Monday, April 04, 2016

Khao Sok - "The Light of the Kingdom"

Greetings Everyone,
On March 20 we were to fly from Mae Hong Son to Chiang Mai but the smoke from all the local forest fires obscured the runway and our flight was canceled.  We piled into a van along with 6 other stranded passengers for the 5-hour drive to Chiang Mai.  Our route took us along narrow winding roads and after popping four Dramamine tablets, Marc was able to curb his car sickness while the guy next to him read on his tablet.  The draw to Chiang Mai is the 1000's of temples that adorn the city.  We chose to visit 5 of the more well-known sites.  Our guide, Arm, picked us up early the next morning so we could avoid the worst heat of the day.  Our first stop was Wat Chedi Luang (lit. temple of the big stupa).  The construction of the temple started in the 14th century, when King Saen Muang Ma planned to bury the ashes of his father there and it took until the mid-15th century to be finished.  It was then 82 meters high and had a base diameter of 54 meters, at that time the largest building in the medieval kingdom of Lanna.  In 1545, the upper 30 meters of the structure collapsed after an earthquake.

Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chiang Mai was built by King Mangrai in 1297 as the first temple of Chiang Mai.  Chedi Chang Lomthe 'Elephant Chedi', is the oldest construction within the temple complex. The square base supports a second level which has the front half of 15 life-sized brick-and-stucco elephants (not original) emerging from it.

Chedi Chang Lom

The most interesting temple was made of silver.  We're not sure of its silver quality, whether it is silver plating or even silver paint but Wat Sri Suphan had a lot of it.  Women weren't allowed inside the main chamber but it didn't matter for me as it was closed for restoration work.

Wat Sri Suphan

Our fifth and final temple was Wat Suan Dok.  This is a very important temple in Chiang Mai as there is a large gold chedi where supposedly relics of the Buddha are enshrined.  The smaller whitewashed stupas contain the remains of Chiang Mai's royalty.  

Wat Suan Dok

We went inside sala kan prian, the main assembly hall built in 1932 by the famous monk Phra Krubra Srivichai.  A large group of novice monks were attending school.  At the end of class they appeared to be taught how to tie their robes.

Novice Monks Folding Robes

The final stop on our Thailand tour was a treehouse resort, Our Jungle House, at the entrance to Khao Sok National Park.  To get here we flew from Chiang Mai to the island of Phuket and drove two hours north to the resort.  Most people come here to relax or visit the National Park to swim in its lake but our main objective was to get our last fix of Asian wildlife.  Thailand's animals are very difficult to see as they are very wary of humans and tend to stay hidden in the last few tracts of protected rainforest.  Khao Sok National Park provides a unique way to see wildlife without having to trek for hours through the dense jungle.  

Map of Cheow Lan Lake

The park was established in 1980 by The Royal Forest Department.  Two years later Khao Sok was changed forever by the construction of the Rajjaprabha Dam, meaning "the light of the kingdom" coined by the King at the opening ceremony on his 60th birthday.  At the time the future of the park did not seem so bright.  The dam blocked the Klong Saeng River and it took about one year until it completely flooded the 165 square metres (1,780 sq ft) basin.  To flood this large area, 385 families of Ban Chiew Lan village were resettled.  A resettlement of animals took place by boat and helicopter to prevent them from drowning or starving on newly created islands.  Today Cheow Lan Lake attracts tourists from all over the world and has become a bright spot for Thailand's endangered wildlife. When we got to the dock it was a zoo.  There were many long-tail boats waiting to take hordes of people onto the lake.  A big group of kids on spring break, some from the US, were already drunk.  They were yelling and using foul language.  It was not the nature experience I was expecting.  

Busy Pier at Cheow Lan Lake

Once we got out on the lake the boat traffic dispersed and it was actually pleasant.  The limestone formations lining the lake were reminiscent of Halong Bay in Vietnam, creating some pretty dramatic scenery.

Limestone Formations on Cheow Lan Lake

Most people spend a night or two on the lake in floating bamboo huts.  It took about an hour to reach our raft house, Krae Son.  

