King Bhumibol Adulyadej made several visits to Khao Chi On before launching the reforestation. Courtesy of the Royal-Initiated Siri Charoenwat Forest Plantation Project
More than 30 years ago, the treeless hill of Khao Chi On in Chon Buri was dry and barren. The lack of natural water adversely affected the farmers in Sattahip and Bang Lamung areas. When the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej made royal visits to Wat Yansangwararam, a Buddhist monastery under the royal patronage of the king, he took note of the farmers’ misery.
King Rama IX read his map and explored the area. As the hill was watershed forest, the king initiated a reforestation project on Sept 12, 1990. The project was overseen by the Forest Department. Over the years, the area has become gradually greener. Today it is a forest and is also one of the tourist destinations in Chon Buri.
The project is called Siri Charoenwat Forest Plantation Project.
“The name was given by the late king,” said project chief Meechai Leelachiawchankul, adding: “Siri came from the initial name of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit and charoenwat means prosperous year, so the total meaning is the prosperous year of the Queen.”
The reforestation project was aimed to mark the 60th birthday of the Queen in 1992. As a result, the project is also known as Pa Hhaeng Khwam Rak — meaning the forest of love — because the project was a birthday gift from King Rama IX to the Queen, he said.
Before trees could be planted, a water source needed to be provided. The Royal Irrigation Department was assigned to build seven reservoirs to store water during the rainy season. Two years after the royal initiation, the Forest Department kicked off the reforestation in 1992. The staff used water from the reservoirs for watering the trees.
They also followed royal guidelines given in 1976 at the Thung Cho Watershed Development Unit in Chiang Mai to address the deforestation issue, which suggested planting three types of trees for four benefits — usage, consumption, natural resource preservation and a source of income.
The Buddha image on the cliff at Khao Chi Chan is about a 10-minute drive north of Siri Charoenwat Forest Plantation Project. The laser carved Buddha was created to commemorate the golden jubilee of King Rama IX’s accession to the throne in 1996. Karnjana Karnjanatawe
The first group of trees planted were the fast growing krathin narong (earleaf acacia trees), sadao (neem trees) and khi lek (cassod trees). The second group were trees with edible fruits such as makham pom (Indian gooseberry trees), wa (black plum trees), makok (hog plum trees) and takhop (ramontchi trees). The fruits benefit birds and animals in the forest, he said.
The last group were hardwood trees, including teak, makha mong (black rosewood trees), phayung (Siamese rosewood trees) and pradu daeng (monkey flower trees).
Starting with a donated 360 rai plot of land in 1992, the forest has gradually expanded. The government announced a reserved forest area of 2,235 rai. Today the project is overseen by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation.
“Every tree that you see in the project was planted,” said Meechai, adding that the formerly barren hill is the primary source of water for farmers in four tambons, including Na Chom Thian, Kret Kaeo, Phlu Ta Luang in Sattahip district and Huai Yai in Bang Lamung district.
“The king also told us to protect the forest and we have done so during the past three decades and will keep doing so in the future,” he said.
The project welcomes about 30,000 visitors a year. The main group of tourists are students and public organisations and some private companies that want to conduct corporate social responsibility activities.
Individuals can also enjoy a visit. The project has a 1.5km natural walking trail and gazebos for taking a rest.
For those who love watching birds, there are about 70 types in the forest including migrant birds like the narcissus flycatcher, which can be seen around April, said the chief. The forest also has wild animals like deer, tragulus, civet, common slow loris and is home to about 50 types of butterfly.
The project also sports a lotus pond, a garden for planting a variety of local fragrant flowers and another zone for species of banana tree.
On Sept 24, a new 18km biking route was launched to further promote the project as an eco-tourism destination. The route took about two years to complete with a 47 million baht investment by Chon Buri province.
“It is my intention to build the bicycle lane as an indication of the project’s forest border. It will have another benefit, which is to be a firebreak if there is wildfire,” he said.
In future, the Siri Charoenwat Forest Plantation Project will have a campsite allowing visitors to stay overnight. A clubhouse-like building will be built to facilitate visitors. It will house a restaurant, bathrooms and meeting rooms. There will be a large parking lot with 200 parking bays. The 31 million baht project is scheduled to be completed around March next year.
In addition to the forest restoration project, visitors can travel to nearby attractions such as Wat Yansangwararam in Bang Lamung district, the Sea Turtle Conservation Centre of Sattahip Naval Base and Nang Ram and Nang Rong beaches in Sattahip District.
“Chon Buri does not only have beaches. There also are forests for visitors to have many outdoor activities too,” he said.
Siri Charoenwat Forest Plantation Project in Chon Buri. Photo: Karnjana Karnjanatawe
The barren landscape of Khao Chi On before the project. Photos Courtesy of the Siri Charoenwat Forest Plantation Project
A bird’s eye view of Khao Chi On today. Photos Courtesy of the Siri Charoenwat Forest Plantation Project
Along the walking trail in the Siri Charoenwat Forest Plantation Project, visitors learn about the various types of trees and plants as there are signs explaining the names of trees in both Thai and English as well as scientific names. The walkway is not physically challenging, but is not designed for those who travel with wheelchairs due to steps and bridges. Before taking the route, you should apply mosquito repellent because there are a lot of mosquitoes in the forest. Photos: Karnjana Karnjanatawe
The wide cycle lane circles around the protected forest area. The route is also used by officers for patrolling the forest. Karnjana Karnjanatawe
The beach of Hat Nang Rong is not white, but it is one of the popular beaches in Sattahip. Hat Nang Rong and the connected Nang Ram beach are managed by Sattahip Naval Base. Visitors need to pay 20 baht for entrance fee. Karnjana Karnjanatawe
The Sea Turtle Conservation Centre at Sattahip Naval Base is about 20 minutes drive south of Siri Charoenwat Forest Plantation Project. It has worked on the sea turtle conservation project since 1958. Koh E-ra, Koh Chan and Koh Khram overseen by the navy are the main islands that turtles, mostly green and hawksbill turtles, have yearly come to lay eggs around June to September, according to an officer guide at the centre. The eggs will be collected and nursed until turtles hatch. When the turtles are three months old, they are ready to be released back to the sea. The centre also has a unit to cure sick turtles. Donation is accepted. Karnjana Karnjanatawe
Only Thai visitors are allowed to go inside the aircraft carrier HTMS Chakri Narubet docked at the Sattahip Naval Base. But foreign visitors will not miss anything much because due to the security reasons, no one is allowed to explore inside. Every visitor will be directed to the deck for your selfies with the aircraft runway. Karnjana Karnjanatawe
Before heading back to Bangkok, you may want to stop by the Mangrove Forest Conservation Center in Chon Buri’s Muang District. The 2.3km-long walking trail is built inside a 300 rai mangrove forest. You may have a chance to see egrets looking for food and a big mudskipper chasing a smaller mudskipper to protect its territory. The wooden walkway also needs maintenance so you need to use caution. Karnjana Karnjanatawe