Western Forest Complex is one of the largest protected areas in South East Asia spanning across two countries: Thailand and Myanmar. In Thailand it is comprised of 15 reserves including such high priority conservation areas as Thung Yai Naresuan and Huai Kha Khaeng. WFC is thought to protect the world’s second largest single population of tigers (Siberian population is the largest). According to 2008 census, tiger population in WFC numbered over 700 individuals.
Not all of the sanctuaries in WFC are easily accessible to the visitors and some require special permissions to visit. I visited some of the sanctuaries over the years I spent in Thailand, including Sri Nakarin, Umphang, Phu Toey, Sai Yok and Erawan. The visit to Phu Toey wasn’t a wildlife viewing expedition, but more of a pilgrim journey. At the time I was living in a Buddhist monastery in rural Kanchanaburi and our Abbot oversaw another small forest monastery deep in the jungles of Western Thailand near the village of Phu Toey inside the Phu Toey Sanctuary. I came along for a visit during one of the religious holidays. The road to the monastery cut through the sanctuary and the local driver reminisced how he once saw a tiger on that road. And while the tigers have retreated from the populated areas in recent years, the dense jungle that dominates the sanctuary was still very much there.
Erawan National Park
Erawan waterfall is considered to be one of Thailand’s most beautiful waterfalls. The water cascades through primeval jungle over seven tiers of the falls, past turquoise-coloured shallow pools on its way to the famous River Khwae (Mae Num Khwae Yai). It is those milky-turquoise pools at the lower tier of the falls that Erawan owes its fame to.
The park is easily accessible from Kanchanaburi town and is a sight not to be missed.
I haven’t seen much of wildlife on any of the trips to Erawan. In 2008 I saw a Monocellate Cobra (Naja kaouthia) sleeping on the road at 8am—before the visitors arrived. There were some birds chirping in the canopy, but they were too far away and I couldn’t identify them.
Sai Yok National Park
I lived in the close vicinity of Sai Yok Yai national park for a number of years, though I only managed to visit the park once. While I did not see much in a way of wildlife, the dense jungle dominating the landscape of the park presented a good opportunity to see the habitat where this wildlife occurs.
The only creatures I spotted were a Common Iora (Aegithina tiphia), Puff-throated Babbler (Pellorneum ruficeps), Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis), a crab, a pair of courting Golden Birdwing (Troides aeacus) butterflies as well as a few species of fish in the river.
The Sai Yok Yai waterfall is not as big as Huai Nakamin or as majestic as Erawan, but it presents a nice view as the water cascades into the river below.
Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary
I spent three days in the remote Umphang Sanctuary in December 2003. My friend was visiting me from Australia and I wanted to show her Thailand not typically seen by tourists. So we signed up for a trip to the mountains. First day we spent rafting down the Mae Klong river that runs through the entire sanctuary. It was quite a tranquil experience floating down the river past the pristine jungle covering the banks and 400 meter-high limestone cliffs sipping with water.
We spotted a few White-throated kingfishers (Halcyon smyrnensis), a Blue-eared kingfisher (Alcedo meninting) a few Green bee-eaters (Merops orientalis) and a Sprangled Drongo (Dicrurus bracteatus).
We spent most of the next day hiking up to the famous Tilawsu waterfall. This waterfall is the biggest in Thailand (measuring an estimated 400 meters high and up to 300 meters wide) and definitely one of the most beautiful. In full flow after the rainy season the waterfall looked like a backdrop from the Lord of the Rings movies.
From the waterfall we hiked to a small Karen village where we spent the night. It would have been nice to do some bird watching on the hike, but the terrain was so rugged that I had to keep my eyes (and at times my hands and knees) on the trail.
The third day’s main event was elephant riding through the forest to the road where the cars were waiting to pick us up for the ride back to Umphang. As with most organised tours, there wasn’t much time for extracurricular wildlife watching.
Sri Nakarin National Park
The main attractions at Sri Nakarin National Park are the Sri Nakarin dam and the Huai Mae Khamin waterfall. The waterfall is quite difficult to reach as the last 42 km of the road from Erawan is a badly eroded dirt track, and there is no public transport to the falls. So getting there is actually part of the adventure. Sri Nakarin is the largest National Park in the west of Thailand. Its area of 1,532 square kilometers is mostly dense forest surrounding the Sri Nakarin Dam. The park is bisected by the river Khwae (Khwae Yai), which is at full flow all year round, which in turn means that the waterfall never dries out.
The Huai Mae Khamin Waterfall flows along the Mae Khamin Creek and cascades Over 7 limestone terraces. The top level is the most impressive with thousands of gallons of water rushing off a steep cliff.
On the way back we opted for a change of scenery and took two ferry rides to Sisawat instead of the dirt track. This is a great way to see the Sri Nakarin Dam. It is an immense body of water surrounded by rolling limestone hills covered in lash green jungle. By the time we reached the second ferry crossing the rain clouds closed in above, giving the surrounding landscape a slightly menacing feel.