While most guests at Anurak Community Lodge come to enjoy the pristine nature and beauty of Khao Sok National Park as well as the range of exciting outdoor activities available such as hiking and rafting , few have heard of Klong Phanom National Park, which borders Khao Sok and is only a few kilometers from our eco-lodge.
Together the two parks cover an area of approximately 1,149 km2, much of it mountainous, dense jungle wilderness that visitors need to access with a guide. Khao Sok is, of course, better known due to its vast Cheow Lan Lake – one of the park’s most popular attractions – but Klong Phanom has some stunning attractions too, including the spectacular Crystal Cave.
For hiking and nature enthusiasts, Anurak Lodge can arrange half-day treks to Crystal Cave, and while the hike is relatively demanding, the wonderful trail which passes above the Sok River – along with the cave’s glittering rock formations – makes the effort well worthwhile.
The hike begins with a short 10-minute drive to Wat Tam Waram, a little forest temple just beyond the entrance of Klong Phanom National Park that lies at the foot of a ridge of soaring limestone cliffs. The trail is on the other side of the ridge, and to get to it you have walk through series of small dusty caverns in the temple grounds.
As you emerge on the other side, you are greeted with a stunning panorama of the meandering Sok River below, surrounded by dense green jungle. A sandbank acts as a perfect landing spot for visitors arriving at Wat Tam Waram temple by bamboo raft or kayak. Bamboo rafts were once a common form of transport on the Sok River – a key trading route for ferrying goods across the Malay Peninsula, between the Andaman Sea and Surat Thani town on the east coast.
The trail to Crystal Cave follows a route along the ridge, affording breathtaking views of the river through the trees. The path is rocky, rising and falling steeply, though there are ropes to help keep you steady. It’s therefore best to tackle the trail in the dry season, between November and February, when it’s not so slippery and the weather is cooler.
After about 30 minutes of walking you arrive at a little wooden pavilion viewing point – a perfect place to stop for a cool drink and to catch your second breath. All around is the oversized fleshy-green jungle foliage and the straight, smooth trunks of the towering forest trees – their roots clawing deep into the rocky slopes – with the slow-moving river a hundred feet below and the soaring cliff face at your back.
From here out, the trail to Crystal Cave gets steeper and rockier with the final 200 meters, the most challenging part. The thick rope positioned along parts of the trail is essential here to pull yourself up as the going gets tougher! At the top it plateaus out onto a grassy clearing, and it’s only another easy five-minute walk to the summit of the cliff face and the cave. Arriving at the entrance is an experience in itself. Arching high above you, the cave mouth is like the nave of a monstrous cathedral – dwarfing anyone who approaches. Inside, Crystal Cave is a labyrinth of caverns that sparkle with pink and ivory-white rock formations – uncanny in their resemblance to coral. The caverns reach back more than two kilometers and should only be explored with an experienced guide. Luckily Anurak Lodge’s regular guides are all locals who know the cave complex like the back of their hands. Depending on your level of fitness the hike can take between three to four hours, but with an early start, it can be easily completed in time for lunch. Walking or hiking shoes are a must for this adventure as the trail is steep and slippery in some areas – even in the dry season. All participants are supplied with water and headlamps, which are essential in the pitch-black darkness of the cave.