Ranong is rural Thailand's version of a spa town - stinky and charmless. You can sample the waters at Wat Tapolaram, where Ranong Mineral Hot Springs offers pools hot enough to boil an egg (65°C). Like the three bears of Goldilocks fame, the names of the three springs translate as Father Spring, Mother Spring and Baby Spring, and each has its own distinct smell (all horrid). The spring water is thought to be sacred, as well as having miraculous healing powers.
Live-aboard diving trips run from Ranong to world-class bubble-blowing destinations including the Burma Banks (Mergui Archipelago) and the Surin and Similan islands. Prices start at around 16,000B for a four-day package. Try A-One-Diving). Several operators in Khao Lak are starting up live-aboard services to the stunning Burma Banks.
Khao Sok's vast terrain makes it one of the last viable habitats for large mammals requir-ing large areas in order to subsist. During the wetter months you may happen upon bears, boars, gaurs, tapirs, gibbons, deer, wild elephants and perhaps even a tiger. There are also over 180 species of bird, as well as the world's largest flower, the rare Ra/Jlesia kcrrii. Found only in Khao Sok, these giant flowers can reach 80cm in diameter. It has no roots or leaves of its own; instead it lives parasitically inside the roots of the liana, a jungle Vine.
The stunning Chiaw tan Lake sits about an hour's drive east of the visitor centre. The lake was created in 1982 by an enormous shale-clay dam called Ratchaprapha (Kheuan Ratchaprapha or Kheuan Chiaw I.an). The limestone outcrops protruding frpm.the lake reach a height of 960m, over three times higher than the formations in the Phang-Nga area.
A cave known as Tham Nam Thalu contains striking limestone formations and subterranean streams, while Tham Si Ru features four converging passageways used as a hideout by comrnun'sl insurgents between 1975 and 1982. The caves can be reached on foot trom the southwestern shore of the lake. You can rent boats from local fishermen to explore the coves, canals, caves and cul-de-sacs along the lakeshore.
Elephant trekking, kayaking and ratting are popular park activities. The hiking is also excellent, and you can arrange park tours from any guesthouse - just be sure you get a certified guide (they wear an official badge). Various hiking trails from the visitors cen-tre lead to the waterfalls of Sip-EtChan (4km), Than Sawan (9km) and ThanKloy (9km). among other destinations.
KHAO LAK& AROUND
While travelling along the Andaman Coast, you will undoubtedly still hear whispers of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami; Of Thailand's beach destinations damaged by the wave, the area around Khao I ak suffered the most. A police boat, slightly north of central Khao Lak, was brought by the tide lo its present location (about 2km inland) when the giant wave ploughed through the harbour. The and a reminder of nature's raw power.
The area immediately south of Hat Khao Lak has been incorporated into the 125-sq-km Khao Lak/ Lam Ru National Park, a beautiful-collection of sea cliffs, 1000m hills, beaches, estuaries, torested valleys and man-groves. Wildlife seen in the park includes hornbills, drongos, tapirs, gibbons, monkeys and Asiatic black bears. The visitor centre, jusl oil Hwy 4 between the Sfikm and 57km markers. has little in the way ot maps or printed information, but there's a very nice open-air restaurant perched on a shady slope overlooking the sea.
Guided treks aloag the coast or inland can be arranged through Poseidon Bungalows, as can long-tail boat trips up the scenic KhlongThap Liang estuary. The latter afford op portunities to view mangrove communities of crab-eating macaques. Between Khao Lak and Bang Sak is a network of sandy beach trails - some of which lead to deserted beaches -which are fun to explore on foot or by rented motorcycle. Most of the hotels in town rent out motorbikes for 250B per day.
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