger while they sleep. One volunteer keeps an eye on the tiger while the other takes charge of tourist's camera and snaps away as they touch the big cats. For an extra fee, visitors can have their picture taken with the largest tiger's head resting in their lap. And for more money, they can have a front row seat - in a cage near the water front - to watch the cats playing in the pool. *

“Despite its status as a sanctuary, the Tiger Temple has been dogged by controversy as it has grown as a tourist attraction. Many online forums discussing the temple contain fierce debate of the ethical issues surrounding such a tourist attraction. The temple has been forced to strenuously deny accusations that its big cat residents are sedated to allow tourists to have their pictures taken with them. They say the reason the carnivores are so docile is because they have been hand-reared by the monks from an early age, which means their aggressive behaviour has been controlled and they do not see human contact as a threat. However, many remain suspicious over why the cats are so calm and sleepy during the visiting. *

“Visitors to the sanctuary are made to sign a disclaimer before they are allowed to enter - to ensure the temple does not get sued in case someone is attacked by a tiger - and signs at the gate explain why the tigers are so used to human contact. Tourists are also advised to steer clear of dressing in brightly-coloured clothes to avoid getting the tigers excited. Nevertheless, for the most part, tourists who visit the Tiger Temple come away from it with a unique experience - a chance to get up close with the majestic big cats. *

A review on Lonely Planet's website reads: 'Kanchanaburi’s most expensive tourist attraction is also its most controversial. 'This monastery affords incredible photo opportunities for visitors to get up close and personal with the big cats. 'Some of the temple’s 30 tigers pose for pictures in a canyon while visitors are shepherded in and out in quick succession.'

Giant Rain Tree (outside of Kanchanaburi) is more than 100 years old with a trunk large enough to be encircled by 10 people. The average radius of its crown is 25.87 meters and the diameter of its shadow is approximately 51.75 meters while the height of its canopy is 20 meters and the large shady crown covers a total area of approximately 2,416 sq.m. The tree is on the way to Amphoe Dan Makham Tia at Ban Kasikam, Mu 5 Tambon Ko Samrong, some three kilometers from Wat Tham Mangkon Thong. Enter the Royal Thai Army’s Division of Veterinary and Agriculture 1 via Wat Tham Muni Nat and turn right.

Other Sights in Kanchanaburi: Kanchanaburi Safari Park (40 kilometers from Kanchanaburi on the way to Bo Phloi) is a drive-through zoo with lions, tigers, giraffes, zebras and bears and other African and Asian animals. Open daily: 9.00am - 6.00pm. Entry Fee: Adults 120 Th.Baht - Children 30 Th.Ba

BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI

BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI is world famous because of the film by the same name but otherwise is quite ordinary-looking, with little to set it apart from a run-of-the-mill railway bridge. The bridge spans the Maenam Khwae Yai which is a branch of Maenam Mae Klong. During the Japanese occupation of Thailand in World War II, the Japanese Imperial Army brought the iron bridge from Java. It was then resembled by Allied Prisoners of War (POW) under Japanese supervision. The bridge was part of a strategic railway route to Myanmar in which the Japanese aimed to secure supplies with which to conquer other western Asian countries. The railway was 415 kilometers long (with about 303 kilometers in Thailand and about 112 kilometers in Burma) and passed through the Three Pagoda Pass in Sangkhlaburi District, the northern most part of Kanchanaburi province.

Construction started on September 16, 1942 at Nong Pladuk, and was completed 17 months later on December 25, 1943 when the rails were joined 37 kilometers south of Three Pagoda’s Pass. Because the terrain was so mountainous, construction crews had to build several high bridges and make deep cuts into mountains and passes. “Hellfire Pass” was the name POWs gave to he largest of the mountain cuttings. More than a kilometers long, it was created in 12 weeks using hammers, picks, steel tap drills, dynamite, and shovels by 1,000 Australian and British POWs working 12 to 18 hour shifts. The name of the pass described the way it looked a at night when the workers labored by torchlight. By the time they were finished 70 percent of the POW crew was dead. A Japanese brothel train inaugurated the line when it opened. The railway was in use for 20 months before the Allies closed by bombing he bridge.

It is estimated that over 16,000 POWs from England, Australia, Holland and America died while building the bridge which was a target of bombing raids in 1945. In addition to this, as many as 150,000 laborers from Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia died during its construction. Rebuilt after WWII, the bridge is still in use today with the curved portions of the bridge being that of the original. An attraction of note is the annual light and sound event at the bridge to commemorate the Allied attack in 1945.The railway currently ends at Ban Tha Sao or Namtok Station, a distance of some 77 kilometers from Kanchanaburi Station. A special train running from Bangkok to Namtok Station is available on weekends and national holidays. For further details, please contact the State Railway of Thailand, Tel. 0 1690, 0 2220 4334 or www.railway.co.th.

Kanchanaburi War Cemetery (Don Rak, Saeng Chu To Road (Highway 323)) is the immaculately maintained cemetery containing the remains of 6,982 Allied POWs who perished during the construction of the ‘Death Railway.’ It is open daily from 8.30am to 6:00pm (For more information, call Tel. 0 3451 1500). It is estimated that 16,000 allied POWs and 100,000 to 150,000 mostly Malay and Indonesian laborers died during the construction of the bridge. The Allied prisoners who died in captivity during the war are buried in the cemetery here among rows of flowering plants. Some died building the Bridge Over the River Kwai and others perished while laboring on the notorious "Death Railway" to Burma, which claimed more than 60,000 lives.

