In 1959, 14 important forests were proposed for inclusion in national parks, among them the once vast and malarial Thung Salaeng Luang. Eventually, in 1972, 1,262 square kilometers were declared the Thung Salaeng Luang National Park.
But from the late 1960’s to the early 1980’s the forest was used as a major base area and infiltration route for guerrillas of the outlawed Communist Party of Thailand (CPT). It was sealed off by the Thai military from even the park officials. One of the climactic showdowns of the war with Communist insurgents took place at nearby Khao Kor, where government forces defeated the guerrillas in a series of tough battles in 1981 and 1982, Khao Kor is now the site of a resort and community–based development protects.
Guerrillas have not been the park’s only scourge. Other intruders were hilltribe people and squatters who made use of the Phitsanulok–Lomsak highway running through the park’s northern end to gain easy access to the area and stake claims to virgin terrian.
Composing the park are hills of limestone, slate and hardpan between altitudes of 300 to 1,028 meters. A long north-south stretch of limestone hills runs down the western section of the park. Thung Salaeng Luang, the origin of numerous streams, is inlaid with meadows, especially in its southern area. Mixed species deciduous forest predominates, with lowland scrub and tropical broadleaved evergreen covering smaller areas.
The average annual temperature is 25 Celsius, rising to near 30 degrees n summer months from March to June. The best time to visit is in the cool season, November to February. Many of the wild meadow flowers bloom in November. The average annual rainfall is 1,700 millimetres, the wettest months being July to October.
Seventeen mammal species, including elephant, yellow – throated marten and masked palm civet, are confirmed as park dweller. A significant number of others are possible residents. These include tiger, gaur, barking deer, wild dog, wild pig, langur and slow loris. A 1987 study estimated that between five and 20 elephants survied in the park.
The best places to see wildlife are on the park’s meadows and, during the dry season, around ponds and salt licks. There is a large salt lick at Pong Sai in the northwest and Pong Thung Phaya in the southwest.
More than 190 bird species have been confirmed, among them species of heron, eagle, partridge, pheasant, pigeon, owl, swift, hornbill, barbet, woodpecker, bulbul, babbler, warbler, flycatcher and flowerpecker.
A prominent resident is the Siamese fireback pheasant, a leading candidate for Thailand’s national bird because bird it was once so common and frequently referred to in classical Thai literature. It also once helped to advertise the country. A pair was sent to Napoleon III of France in 1862 along with diplomatic envoys, eliciting interest in both the exotic animal and its place of origin.
The sleek, handsome male has a red face, long norrow tail, gray upper plumage and a black underside. The hen is chestnut–reddish and lacks head and tail adornments.