Where the lotus blossoms

Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park near Hua Hin allows visitors to explore undisturbed beaches, check out nature trails and enjoy scenic views from the rugged limestone mountain range

Thung Sam Roi Yot marshland on the west side of its namesake mountain range is home to a vast diversity of flora and fauna. However, it is best known among tourists for its lotuses and water lilies. While the blooms of these aquatic plants can be enjoyed throughout most of the year, the peak period is from October to January. If the lotuses and water lilies are your priorities, the best time of day to visit the wetlands is during the morning hours when the Sun is not too strong and the flowers open up their petals to greet the sunlight and pollinators. The evening is when rest time begins and most water lilies and lotuses do not blossom. However, the atmosphere is blissful in the late afternoon, especially after the rain — unless you stay too late and the mosquitoes find you — as there are birds and other interesting things to see. Speaking of birds, Thung Sam Roi Yot is a major birdwatching site, especially in the cool season when the wetland and the rest of the national park is visited by many migratory species. Most of the photographs shown here were taken on a recent evening but one of them was from a morning in 2007. With the hint provided, can you guess which one it is? Pongpet Mekloy

At the front end of a long wooden boat, I stood up to appreciate the full view of the natural world around me. There weren’t as many lotus blossoms to be seen as in my previous visits years ago but the peaceful marshland was still full of life. A variety of plants and animals were still celebrating the life-giving rain that had stopped just a few minutes ago. It’s hard to believe that in 2016 this very place became so dry that you could see the cracked soil surface. I hope that will never happen again.

Anyway, as always, not so far in the background is the iconic jagged-top of the Khao Sam Roi Yot mountain range which lends its name to both the national park and this district of Prachuap Khiri Khan province where it is located. Taking a deep breath of the refreshing air, I felt so good to be back in this wonderful place.

The next morning, my friends and I set off for a tour of Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. Our first stop was the Khao Daeng scenic lookout point which was close from where we were. However, it’s a pity we didn’t have time to check out the nature trail at the back of the park’s headquarters nearby.

After climbing down from the hilltop viewpoint, we rushed to Ban Bang Pu for a quick early lunch. After that, we hiked over the headland to Laem Sala Beach and set off for the day’s longest climb to Phraya Nakhon Cave.

Despite our best efforts in the race against time, we were too late to catch a glimpse of the magical moment when the Sun’s beams fall directly into the main chamber of the cave. Yet, as I stood in front of the majestic royal pavilion inside the big cave — an easy stone’s throw from the spot where my high school friends and I took group photos 35 years ago — I couldn’t help feeling elated to be there once again.

On the way back to Bangkok, I was so exhausted that I slept most of the way. Next time, I should go there for a vacation instead of for work so I can have more time to spend in the park, which is one of my all-time favourites.

TRAVEL INFO

  • Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park is about 60km south of downtown Hua Hin. The park’s visitor centre, which is located at the southern end of the Sam Roi Yot mountain range and is not far from the trailhead to the Khao Daeng lookout point shown in the accompanying map, can be reached both from the west and east sides of the range.
  • Since the park’s attractions are pretty far apart, the most convenient way to get around is by private vehicle. If you don’t feel like driving from home, you can rent a car or a motorcycle in Hua Hin and drive from there. Another option is to take a public bus to Pran Buri town and a songthaew to Ban Bang Pu, the gateway to Laem Sala and Tham Phraya Nakhon. However, this will take a lot more time and will not get you to other parts of the park unless you manage to hire somebody to take you around. For more information about the park, visit its Facebook page.
  • Also, to help the park keep the number of visitors within its daily capacity and ensure you’re not denied entry, don’t forget to download the QueQ app and book your visit before the day you plan to show up.

STORY AND PHOTOS: PONGPET MEKLOY – BANGKOK POST

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