Raft Houses at Krae Son

At 2:00 PM we left with our guide, Dang, for our first boat safari into Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary deep within the Park.  It was still hot so we weren't seeing much except for birds: Osprey, Lesser Fish Eagle, White-bellied Sea Eagle and lots of swifts/swallows.  We saw elephant tracks along the lake and then suddenly an elephant appeared.   A lone male was bathing in the mud near the shore.  We got a little too close and he disappeared into the forest. 

Lone Male Elephant Mud-bathing

We continued to the far reaches of the reservoir where we stopped to wait for the sun to get a little lower.  While waiting I spotted some macaques on the far shore.  We went closer and could see they were Pig-tailed Macaques.  There were also 2 Wild Boar, Dusky Leaf Monkeys also known as Spectacled Langurs, a Gaur or Indian Bison on the far shore and Long-tailed Macaques.  The animals were beginning to reveal themselves.  

Gaur or Indian Bison

Unfortunately, we had to head back to the raft house before it got dark.  Navigating these waters in the dark can be treacherous due to the many submerged trees and logs.  On the way Dang spotted another elephant along the shore and we headed straight for him.  I thought for sure he would run away like the previous elephant but he appeared to be approaching us!  Dang explained that this elephant is Kankluy and that he was orphaned at the age of 3.  No one expected him to survive but against all odds he did.  Over the past 9 years he has been adopted by the rangers and guides who bring him pineapples.  Dang had brought a pineapple which he tossed to the waiting elephant.   

Dang Offering a Pineapple to Kankluy

Kankluy is still a wild elephant so you have to keep your distance but it was amazing to watch a wild Asian Elephant that had grown to trust humans and to even seek their company!

Kankluy Eating a Pineapple

The next morning we went to search for Lar Gibbons whose wailing calls we could hear from our raft house.  The Lar Gibbon, also known as the White-handed Gibbon, is an endangered primate classified as a lesser ape.  They are true brachiators, swinging from tree limb to tree limb using only their arms.  They were quite low but hidden in the vegetation.  We waited and a youngster showed himself and then we got a quick look at mom.  

Lar Gibbon

After breakfast we headed for the mountainous side of the Lake.  Here limestone cliffs towered above us creating beautiful scenes.  

Limestone Pinnacles near Pra Kay Petch Cave

We turned into a small lagoon and docked at Pra Kay Petch Cave or Diamond Cave.  We were the only ones there.  We climbed up some rocks then up some metal steps to enter the cave.  

Pra Kay Petch Cave

There were many small bats and a cave spider protecting her egg sac with spiderlings emerging inside.

Bats in the Cave

Cave Spider Protecting her Egg Sac

We returned to "Our Jungle House" for the night but had already made plans to return to Cheow Lan Lake the following day and stay at the Klong Saeng Raft House deep within the Sanctuary.  The following morning we drove with our new guide, Ed, to the dock where it was even more of a zoo than on Friday.  We met our boat driver, Pau, who was with us on our first visit and cruised to the Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary.  Being mid-day we weren't expecting to see much but there were 2 Gaur or Indian Bison on the shore.  As we neared the raft house we ran into 2 elephants, the one with tusks was new to us.  

Elephant with Tusks

The one with the missing tail tassel was named Cha Ba Kao whom we had seen on our first visit was also there.  We got to the raft house around 1:30 and were shown to our cozy bamboo hut.

Our Bamboo Hut at Klong Saeng

At 3:00 PM we headed down the same channel that Dang had taken us down two evenings ago.  We didn't see much at first but then the Wild Boar, Long-tailed and Pig-tailed Macaques, Spectacled Langur (one with a baby) and Sambar Deer started to show up.  

Mother and Baby Spectacled Langur

We also saw a few new birds: Black-capped and Stork-billed Kingfisher, Rufus Woodpecker, Red-wattled Lapwing and Greater Coucal and Water Monitor lizards.  We stopped at a sandbar and waited for darkness so we could head out with spotlights to look for nocturnal mammals.  It was tricky navigating through the dead trees killed by flooding the basin back in 1982.  We didn't see much except for Sambar Deer and a Buffy Fish Owl on the bank.

