History of Cheow Lan Lake
About an hour’s drive away from National Park Headquarters lies the Rajaprabha Dam, which means ‘Light of the Kingdom,’ a fitting name for a dam built to provide electricity for the rapidly developing area. In 1982, the government of Thailand began construction of the 94-meter dam on Klong Saeng, the largest river in Southern Thailand.
At the time, the area was a still a hideout for political activists who had fled Bangkok during the military crackdowns of the 1970s. By 1989, the rebels had been granted amnesty, and the reservoir had filled up to create the 165 sq km Cheow Larn Lake. The area submerged by the dam was historically used for fruit farming and as a trade route between the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. Nowadays, the lake is utilized by fishermen, day trippers, and floating bunglaows.
Watching the cliffs from the water, it is common to see gibbons, several species of monkey, and other canopy dwelling creatures thataren’t often seen from the forest floor. In fact, some animals have adapted specifically to the karst ecosystem seen at the lake: instead of nesting in tree hollows, Great Hornbills conceal their young in small alcoves along the cliffs that they cover with branches, leaving only a small hole to deliver fruit.
The further north you move on the lake the more wildlife you will find grazing at the banks – elephants, gaur, deer, and tapir. Hiking through the jungle, the experienced rangers and guides find tracks of all above mentioned animals and the occasional wild cat.
While the open spaces take the spotlight, the dark caverns that line the lake provide plenty of excitement in their own right. During the dry season, one can hike to Nam Talu and see its cave river ecosystem teeming with interesting wildlife such as cave crickets, glowworms, bats, and the occasional cave shrimp. Visitors seeking an easier excursion can take bamboo rafts out to the Coral Cave and marvel at its riveting and peculiar rock formations.
Attractions and Accommodations
All journeys at Cheow Lan Lake start at the Rajaprabha pier, lined with longtail boats used for fishing or exploring the many secluded coves and islands. Day trips feature a stop at the floating rafthouses, and for overnight trips, you can stay in bungalows made from natural materials. The rooms are basic but comfortable, and bathrooms are located away from the sleeping area. Some of the older employees actually inhabited the valley before it was flooded!
Heading out to explore, there are several hikes, all requiring a guide, including trails to a viewpoint(mid-level difficulty), Coral Cave(easy), Nam Talu Cave (challenging).
Cheow Larn lake’s other attractions include kayaking, fishing, wildlife viewing from the boat, swimming in the lake, and longer expeditions to the wildlife sanctuary. Most accommodations have kayaks that guests can use to explore nearby coves in search of wildlife and solitude. Fishing trips are a favorite among visitors and boat drivers, most of which are fishermen themselves; river catfish, snakehead fish, and jungle perch are among the fish one might encounter at the lake. Scuba divers can explore abandoned temples and houses left intact. Scuba divers can explore remnants of the submerged forest and crevices in the karsts; for those who are nitrox certified, abandoned houses and temples are sitting intact at the bottom of the reservoir.
Farther afield at the back end of the lake is the Klong Saeng wildlife sanctuary. This is where the reservoir ends and the nature remains undisturbed by the inundation of the valley downstream; because this habitat is still intact, wildlife is more commonly seen.
Cheow Lan is a place of world class beauty that is still relatively undiscovered, allowing visitors to experience the nature without the distractions of large crowds.