Day trip excursions to Khao Yai National Park

By Kirsty Turner

Wild Asian elephants in Khao Yai National Park

Wild Asian elephants in Khao Yai National Park

One of the most enchanting green zones in the whole of Thailand, Khao Yai National Park can be found just 120kms to the north of Bangkok, making this an exciting daytrip destination for those who have a strong sense of adventure. Most people travel directly from Bangkok to the town of Pak Chong, which takes a little over two hours, before heading into the park to explore either independently or with a guide.

Khao Yai consists of 2,168 square kilometres of verdant forest, and is the perfect place to explore. A large number of well-worn trails lead through the forest, taking visitors to areas of intense natural beauty such as Haew Suwat Falls, which is the waterfall that Lionardo Di Caprio’s character Richard has to jump from in the cult film The Beach.

One of the great things about Khao Yai National Park is that visitors are free to roam wherever they choose, and it is even possible to jump from the top of Haew Suwat Falls, although this 25-metre-high cascade of water is not quite as intimidating as it appears on film. More on Koh Phi Phi.

Khao Yai translates as Big Mountain from Thai, and the park takes its name from the mighty Phanom Dongrek Mountains, which run through this area of intense natural beauty. One of the park’s most popular trails leads the way to the top of Khao Liik Chang, or Baby Elephant Mountain in English. This is one of the highest points in the whole park, and visitors can sit on a high rocky ledge and gaze all the way across the jungle. Also nearby is Khao Lem hill, which also offers stunning views.

Animal lovers will be in their element as they explore Khao Yai, as the national park is home to 20 different species of mammals, including elephants and tigers, although tiger sightings are rather rare these days. 300 different species of birds can also be found here, including four species of hornbill.

Pig-tailed macaque in Khao Yai NP

Pig-tailed macaque in Khao Yai NP

In fact, Khao Yai National Park is one of the best places in the whole of Southeast Asia to observe hornbills in the wild, while the park is also noted for its large populations of yellow-browed warblers, red-breasted flycatcher and woodpeckers. More on central Thailand attractions.

One of the best places to spot wildlife is at the Nong Pak Chee observation tower, which is situated next to a watering hole. Visitors who are blessed with a lot of patience and a little luck will be able to hide here and watch as the park’s animals pause to drink before heading back into the jungle once more.

While it is possible to explore the park independently, those who want to see all that Khao Yai has to offer in a day will probably want to consider hiring a guide, as many of the main attractions here are located up to 20kms apart. Guides can be hired either in the town of Pak Chong or at the visitor’s centre for around 500 baht a day, which includes transportation and lunch.

The other good thing about choosing to go with a guide is that they are usually local people who know the park extremely well and are able to provide local knowledge as well as leading the way along less popular trails to discover a whole host of hidden gems. Guides also provide extra gear such as the long white soaks that protect your legs from leeches while walking through the jungle as well as mosquito repellent, which is also a necessary aid for people who are headed deep into the jungle.

However, even with a guide, visitors will need at least six hours to fully explore Khao Yai National Park, and those who are headed here from the city of Bangkok will want to leave early in the morning. The journey takes around four hours in total, so those who catch the 06:00 bus from the Northern Bus Terminal should have plenty of time to explore before heading home at around dusk.

Visitors to Khao Yai National Park who decide that they need a little extra time to explore will find an excellent range of accommodation options waiting for them. Those who are on a tight budget can choose to stay at the National Park Dormitories, where a bed in one of the large wooden huts costs just 50 Baht. It is also possible to camp at Pha Kluai Campground, which is located close to the enchanting Heaw Suwat falls, while those who like their creature comforts will want to check out the luxurious bungalows at Khao Yai Garden Lodge. 

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