Many of the graves are in inscribed with poignant epitaphs like the one for H.S. MecLeod, a 34-year-old Austalian sergeant who died in 1943: “A smile and a wave of the hand, he wandered into an unknown land.” The memorials resemble the memorials for fallen soldiers at Normandy. Fifteen full-time groundkeepers maintain it. For the Asians that died there are few memorials. The mass graves where many of them were buried are now covered by orchards.

Chong Kai War Cemetery (two kilometers south of town on the bank of the Kwai Noi River) occupies the site of the Chong Kai which once was the prisoner of war camp. Smaller in size than the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, the cemetery attracts visitors with its peaceful, well-designed landscape where 1,740 POWs rest in eternal peace. Open everyday from 9:00am to 5:00pm.

Thailand – Burma Railway Centre (near the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery Don Rak) is a museum that opened in the 1990s that features relics unearthed by collectors who scoured the area with metal detectors, information panels, photographs, video clips and a detailed, interactive topographical map of the 415-kilometer-long railway, it stations and POW camps. The photos include many taken by Japanese photographers during the war, some of them quite grisly and shocking.

The Thailand-Burma Railway center contains exhibitions on the history of the Thailand – Burma railway, including the invasion of the Imperial Japanese Army, the planning and construction of the railway, its geography, the living condition in POW camps, the medical conditions of the prisoners, a summary of deaths and details on the bombing of the bridge and its construction. The museum is open daily during 9.00am to 5.00pm Admission is 80 baht for adults and 40 baht for children under 14. For further details, please call Tel. 0 3451 0067, 0 3451 2721 or www.tbrconline.com or E- mail: admin@tbrconline.com.

Other Museums in Kanchanaburi: There are two other museums but they are smaller and shabbier. There are two other museums but they are smaller and shabbier. The JEATH museum contains a re-creation of the original POW camp, where the Allied prisoners lived while working on the bridge and railway. It is run by Buddhist monks. Nearby is the Ban Kao Neolithic Museum. It houses a display of neolithic remains, utensils, artifacts and skeletons from a cave discovered by a Dutch POW. Also nearby is a cave temple, where the "floating nun" meditates in a pool of water.

THREE PAGODAS PASS AND NATIONAL PARKS NEAR KANCHANABURI

Three Pagodas Pass (on the Myanmar border, 18 kilometers from Sangkhla Buri) serves as a border crossing between Thailand and Myanmar. Formerly called “Hin Sam Kong” (Three Heaps of Stone), it is located beyond the Tenasserm range on the Thai–Myanmar border. The pass links the town of Sangkhla Buri in the north of Kanchanaburi Province, Thailand, to the town of Payathonsu in the south of Kayin State, Myanmar. In the past there has been guerilla activity by Karen insurgents in the area, Today the biggest problems are illegal logging and mining.

The Three Pagodas Pass was a strategic military point during the Ayutthaya and early Ratanakosin eras. The line of three white pagodas (chedis) at the pass are small and are kind of tribute to the spirits that live in the mountains. As both Thailand and Myanmar are heavily forested in this region, various wild plants, including rare wild orchids, particular can be seen. Nowadays, the pass is the location of an active border market, Phaya Tong Su. Among the most sought-after products at the market are woodcarvings, woven fabrics, wood furniture and a variety of forest products and tools. Purchasing wild orchids from the market is prohibited as they are protected by law.

Entry to from Thailand to Myanmar is allowed from 6:00am to 6:00pm daily. Visitors should apply for an entry visa at the immigration office. There is a small charge. Once in Myanmar, tourists can visit “Wat Sao Roi Ton” (The Temple of Hundred Pillars) which is located only a few hundred meters away from the pass. They are however, required to strictly observe rules and regulations.

Erawan National Park (1 ½ hour drive, 65 kilometers northwest of Kanchanaburi along Route 3199) is one of the most visited national parks in Thailand. Covering 550-square-kilometers, it is the site of the seven-tiered Erawan waterfall, one of Thailands loveliest waterfalls. The water often has a milky, turquoise color. The second tier has a pool, which is ideal for swimming and is particularly picturesque. However, the most popular activity in the park is trekking. Bungalow accommodations and camping facilities and a daytime food market are available. Shelters and camping are available for tourists in the park. Admission is Bt200 for adults and Bt100 for children. For more details, please contact the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, Bangkok at Tel. 0 2562 0760 or ‘www.dnp.go.th’ or Erawan National park Tel. 0 3457 4722, 0 3457 4234 Visitors may take a bus departing from the Kanchanaburi Bus Terminal to the waterfall every 50 minutes from 8am to 5.20pm The journey takes 1.5 hours.

Tham Than Lot National Park (97 kilometers from Kanchanaburi, 10 kilometers from Erawan National Park) was created in 1980 and also goes by the name Chaloem Rattanakosin National Park. Covering 54 square kilometers, the park embraces pristine forests, waterfalls and several caves, including include Than Lot Noi Cave and Than Lot Yai Cave, which are accessible from a 2.5-kilometer nature trail along a stream. The two caves are full of spectacular stalactites and stalagmites one of which is the world’s tallest stalagmite pillar. The ideal time of the year to visit the caves is from February to April. It is recommended that you request the services of a park ranger as your guide. Outside of the caves you can observe several species of bird and witness the barking tree frog whose croak sounds very much like a barking puppy.

The park has two forest trekking routes: Route 1: Start from Tham Than Lot Noi to Tham Than Lot Yai. Tham Than Lot Noi contains stalagmites and stalactites. The creek ‘Lum Kraphroi’ flows inside the cave. After passing through Tham Than Lot Noi, go on foot about 1.5 kilometers to Namtok Trai Trueng and walk on for one kilometers to Tham Than Lot Yai. The total distance is 2.5 kilometers. Route 2: Forest trekking route to Namtok Than Ngoen and Namtok Than Thong, about 1.8 kilometers long. Namtok Than Ngoen is a small waterfall with seven levels. It takes about 35 minutes to travel from the park office to the first level. Another waterfall called Namtok Than Thong is a massive waterfall with 15 levels. It takes 25 minutes to reach the first level from the park office.

