Everything You Want to Know about Khao Yai National Park
Khao Yai National Park is located 120 km (70 miles) northeast of Bangkok. It’s probably the most well-known park in Thailand, and once you visit, it’s easy to see why. In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about Khao Yai National Park.
Khao Yai National Park: The Third Largest Park in Thailand
Khao Yai spans the Nakhon Ratchasima, Prachinburi, Saraburi, and Nakhon Nayok provinces, making it is the third-largest national park in the country.
Considered to be the best national park in Thailand, especially for spotting wildlife, Khao Yai's dense forests and jungles house the kingdom's largest population of wild elephants, along with a fantastic array of other animals, birds, and plant life.
The park is made up of 2,168 sq km (837 sq miles) of rain forests, grasslands, mountains, and waterfalls. Khao Yai was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and covers five protected areas all the way from Khao Yai to the Cambodian border.
Top Things to Do in Khao Yai National Park
1. Observe Wild Elephants and Other Exciting Wildlife
Khao Yai is a nature lover's paradise, with a host of wildlife native only to Thailand. Most visitors come to catch a glimpse of the park's wild elephant population, which is the biggest in the country.
This is, in our opinion, the best way to see these incredible animals — grazing in their natural habitat. Keep in mind, however, that it cannot be guaranteed that you will see wild elephants in the park, especially if you are on a day trip.
If you are unlucky on the day you visit and don't see elephants, you can always check out one of our recommended ethical elephant sanctuaries.
Other mammals that can be seen in Khao Yai include bears, sambar deer, barking deer, macaque monkeys, gibbons, civets, porcupines, and wild Asian dogs.
It's said that tigers once roamed the national park, although no sightings have been reported for many years.
Another attraction that brings visitors to the park is the fantastic bird watching opportunities. Great hornbills, red junglefowl, and coral-billed cuckoos are just a few of the species that you can spot if you can put in a little time and patience.
The hornbills are the easiest birds to observe as groups congregate around the Nong Phak Chi observation tower every evening. The tower is easily reached by a 1-km (0.6-mile) trail that can be accessed from the main road. It's a 3-km (1.8-mile) walk in total from the entrance of the park.
2.Take a Hike in the Jungle
Hiking in Khao Yai is another attraction of the national park. There are five main hiking trails to choose from at Khao Yai, depending on your experience, endurance levels, and length of time you have at the park.
The nature trails start from 1 km (0.6 mile) and the hiking trails can take between 1½ hours to a whole day to complete.
Hiking is not recommended for small children, people with heart problems and underlying health conditions, or pregnant women as some of the trails can be quite physically demanding. We would recommend hiring a guide to take you on the longer walks.
The jungle and forests are home to chiggers, which are tiny insects with a bite that can last up to a year, so wearing the correct clothing is a must. During the rainy season, from June to October, leeches are a problem in the park, so extra precautions should be taken while hiking in these months.
Hiking Essentials in Khao Yai
- On longer hikes, consider taking a guide with you.
- If trekking by yourselves, make sure to bring enough food, water, and mosquito repellant.
- Wear comfortable shoes and a sun hat. Long-sleeved shirts and pants are also highly recommended.
- Smoking is strictly prohibited in the park.
3.Visit Amazing Waterfalls
Khao Yai National Park is home to some amazing waterfalls. Although visitors are not permitted to swim in the park's falls and rivers, they do make for excellent photo opportunities.
Haew Narok Waterfall
Located at the end of a 600-m (0.4-mile) -long trail off the main road, Haew Narok Waterfall is a great spot to observe some of the park's birds and animals, and you may well find yourself joined by one of the local macaque monkeys.
In the rainy season, the waterfall will be in full flow, but the last part of the walk down is very steep and should be navigated with extreme caution. It's also challenging to take photos at Haew Narok in the rainy season as the sheer amount of spray from the falls makes using your camera almost impossible.
Haew Suwat Waterfall
The most well-known waterfall in Khao Yai National Park is Haew Suwat. It is famous for being the location for Leonardo DiCaprio's waterfall dive in the movie The Beach back in 2000. Sadly, you won't be able to recreate the scene as visitors aren't allowed in the water!
Haew Suwat has a viewing area made up of rocks at the side of a cliff, from where you can watch the water shooting down into the large pool under the waterfall. Haew Suwat is at its best in the rainy season when the water is at its fullest, but it can be enjoyed anytime as the water here flows year-round.
