giant flowers deep in the jungle: Phang Nga to Chumphon
Tuesday February 6, 2007, 440 km (273 miles) - Total so far: 19,923 km (12,380 miles)Chumphon, Chumphon Province, Thailand
The day trip to Raman Forest Park, southwest of Phang Nga, turned out to be so enjoyable, that I ventured northeast to Sa Nang Manora Forest Park the next day. Here a mineral-laden stream forms countless travertine pools, where the mythical Princess Manora comes to bathe when nobody is around. Unfortunately I didn't get a glimpse of her, but I had a beautiful walk up the 2km trail through the jungle. The crystal-clear stream glided by on my right and a limestone cliff face soared on my left. Little caves tunneled into the cliffs, some with streams coming out and one with a stream going in. Stalactites marked the entrance to Bat Cave at trail's end, but the interior chambers lacked any cave features. Outside the cave I met an older Dutch couple, also traveling on bicycles; they had cycled in Thailand six times and were now making further explorations of the Andaman coast and islands. Yet another Dutch cycling couple had stayed in my hotel, but they hurried out early the next morning before I could meet them.
the tranquil stream in Sa Nang Manora Forest Park, northeast of Phang Nga
The next morning I headed north to the jungle hills of Khao Sok National Park to see a flower. Not just any old blossom, but the world's largest individual flower, the Rafflesia. This elusive flowering plant also grows in Malaysia and Indonesia, but I had never been at the right place and right time to spot one in those countries. It's not only the world's biggest plant, but also one of the strangest. Without any leaves, roots, or stems, it grows parasitically in lianas, a jungle vine. My bungalow owner, a Brit with a Thai wife and two cute kids, arranged for a guide to take me to the Rafflesias early the next morning. (I didn't have a chance of finding them on my own.) A longish drive to the trailhead at a rubber plantation, a steep hike into the jungle, a treacherously steep descent, then a short climb brought me to my heart's desire--a Rafflesia kerri meyer--in full bloom! It measured about 50 centimeters across, although the Rafflesia arnoldii sometimes attains twice that size. The dark red flower had a fleshy soft body with five petals and a spiky but soft central pillar. No pistols or stamens were visible, but I suspected that they may have been under the pillar. I stuck my nose into the cavernous chamber, and yuck, it smelled awful; supposedly this scent fools pollinating flies into thinking they have found some fresh carrion to dine on. The flowers only last three to four days, before wilting and turning black. Oddly, I could not find any seeds among the decomposed flowers. Looking around, I could see many buds emerging from the lianas; the smallest were about the size of a softball and I was told that they would bloom in about a year. The largest buds had basketball-sized proportions and sounded hollow when I tapped on them. You can read more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rafflesia_kerrii and see a cross-section at www.parasiticplants.siu.edu/Rafflesiaceae/images/RafflesiaSection.jpg
a monster-size Rafflesia kerri meyer (about 50cm across) in Khao Sok National Park
the basketball-size bud of a Rafflesia kerri meyer, Khao Sok National Park
when good flowers go bad--a decayed Rafflesia kerri meyer, Khao Sok National Park