If your idea of a good time is being at one with nature, exploring unspoiled forests and taking in fresh mountain air, then you should definitely include a visit to Khao Yai in your Thailand vacation itinerary. Just a 3-hour drive out of frenetic Bangkok, this picturesque town is where the best national park in Thailand is located, and there’s no shortage of things to do if you love the outdoors or are looking for your next big adventure:
There are a number of cheap hotels in Khao Yai, and no shortage of quirky accommodations, either. For the ultimate in roughing it, head to Khao Yai National Park. There are 2 campsites within its boundaries, both equipped with basic amenities such as toilets and showers and ample parking space. You can bring your own tent or rent one for a small fee, and camping essentials such as sleeping bags, blankets and pillows are also available for rent. Lam Takong Campsite is located about 6 kilometers from the visitor center, while Pha Kluaymai Campsite is a bit further east from Lam Takong, about 3 kilometers. The allure of Lam Takong is that elephants sometimes show up around the road leading up to the campsite, while Pha Kluaymai has slightly better facilities and an easy to follow hiking trail where you may be able to spot a few medium-sized lizard species.
Malayan porcupines and civets commonly visit both campsites at night, so it’s recommended that you walk around with a flashlight or torch so as not to step on one. Macaques and monkeys also often come around after people have left the camp and are prone to steal any food, or anything that looks like food—they won’t be afraid of tearing your tent open to get at any goodies, so it’s best to leave them open and take your valuables with you.
There are several vantage points for spotting the diverse wildlife inside Khao Yai National Park, all of which are accessible via hiking trails of varying degrees of difficulty. The one that’s easiest to access is the Mor Tan Jarn wildlife observation tower, a couple of kilometers from the visitors’ center near the Sai Sorn Reservoir. The Nong Phak Chi observation tower is especially popular with its 360-degree visibility; it overlooks a small lake and a salt lick, which tends to attract elephants in the early morning and late afternoon. Sambar deer can often be found hanging about the visitor center. The park is home to some 800 species of fauna and is a prime bird-watching destination that hosts well over 300 species of birds. Some of the animals commonly spotted include gibbons, badgers, wild boar, crocodiles, and tree snakes, among others.
Guided tours are the best way to experience Khao Yai National Park for beginners. Knowledgeable guides take you through some of the highlights of the park such as waterfalls and hidden caves, and can lead you towards creatures you may not be able to find on your own. Walking around the park with a guide is also safer because they are able to identify some of the more common snakes and other venomous creatures that live in the park, as well as keep you clear of them. Often the package includes lunch, snacks, drinking water, and leech socks to protect your legs from the little bloodsuckers that can latch on while you’re walking through the dense forest.
There are 5 hiking trails through the forest that guests can explore unassisted—ranging in length from 1.2 kilometers to 8 kilometers, they can take you anywhere from an hour to 5 hours to complete. Trail 1, the Kong Kaew Waterfall Nature Trail, is a literal cake walk of a hike that’s perfect for novice hikers and beginners, despite a few steep spots to watch out for. Here, the terrain is paved and there are signs helpfully pointing out the various flora and fauna you may encounter in the area. All other forest hiking requires a guide that can be hired from the visitors’ center, usually a park ranger, or arranged through a local tour company. Some hotels in Khao Yai offer in-house guided tours through the park as well.
Getting a natural high by spending time in nature is as easy as can be when visiting Khao Yai. Make sure to bring enough supplies, and don’t hesitate to get the assistance of an experienced guide during your walks, so you can maximize your time and find the shortest trails to the best viewing spots.
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