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Ton Sai brochureLast weekend, we made a family outing to Ton Sai Waterfall in the heart of Phuket’s last remaining pristine tropical rainforest.  Officially called the Khao Pra Taew Wildlife Conservation Development and Extension Center, this 5,570-acre non-hunting sanctuary sprawls north to south over three tambons in Amphur Thalang — Thep Krasatri, Sri Sunthorn, and Pa Klok.   The three highest peaks in the mountain range are Khao Pra Taew at 384 meters above sea level, Khao Bang Pae (388 meters), and Khao Phara (422 meters).

Declared a wildlife park by the Royal Forest Department in 1977, the sanctuary features a wide variety of wild animals such as the tusked hairy wild boar, Malay sun deer, langurs, porcupines, deer (including the barking deer and mouse deer), monkeys, gibbons, cobras, pythons, monitor lizards, flying foxes, civet, bats, macaques, flying squirrels, chameleons, and many species of birds.

Dransfield palmThe tropical rainforest contains many kinds of trees and plants with various ferns, climbers, palm shrubs, and bamboos sharing space with tall canopy trees without many branches dominating.  There’s also a unique species of palm not found anywhere else in the world.   Kerridoxa elegans Dransfield grows to about five to seven meters and has fairly large fanlike serrated leaves.  Commonly called palm lang khao, or Thalang Governor’s palm, the back of the leaf is greenish white in color which is a unique characteristic of the species.  The palms grow cream-colored flowers from December to February and they produce yellow fruit which is eaten by some animals.  the nut has a yellow rind that becomes darker when ripe.  Fallen seeds take root on the ground, becoming new plants.

Many small underwater wells rise to the surface in the dense forest and flow into two waterfalls, Bang Pae in the southeast and Ton Sai on the western slopes of the range.  There is a large ficus three located near where Ton Sai originates, hence the name meaning “ficus waterfall” (ton is southern dialect for waterfall and sai is Thai for ficus tree).

The park has a number of hiking trails in the forest including a 2km circuit of Ton Sai waterfall and a 14km trek connecting it with Bang Pae.  Guides can be hired from the reserve office near the Ton Sai entrance.

map 1To get there, head north from Phuket Town towards the airport on Thepkasattri Road (route 402) about 22km.  Turn right at the main intersection in the town of Thalang; the road is actually called Ton Sai Waterfall Road but is narrow and easy to miss (it’s a bit north of Thalang Hospital and the Provincial Electricity Authority and a bit south of the Provincial Police Station).  You will drive through about 5km of rubber plantations before reaching the Forestry Department checkpoint.  Two-tiered pricing in in effect here (100 baht for farangs) but if you have a Thai driver’s license or tax ID card you can get the local price.  Admission is free after 3pm.

Ton Sai waterfallI was very impressed with the facilities at Ton Sai.  The grounds themselves are nicely landscaped and the trails well-maintained.  There’s a small visitor center with information about the flora and fauna found in the park.  While the displays are written in Thai, brochures are available in several languages including French and English.  There’s also at least two restaurants, nice restroom facilities (not sure if they were squat or Western-style toilets as I didn’t need to go), and a playground.  Just past the parking area is a large reservoir ringed by fig trees; bearing fruit year-round the local villagers eat the figs with chili dip or rice spaghetti and curry.  The falls themselves are fairly attractive, descending in several streams forming a number of pools.

Although much smaller than Bang Pae I think I much prefer this waterfall as it’s less crowded, cleaner, and has a prettier setting.  We’ll definitely return at some point for a picnic and some hiking (Alex and did a bit of climbing around the falls).  A few small bungalows are located near the waterfall and are probably worth further investigation.