Rising to the west of Nakhon Si Thammarat and temptingly visible from all over town is 1835m-high Khao Luang, southern Thailand’s highest mountain. A huge national park encompasses Khao Luang’s jagged green peaks, beautiful streams with numerous waterfalls, tropical rainforest and fruit orchards. The mountain is also the source of the Tapi River, one of the peninsula’s main waterways, which flows into the Gulf of Thailand at Surat Thani. Fauna here include macaques, musk deer, civets and binturongs, as well as more difficult-to-see Malayan tapirs, serows, tigers, panthers and clouded leopards, plus over two hundred bird species. There’s an astonishing diversity of flora too, notably rhododendrons and begonias, dense mosses, ferns and lichens, plus more than three hundred species of both ground-growing and epiphytic orchids, some of which are unique to the park.
The best time to visit is after the rainy season, from January onwards, when there should still be a decent flow in the waterfalls, but the trails will be dry and the leeches not so bad. However, the park’s most distinguishing feature for visitors is probably its difficulty of access: main roads run around the 570-square-kilometre park with spurs into some of the waterfalls, but there are no roads across the park and very sparse public transport along the spur roads. The Ban Khiriwong Ecotourism Club can arrange treks to the peak between January and June, beginning at Ban Khiriwong on the southeast side of the park and including two nights camping on the mountain, meals and guides, as well as homestays in the village. Otherwise only Krung Ching Waterfall, one of Thailand’s most spectacular, really justifies the hassle of getting to the park.