Hours, Fees, Contact, Accommodation and Transport Info: Tham Than Lot National Park is open everyday from 6.00am to 6:00pm. The admission fee is 200 baht for adults and 100 baht for children. . Bungalow accommodations and camping facilities are available. Getting there: From Kanchanaburi, drive on about 7 km. then turn right and take the route Kanchanaburi-Thung Masang for about 23 km. Turn into Highway 3086 passing Amphoe Bo Phloi to get to King Amphoe Nong Prue. Hire a Songthaew at Nong Prue Market to reach the park. For more information, please contact the National Park Office; National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, Bangkok, Tel. 0 2562 0760 or www.dnp.go.th.

Khuean Srinagarindra National Park (just north of Erawan National Park but more difficult to get to) embrace limestone mountains and evergreen and deciduous forests and the origin of Kwae Yai River. Designated a park in 1981 and covering a total area of 1,532 square kilometers, the park features waterfalls, hot springs, caves and an island studded reservoir. The area is mostly hot and humid and receives a lot of rain. The lowest temperature in the cool season in December about 8 degrees C. Wildlife includes leopard cat, slow loris, civets, squirrels and bats. Birds found in the Park include parakeets, kingfishers, beeaters, orioles and barbets. The north side of the reservoir is an important fishing area for locals. Contact: Khuean Srinagarindra National Park, P.O.Box 1 Amphur Si Sawat Kanchanaburi Thailand 71250, Tel. 0 3453 2027, 0 3454 7018 (VoIP) Fax 0 3451 6667 E-mail khuansrinakarin_np@hotmail.com

Sai Yok National Park (104 kilometers northwest of Kanchanaburi via Highway No. 323) covers approximately 300-square-kilometers and contains several interesting caves and the famous Sai Yok Yai waterfall, which can be viewed from a supension bridge. The park has dense forests, including majestic teak trees and an abundance of mammals and birds such as slow loris, Malayan porcupine, gibbons, wreathed hornbill, serow, squirrels, bats and barking deer in addition to regal crabs. Sometimes elephants from Myanmar make their way to the park. Particularly noteworthy, the park is home to the smallest mammal in the world: the two-grammed Kittis Hog-nosed Bat, which was first discovered in 1973 by a Thai naturalist. Also noteworthy: the famous Russian roulette scenes from the film The Deerhunter were shot in the park.

Sai Yok Yai Waterfall flows directly into Khwae Noi River. Also known as Namtok Sai Yok Yai, its idyllic beauty has been repeatedly celebrated in Thai poetry and songs. A rope bridge enables people to cross the river to view the waterfall. Rafts are available for a river trip along the riverbank but advance booking is recommended. Lawa Cave and Daowadung Cave are two caves, which house numerous stalactites and stalagmites. Of the two caves, the Daowadueng Cave, which entails a river trip and one-kilometer walk to reach, is the more popular cave.

Another 1.5 kilometer walk from the ranger station will lead to the cave with nature interpretation signs along the way. Tham Wang Badan is a small but deep cave, 500 meters long. It is a two-level limestone cave with a small hole at its mouth to be entered one by one. Its upper level houses various chambers with beautiful stalagmites and stalactites of different shapes. The lower level contains a stream that goes through a tunnel under a large boulder. Sai Yok Noi Waterfall (Namtok Sai Yok Noi) is also dubbed as Khao Phang Waterfall. It is situated 60 kilometers from town via Highway No. 323. The place is best visited between July and September.

Hours, Fees, Contact, Accommodation and Transport Info: Sai Yok National Park is open everyday from 6.00am to 6:00pm. The park is 104 kilometers from Kanchanaburi via Highway No. 323 and can also be reached by chartered boat from the Pak Saeng Pier. The park is very popular during the weekends. Bungalow accommodations, river rafts, camping facilities, and a daytime food market are available. To get to Sai Yok Noi Waterfall: non air-conditioned buses leave Kanchanaburi Bus Station every 30 minutes from 6:00am until 6.30pm The journey takes 2 hours and costs 25 baht. Alternatively, visitors can take a train from Kanchanaburi to Namtok Station and continue on foot or by local transport to the waterfall, which is 2 kilometers away. Trains depart from Kanchanaburi at 6.11am, 11:00am and 4.37pm and return from Namtok Station at 5.25am 1:00pm and 3.15pm The one-way rail trip takes about 2 hours and costs 17 baht. (Please check the current schedule from TAT Kanchanaburi or the railway station before departure.)

Thong Pha Phum National Park (accessible from Kanchanaburi) is located within the area of Pa Huai Khayeng and Pa Khao Chang Phueak reserved forests. Covering a total area of approximately 700,000 rai, it has spots of interest including two viewpoints at Doi Tong Palae which is about 300 meters uphill hike and from where Namtok Chokkadin is visible, and Noen Kut Doi which is accessible by car and offers a panoramic view of the mountains, Vajiralongkorn Dam and Khao Chang Phueak – the national park’s highest peak. There are three nature trails to waterfalls; Namtok Chokkadin, Namtok Pha Pae and Namtok Chet Mit. These waterfalls are located in the evergreen forest of Tambon Pilok which is a former location of tin and wolfram mines on the Thai – Burmese border. A four-wheel drive car and hired guide will be needed.

