The plan of visiting the Khao Yai National Park started with a curiosity of mine.
The park was on my list of places to visit when I planned the Thailand itinerary. When I googled the garden up, the pictures of elephants, birds, hornbills, even tigers, and gibbons popped up. I have never seen a gibbon before, and I was curious to catch a glimpse of it here. How difficult would it be to spot? After all, it belongs to the family of monkeys, and monkeys are seen hanging around everywhere.
So with that thought, I set out on the excursion to Khao Yai.
How to reach Khao Yai National Park
I boarded the train from the railway station right opposite the Bangkok International airport to Pak Chong. The train is like a chair car, but you can easily get confirmed seats to sit on, so it is not a problem. It is the same train that passes through Ayutthaya.
Although this train starts from Bangkok's Hualamphong Train station, you can catch it from the Don Muang station. Once the train crossed Ayutthaya, the scenery changed. It became all green. A thick fluorescent green that makes your eyes go wide in amazement.
It was also the monsoon season and hence the addition of a fresh tinge of green. There were alternating areas of farms and evergreen forests. In about three to three and a half hours, we had reached Pak Chong from Bangkok.
Pak Chong was a proper city and was about 30 odd km away from Khao Yai National Park. It is not East Thailand, but the number of people who speak English started to dwindle.
We had booked our stay in a simple homestay called Jungle Planet, which was close to the national park. Being the ultimate backpackers we are, we were trying to figure out the cheapest way to reach the homestay.
The owner, Paphon, had given us clear directions as to where we could get the blue truck that would drop us close to the homestay. Yet, we walked around the streets of Pak Chong like lost chickens.
The streets were lined up with restaurants. They had simple dishes like deep-fried chicken and noodle soup. We settled for the one who was able to tell us which one was pork and chicken. It was fun trying to communicate without a common language. But I have to admit that it was one helluva meal!
The blue truck is more like a bus that starts from in front of a 7/11, and it goes all the way to the park. You can walk straight to the main road from the railway station and continue walking on your left until you see a big blue truck.
We kept asking multiple questions until we noticed the big truck. It is a truck and not a bus :D It departs every hour from the town to the park. So you can even halt at Pak Chong and do the national park. Now there are two ways you can cover Khao Yai,
- One is to do the high funda stuff.
This is like looking at a slice of Europe in Thailand. There are exotic sheep farms, wineries, cow farms, themed places like hobbit houses and a piece of Tuscany, and so on.
You can visit one of these themed places or even stay there and enjoy your staycation with a trip to the park. There are some really expensive but beautifully maintained resorts around the area too. This blog by Trip Canvas gives a glimpse of some of the exotic things you can do at Khao Yai.
- The second option is to be a backpacker, stay at Pak Chong and make the park trails. You can hire a two-wheeler from Pak Chong or take a songthaew to park and walk up to the visitor centre.
I stayed at Jungle Planet after reading many good reviews about it. It was hands-down one of the best stays (humble and simple). Paaphon knows the forest, arranged the trips, arranged vehicles, speak good English, gave us ideas, and helped us navigate through our way.
I am going to elaborate on the backpacker way.
The blue truck dropped us in front of a small pathway leading to our homestay. It was monsoon time, July end, and the road was all slushy. My biggest worry was—if it rains, no animals will come out. I kept my fingers crossed and hoped that the next day would be bright and sunny.
It was evening, and we had planned to watch the bats of Khao Yai. It is a natural phenomenon, and there is no way you should miss it. Millions of bats emerge from the Khao Yai caves at dusk and go out into the fields, looking for food. It is like music in the sky.
After watching this spectacle, we returned to our room. But I could not sleep— there was a continuous thunderous pour!More pictures and about the bats of Khao Yai here - Dancing of a million bats at Khao Yai National Park
More pictures and about the bats of Khao Yai here - Dancing of a million bats at Khao Yai National Park
A day at Khao Yai National Park
The next day, we got up early and left for the National Park, close to the homestay. You still need a vehicle because the park is huge.
The visitor centre is far from the main gate. From the visitor centre, you can also hire bicycles. Most of them had hired two-wheeler bikes. I also saw some riders zipping past through the national park in bulky beasts. Thrilling!
The park is huge and is filled with walking, trekking trails, and far-flung waterfalls. These are all far apart.
For example, on some of the trails, you can start on foot and then ask the vehicle to pick you up at the exit. The drive to the visitor centre itself was through hills, and it was such a pretty sight.
The previous day rain had pulled down many trees, and the dutiful employees in the park were quickly clearing it off for the vehicular movement.
Dong Phayayen Forest Complex
The first stop into the Khao Yai National Park was a viewpoint. This viewpoint looks at the Dong Phayayen forest range.
Dong Phayayen comprises five protected forest sanctuaries that span between Thailand and Cambodia. These five national parks are enlisted under the Dong Phayayen forest complex and are declared as UNESCO World Heritage Site.
From this particular viewpoint, we got to see a glimpse of Khao Yai National Park. I was taken aback by all the lush greenery. It stretched as far and wide as my eyes could see.
Green turned out to be my favourite colour, and it brings so much happiness. The range is an evergreen forest. So no matter whether it is monsoon or the dry season, the forest remains this green, invariably.
If rain helps during the monsoon, the groundwater helps during the dry spell. If you look at the park from this viewpoint, it is as though every form of the forest has a place here.
These kinds of forests provide a habitat for every sort of living being.
Haew Suwat Waterfall
Haew Suwat waterfall is the most famous waterfall in the Khao Yai National Park.
Until I was there, I was not aware that "The Beach" movie was shot here and not just the known Maya Bay. Remember the scene where Leonardo De Caprio jumps off a waterfall cliff? That video shows very little water in the fall, but I was there, at that very waterfall, during the monsoon, and it had abundant water.
