Map of Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex (KKFC)
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
Kaeng Kratchen Forest Compex (KKFC) consists of 5 contiguous parks and reserves (including Kaeng Kratchen NP) situated along Thailand’s border with Myanmar at the very top of the Malay Peninsula which, together, have been badged as a “complex” for this nomination. KKNP itself figures significantly in commercial birding and butterfly tours in Thailand. Such specialist tours, however, allocate several days to the park and the big question for us was whether we could gain value from a much shorter visit as part of a whistle-stop tour by self-drive car of Thailand’s inscribed and tentative list sites.
A further incentive was that a KKFC nomination had been considered at both the 2015 and 2016 WHCs and was still “alive” after consecutive referrals. Even though we had already taken in Thailand’s 2 existing natural WHS (at Kao Yai and Huai Kha Khaeng) the possibility of a future inscription was enough to tip the balance in favour of a visit to a third!
The previous 2 visits had already shown us that Thailand’s natural WHS don’t give out their “value” very easily and KKFC wasn’t particularly different. The iconic mega-fauna is difficult to see in a forest environment within a short visit and the birdlife is best seen at dawn and dusk which means either staying inside the park (if allowed) or at least arriving very early and departing as late as the rules will allow (i.e just after sunset at best), leaving the rest of a very hot day to fill! That leaves of course the forest itself and its wider ecosystem but these too have their “interest limits” for the non specialist. None of the parks is well endowed with roads and, in all honesty, the scenery, at least near most of those roads, is somewhat short of “spectacular”. Which leaves “walking” and all of the parks have their obligatory “waterfalls” as hiking objectives. During our journey around Thailand we had come to view these as something of a “Thai obsession”, signposted across the country wherever water “fell” more than a few metres. One can understand their attraction to those living in cities or flat agricultural areas and they certainly create a pleasant, refreshing sight and even breeze in the heat of the day - but Niagara they are not!
KKFC covers 482k ha but only has 2 relatively short access roads. We decided to enter via the main northern one (the prime objective of the Southern one was …. Pala-U waterfall at 12.538176, 99.463495 !). On the Northern route the Park HQ is situated about a 1hr drive from Phetchaburi near a dam which has created a rather nice lake at 12.885204, 99.632558 . But you are not yet into the NP (or even the forest), though we met travellers who had taken transport from Phetchaburi and had been left there and had to rent another means of transport to get into the park. You need to drive on around 15kms to 12.809668, 99.554196 where a checkpoint will relieve you of 300 Baht pp entry fee if you are a “Foreigner”, plus another 30 for a car (The southern route also has a payment point - though an entry through one allows an entry through the other on the same day without extra payment). The road continues through the forest to Ban Krang campsite (34kms from the HQ) at 12.798902, 99.454324). At this point the surfaced road ends and a dirt road continues for another 15kms to Phanoen Kung campsite. Ideally, to gain the most from a visit to KKNP, you need to go on to there - it is situated higher than the first camp and thus has different flora/fauna and is also the starting point for walks to yet higher spots where, in the right conditions and timing, the “Sea of Fog” may be seen in the valleys below. A further complexity is that this last 15kms of rough and narrow road operates a 1 way system with “up” traffic only early morning and afternoon each followed by an equal period of “down” traffic. This means that, even if you do have 4x4 transport, you really need to stay at least overnight in order to be able to do anything to justify the trip up there. Beyond here lies wild country all the way to the Myanmar border and that country’s own T List entry - the “Taninthayi Forest Corridor”. Oh, and another waterfall at Tho Thip!
In our little Honda City, the road beyond the first campsite wasn’t really practical, even if the times of day had been right. We did drive a km or so to the first ford and did some walking along the road to try to see some birds and butterflies. There were some, but the birding literature recommends that the camp site and restaurant (which was operating - the second camp site requires self sufficiency in this department) areas are probably the best places to bird watch as they benefit from the “edge effect”. Our experience confirmed this and we saw there what was the “highlight” of our visit (though not that “rare”) - the Great Hornbill (photo). This was (just about!!) “adequate” recompense in our minds for the time and effort put into the visit. Beyond that and a variety of other bird species and butterflies we saw only monkeys, monitor lizards and lots of Elephant droppings! We spoke to some UK expats who were regular users of the camp (you need your own tent) and they, over the years, had seen a fine variety of mammals passing through including bears, leopard and elephant. So - you might be lucky during a short stay! We also met UK and French birders who were happy with what they were seeing - indeed the former were leaving each night to stay just outside the NP and paying the high entry fees each day!
So – why, after 2 tries, has KKFC not progressed past “Referral”, and what are its chances of future success? IUCN seems ready to agree that the site has OUV, though it has actually gone no further than to state that the site has “strong potential … to meet Crit (x)” and that it also “encouraged Thailand to consider nominating the property also under criterion (ix)”. Beyond this lie 2 issues concerning
a. the rights of “indigenous” Karen people living within the KKFC. This report presented to UNESCO in July 2016 gives an indication of the sorts of things which it is claimed by some pressure groups have been occurring -
Thailand, is taking action to involve locals (and disputing the allegations made in the above report) but also claims that many of the complaining Karen shouldn’t even be in Thailand.
b. the frontier with Myanmar, which claims that 34% of the proposed site lies within its territory. This is of course wonderfully ironic in that, on the other side of Thailand, the opposite has happened with Cambodia gaining inscription for Preah Vihear which Thailand claims includes its own territory. It isn’t clear how much the lack of an agreed KKFC boundary relates to deep seated differences and how much to the practicalities of surveying a border (remembering that Myanmar has been fighting insurgencies in the border areas for decades - with those insurgents often "supported" by Thailand), but this would not seem likely to be a quick matter to resolve. UNESCO claims that inscription has no impact on territorial claims but would Thailand want to try to “do a Cambodia” on this one? Another possibility of course might be for Thailand to reduce the nominated area to exclude the disputed sections - but that might be construed as either conceding territory to Myanmar and/or reducing the "natural integrity" of the nomination in the eyes of IUCN which has already suggested that Thailand should work "in partnership with the State Party of Myanmar, between the nominated property and neighbouring transnational protected areas within the Taninthaya Forest Corridor in Myanmar"
The forest is so beautiful especially Phaneun Thung on the top of the mountain. It's really worth to wake up 3AM and get over there. The scence is wonderful. You can see through Myanmar. Just one point, the tribe people in side the forest could threat to the forest as they kill wildlife animal and cut the trees. The government should find new land for them and move them out the forest.