Hours, Fees, Contact, Accommodation and Transport Info: Open everyday from 8:00am - 6:00pm. To get there from Kanchanaburi, follow Highway 323 to Amphoe Thong Pha Phum and turn into Highway 3272 (Thong Pha Phum – Pilok Mine) for some 57 kilometers to Thong Pha Phum National Park’s headquarters. The road, though asphalted, climbs up the mountain with several sharp curves; thus drivers will have to drive carefully. Accommodation and camping is available. Admission is 400 baht for adults and 200 baht for children. For further details, please call Tel. 08 1382 0359 or Thong Pha Phum National Park, P.O. Box 18, Amphoe Thong Pha Phum, Kanchanaburi 21110.

UTHAI THANI

UTHAI THANI (100 kilometers south of Kamphaeng Phet and 222 kilometers northwest of Bangkok) lies in a region that has a long history and features great ethnic diversity and unspoiled wilderness that provides refuge for many endangered wildlife species, particularly within Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Reserve, a Natural World Heritage Site. Visitors can also see the different lifestyles of Uthai Thani locals, such as the life of raft residents on the Sakae Krang River, a waterway that has been a lifeline for the people of Uthai Thani since ancient times. At the end of the Buddhist Lent, Buddhists from many regions congregate at the foot of Khao Sakae Krang in Wat Sangkat Rattana Khiri for a major merit-making tradition called Tak Bat Thewo.

Uthai Thani is located in the lower northern region of Thailand. The city of Uthai Thani lies somewhat off the main route between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Consequently, few tourists go out of their way to visit this somewhat remote province, whose attractions include a museum with prehistoric artifacts, a number of ruins, colorful cave paintings, hot springs, and a buffalo market. Visitors looking for unspoiled Thai countryside and authentic Thai hospitality will not be disappointed by a holiday in Uthai Thani.

Tourist Office and Website: Tourism Authority of Thailand , Uthai Thani Office, Uthai Thani Tourism Promotion Center, Sri Uthai Road, Amphoe Mueang, Uthai Thani, Tel. +66 5651 4982, Fax. +66 5651 2916, E-mail Address: tatuthai@tat.or.th, Website: http://www.tourismthailand.org/uthaithani . Accommodation: Although not a major center for tourism, Uthai Thani has a variety of accommodation options including modern hotels and home stays with rural villagers.

Getting to Uthai Thani: By Bus: There are daily regular and air-conditioned Bangkok – Uthai Thani buses departing regularly between 05.00am and 4.00pm. For more information, please contact Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2), Tel: 0 2936 2852-66, or Uthai Thani Bus Terminal, Tel 0 5651 1914, or visit www.transport.co.th . By Car: 1) From Bangkok, take Highway No. 32, through Ayutthaya, Ang Thong, Sing Buri, and Chai Nat, and then turn left at km.206 in Tha Nam Oi. From there, cross the bridge spanning the Chao Phraya River and turn left onto Road No. 333 to Uthai Thani. The total distance is around 222 kilometers. 2) From Bangkok, take Highway No. 32 through Ayutthaya, and then turn left, crossing the bridge to Ang Thong. Go through Sing Buri and Amphoe Sapphraya, past the Chao Phraya Dam, and through Amphoe Wat Sing and Wat Tha Sung until you arrive at Uthai Thani Market. The total distance is about 283 kilometers. 3) From Bangkok, take Road No. 340 past Suphan Buri, and then turn left onto Road No. 357 and right onto No. 322 past Amphoe Don Chedi. From there, turn right onto Road No. 3264 to Ban Sa Krachom, then turn right onto Road No. 333 to the Ban Rai intersection and another right to Uthai Thani. The total distance is about 302 kilometers.

Thung Yai Naresuan Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary was designated registered as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1991. Covering an area of 3,609,375 rai or 5,775 square kilometers in six districts of three provinces, it includes the area of Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary and is part of the largest virgin in Thailand and Southeast Asia.

Huai Kha Khaeng contains five out of the seven kinds of tropical forests: dry evergreen forest, montane forest, savanna, mixed deciduous forest, and deciduous dipterocarp forest. These forests are blessed with great biodiversity and includes many endangered species such as wild water buffalo, serow, leopard, Asiatic wild dog, red junglefowl, green peafowl, and many species of forest insects. Normally, the wildlife sanctuary does not open for tourists because there are worries about the ecological damage they might cause. balance. However, since it became a World Heritage Site, the park started allowing travelers to visit three points of areas to learn about nature without staying overnight. Tourists that make the visit have to follow the rules strictly. The permitted areas are: 1) The Headquarters of Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary; 2) Cyber Ranger Station; and 3) Huai Mae Di Ranger Station (in the area of Amphoe Ban Rai, on Route 3011, Huai Mae Di – Ban Mai Khlong Angwa. There is a nature study route.

The Khao Hin Daeng Nature Study Route is approximately six kilometers long, taking about 4 hours to travel on foot. There are 18 points to observe a particular aspect of the rain forest as well as a sight-seeing point, Pong Thian. After December, there are a lot of birds of various species in the park. Among them are the red-breasted parakeet and lineated barbet. Normally, tourists can travel on this route by themselves, using a manual provided at the headquarters of the sanctuary. For a guide, please contact Huai Kha Khaeng Forest Fire Prevention Unit in advance at Tel. 0 5651 3527. The weather is very hot in summer, and it rains heavily all day in the rainy season. Winter lasts for a very short period.

