Khao Yai National Park is situated in northern Thailand, about 3 hours from Bangkok. It is a huge national park with an incredibly diverse range of ecosystems meaning it’s home to a host of animal species. One of the animals Brad and I really wanted to see free-roaming, in the wild, in India was an elephant. Seeing as this never happened, Khao Yai was a last ditch attempt at making this happen!
We woke super early and grabbed our day bags, with our sleeping bags strapped on. Khao Yai is in such a perfect location to include as a 2 or 3 day side trip from Bangkok. All it takes is a little planning!
- Grab a train to Pak Chong really early on your first day. We left at 6am on the fast train.
- Either grab a songthaew to the National Park gate and then hitchhike to the visitor centre OR hire a scooter in Pak Chong and drive there yourself. It is roughly 27km from Pak Chong to the park gate and another 14km to get to the visitor centre.
- Pick your campsite! You can hire tents, cooking equipment and sleeping bags if necessary for dirt cheap!
- Then just reverse the next day. I used this blog for all my planning needs and it was a HUGE help.
Khao Yai has a well-maintained main road that runs right the way through it, this makes accessibility super easy. Tourists are free to roam the park as they wish. Once inside there are 6 main hike routes ranging from just over 1km to over 8km. On the shorter hikes you can just stroll on your own. For the longer hikes guides are recommended and for good reason! There are lots of potentially dangerous animals inside the park including highly venomous snakes, elephants, bears, gaurs and the list goes on. A guide actually did go missing some years back inside the park and was never found.
We decided that renting a scooter and driving the 41km to the park was probably the best option. Having the freedom to explore on our own at whatever time we fancy was the deciding factor. People don’t drive as crazy as in India so we felt pretty comfortable on the roads!
Mostly everything you need can be found at the visitor centre including a food hall. We opted to eat most of our food here. The risk with bringing food back to camp and leaving it inside your tent is that monkeys will break in and steal it. The campsites are actually a hive of animal activity due to this sole reason – free food!
Exploring the Park
Haew Su Wat Waterfall
It was around midday by the time we had arrived and set up our tent. This meant we had approx. 6 hours until sunset (you must not be exploring the park after dark – there are night safaris available if you fancy them). We decided to head down to one of the many waterfalls inside the park. Haew Su Wat was made famous by the film The Beach. Remember the bit where they have to jump down the waterfall to reach paradise? This was that waterfall! Obviously it was heaving with people but still was a pretty cool place to chill for a bit. No hike required to get there, just some stairs!
Hike No. 2
Situated at the same car park is the beginning of one of the hikes, hike 2. Now, the sign says this hike is around 3km. I don’t know if we took a wrong turn somewhere but by the time we returned to the main road it was over 2 hours later and we had walked about 7km. It’s also not particularly easy, lots of ups and downs! We were hoping to see crocodiles as the path runs parallel to a river supposedly home to crocs. We never found them but, after hearing a rustle in the trees above our heads, we did spot a family of gibbons! Three beautiful gibbons swinging overhead, eating fruit and occasionally looking down at us with curiosity. I’ll take gibbons over crocs any day of the week!
The pathway is a little overgrown at times and it’s not always clear what’s hiding around the corner. I was walking in front of Brad and as I turned round a little corner I almost stepped on a huge snake! It was across the pathway about 1 metre in front of me and ginormous (easily 2 metres in length I would guess). From looking online we have deduced it was almost certainly a species of cobra. Close call!
Getting a lift back to the car park where our scooter was parked up was super easy. Thai people are so kind and it feels like 99% of them drive pick ups for you to jump in the back.
Since hike no.2 took a little longer than expected we altered our plans slightly. Initially we intended to walk the 3km trail by the watchtower. Instead we walked the 900 metres to reach the watchtower and then back again. We hoped desperately that as dusk approached we might see some elephants. Yet again we were disappointed! National parks are incredibly hit and miss when it comes to wildlife sightings. The key is to be in the right spot at the right time! So we decided to head back again the following morning, arriving before sunrise and sitting in the watchtower for almost 3 hours. I was honestly close to calling it a day when, just at that moment, I saw a beautiful elephant creep over the horizon. Our luck continues! Such a magnificent creature, completely natural and free to roam the jungle. Such a blessing to have seen him.
Hike No. 1
As we were only camping for one night in park, getting up early was a no-brainer. After the high of watching the elephant we headed back to the visitor centre with ample time to complete the short 1km trek. This was a much easier (and much shorter) trek than the previous day. Apparently gibbons can sometimes be spotted in these trees. We didn’t see gibbons, however, we did have a run in with a rather charismatic giant black squirrel. It’s not just called giant for the fun of it either. This squizza was easily 4 times the size of our resident grey squirrels! It was particularly territorial of the tree we were approaching and made it perfectly clear by climbing down the trunk and flicking its tail at us. We were a little intimidated! We didn’t want to find out if this was also a flying squirrel. Luckily he launched himself onto another tree, not our faces. A great end to a great couple of days!
Our last adventure of Khao Yai came from an unexpected flat tyre! We are not sure how it happened since the roads are very well maintained. For a short moment we were sent into panic mode! We had only driven maybe 2km of the 41km back to Pak Chong. Thankfully the kindness of the Thai people came into its own. It took us less than a minute to wave down a pick up who instantly saw our problem and decided to help us. Without speaking a word of English he helped us load up our scooter and told us to jump in. We got dropped at a repair shop about 1km after we left the park – all they asked for was a photo! What could have been an expensive problem turned out to be nothing.
Anyone travelling to Bangkok and not including Khao Yai in their itinerary – why not?! It was a fantastic couple of days and in a heart beat I know we would go back. There’s just so much to see and do!