Khao Yai National Park is one of Thailand’s most visited national parks and is also the second largest in the country. Mostly situated in Nakhon Ratchasima province, it is very easily accessible from Bangkok. With thousands of different types of plants, over 60 different types of mammals, and over 300 different types of birds calling Khao Yai home, it really is a nature lover’s paradise.
It contains one of the biggest intact monsoon rainforests in Asia, and spans five different vegetation zones. Add a few picturesque waterfalls and some excellent hiking trails and it is obvious why Khao Yai, which translates into Big Mountain, is a firm favourite with locals and visitors alike.
Animals that have been found to be roaming within the park are wild pigs, deer, gibbons, gaur, macaques, otters, leopards, elephants, bears and tigers. It is not likely, however, that many visitors will catch sight of most of these.
Activities in the park include hiking, both independent and guided, cycling, night-time wildlife spotting tours, rafting, kayaking, and camping. Visitors can take their own camping equipment or rent tents once inside the park. There are two main entrances into the park, one near to Pak Chong in Nakhon Ratchasima province, and the other closer to Bangkok in Prachinburi province. There is good road access throughout most of the park, which covers 2,168 square kilometres.
I visited Khao Yai National Park during the rainy season, although luckily there wasn’t too much rain during my time there. I went into the park using the Nakhon Ratchasima entry point. On entering the park, I quickly went to pay my respects at a small temple shrine near to the main gate. We had gone in a private car, so there was no need to linger long at the tourist information place, and we set off on winding mountain roads to explore the park.
I quickly spotted a troop of macaque monkeys at the side of the road, so made my boyfriend, who was driving, stop so I could get a closer look. Careful not to get too close, I saw wise looking older monkeys seemingly watching the world go by, whilst younger monkeys frolicked and gambolled in the sunshine and babies clung on to their mum’s undersides. This was very close to a viewpoint offering spectacular views across the surrounding mountain vistas.
Continuing on our adventure, we had to stop again a couple of minutes later when I saw a deer just lying peacefully in a grassed area. A few photos later, we were ready to carry on. After a short walk along a river with some small falls, I was bustled back into the car; I think my boyfriend thought I was going to crack my head open leaping from rock to rock in the fast flowing water!
It wasn’t long before I made him stop yet again – this time though because I realised a leech had attached itself to the back of my leg and was quite happily drinking my blood whilst I had been sat there oblivious. Removing the leech was easy, stopping the blood from running down my leg was an entirely different matter. Not letting this deter us though we were soon bound for Haew Narok waterfall.
To fully appreciate Haew Narok, you must carefully make your way down many steps, being careful not to slip on moss and leaves. Reaching the bottom, you are able to gaze up at the beautiful 80 meter high waterfall, watching the water cascading over the edge and crashing into the pool below. The spray and the sun combined to form some really pretty rainbows. When we left there we were quite wet because of the spray, but in Thailand’s temperatures we quickly dried off.
The time had passed much quicker than we expected, so after a quick stop off at a reservoir, we decided it was time to go and find somewhere to lay our heads for the night. Rather than go back to Pak Chong, the bustling tourism gateway to the park, we decided to try our luck at finding somewhere a bit closer to the park’s entrance. We hit the jackpot, and spent the night in a lovely inexpensive little bungalow set in some pretty gardens about a ten minute drive from the park.
An early start the next day saw us heading back into the park, with the sole intention of visiting the waterfall made famous in the movie “The Beach”, Haew Suwat. Not being able to resist stopping to hike out into the forests a bit, and watch some more wild monkeys, we arrived at the waterfall in the afternoon.
There were only a handful of other people there, which really did make the experience a whole lot more romantic. The waterfall itself is very pretty, despite being quite small. Unfortunately, there is no swimming permitted in the waters beneath, and you are prevented from getting too close to the falls by wooden barriers. It was having a wander along the river a little further away from the waterfall, and the car, that the rain started. We tried in vain to take some cover under some ever so slight rock outcroppings; needless to say we were quickly soaked to the skin.
Khao Yai really was an amazing beautiful place to visit. I enjoyed hiking, being driven about and seeing the waterfalls and the stunning scenery all around me. The small things also made this trip enjoyable though; standing stock still whilst about 15 vividly coloured butterflies flittered around me, watching a bright furry caterpillar make its way past my coffee cup at breakfast, taking loads of pictures of pretty flowers, being entranced by young monkeys at play, and giggling about a prominent road sign that said “Caution Cobra Crossing”! (We didn’t see any cobras, of which I am rather thankful!)
Okay, so we didn’t see any of the rare animals that live in the park, but having not expected to, this did not alter the fact that Khao Yai National Park is truly a fantastic place to spend a few days enjoying nature.
The cost to enter the park is 400 Baht, and this is for each entry. So if you visit two days on the run you will have to pay double the entry fees. If you have a private vehicle, you will also need to pay a 50 Baht vehicle fee. This is quite pricey when compared to the Thai entry fee of a mere 40 Baht, but, like most Thai attractions, there is a strict dual pricing system in operation.
There are apparently some really spectacular waterfalls within the park, but these involve two or more days trekking to reach. If you have the time, I am sure this would be an exciting adventure to take. If you only have a few days though, you can still explore some of the wonders of Khao Yai by road. The rainy season is the best time for viewing the waterfalls and the cool season is the best time for hiking, however, the park can be visited year round.
Which national parks have you found particularly beautiful? And, have you been lucky enough to spot any magnificent wild animals roaming about in their natural habitat? Share your experiences of some of nature’s most stunning places around the world.