Being around 12 km (7 miles) from the main visitor center, it’s best to visit the spot in a car with a private driver. There is a car park located 5 minutes away from the waterfall.
Camp in the Jungle
For those who love camping, Khao Yai National Park is an absolute must. Gazing up at the stars while listening to the park's animals going about their nightly business in the forest is an amazing experience. There are a few campsites to choose from in Khao Yai, but Lam Ta Khong is our top pick.
Lam Ta Khong is set on a large area of open grass surrounded by a river, which opens out into a massive lake. You really feel like you're at one with nature here.
You will often see otters swimming in the river and lake and macaques can be spotted in the trees surrounding the campsite. In the morning you'll be welcomed by the park’s resident deer as they munch away at the grass around the tents.
You can rent a tent, along with mats and bedding at the campsite, and they are always in good condition, although you might want to consider bringing your own if you're not comfortable sleeping in used equipment.
During peak season, all of the campsites in Khao Yai get extremely busy, especially at weekends. We wouldn't recommend camping around the Songkran New Years Festival as the sites get fully booked and are very noisy.
Lam Ta Khong campground is located around halfway between Haew Suwat Waterfall and the park's visitor center off the main road. You should have no problem finding the campsite, but maps are available from the visitor center.
Visit a Local Winery
When most people think of drinking in Thailand, cocktails on the beach usually spring to mind. Not a lot of visitors know that Thailand has been producing excellent quality wines for well over a decade.
There are a few wineries in the Kaho Yai area, but the biggest, and most famous, is PB Valley Vineyard, which is located just outside the national park but is still a 20-km (12 miles) drive away from the main entrance.
At PB Valley, you can take a guided tour of the vineyards, listen to explanations about the various wine grapes grown at the estate, and taste different kinds of wine during the wine tasting session. There are also other fruit orchards, such as those for dragon fruit and passion fruit.
Best Time to Visit Khao Yai
Depending on what you like to do, there are different times of the year that are suited to various activities.
For wildlife and waterfall lovers, the best time to visit Khao Yai is probably between June and October, which is the rainy season. This might sound strange, but this is the time when the forests are at their lushest, the waterfalls are the biggest, and the elephants are at their most active.
The cool season, which is November to February, is the best time to visit if you plan to hike, as the weather is at its coolest. You will still see some magnificent wildlife and the jungle hasn't completely dried up.
From the end of February, through to the end of April, Thailand is at it's hottest. The forests and jungles dry up and the waterfalls cease, but this is the best time for bird watching. It really all depends on what you want to see in the park.
Khao Yai is a top-rated destination for both foreign and local visitors, and gets very busy on the weekends given its close proximity to Bangkok. Public holidays also draw the crowds, so it's best to avoid these if possible.
How to Get to Khao Yai National Park
Most people travel by car, as Kaho Yai is only a 2½-hour drive from Bangkok. Public transport inside the park is non-existent so having your own transport is highly recommended. Here is a list of options for getting to Khao Yai.
By Private Transfer
The quickest and most convenient way of getting from Bangkok to Khao Yai is with a private driver. Our driver and local guide will pick you up at your hotel door, and you can relax all the way to the park.
Another benefit of having your own driver is that you can stop anytime you want for a toilet break or to pick up snacks and water along the way.
Once in the national park, it's best to have a guide take you around as the attractions are spread out and a local guide knows the best spots to see wild animals and the best route to take.
Hire Your Own Car
The next best option would be hiring a car. Like having a private driver, it means that you're not wasting time waiting for buses. You can do things at your own pace.
We would only recommend hiring a car if you are 100% comfortable with driving in a foreign country. The road rules in Thailand can be quite different from those in the west and this can take some getting used to.
Bus Plus a Motorbike
If you love to explore, then you can try this way. Take a bus from Mo Chit 2 Bus Terminal to Pak Chong and then rent a motorbike to Khao Yai and explore the park. If you are thinking of renting a motorbike, it's essential to wear a helmet and protective clothing.
Tips for Visiting Khao Yai
- It’s important to plan which month of the year is best suited to your trip activities.
- Arranging transport is a must to get the full experience of the park.
- Make sure you have enough food and water if you plan on venturing into the forest and jungle.
- Always wear mosquito repellant.
- Be sure to bring sunscreen and a hat and protective clothing if you plan to hike.
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