The green side of Hua Hin
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The green side of Hua Hin

Communities around the Pa La-u waterfall in Hua Hin are ready for eco-tourism and agro-tourism.


When people talk about Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan, they mostly think about the 5km-long sandy beach, horse riding, the iconic Hua Hin railway station, night and floating markets and theme parks. Not many want to visit natural attractions although this district has the Pa La-u waterfall and abundant forests for visitors to enjoy fresh air and natural beauty. If visitors are lucky, they may spot wild elephants and savour fruits like durian, rambutan and mangosteen grown in the area.

Nestled in the Pa La-u tropical rain forest covering 273,125 rai, more than 70km from downtown Hua Hin and Kaeng Krachan, Pa La-u waterfall is divided into two parts — Pa La-u Yai and Pa La-u Noi. It is under the supervision of Kaeng Krachan National Park. It has 15 tiers and a nature trail along which visitors can learn about wild plants. There are two camping zones and eight bungalows, which cost 1,200 baht each per night. Fishing, hunting and damaging nature is forbidden. The forest is home to the great hornbill, dusky langur and paradise flycatcher, among others. Many soro brook carp fill the stream, where waterfall crabs called demanietta khirikhan are also found. Many kinds of butterfies, including crow, common yeoman, common cruiser and papillo Paris, can be spotted all year round, including the rare black prince and zigzag flat. The best time for butterfly watching is April- July, in the morning.

Situated 69km west of downtown Hua Hin and 159km from downtown Prachuap Khiri Khan, and about 18km east of Myanmar, Ban Pa La-u is a village in tambon Huay Sat Yai with 250 families of Thai and Karen descent. It is a valley surrounded by Tanao Sri Mountain Range, as well as tropical rainforests and dry evergreen forests. Most of the attractions are in Huay Sat Yai. They are the Pa La-u waterfall, Karen villages, elephant watching towers, dairy farms, a cotton weaving centre and durian orchards. This tambon is also a gateway to a Karen village in Pa Deng.

Locals live simple lives and follow old traditions. The Karen conserve their culture and traditions, and still wear traditional costumes on many occasions. Visitors who want to experience the Karen way of life can stay in a homestay-style house in Ban Fa Prathan (Moo 2) along with La-u Home Stay, a professional homestay business in Ban Khonom Patthana.

Sunantha Pimthai, president of the Tambon Huay Sat Yai Administration Organisation, said: "Homestay guests can go trekking in the forests, visit the Pa La-u waterfall, catch a glimpse of wild elephants and see seven-coloured waterfall crabs in Klong Noi and Moo 11 villages."

Orasa Awutkom, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)'s Prachuap Khiri Khan Office, said: "TAT has a policy to focus on sustainable tourism, so I think Huay Sat Yai is a good answer in terms of agro-tourism, eco-tourism and conservation tourism." According to her, this community has become better prepared for tourism in recent years, and is willing to welcome nature-loving tourists.

One of the outstanding attractions is the beautiful Pa La-u waterfall. In addition, the community has about 70 orchards with various kinds of fruits to offer.

"Locals want to present their way of life. However, not all fruit orchards are open to tourists. Agro-tourism includes learning how to grow fruit trees, visiting dairy farms and learning how cows are milked."

Dairy farming, an occupation bestowed by His Majesty the King to this area in the 1970s, is the pride of the tambon where many people have prospered.

TAT's local office has designed a tourism route to watch wild elephants near a big reservoir, go bird watching and experience the hilltribe way of life. To arrange elephant watching, tourists must seek permission and guidance from the national park. Safety is of top priority.

"Elephants are also a part of the villagers' way of life. However, elephant watching has not been well managed here unlike in Kui Buri district. But, people have started to include it in their travel activities," the director said.

This is a new opportunity for Hua Hin tourism that is overly centred on the downtown area and has just begun to expand to Pran Buri.

"Pa La-u may attract tourists who like slow tourism. Local people want to conserve the environment and the local way of life, but also want more tourists to know them. They live in moderation, which leads to sustainable tourism," she noted.

Pa La-u has five elephant watching towers built by local villagers. The 10km route leading to Pa La-u runs through part of the Kaeng Krachan National Park, so travellers can spot wild elephants. The towers are near the edge of the national park, and the elephants usually come to the nearby salt lick and to swim in a reservoir. The best time to see these elephants is at dusk or at night. According to Thongbai Charoendong, head of the centre for the Conservation Project for Elephants and Other Wildlife in Kaeng Krachan National Park, the wild elephant population in the 1.8 million rai Kaeng Krachan forest totals about 250, including 150 in Pa La-u and 50 in the adjacent Pa Deng. Since September 2008, the use of fences with alarm systems and permanent guard stations have been promoted in communities around the park. Most villagers affected by elephant raids on their farmland opt for guarding them and have installed alarm systems, which alert the villagers to come out to chase the elephants away with firecrackers.

Tourists can visit some of the 70 durian orchards in Pa La-u. The monthong, chanee, kanyao, long lablae, lin lablae and puang manee strains of durian grown here have quality guarantees from the provincial commerce office. Prices range from 100-140 baht per kilo. Among these orchards is Aunt Chuan Kladngern’s Orchard in Moo 3 Village. She grows durian, coconut, bananas, mangosteen, rambutan, lime, longkan and other fruits and vegetables. Some of her durian trees were planted in 1977, when durian was first introduced to this community. Last year, her profit from durian was about 300,000 baht. She also raises more than 10 dairy cows. She has opted for mixed farming, according to the advice of His Majesty the King.

Tourists can experience the way of life, art and culture of the Karen by visiting an old-style house in Moo 2 village and watching cultural performances at a Karen village in Moo 3. One of these houses belongs to Sakda Panyaharn, the son of the tambon’s first village headman and spiritual leader Kha. The house on stilts has wooden floors, bamboo walls and a thatched roof, constructed without the use of nails. The highest level of the house is a forbidden zone for women, except little girls. The Karen believe that the village’s spiritual leader will fall sick and die if women enter that level. The empty space under the house boasts an old-style weaving tool, which is attached to the weaver’s waist. This tool is called kee eaw or tha in the Karen language. There are only five such tools left in this village. Karen people worship the Rice Goddess for providing food and protecting them.

Huay Sat Yai covers 80,000 rai, half of which is maintained by the Royal Project. Dairy farms cover 60% of agricultural land in Huay Sat Yai and 40% are durian orchards and organic vegetable farms. In the past, the Karen cut forest trees to do shift cultivation. His Majesty the King visited the area several times, noticed the deforestation and introduced new occupations, such as dairy farming and fruit growing around 1977-79. The King built a milk factory on the Chang Hua Mun Project site. Raw milk is sold for 16 baht per litre.

Situated in Ban Khonom Pattana, La-u Homestay consists of six houses, which can accommodate 30 people. It was established in 2010. For breakfast guests feast on rice, stir-fried vegetables, fried fish, soup, coffee and fresh milk. Then they head to the dairy farms to milk and feed the cows at 6am. During their stay, tourists will visit a cotton weaving group, a tree and orchid bank, a frog farm and a coconut oil factory. The elephant conservation centre will brief them on wild elephant protection in the area. The homestay costs 200 baht per head, per night for accommodation and 100 baht per head, per meal.

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