Hours, Fees, Contact and Transport Info: Open from 6.00am - 6:00pm. Contact: Thung Yai Naresuan Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary Thung Yai Naresuan Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary. PS Box 7, Amphoe Lan Sak, Uthai Thani, Tel. 0 5651 3527 To get there, take one of these 2 routes: 1. Enter at the headquarters of Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, approximately 102 km. from the provincial city along Highway No. 333 (Uthai Thani – Nong Chang). Then take Highway 3438 from Nong Chang – Lan Sak. After turning left at km. 53-54 and driving along for about 15 km., arriving at the office of Khao Hin Daeng Checkpoint, located on the Huai Thap Salao creek side. From the sanctuary office, drive for 14 km. to the Kapuk Kapiang Ranger Station or 17 km. to the Khao Nang Ram Research Station. 2. Enter at the Khao Bandai Ranger Station, which is in the south of Huai Kha Khaeng, approximately 137 km. from the provincial city, along Highway 333, the Uthai Thani - Nong Chang route. Then, turn into Highway 3282, Nong Chang - Ban Rai route, taking about 80 km. Turn left to a laterite road, passing Ban Mai Khlong Aangwa for 30 km. until reaching the Khlong Rayang Border. Go along to Huai Maedi and the Khao Bandai Ranger Station. Visitors can choose forest trekking to the north or the south of the Huai Kha Khaeng Creek. In the rainy season, it is difficult to drive through the entrance due to flooding on the laterite road.

Accommodation: To stay overnight, contact the Wildlife Sanctuary Management Subdivision in person at least 20 days in advance at the Wildlife Conservation Office, Department of National Park, Wildlife and Flora. For further information, please contact Tel. 0 2561 4292-3 ext. 765 or Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, P.O. Box 7, Amphoe Lan Sak, Uthai Thani 61160 or Tel. 0 5651 9654. There are 3 permitted points for staying overnight. The first point is in the area of the sanctuary office, including 3 houses with a capacity of 10-30 persons and the training building with a capacity of 80 persons. The second point is at the Cyber Ranger Station, and the third one is at the Huai Mae Di Ranger Station.

KAMPHAENG PHET

KAMPHAENG PHET (100 kilometers south of Sukhothai and 358 kilometers north of Bangkok) was once historical city of strategic importance. Now it lies at the center of a charming, quiet province with many interesting natural and cultural attractions. Located in the lower portion of Northern Thailand along the banks of the Ping River, it is sandwhiched between flatlands to the east and mountains, with a of national parks and lush forests to the west. In the areas along the Ping River near te town of Kamphaeng Phet there were once a number of ancient towns that served as strategic front-line frontier-posts between the northern and central kingdoms. In fact, the name Kamphaeng Phet literally means “strong as walls” or “forts make of diamonds”. The capital city of Kamphaeng Phet is split into two: the new city, which appears very similar to a typical Thai provincial city, and the old city, encircled by the original fortification walls that now protect a historical park.

Kamphaeng Phet has been designated as a UNESCO World heritage Site. An important center of the Sukhothai kingdom, this walled city is smaller than Sukhothai but is blessed by pleasant, leafy surroundings and contains a number of interesting structures from the 13th and 14th century. They include Wat Phra That, with a beautiful round chedi; Wat Phra Kaeo, with a huge seated Buddha; and Lak Muang, the foundation stone of the city. There are also forest temples to the north of the city.

Kamphaeng Phet is a charming balance of old and new worlds, with comfortable accommodation available in the new city, and historical attractions in the wall-encircled old city. The town also features a lively street market, and day trip attractions include nearby Khlong Lan National Park, an area of outstanding natural beauty filled with exotic flora and fauna.

Tourist Office and Website: 130, Charot Withi Thong Road, Tambon Thani, Amphoe Mueang, Sukhothai, 64000. Tel. 0 5561 6228-9, 0 5561 6366. Accommodation: Although not a major center for tourism, Kamphaeng Phet has a variety of accommodation options. Getting to Kamphaeng Phet: As a province somewhat off the typical tourist route, Kamphaeng Phet is best reached via private car or public bus. However, it is possible to take a train or plane to nearby Ubon Ratchathani an then a short bus to Kamphaeng Phet. By Car: From Bangkok, take Highway No. 32 to Nakhon Sawan via Ayutthaya, Ang Thong and Sing Buri and then proceed along Highway No. 1 to Kamphaeng Phet, a total distance of 358 kilometers. By Bus: Both air-conditioned and non air-conditioned buses leave daily from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2). Call 0 2936 2852-66 or visit www.transport.co.th for more information.

Sights in Kamphaeng Phet: Kamphang Phet National Museum (Pindamri Road in Muang district ) houses ancient objects and other antique arts articles from various eras found in the provincial town. These include sculptured and earthen designs, heads of Buddha statues, traditional celadon products, sculptures of demons and celestial and human beings used to decorate Chedi bases or Vihans. It is open Wednesday to Sunday from 9.00am-4.00pm More information at Tel: 0 5571 1570.

Kamphang Phet Historical Park (five kilometers from Kamphaeng Phet on the Kamphaeng Phet-Phran Kratai road) embraces ancient sites such as Muang Chakangrao to the east of the Ping River, Muang Nakhon Chum to the west and Muang Trai Trueng some 18 kilometers from the town to the southwest. The park is open everyday from 9:00am -5:00pm

Chakangrao, the ancient Kamphaeng Phet town, had the same town planning concept as the old Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai, with separate zones for religious sites both within and outside of town limits. Structures are usually large and made of laterite. Religious sites on the west bank of the Ping River at Nakhon Chum are built of bricks and of smaller size.

Remains of the ancient sites within the city walls include: 1) City Walls and Old Fortifications mark the boundary of the rectangular town area, measuring 300 to 700 meters wide and 2,200 meters long. 2) Phra Kaeo Temple (Wat Phra Kaeo) is a large royal temple in old town centre near a site believed to have been a palace. The temple itself was used in important city events and had no monks in residence. Major features include the principal chedi with lion-adorned base and a round chedi with elephant-adorned base. There are also other chedis of different bases and remains of several chapels. Its boundary is marked off by laterite walls.