It is also one of the easiest hikes to the waterfall, so the most commonly visited. On an easy descent, you arrive at a viewpoint from where we can see the Haew Suwat waterfall in full glory.
Further, a trail takes you down to the base of the waterfall. The path was wet and uneven. There are steps at certain places and bare tree roots at other places.
The view there is breathtaking. There are streams all around. The pool is cool and refreshing.
Of course, you can neither dive from the cliff-like Leonardo De Caprio nor swim in the pool. We were hovering around for a while, enjoying the view.
Then we returned.
Hiking Trails around the Khao Yai National Park
The national park has many hiking trails.
Some are well marked and so simple that you can go by yourself. There are a few trails for which you need to hire a guide to show you around to get lost in the park. It is mandatory to take along a park ranger.
I am neither a trekker nor very adventurous. Moreover, with rain all around, I did not want to go on anything tough. We chose the shortest trail, which is a 2 km walk around the visitor centre.
This path was well-defined. But it is not a hike. It even has a paved path and is not like a mud trail. The trees run through places, and whatever was knocked down by rain is simply lying there. I was on the lookout for gibbon, but so far, there was no sign. With a constant drizzle tapping on my head, I was sure gibbon was not going to come out.
I stopped for a moment to take a picture of the trail running through Khao Yai national park when suddenly I felt the first prick! The prick of a leech bite! I wouldn't say I like sponges, which is half the reason I don't go on treks. Dear trekkers, don't judge me here. I don't want anything crawling on me. I flicked it in panic, but my blood would not stop oozing out. By then, I noticed two more leeches had got on my legs and were dancing in the air to get a grip. I screeched and started to walk fast.
There were leech socks for sale in the visitor centre. They were pretty expensive for polythene covers converted into leech socks. Who at all wears them for just a kilometre walk around the office? I was wrong!
It was like leeches were waiting for their breakfast, and I was their 'baker's (prey) that morning. They hooked on me out of nowhere. I could not even stop to flick them off me. I got careful with every step, especially when I had to cross a tree or a bark lying across.
At one point, I even heard a monkey screeching, and I wondered if it was gibbon. I stood in that direction, waited for a minute, and then saw a leech hook on to me. Off I ran away...
The weird part was— the leeches completely spared my friend! I was wearing shorts, but she was also wearing shorts! She was strolling around, and it was me who had the leech attack.
At one point, there was a small stream or mini waterfall, and my friend wanted a closer picture of it. I was determined not to walk through the bushes and decided to wait in a vacant area. There was no tree around or bush. I suddenly looked down to see that two suckers had got on me out of thin air! On my knee! Did they jump from a far-off tree aiming so high up? That is it! I ditched my friend and ran at top speed to the entrance. This was the fastest hike I have ever done!!!
After all, desperate times call for desperate measures.
I did not get to see the gibbons. When it is not raining, you get to see even some elephants on the road, I believe. I just got to see a couple of sambar deer and macaque. Oh, the macaques were like beasts. One male macaque was like the villain of the show. He walked down and sat right in the middle of the road. Vehicles were waiting behind him patiently, but he wouldn't budge one bit. Then he pulled aside a female too! Total monkey business!!!
Things to do in Khao Yai National Park
There is a lot more stuff you can do at Khao Yai than what I have done. I just saw a tiny glimpse of it. So here is a list of things you can do
- Watch the bats emerge out of the cave at dusk. This is not in the park but is in the range of it.
- Take a night safari through the Khao Yai national park. If you are lucky, you can get to see elephants too.
- Go on a birding trail in the morning. This might not be a recommended thing to do in the monsoon. But otherwise, it is a space to see exotic ones. Take an experienced naturalist along.
- Hike to the waterfalls. There are about four main waterfalls within the park that you can hike to. Haew Suwat waterfalls and Haew Narok falls are the most famous.
- Spend time lazily at the watchtower. There are viewpoints and watchtowers at multiple places that you can sit by and observe life.
- Go on hiking trails, and please wear the leech socks. The pamphlet at the visitor centre read six hiking trails. Two of which are fairly easy and you can go by yourself. On the other four trails, you need to have a park ranger with you.
- Go rafting. I am not sure where you can do this. I did not see any potential place to do this. But, in the monsoon season, they do arrange for rafting.
- Camp at the Khao Yai national park. There are two campsites in the park. The cafes in the park close by evening, so I am not sure how you get food at the campsites. They also have a cottage or cabin type of accommodation that you can avail of.
- Ride around the park. Be it cycle or bike. Be careful as some of the sections are about climbing hills. And watch out for the macaques.
I followed these websites while planning for Khao Yai National Park, so here you go,
- Wikitravel - Has all the information and important contact information - Khao Yai Wiki.
- Blog by Alex in Wanderland - has all the hiking trails and things to do listed in detail - Link to her site.
- For guided tours through the park. For all the national parks in Thailand, you can find information here - Thailand National Parks.
Book Khao Yai National Park tour - Klook provides a lot of discounts on their terms. Book one here - Klook Khao Yai packages
The best time to visit Khao Yai national park will be October to March. From March to May, it would be hot, and the dried-up waterfalls may not interest you.
From May to early October is monsoon time. Though the park was lush green, and I have no regrets of doing it at this time of the year, it would have been easier to navigate trekking trails and spotting animals during other times of the year.
Khao Yai National Park charges 400Bhat as an entrance fee for foreigners.
Where to stay?
I stayed at Jungle Planet close to the park. It is simple but also a very good deal. You can find it here - Airbnb Jungle Planet.
If you are looking for more comfortable stays and themed resorts in and around Khao Yai, you can find them here - Khao Yai bookings.