Buffy Fish Owl

The next morning was very quiet.  The scenery was beautiful with the mist rising from the lake but there weren't many animals.  

Morning Mist over Cheow Lan Lake

We saw the usual wildlife:  Wild Boar, Sambar, Long-tailed Macaque and Spectacled Langur.  We heard the Lar Gibbons but did not see them. We headed up the main channel and found a fruiting fig tree where a pair of Oriental Pied Hornbills were feeding.  We watched as a troop of Long-tailed Macaques walked along the bank and climbed up to eat the figs.  We went to see if Kankluy was home and he was.  He was almost completely submerged in the lake but came out as we approached and Ed gave him 2 pineapples.

Kankluy in Cheow Lan Lake

On our last afternoon boat safari we spotted some Pig-tailed Macaques on the bank.  We stopped to take some photos and noticed a troop of Long-tailed Macaques nearby.  The two groups appeared to be interacting, something Ed claims does not happen.  Surprisingly a male Pig-tailed Macaque approached a female Long-tailed Macaque and proceeded to mate with her!  

Male Pig-tailed Macaque and Female Long-tailed Macaque

What on earth is going on?  This female mated with at least 2 different young Pig-tailed Macaque males.  She even groomed one.  If I'm interpreting their behavior correctly when a young female Pig-tailed Macaque displayed herself to one of these young males she was aggressively chased off by the dominant male Pig-tailed Macaque.  A group of female Long-tailed Macaques comforted an infant that was clearly frightened by all the commotion.  It was very interesting behavior to watch!

Long-tailed Macaque Females and Babies

When we returned to the raft house I did some research on whether or not Long and Pig-tailed Macaques interbreed (yes, even in this remote location we have access to the Internet!).  I found an article written by a professor at  Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok that implied that they might.  I found that she was on Facebook and sent her a message.  Almost immediately she replied, confirming that it was possible.  Ah - the marvels of modern technology!  We carried on an electronic conversation.  She was deeply touched that I had reached out to her and offered to send her photos even though I didn't know her.

On our last morning boat safari we returned to the fruiting fig tree.  There were a few langurs and macaques still feeding but the gibbons were in a tall tree behind.  Two youngsters were swinging through the trees while an adult rested nearby.  

Lar Gibbon Juveniles

We thought they had finished eating but as we were getting ready to leave one of the adults, came back to the fig tree to feed.  

Lar Gibbon Adult

We returned to "Our Jungle House" where we showed our photos to some of the staff.  They were amazed at the wildlife we saw.  Most tourists that go to the lake don't venture far enough into the Sanctuary or take the time needed to spot wildlife.  We gave Nat many photos to use for their marketing materials:  Facebook, their web site and possibly a poster of the Park's wildlife.  Hopefully Marc's photos will inspire others to seek out Thailand's elusive mammals and provide incentive to protect this unique haven of nature in Khao Sok National Park.  Thanks to our wonderful guides Dang and Ed for showing us some of  Thailand's amazing animals.  Thanks to Pau who drove us all over Cheow Lan Lake day and night in our wildlife quest.   Finally thanks to Nat, Mandy and all the staff at "Our Jungle House" for taking such good care of us and for accommodating our wildlife watching whims!

We hope all is well back home,
Peggy and Marc

Our route:

      Khao Sok National Park Mammal List

 No. Species Scientific Name Notes
  1Asian Elephant  Elephas maximus  Khao Sok
  2Gaur Bos gaurus Khao Sok
  3Southern Pig-tailed Macaque.  Macaca  nemestrina  Khao Sok
  4Wild Boar Sus scrofa  Khao Sok
  5Spectacled Langur Trachypithecus obscurus  Khao Sok
  6Long-tailed Macaque  Macaca fascicularis  Our Jungle House, Khao Sok 
  7Lar Gibbon Hylobates lar Khao Sok
  8Bat Sp.? Khao Sok
  9Sambar Deer Rusa unicolor Khao Sok
 10Himalayan Striped Squirrel Tamiops  macclellandii  Our Jungle House

1 comment:

Linda said...

Fascinating post and beautiful photos. Thank you so much for sharing.