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Thung Yai naresuan,Huai kha khaeng

Thung Yai naresuan,Huai kha khaeng

Thung Yai naresuan,Huai kha khaeng

The greatest sanctuary

Thung Yai Naresuan and the adjoining Huai Kha Khaeng have been made a World Heritage Site covering 622,000 hectares. When the Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary next door to the north is added in, close to 900,000 hectares of rich adjoining forests and prairie along the Myanmar border are protected.

The area may not be the largest tract of unspoilt forest left in Asia, but it is the richest. Stretching through three provinces –Tak, Uthai Thani, and Kanchanaburi-it contains an estimated 77 per cent of the large mammal species of the region (especially elephants, tigers, rhinoceros, deer, wild cattle, and apes), 50 per cent of the large birds, and 30 per cent of the wild land vertebrates.

These include gaur, banteng, wild water buffalo, barking deer, one and two horned rhinos, green peafowl, clouded leopards, These include gaur, banteng, wild water buffalo, barking deer, one and two horned rhinos, green peafowl, clouded leopards, and Malayan tapirs. Many of these species are threatened or endangered. They of course co-exist with countless other birds, reptiles, fish, and insects.

The sanctuaries contain 21 endangered species and 65 threatened ones. They also incorporate two intact river systems whose catchment areas are largely encompassed by its boundaries. This means that both banks of the rivers are protected, a rare thing in Asia today.

This wealth of life is due to the wide range of land forms and vegetation in the sanctuaries. The entire area consists of still largely unexplored forested mountains interspersed with broad prairie (thung yai). Almost all of the main forest types found in Thailand are represented here.

In addition, the area faces directly into the southwest monsoon that lasts from May through to October each year. Thung Yai Naresuan is even wetter, rain falling there eight months a year.

Because the area is so little explored and is largely closed to the general public, one of its chief natural attractions, the Thilosu waterfall in the Umphang sanctuary, was only sighted by accident by helicopter in 1988. The falls are the most spectacular in Southeast Asia, consisting of 98 distinct cascades, all combining into a single magnificent spectacle.

The falls already attract tens of thousands of visitors each year. Because the whole area is a wildlife sanctuary, steps have been taken to limit both the number of tourists and the area they can visit. Exploration is restricted, and camping is not allowed anywhere except at the special sites that have been cleared at the respective sanctuary headquarters.

The best time to visit depends very much on which sanctuary you go to. Visits to the Thung Yai Naresuan prairie are best made in April and May. That is when dry-season wildfires are over and the first rains have encouraged a fresh crop of grasses and flowers. The area is either too wet or too dry at other times of year, making it either impossible or too dangerous to visit.

You should visit Huai Khaeng and Umphang either earlier, say December or January to catch the turning leaves of the deciduous forests, or later, May to early June when the rains here are just beginning. As with Thung Yai Naresuan, the other months are either too wet or too fire-prone.

All areas apart from restricted zones near the respective sanctuary headquarters are of course back country for which permission from the Wildfire Conservation Office at the Forestry Department, tel: (662) 5794847, is needed. Permission must be sought at least 15 days in advance, and only groups that can satisfy the Office that they are well-prepared need apply.

However, individuals can join group trekking and rafting trips in the area that are organized by commercial tour operators. The Tourist Authority of Thailand is happy to provide guidance.