Hat Chao Mai National Park lies in Kantang and Sikao districts of Thailand’s Trang Province and consists of a stretch of coastline incorporating the spectacular beaches of Chang Lang, (Park HQ), Pak Meng, Hat Yao etc, an area of mangrove swamps at the mouth of the Kantang River and several offshore islands in the Andaman Sea such as Koh Libong, Koh Muk, Koh Kradang. The area is typified by the dramatic karst scenery found further up the coast in Krabi Province yet Trang as yet receives a fraction of the visitors its more famous neighbour gets. So much the better and a day exploring the caves and mangroves, plus of course, some time for a dip at fabulous Hat Yao is one of the most popular features of our South Thailand tour, (Reefs and Rainforests).
We set off from Ban Chao Mai – a tiny and particularly friendly Muslim fishing village – by canoe upstream into the extensive mangrove area.
Actually, to be honest since it’s a bit hard work paddling a long way upstream we confess to on occasions getting a tow up there from one of the village fishermen! Hey – it’s a holiday!
The limestone outcrop we head for is actually hollow – kind of doughnut-shaped with cliffs all around enclosing an open centre, (we guess originally a collapsed cave) – and the only way to reach the centre is by canoeing through tunnels under the mountain.
What’s particularly good is that the tunnel leading to the centre is forked so we can enter on one side and exit the mountain on the other side – your only other way in there would be to abseil down the cliffs so it’s a kind of ‘lost world’ in there where a few swooping pterodactyls wouldn’t look out of place.
We then canoe through the mangroves to visit some dry caves, a bit higher up, in another limestone cliff, which were sacred to the ‘Sea Gypsy’ or Chao Leh people who previously inhabited this area (and indeed many of their descendants still do), and who used the caves as burial sites in former times.
Returning through the mangroves we head back to Chao Mai village for some local coffee in the village cafe, (which is tons better than the posh resort down the road!)
After a dip at the spectacular Hat Yao – see the first pic – we head off by boat to nearby Koh Libong Island so below’s a picture looking back towards Hat Yao with Chao Mai behind but Libong’s another story,