A large tent has been erected on the roadside shortly before the entrance to Sai Thong National Park in Chaiyaphum. The facility is a screening checkpoint to make sure visitors to the park do not have a fever — a symptom of Covid-19.
Two health volunteers greeted me after I stopped my car and rolled down the window. They wore gloves and face masks. One had a thermometer gun in her hand and asked to check my temperature. The other asked if I had registered my name via the QueQ app. Then she made a note and inserted the paper under a windscreen wiper. The paper was a form to inform officers at the park I had pre-booked my visit. It also indicated the number of visitors. I saw a signboard behind the health volunteers showing the figures of 225 referring to the number of people who visited the park before my arrival in late afternoon. The park caps their visitors to 700 people a day. Before leaving the checkpoint, I was asked to check in via QR code on the ThaiChana app.
I drove to the entrance of the park. An officer at the toll booth greeted me with a hello and said: "It is Mother's Day today. The entrance fee is waived."
Dok krachiao or the Siam tulip (Curcuma alismatifolia) has nothing to do with the tulip family. The word krachiao is a general Thai term for wild species of Curcuma, which include Siam tulip. The Thai names for the plant are bua sawan and pathumma, both names referring to lotus. It is because the shape and colour of Siam tulip’s bracts resemble lotus petals.
The pink and white flowers of Siam tulips are found in Sai Thong National Park. The walking trail in the park should have more direction signs to let visitors know where they are and how far they need to walk to their destinations. It would also help if rangers cleared the walking paths of grass so that the white flowers and trail are more visible.
He told me I couldn't drive my car to the attractions in the park because road conditions required either a pickup or an SUV. I needed to take a shuttle truck instead.
Sai Thong National Park is one of the most popular attractions in Chaiyaphum during the rainy season. Like neighbouring Pa Hin Ngam National Park, which is about 50km away, Sai Thong National Park is known for dok krachiao (also spelled dok krajiao), or Siam tulips.
The park has a good system for managing visitors. After parking, I saw shuttle trucks lining up next to the car park. The service is offered by locals. Each truck is modified to have three wooden benches on the truck bed. During the Covid-19 outbreak, the number of passengers is limited to eight per truck, down from 12 passengers. Tickets for the service are available at the park's Visitor Information Centre. Two park officers are stationed there. One of them handed me a map while another one gave me a shuttle ticket.
"Make sure you visit the first flower field. The pink Siam tulips are in full bloom. It is very beautiful and more appealing than other flower fields," she said.
I looked at the map of the nature study trail. It showed five flower fields among other attractions. The first field was the furthest one. It was about 2km away.
"I'd like to see the blossom of white krachiao flowers. Where are they?" I asked.
Pha Ham Hot in Sai Thong National Park has a long cliff where you can have a scenic view of nature below. You can queue for taking pictures at the popular viewpoint in Pha Ham Hot or you may find other spots where you can also sit next to the edge of the cliff and enjoy the view.
Shuttle trucks are available at Sai Thong National Park. The last round to bring visitors back from the walking trail is around 6pm. A driver told me that if day-trippers want to see the sunset at Pha Ham Hot, they can ask for extended hours of service with any driver.
You may not expect to eat the southern dish satow phad goong (stirfried bitter bean with shrimp) in Chaiyaphum’s Thep Sathit district. But the bitter bean trees are widely grown in the area because local authorities promote it as an economic plant. The beans do not have a strong smell, which may not please those who love satow, but the texture is still crunchy. One kilogramme of the bitter beans is priced around 80-100 baht. You can find the bitter beans and other farm produce as well as souvenirs at a small local market in Pa Hin Ngam National Park.
The officer told me that the field of white flowers is marked as the fourth on the map. But she advised me not to go there because there were not yet many flowers. I thanked her for the advice, but the white flowers were my target for visiting the national park.
I got on a shuttle truck and waited for other passengers to get in. About 10 minutes later we were ready for the 9km ride to the trail. The road was in good condition except for the first part where our truck needed to cross a stream from the Sai Thong waterfall. The water was muddy orange and I couldn't tell how deep it was. The driver slowly drove his truck across the river while the passengers swayed slightly at the back. About 10 minutes later the truck stopped at a parking lot. The facility is also a camping site. Some overnight visitors had already pitched their tents.
A short walk from the car park, small shops offered drinks and snacks. Next to them is a booth of rangers. My walking trail started from a short staircase on the trail. After a short walk, I arrived at Pha Pho Muang, a cliff on Phang Hoei mountain. The viewpoint offers a bird's-eye view of the green forest and community below. From the cliff, I walked to a forked path. The signboard with arrows pointing both left and right provided directions to Pha Ham Hot, the most famous cliff of the park. I chose the right path and walked uphill (The downhill path will lead you to the third flower field and later to Pha Ham Hot).
