Phru To Deang or Pa Phru Sirindhorn

This last remaining peat swamp forest in Thailand spreads over 3 districts including TakBai, Su-ngai Kolok and Su-ngai Padi. Covering an area of 192 square kilometers, of which 80 square kilometers are dense forests, the swamp is rich in fauna and flora. Major waterways that pass through the area are Khlong Su-ngai Padi, Bang Nara River and Khlong To Daeng, from which the forest derives its name.

Publicized nature study treks are provided to transfer knowledge on peat swamp forests to visitors. The 1,200-meter trail starts from a swamp behind the research center with one segment of the trail consisting of a wooden bridge suspended by metal slings and another consisting of a high tower for viewing the lush scenery below. Informative signs provide interesting facts about trees and provide guidance for new trekkers. The trail is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. with no admission fee. An exhibition room is also provided to give nature enthusiasts additional information.

A peat swamp forest originates from fresh water that is confined in limited space for a long period of time and subsequently leads to an accumulation of organic matter in the soil, like dead plants, trees and leaves. These progresses are slowly transformed into peat or organic soil that is soft like sponge with low density and absorbs water very well. In this area, peat has accumulated together with marine sediment to create 2-3 interlocking layers of both types of soil. Because the sea level was high enough to cover the forest accumulation of sediment ensued and seawater was contained in the area. This resulted in the demise of plants in the forest and created a mangrove forest in its place. When the water level receded and rain came, the water was transformed into fresh water and the peat swamp forest emerged. The deeper soil layers date from 6,000-7,000 years, while the top layers is from 700-1,000 years. The forest has a diverse ecological system with every life being interconnected. Trees have strong roots that spread out to those of other trees and help them in supporting their large trunks. Therefore, trees in the peat swamp forest will grow together in a group. If one falls, so will the others.

There are over 400 species of plants in the peat swamp forest. The most outstanding are strange palms like Lum Phi whose fruits can be eaten and red palm whose entire trunk is red in color. Red palm is popular as a garden plant. Moreover, there are aromatic flowers like the Goniothalamus giganteus, a plant of the Annonaceae family that has large flowers. In addition, with careful scrutiny, visitors may be able to spot orchids and an assortment of small plants.

There are over 200 animal species in the forest. Small creatures include langurs, civets, wild cats, Singapore rats, and Malayan tree frogs while large animals include wild boars and binturongs. A variety of fish also makes it home in the forest, including a certain species of catfish that can be raised in acidic water and the strange angler catfish that has a flat, wide head and a long body. This catfish has a poisonous spine in its dorsal fin. The fish uses the forest as a refuge and to spawn. Villagers catch this fish for food when it is fully grown.

Birds here include the Rufous-tailed Shama that is mainly found in Sumatra, Borneo and Malaysia and was first discovered in Thailand in 1987. The Malaysian Verditer Flycatcher is found only in Sirindhorn Peat Swamp Forest in Thailand. Both species are now endangered.

The forest is interesting not only because of its unusual flora and fauna, but also because of the overall unique experience that people, particularly children, are bound to receive when they visit. The surrounding nature offers a constant stream of surprises. While trekking amidst a serene forest, visitors may encounter an animal grazing. Trails take you close to, but not overly interfering with, nature.

Note: Visitors to the forest are recommended to bring notebooks, colored pencils, binoculars, cameras, and mosquito repellent. With these items in hand, it is possible to spend a whole day of fun here as the cool climate of the forest is conducive for explorations. The best time to go is during February-April because there is little rain. The other months will see frequent rainfall because the forest is situated on a peninsula.

Tourists should be aware of the disease-carrying black mosquitoes, which are prevalent in the area and come out in the evening. Forest fire can happen as a result of smoking and discarding cigarette butts on the ground. When there is a forest fire in this forest, it is more difficult to put out because there is ample fuel in the form of trees, dead barks and organic matters in the ground. The fire will actually spread underground, making it extremely difficult to extinguish and control and can last for months. The only way to put it out is to wait for heavy rainfall where the subsequent inundation should extinguish the fire.

Getting there: It is more convenient to get there by train from Bangkok as the last station is at Su-ngai Kolok. If not, bring a car which can also be chartered from Su-ngai Kolok.

If driving, take Highway No. 4057 (Tak Bai-Su-ngai Kolok) for about 5 kilometers, then switch to the branch road and proceed for 3 kilometers to Chawananan Road. After that, turn left and proceed for 2 kilometers where directional signs that lead visitors all the way to the forest are posted. For more information, contact P.O. Box 37, Su-ngai Kolok, Narathiwat 96120.

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