The Modern Era
The completion of a highway in 1961 opened up Khao Sok to tin mining, logging, and clear cutting for rubber plantations. After years of protests from both city dwellers and communist rebels in the area’s countryside, the National Park was established in 1980 by royal decree, partly thanks to the dedication of a far-sighted Forestry official named Thani Pamornniyom. Thani was able to block a proposed a system of aerial logging, as he saw greater, long-term benefit in leaving it alone.
Guerrillas in the Mist
During the 1960s and 70s, this area of thick jungle, craggy mountains and caves was the perfect hide-out for the small number of Communist insurgents tickling the government at that time.
To this day, one can see a few basic benches and tables that remain from a school in one of the caves. Because of the danger, loggers and other developers left the place alone and the forest was preserved.
The First Treehouses
In 1976 along came a female US Peace Corps volunteer from Iowa named Dwaila Armstrong. Dwaila grew up on a farm in Iowa and found herself right at home in the southern Thai jungle. Her life there had an auspicious beginning when she discovered a white elephant, treasured as a sign of good fortune in Thailand, and presented it to the revered King Bhumipol. She lived in a basic bamboo hut at the edge of one of the massive cliffs and tried various enterprises. Gibbons and macaque monkeys would swing through her hut, terrifying some of her city friends who came visiting.
Dwaila tried raising deer in the caves at the base of the cliff, but they got mushy feet and pneumonia from the wet conditions. The pig project ended when the bottom fell out of the pig market. Finally she settled on fruit trees commonly grown in the area and these were more successful. Even more successful was “Tree Tops and Jungle Safari”, the first bungalow resort established at the now famous park.
Next to come along was Dick Sandler, a green tourism guy from way back (pictured right with Art). Dick had an eco-resort on the River Kwai before the word existed. He helped Dwaila set up Tree Tops and later set up the second lodge right on the river and facing the cliff. This was 1984, and Dick recalls having to cut his way through the scrub and jungle just to get his place on the river. At that time, a few skilled groups of villagers still hunted and corralled the wild elephants, and the meat of bears, tigers, and mouse deer was hanging in the market stalls.
The first manager was Art, who now has his own guest house called Art’s Riverview. Dick named his placeOur Jungle House and has always worked to be the quality place at Khao Sok. As the fame of Khao Sok spread so did the number of guest houses. There are now over 30 small bungalow operations just outside the park, with prices ranging from 200 baht per night to 2,000 baht. Most are operated by locals who have learned over the years what their clientele wants. The design varies considerably, often at the whim of the owner, but for the most part they do not clash with the lovely rural surroundings.