3) Second in size to Wat Phra Kaeo is Phra That Temple. Here the principal chedi is built of mixture of laterite and bricks with a 15-meter wide square base. The style is of Kamphaeng Phet architecture. 4) Sa Mon is the site of the palace. Located to the north of Wat Phra Kaeo, it embraces with a square earthen wall almost touching the northern city wall. Surrounding the walls on three sides are moats with a pond in the middle. There are no standing structures remaining today.

5) Phra Non Temple (Wat Phra Non) is fenced in by laterite walls on four sides. At the front of the temple are a square-shaped pond, bathrooms and an ancient floating pavilion which is supported by a large laterite column. The entire column was cut out in one single piece from its source and measures 1.1 meters on each side and 6.4 meters in height, the largest such stone in the country. A lion sculpture and Sema stones (boundary stones) can still be discerned. The large Vihan which once housed the Reclining Buddha has crumbled entirely.

6) Phra Si Iriyabot Temple (Wat Phra Si Iriyabot) is located to the north of Wat Phra Non and has similar pond and bathroom facilities as its neighbour. Walls on the four sides are of laterite materials with an entrance also made of laterite. A Mondop structure houses Buddha statues in four postures-walking, sitting, standing and reclining in the Sukhothai artistic style. Today only the statue in the standing posture still remains. 7) Phra Sing Temple (Wat Phra Sing) is believed to have been constructed during both the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya periods. With laterite walls, it has a square-shaped principal Chedi with arches on four sides. In front of the Ubosot are ornamental lion and Naga figurines.

8) Chang Rop Temple (Wat Chang Rop) is a large temple situated on a high hill. Its main Chedi of Ceylonese style is in the middle of the yard but its top part is broken down. The base is adorned with 68 half-elephants between which are Bhoti-shaped designs. There are also traces of demon and female dancers' figures remaining.

Apart from these temples, there are also several ancient sites on the east bank of the Ping River, including Wat Arwat Yai, Wat Kalothai and Phra Ruang Road. Muang Nakhon Chum is an ancient town on the west bank of the Ping River. Its two-to-three- meter-high earthen walls run along the waterway. It is in this area that the famous religious tablets of Kamphaeng Phet have been discovered. Within the city walls are a couple of ancient sites such as the Kamphaeng Pom Thung Sethi, located on Phahonyothin Road just before entering the town. It is part of the laterite fortifications 83 meters long and 6 meters tall. Phra Borom Temple (Wat Phra Borom) That is a temple situated in the centre of Muang Nakhon Chum. It features a Burmese-style Chedi. To the south is an Ubosot housing several Sukhothai- and Ayutthaya-style bronze Buddha statues. The Chedi itself is believed to originally have been a Sukhothai-type structure, its style having been altered during a restoration work financed by a wealthy Burmese about a century ago.Another ancient town is Muang Trai Trueng. It was built by King Chaisiri of Chiang Rai who fled invading enemy in 1542 B.E. (circa 999). Today most of the structures are in disrepair with only ruins of Chedis and ramparts.

NATIONAL PARKS NEAR KAMPHAENG PHET

Mae Wong National Park (near Kamphaeng Phet, 370 kilometers northwest of Bangkok) was formerly of hill tribe center inhabited by Hmong, Yao, Muzer and Karen. Established in 1987 and covering 894 square kilometers in the provinces Nakon Sawan and Kampaeng Phet, the park is very rugged and hilly, especially on the north and west. It embraces the Tanon Thong Chai mountain range, one of highest mountain ranges in the west of Thailand. Three main rivers of which the Mae Wong River is the biggest drain the park. The rainy season is from June to October. November to February is mostly suitable for travelling.

The park’s main area is covered by mixed deciduous forest, in which has Tectona grandis (teak), Afzelia xylocarpa, Pterocarpus macrocarpus and xylia kerrii are the dominant trees. Evergreen forests are found in the deep valleys. Among the mammals found in the park are barking deer, wild pig, asiatic jackal, squirrels, civets and porcupine. There are also guar and may be some tigers and elephants. There are also more than 450 species of bird some of which are rare in Thailand.

Mokoju Peak (in Mae Wong National Park) is a dome of bald rock carpeted by a florid treeless meadow, overlooking a bottomless valley. Phoowadon Duangmee wrote in The Nation: “The peak thrusts high into the blue Kamphaeng Phet's sky rather like a giant mother hen guarding her chicks. The ridgelines that arch from the peak lead your eyes to a panoramic wall of mountains. At 1,964 meters, Mokoju is one of Thailand's highest peaks and it guards Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary - the country's last biological frontier. [Source: Phoowadon Duangmee, The Nation, January 5, 2011]

Mokoju earns its name from Karen tribe. It means "it looks like it's going to rain". You often see the mountain crowned by columns of clouds," says Yong, a 40-something hilltribe man who's the leader of our porters. "Up there, on the top of Mokoju Peak, you're above the forest and even the cloud. The canopy looks like broccoli." Mokoju Peak, thank to its panoramic beauty, draws the hiker's eye, the five-day Mokoju trail trek, up and down, takes you over 60 kilometers of uncountable bottomlands, steep ridgelines and challenging summits, ending at the Mokoju Base Camp, 1,890m above sea level. Our first 24 hours on the Mokoju Trail lead us - 10 seasoned trekkers - up the high, rugged terrain of Mae

Describing parts of the trek, Phoowadon wrote: “The second day sees us hiking along a dirt trail that twists through the bamboo forest. We see spiders, eye-catching mushrooms, leeches and other blood-sucking insects. Once in a while, we spot piles of animal dung. American classic hiking trails might be marked by posts and signs, but here in the evergreen forest of Mae Wong National Park our trail is certified by elephants, tigers and gaur. "We share the trails with the wildlife," notes Withawat, the forest ranger, pressing his hiking shoe into a pile of dried dung, which he says was dropped by a wild cat or tiger. "From November to February, the hiking season, we own the trail. The rest of the year belongs to them." On the second night, we pitch our tents beside a stream. Yong and his team make a fireplace from three pieces of stone and we whip up fried sausages and canned sardines. Yong goes downstream, and returns with handful of young fern. The choices are deep-fried or stir-fried. It tastes a bit better, I observe, than licking your hiking pole. When it's time for a snack, we press sour pieces of wild fruit in "tribal seasoning" (monosodium glutamate, actually) and wash it down with a gulp of Smirnoff - a true Russian elixir!

