Cheow Lan Lake is a place of impressive beauty, where karst cliffs as high as 960 meters (3150 feet) and totally covered in luxurious vegetation, are protruding out of the water creating a dreamland environment. That's about 3 times as high as the world famous rock formations in Phang Nga!
It is located not far from Surat Thani in the south of Peninsular Thailand, and it is a quite popular destination since it's easily accessible from Pukhet, Railey beach, Phang Nga itself and several islands.
Cheow Lan Lake is an artificial reservoir created in 1982 by halting the flow of Paseang River (also known as Khlong Saeng) to provide Electric power to Surat Thani and south of Thailand.
Environmental impact of Ratchaprabha Dam
It's always a big question mark if the creation of a new dam is beneficial for the environment or not, and it cannot be answered with a generic reply. Hydroelectric power is one of the cleanest energy source we have, and can cater energy for several hundred thousands people, so indirectly protecting the environment from further exploitation, and thus reducing emission and pollution.
At the same time the previous ecosystem, as it was the case of Cheow Lan Valley, is changed for ever and so it is the life of its human and non human inhabitant. We don't know if to consider good or not the environmental change provoked, since we have no knowledge of any environmental impact studies made before the construction of the dam, but what we know for sure is that it cannot be reversed, and good or bad, the result is of astonishing beauty.
According to our tour guide Poo, Cheow Lan Lake was realized to protect the fauna inhabiting the area, so that the delicate environment could hardly be accessed by humans.
We seriously doubt about this version of the facts, considering also that in the end there are basically no big mammals left around the lake.
When the basin started to fill up, animals eventually got stuck in the small islands created in the middle of the water, with no possibility to escape since some of them, like the Dusky Langur monkeys, were not able to swim.
According to Mr Poo, the authorities didn't take charge of the problem, and a single man with a boat took initiative to do so, going around and rescuing the trapped fauna like a modern Noah, and bringing most of the animals to safety at the origin of the lake, where nowadays a wildlife Sanctuary is created. We have no proofs about the truthfulness of this story, so we would still read it as an interesting legend rather than a historical fact.
Flora and Fauna in Cheow Lan Lake
There are still several species of monkeys living in the close surroundings of the lake, some of them blocked in the islands, but mostly inhabiting the jungle growing in the steep borders. Dusky leaf monkey (Spectacled langur), gibbons and macaques are the primates that are more easily spotted in Cheow Lan Lake, and if you won't see them for sure you'll hear their call, in particular in the early morning.
There are also several species of birds, the Kingfisher being one of the easiest to spot, but if you'll be lucky enough, you'll have a chance to glimpse one of the most elegant and surprising inhabitant of the area, the Great Hornbill.
There are also several species of spiders, including tarantulas, and snakes, as in example the king cobra and reticulated python.
We didn't have any luck and while kayaking around the lake or going for wildlife spotting by boat, we actually didn't see anything bigger than a chameleon.
Don't have wrong expectations as we did, and if you are coming here to see elephants, tigers, leopards, the Malaysian sun bear or tapirs, you are in the wrong place. They were all moved to Klong Saeng and Klong Nakha Wildlife sanctuaries after the reservoir filled up, where Paseang River is transforming into Cheow Lan Lake. These wildlife reserves can be reached by boat through the lake, but you have to organize a tour specifically for that, since it's the furthest spot from the boat jetty, and there are no regular longtail boats getting there. There are also alternative routes to reach the sanctuaries overland, but then you miss the majestic beauty of Cheow Lan Lake!
The queen of the flora instead is the Rafflesia flower, one of the biggest blossoms in the world, known for its unpleasant smell of decomposing body. If you want to see it, you better come during the flowering season between October and December.