A Haven of Life
Thailand is country of many blessings,
not least of them its geographic location which packs an extremely varied
landscape into an area smaller than the state of Texas. From its northern
tip at Mae Sai bordering Myanmar to its southern most point in the jungle-covered
hills above Betong is adistance of some 1,650 kilometres - roughly as
far as from New York to Miami.
Thanks to its length north to south, Thailand
has the most diverse climate in Southeast Asia. In northeastern Loei,
the temperature can drop to freezing point between November and February.
In the south, it stays a balmy 30 to 35 degrees all year round. The
southern island of Phuket has five months of monsoon rains and only
two dry months compared to six in the northern capital of Chiang Mai.
Other reasons for the immense natural wealth
of the country's four distinct geographical regions include warm, shallow,
seas where marine life abounds and the still extensive coastal mangrove
Spread fan-wise around the fertile central
flood plain of the Choa Phraya River, these four regions include the
relatively high and dry plateau of the Northeast, the north-south alignment
of the mountain ranges of the North and West, and the narrow southern
isthmus. In this last region, plentiful rain fosters lush tropical forest
together with its teeming wildlife.
All of this means that the country has
at least eight distinct types of forest which include not only tropical
rain forest, mixed deciduous forests and tidal mangroves, but bamboo,
pine, and some temperate forests above 1,600 metres.
This astonishing abundance of vegetation
is the habitat of an eqully amzing wealth of wildlife. Tigers, elephants,
rhinoceros, bears, gibbons, leopards, and the massive gaur, the world's
largest species of wild ox standing two metres or more at the shoulder,
co-exist with thousands of species of beetles, butterflies, and fish.
From Park to Wilderness
For generations, Thailand's hardwood forests
were primarily valued for the commercial value of the timber they provided;
the first national park at Khao Yai was not established until 1961.
Thailand soon made up for lost time, however, and there are now 79 national
parks, 89 wildlife and "non-hunting" sanctuaries, and 35 forest
reserves. Eighteen parks protect the marine resources of islands and
Fully 13 percent of Thailand's land area
has been set aside for environmental protection, an area of more than
6.5 million hectares. This is one of the highest ratios of protected
land to total area in the world. Malaysia currently protects some 3.5
percent of its territory, Japan 6.5 percent and the United States 10.5
percent of its total land area.
Another aspect of Thailand's efforts to
conserve its natural heritage is that many of the pretected areas adjoin
one another. Although different management regimes apply to the various
categories of reservation, vast areas cohere under some form of protection.
The prime example of this synthesis is
the Thung Yai Naresuan-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary. It covers
622,000 hectares and is a World Heritage Site, by far the largest in
the whole of Asia. This vast area is further protected by adjoinging
reserves, including the Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary of 250,000 hectares
to the north, and the Sri Nakharin and Khao Laem National Parks to the
south. Each of these covers an area of about 150,000 hectares.
If one takes into consideration all of
the various kinds of protected areas, there exists an almost continuous
corridor of protected land running north to south along Thailand's border
with Myanmar. This mountainous, heavily-forested, high-rainfall area
has been the least disturbed, and so contains most of the remaining
Most of these parks are accessible by road,
offer simple accommodation and charge a modest admission fee. The park
system provides a visitor with easy access to the full array of THailand's
wonders, from the norhtern mountain pine forests of Doi Inthanon to
the dense southern rain forest of Thale Ban National Park in the border
province of Satun; from the Phu Chong Nayoi forest on the Lao border
to the northest, to the dazzling coral of Ko Tarutao National Marine
Park in the southwest.