Mokoju Trail, with all its challenges, stretches out nine kilometers along a steep ridgeline that's used in the rainy season by herds of gaur. The gaur, have no problem jumping the gruelling, steep path, but we're different. One foot in front of the other, we begin the hike walking in a small group, but soon we find ourselves spread out along the trail, each man and woman alone with their thoughts. Legs burn, knees protest, and soft feet chafe and blister. Backpacks are still loaded with camera gear and water, as well as extras yet to be jettisoned.

Billed as the country's most difficult trail, Mokoju has no place for the tourist. Many hikers are lured by the mountain beauty but are unable finish the trail. While their hiking companions go ahead, they are left behind with a porter at the campsite."Some hikers can make it to the top, but can't come down," says Pa, one of the porters. "They hang in there like a poor cat stuck in a tree. We have to take turns carrying them down." Though exhausted, we decide at the end of the third day to make one final push up the last of the steep summits.

This is, perhaps, the most magical ascent of our journey. The ridge to Mokoju peak is bald, covered with patches of green meadow, but the reward is a 360-degree view of the valleys below. The mountains are green on one side and dark on the other and in between them is the orange sun disappearing into the horizon. We drop our packs and sit still, trying to make the most out of this dramatic panoramic view. Down in the valley, the forest canopies look exactly, as Yong said, like giant broccoli heads.

TAK

TAK (70 kilometers west of Sukhothai, near Myanmar) was once a strategic military region between Thailand and Burma, Tak is now known for its bustling border markets, ethnic diversity, and natural beauty. Tak is a beautiful province almost entirely off the tourist map; consequently, visitors in search of true Thai hospitality and a peek at unspoiled everyday Thai culture are likely to find it here. While there are few tourist oriented sights and activities, this does not mean Tak is absent of attractions; in fact, Tak features spectacular natural attractions, including jungle covered mountains filled with animal life, hill tribe villages, and opportunities to go white water rafting, play golf, or visit a gibbon rehabilitation center.

Tak is a trading gateway to Myanmar, particularly at Amphoe Mae Sot, where lots of economic activity takes place along the border. In addition, Tak is located at the nexus of three major highways that connect Thailand's western border north, south, and east to Chong Mek and eventually Laos. Hill tribes found in the region including Karen, Lisu, Musoe (Lahu), Akha, Yao and Hmong.

Tourist Office and Website: Tourism Authority of Thailand, Tak Office, 193 Taksin Rd.,Tambon Nonglauang, Amphoe Muang, Tak 63000, Tel. +66 5551 4341-3, Fax. +66 5551 4344, E-mail Address: tattak@tat.or.th, Website: http://www.tourismthailand.org/tak . Accommodation: Tak features a variety of accommodation options, both in the city and in the more remote regions, including the national parks. There are guesthouses, home stays, bungalows, and nicer resorts for those who require more creature comforts.

Getting to Tak: As a major hub for transportation in the region, Tak is easily reached directly by car or bus. It is also possible to take a train or plane to nearby Sukhothai or Phitsanulok and then a bus to Tak. By Train: There are no trains going directly to Tak. The nearest train station is in Phitsanulok. From there, tourists can take a local bus to Tak. Contact Bangkok Railway Station Tel. 1690, 0223 7010, 0 2223 7020 or visit www.railway.co.th for more information. By Air: Solar Air has three flights a week into and out of Mae Sot from Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport. For schedule or reservations, contact www.solarair.co.th

By Car: From Bangkok, take Highway No. 1 (Phahonyothin Road) and Highway No. 32 to Nakhon Sawan via Ayutthaya, Ang Thong, Sing Buri and Chai Nat Provinces, then take Highway No. 1 again and proceed to Tak via Kamphaeng Phet Province. The total distance is 426 kilometers. By Bus: From Bangkok, air-conditioned buses depart from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2) to Tak between 5am and 10pm every day. The journey takes 6 hours. Call 0 2936 2852-66 or visit www.transport.co.th for updated schedules. Private bus companies, such as Thanchit Tour (Tel: 0 2551 1307) and Choet Chai Tour (Tel: 0 2551 1054) also operate daily bus services to Tak.

Sights in the Tak Area: Mae Usu Cave, which is situated along the border of Thailand and Myanmar, is considered the longest cave in the country. Many have wondered if they can reach the Myanmar Sea if they walk far enough. Old people believe it even so. Tee Lo Le is considered an amazing destination but it is difficult to get to. ting there, visiting this waterfall is quite difficult. So, not so many tourists successfully reach this spot except for those with an adventurous mind. With this alluring charm, however, seek out this waterfall close to the Mae Tee Lau Su Waterfall can be reached via a 40-kilometer road from Umphang. During the Loy Krathong Sai festival thousands of Krathongs (floating lanterns) are set adrift in the Ping River.

