Khao Pra Taew Wildlife Park in Phuket

Phuket: it’s all beaches, boats and high-end condos. Sure, the coastal life has its appeal, but what if you really want to get back to nature and explore a bit? Believe it or not, there was once an island without property developments, mega-yachts and go-go bars. If you want a glimpse of what Phuket was like before it became the world’s favorite Thai island, a trip to Khao Pra Taew Wildlife Park could be just what you need.

Located on 22 rai of land in Thalang, the park is a haven far removed from Phuket’s most popular spots. The great thing is that most people who come to Phuket have little else on their agendas other than soaking up rays by the sea. Khao Pra Taew is criminally overlooked by most visitors to the island, so much so that the park’s staff have been left flummoxed as to how to attract more visitors.

The fewer visitors the better, we say, because right now, Khao Pra Taew is quiet, serene, idyllic – everything you’d expect from a tropical island. The drive to the park is seducing as you pass epic fields, tin shacks and signs of a life long forgotten.

The park comprises numerous hills merging into each other, creating ideal trekking conditions. Depending on which season you’re visiting Khao Pra Taew in, you’ll face slightly different temperatures. During hot, high season from December to March, you can expect temperatures over 30°C; during the rest of the year, it’s a little cooler with temperatures around 23°C, although you should prepare for a lot more rain.

Even at the hottest temperatures that Phuket is willing to throw at you, the humidity is never too much to spoil a saunter around the park. The Ton Sai Waterfall Nature Trail is the primary route around the park. It’s about two kilometers long and takes you on a full loop around part of the park.

Along the way, there are 14 stations with description in Thai and English of various aspects of the park, from termite mounds right round to bamboo. The descriptions aren’t particularly detailed but they make for an interesting touch. The trail is easygoing, moving uphill for the first half and downhill for the rest. There are numerous points at which you could stop, rest or else take a look around.

Take a camera for the innumerable photo opportunities you’ll come across. Despite the various trees and plant life, wildlife during high season is notably sparse. If you’re lucky, you might catch sight of a couple of monitor lizards.

Other animals that live in the park but do a good job of hiding include gibbons, bats, chameleons, lemurs and wild boar. Bright-red waterfall crabs are there, but as they’re nocturnal, sightings are few and far between.

For the botanists among you, the kerridoxa elegans palm will be of particular interest. Growing to up to seven meters tall, the palm is yet to be found anywhere else in the world. There is also a type of fern that appears in various shades of turquoise as if it’s been coated with bright-colored paint.

Even if you’re not interested in flora or fauna, the walk around the park is satisfying and uplifting. The park also boasts two waterfalls: Bang Pae waterfall and Ton Sai waterfall, which is the subject of the main trail and the last station on the route. The waterfalls are about 4km apart and are connected by another trail. As well as the main trail, hikers can choose a lighter version of just 600m, or really push the boat out and go on the 6km trail.

The park is set to undergo a 4-million-baht renovation in the coming months, but the place is beautiful as it is. Now is the time to see the park before it loses its appeal.

Admission for foreigners is 200 baht (20 baht for Thais). Children go in half price.

Getting to Khao Pra Taew is relatively straightforward. From Phuket Town, you can take a songtaew from Thalang Rd to Thalang. From Thalang, a motorcycle taxi can take you to the park, which is only another 3km away. For more information about the park call 076-311998.