Khao Sok History – This national park is one of the best preserved natural habitats in Thailand, and it’s all thanks to the Communists.
During the 1970s and early 80s, this area of thick jungle and caves was the perfect hide-out for the small band of Communist insurgents tickling the government at that time.
A Peace Corps volunteer named Dwaila, a farm girl from Iowa, was the first to move there. She lived in a basic bamboo hut at the edge of one of the massive limestone cliffs and tried various schemes like raising deer, pigs, and fruit trees. Gibbons and macaque monkeys would swing through her hut, terrifying city friends who came visiting.
One day she was sitting in a coffee shop when somebody joined her and started asking lots of questions. She later learned that he was the Communist chief and, after the interview, had decided to let her stay there.
To this day, one can see a few basic benches and tables, the remains of a school in one of the caves. Unlike Dwaila, loggers and other developers were not welcome by the Communists so they left the place alone and the forest was still there in 1980 when Khao Sok faced its next life-threatening challenge. The rows of steep limestone cliffs made the trees inaccessible, but UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) proposed a system of aerial logging to get it out.
A far-sighted Forestry official named Thani Pamornniyom saw greater, long-term benefit in leaving it alone and out-maneuvered the would-be loggers by having it all declared a national park.
At 160,000 acres, it is one of the larger parks in Thailand and with its spectacular lake and limestone cliffs, one of the most popular for foreign nature lovers. There are now about 30 bungalow operations there, mostly friendly guest houses owned and run by locals. One of the oldest and most beautifully situated is Our Jungle House. This place has real tree houses built into huge old forest trees right on the edge of the Sok River, overlooking the majestic cliffs. It’s set in its own forest, and monkeys and hornbills frolic right on the property. At night one hears a concert of jungle sounds- the buzz of the cicadas, the watery music of the frogs, and occasional calls from other creatures of the wild.
On a hike into the park, you are always near water and the rushing and gurgling of the river. There are several places where after a hot hike, you can wade into a jungle pool the size of an Olympic swimming pool, come out and have your picnic. This place really proves there is no sensual pleasure to compare with the luxury of nature!
I have spent 40 years in Southeast Asia, mostly in the jungle. I developed eco-resorts in Thailand, starting with the River Kwai, then Khao Sok National Park, Krabi, and Phra Thong island, a beatiful and still pristine island north of over-developed Phuket (http://www.goldenbuddharesort.com ). In all of these, we raised the environmental awareness of both local people and tourists.
I still run a few Khao Sok tours that will get you closer to nature and give an experience you will never forget.
It works. At Phra Thong, we sponsored a 10-year turtle conservation project. Villagers told us they didn’t eat turtle meat anymore because their kids told them it was a bad thing! At Krabi, villagers stopped shooting the gibbons because they saw how much the tourists loved them.
I also had some great jobs as an eco-tourism consultant in other Asian countries. The best one found me going up the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea with four native bearers in a dugout canoe. The purpose was to advise them how to get some eco-tourism going in their incredible rainforest.