Pha Ham Hot is 864m above sea level. The attraction that makes the cliff famous is a 1m triangle-shaped rock that seems to point into the air. Some visitors, who are not afraid of heights, sit with their legs dangling near the edge of the cliff. A warning sign informs tourists to avoid big gatherings. A maximum of three people is advised.
From the cliff, I walked to the fourth flower field to see the white Siam tulips. It was a detour route to the first flower field. The path was a little slippery and I did not see other visitors walking around. The grass in the area was high. Sometimes I sang and made heavy steps to scare away snakes that I thought might be hiding in the grass. I watched every step. Then I found little white Siam tulips even before reaching the fourth flower field. They were in full bloom, but it was hard to see the white flowers because they were almost covered by the tall grass. From afar, I saw a ranger standing in a bush. I asked him for directions to the fourth field.
Modified shuttle trucks at Pa Hin Ngam National Park can serve up to 20 passengers. The service will lead you to the top of the hill where you can walk about 50m to the viewpoint at Pha Sud Phaen Din. Standing over the cliff, you will see the dense forest of Sap Langka Wildlife Sanctuary in the neighbouring province of Lop Buri. Then you can take the walking trail to see the pink Siam tulips from this point. The path is easy to negotiate. It starts with a short nature trail that is connected to a long raised walkway made of concrete. The route is about 1km.
Lan Hin Noh is a decorative garden where you can see rock formations and dok krachiao up close. Pa Hin Ngam National Park plants various krachiao flowers in pots and groups them by colour like pink and white Siam tulips. There are also other wild Curcuma plants.
Wind turbines are seen along the Road 2354, about 30km before reaching Pa Hin Ngam National Park. Thep Sathit district has one of the largest wind farms in the country. According to Wa Tabaek Tambon Administrative Organisation, more than 80 wind turbines have been erected in the area. Some restaurants and coffee shops promote the wind turbine views as their selling point.
He said it was not far from where I stood. He also told me to go to the first flower field.
"The pink flowers are blossoming in the first field. There are a lot of them. You must not miss the chance," he said, and told me to take the left trail after reaching the fourth flower field.
I almost passed the field had I not seen the signboard indicating the fourth field. Those white krachiao were smaller than I thought. I enjoyed taking pictures anyway before continuing my journey to my last stop, the first flower field where I expected to see the blossoms of pink Siam tulips.
Walking along the nature trail without direction signs to tell me how far it was to the first field, I felt like I got lost after 20 minutes. I searched for a sign for a walking trail after I crossed a fallen tree. I saw the pink flower field some hundred metres away, but the trail led me in another direction. I continued on foot until I noticed that the sky was darker. It looked like it may rain anytime. I hesitated to go further when I couldn't find the trail. I saw only trees and grass. The long leaves of grass may cover the walkway. I decided to walk back and checked if I missed any turn. I found no other trails. To make sure that I would not get lost with only one bottle of water in my bag, I decided to walk back.
The weather became cooler. Then I saw fog slowly blanket the forest. The mist quickly swept out from the trees when the wind blew. I was literally walking in the mist. I thought I would have a chance to ask the ranger about the direction, but he was already gone. Alone in the forest, I walked faster and hoped that it wouldn't rain.
I returned to the starting point safe and sound. When a shuttle truck arrived, it was wet. The driver told me that it had rained down the hill. On the way back, the road was covered with dense fog. The visibility was low.
The drizzling rain eventually became stronger. While I was on my way to find accommodation not far from Pa Hin Ngam National Park, which would be my destination the next day, the road was flooded. The rain fell throughout the night. I felt lucky that I did not get soaked while walking in the forest. Although I was saddened not to see the dense field of pink Siam tulips in Sai Thong National Park, I knew that I would have a chance to see a lot of the pink blossoms in Pa Hin Ngam National Park the next day.
Although I've been to the park before, I still wanted to come back for the fresh air and lovely flowers. For those who want a two-day trip, a visit to Sai Thong and Pa Hin Ngam national parks can fit the bill. The flowers are now in full bloom. The blossoms may last until early next month. It is an opportunity one should not miss.
- Sai Thong National Park is located in Nong Bua Rawe district. It is open daily from 8am to 4.30pm. The pickup service is available until 6pm. The fare is 60 baht per person. The park limits its visitors to 700 per day. Visit its Facebook page at facebook.com/SaithongOfficial or call 089-282-3437.
- Pa Hin Ngam National Park is located in Thep Sathit district. It is open daily from 6am to 6pm. The fare for tourist tram service is 30 baht per person. The park limits the number of visitors to 1,000 a day. Visit facebook.com/PaHinNgamnationnalpark or call 044-056-141.
- Accommodation, camping sites and gear are available at both national parks. Booking is available at nps.dnp.go.th/reservation.php?id=55.