Khao Yai National Park is a favourite destination for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Bangkok for a while. The proximity of the park to the Thai capital and the stunning scenery make it an ideal getaway for city dwellers.
In 1962, Khao Yai was designated as Thailand’s first national park and its wonderful environment and wide range of activities have ensured its popularity ever since. Some rate it as one of the best national parks in the world, certainly in Asia, and getting to and from the park is simple.
Accommodation is offered in the park and there are a large number of markets and restaurants on hand to supply a weary walker with all manner of food, drink and refreshments.
The popularity of the area has actually been to its detriment over the years. In 1992 Khao Yai National Park had to be shut down for a while due to the damage created by visitors - extensive work was done in the area and some resorts and golf courses were demolished. The park is now open again and gladly welcomes guests as long as they take proper care of their surroundings.
Khao Yai National Park covers over 2,000 square-kilometres and spills into four provinces - Saraburi, Nakhon Ratchasima, Prachinburi and Nakhon Nayok. The site has become one of the Natural Heritage Sites of Asia and has served as a template for many others.
The park offers a large number of activities, including birdwatching, mountain biking and river rafting, but is most notable for its trekking. The terrain of the park is varied and produces several different vegetation environments, including evergreen rainforest, mixed deciduous and savannah. Elevation ranges from 400m to over 1,000m above sea-level.
There are more than a dozen variations of marked trails covering around 50kms, with varied distances and scenery. Each trail is clearly signposted with helpful information dotted around and trekkers can even get a park ranger to accompany them as they walk. Wildlife can be spotted, though you have to have a sharp eye. Species include barking deer, serows, gibbons and macaques, Malayan sun bears, Asiatic black bears, tigers and leopard, with the latter being a rare find.
There is an astonishing range of bird species to be found here, including a wonderful selection of hornbills, which are best spotted when breeding between January and May. For other wildlife, the best time to come is between June and October.
The most popular trail takes around half a day, starting at the park’s headquarters and ending at the Nong Phak Chi Wildlife watch towers. On the way, one can see a large variety of animals, such as hornbills, red-headed tarragons, dollarbirds and red-mottled lapwings. After reaching the towers, guests can look over the salt-lick and see wild dogs and elephants.
For the more adventurous, there is a popular one-day hike from the park headquarters to Heaw Suwat falls (8.5kms) and then continuing to Thung Khao Laem (another 4.5kms). On this trail, a wide range of wildlife - gibbons, elephants and exotic birds - can be seen. The falls became famous after being featured in the Hollywood blockbuster, The Beach, as the notorious hurdle the adventurers had to surmount to get to the ‘paradise camp’.
Where to stay
The only onsite accommodation is the National Park bungalows (Tel: (02) 562 0760) near the park headquarters. These are quite pleasant, albeit basic, and in a natural environment and you’ll need to bring your own bedding and food. They rent out at about 1,500 baht per 12-sleeper bungalow. Tents can be pitched for a minimal fee on the campgrounds.
Phubade Hotel: is in nearby Pak Chong, offering clean rooms. It’s located near the central market down a small lane…more details and booking
Khaoyai Nature Life & Tours: (formerly Khao Yai Garden Lodge) also on the road towards the park from Pak Chaong, this place is a bit more upmarket, but lacks the personalised service on tours and deals mostly with packages…more details and booking
Green Leaf Guest House: is a little way out of Pak Chong on the way to the park and is popular for its clean rooms, good food and helpful friendly tours and staff. 52 Moo 6, Thanarat Road, Pakchong, Tel: (044) 365 024.
Khao Yai National Park transport
Getting to Khao Yai National Park from Bangkok is easy. Take Highway 305 from Rangsit-Ongkharak Road in Bangkok to Nakhon Nayok, followed by Highway 3077. After 10kms you will reach the Khao Yai National Park headquarters. You can either hire a car and drive (around two hours) or arrange a tour from your hotel or a travel agent. Alternatively, there are a few tour outfits in nearby Pak Chong offering guides.