Ancient Tak City (along the Ping River, 25 kilometers north of Tak) contains several ruins including the legendary hill-top pagoda built in the Phum Khao Binth style of the Sukhothai era. The pagoda was built by King Ramkhamhaeng the Great to mark his victory in the hand to hand combat on the elephants back against King Khun Sam Chon, the ruler of Muang Chot (currently Amphoe Mae Sot). The pagoda shares Myanmar's famous Chawedagong's features and houses holy Buddha relics. Locally known as the royal pagoda or Chedi Yutta Hatthi, it is located next to Wat Phra Boromthat, which itself features magnificently- crafted wooden door panels and roof decorations. The story of the Lord Buddha is depicted on the temple’s wooden window panels which are covered in real gold. Open everyday from 6.00am -5:00pm.

Thai – Myanmar Friendship Bridge connects the Asian Highway between Thailand and Myanmar. Traversing the Moei River, it is located at Tambon Tha Sai Luad, opposite a town called Myawadi in Myanmar. The Asian Highway also runs to other regions in South Asia, the Middle East and Europe. The bridge opens daily from 8.30am until 4.30pm Border passes for a fee of 20 baht for Thais and 10 baht for people from Myanmar can be obtained from either Mae Moei City or the Mae Sot municipal government, Mae Sot, Tak 63110; The bridge is located in Tambon Tha Sai Tel. 0 5556 3002 – 4.

Mae Ping National Park (100 kilometers from Tak) covers an area of over 1,000 square kilometers. Its main feature is the Ping River, which flows through the forests in the park. On both sides are fertile forests with sheer cliffs providing beautiful natural scenery. Certain parts of the waterway spread out to form reservoir-like bodies of water with numerous small islands and rapids. Another attraction is the seven-level Ko Luang Waterfall, which is fed from lime streams. It is just 20 kilometers from the park headquarters and accessible by road. Fascinating stalactites and stalagmites are to be found inside nearby lime caves. The park is open everyday from 6.00am - 6:00pm. The admission fee is 100 baht for adults and 50 baht for children. Tourists wishing to stay overnight are recommended to contact park headquarters at Tel. 0 2562 0760, www.dnp.go.th . The Mae Ping National Park office is located some 20 kilometers off Highway No.106 at km.47.

Huai Khan Khaeng Wildlife Reserve (between Kanchanaburi, Tak and Uthai Thani Provinces) is located in the Dawna Range and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. It may be declared as Thailand's first Tiger Reserve. In all there are 21 kinds of predators in this 1000 square-mile rain forest park including Asiatic and clouded leopards, six cat species, two kinds of bear and seven species of civet. It is also a a good place to see rufous-necked hornbills.

MAE SOT AREA

MAE SOT (80 kilometers from Tak) lies at the center of a kind-of Wild Wast place near the Myanmar border. Karen insurgents are still active in Myanmar and around Mae Sot are a number Karen refugee camps. Sometimes it seems like the main industries are illegal logging and drug smuggling. Many ethnic minorities live in the region. Lawlessness prevails. Some places are regarded as very dangerous. See the Lonely Planet Guide to Thailand for details.

Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary (accessible from Tak) is a UNESCO World Heritage site with links with to the Thung Yai Naresuan and Huay Kha Kaeng Reserves, as well as Khlong Lan and Mae Wong National Parks. Together, they form Thailand's largest wildlife haven and Southeast Asia's top virgin forest. Namtok Thi Lo Su is located in the Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary, 3 kilometers from the headquarters. The Umphang forest Wildlife Preservation Office, Amphoe Umphang , Tak province closes the road from the Huai Nong Luang forest Protection Unit to Thi Lo Su Waterfall, a distance of 25 kilometers, from June to November during the monsoon season. Travel in the area during this period is very difficult.

Hours, Fees, Transport and Contact Info: Open everyday from 8:30am -5:00pm. Getting there by car: From Amphoe Umphang, follow the Umphang – Mae Sot route and take a left turn at kilometers 161 (Ban Mae Klong Mai) to De Lo Pass or the “Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary” at the checkpoint at km. 30. Visitors should use a high- performance pick-up truck or a four-wheel drive car for the trip. During the rainy season, it is impossible for a car to access the sanctuary. To visit the waterfall, visitors are required to use a rubber dinghy and walk to the headquarters before going further for around 3 kilometers on foot to the waterfall. Admission fees: 20 Baht/person, 30 Baht/car.

Taksin Maharat National Park was previously known as Krabak Yai National Park, after the name of Thailand's record-holding tree which has a height of 50 meters and a circumference of 16 meters. With an area of 37,250 acres comprised mostly of high-altitude mountains, the park features several stunning attractions including the nine-tiered Nam Tok Mae Ya Pa, a natural stone bridge and giant Kabak trees. The stone bridge is a 25-meter high stone strip that bridges two cliffs with a brook flowing below the bridge. Approximately 78.5 meters further from the cliff is a cave with beautiful stalagmites and stalactites. Bird lovers, should not miss the opportunity to see both resident and migratory birds in the park.

Hours, Fees, Transport and Contact Info: Open everyday from 6.00am - 6:00pm. Contact: Taksin Maharat National Park Taksin Maharat National Park. Tambon Mae Tho, Tambon Phra Wo, Amphoe Mueang, Tak, Tel. 0 5551 1429, 2562 0760. This national park is located at tambon Mae Tor and Pa Wor, 2 kilometers off of the km. 26 marker on the Tak-Mae Sot Highway No. 105. Accommodations available include bungalows and campsites; call the Park Office at 0-5551-1429 or email: reserve@dnp.go.th for more details. Entrance fees are 200 for adults and 100 for children.

Namtok Mae Kasa (Mae Ka Sa village) is a small waterfall that can be reached all year round. The waterfall has a stream running down from a high cliff in the midst of lush forest. A large pond situated on the upper level is perfect for swimming.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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