In a country with millions of yearly visitors, is it possible to escape the tourist trail and get back to nature? This questions was nagging us as we toured around Thailand. This country had been amongst the most anticipated as we trekked around the world on our non-stop search for adventure. But with such a desired destination comes a well traveled route and plenty of tourists, making an escape from normal all the more special. We found our ticket out of the ordinary in Khao Yai National Park, where the remote, wild and dangerous come together in an incredible spectacle of nature.
Khao Yai is Thailand’s oldest national park, covering more than 2,000 square kilometers of forest and grasslands in the center of the country. The park has a number of interesting native species, including elephants, bears, wild dogs, civet cats, sambar deer, macaques and gibbons. There are also around 300 bird species including both native and migratory varieties. Located close to Bangkok, this area is a must visit for nature and outdoor lovers looking to escape the crowds.
Getting There From Bangkok
There are multiple transport options that go towards the park, but the most reasonable are via coach and minivan. Both leave from the Mo Chit bus station in Bangkok every 30 to 60 minutes. It is easiest to inquire at the information booth on arrival to find where tickets can be purchased in the multi-story terminal. We accidentally ended up in a second class (*India-esque) bus, which included numerous stops along the way and totaled 3:20 trip time. A first class bus or minivan will take around 2:30 and tickets should cost between 150 and 180 baht ($5 USD). All options, other than a private transfer, will go to or through the town of Pak Chong. Here you will get off and flag down a tuk-tuk, taxi or songtheaw (shared pickup truck taxi) for the last 10-14km towards Khao Yai.
*See our India posts to get an appreciation of these humbling rides.
The return trip is the same in reverse. Buses and vans leave from the drop off point near Pak Chong bus station every 30 to 60 minutes, with the last vehicle departing at 18:00. We got a direct shared minivan on the way back to Mo Chit in Bangkok for 160 baht per seat which took around 2:30 hours.
Accessing the Park
The National Park is open to private vehicles and visitors which are part of a tour or safari group. It would be relatively simple to self drive around the park and do your own hikes, safari drives and points of interest. The cost entry for foreigners is 400 baht per person. We opted to take a private safari with a park guide in order to learn about the unique flora and fauna. We used Khao Yai and Beyond for a two day / one night trip in the jungle, which cost 4,900 baht ($150 USD) per person including overnight stay, park entry and all meals. The owner/guide, Deaw, was a great source of local knowledge and provided an enjoyable experience.
What to See and Do
Treks – There are several main day hiking trails through the park, along with some extended trekking routes. These trails allow you to get deep into the jungle and see the wildlife up close. We encountered lots of animal species on our trip, including two types on monkeys, hornbills, bee eaters, water monitors, snakes and deer. We also came across recent evidence of bears, elephants and wild dogs. There are several dangerous animal species in this jungle, so be wary and let a park ranger know which trails you will visit if you are going without a guide.
We did a couple of multi-hour hikes, including the Pha Kluaymei – Haew Suwat Waterfall route, also known as the Crocodile Trail. Crocodiles are often seen along the river and have attacked humans in the past, most recently one visitor in 2017 as they attempted to take a selfie with the wild animal. On a separate hike, we came across two king cobras by the path, which quickly darted off into the brush.
You can view a high level Trail Map from an unrelated site with more hiking option details.
Night Safari – One hour night safaris are available and can be arranged through the visitor center. These must be accompanied by a ranger, and allow a unique opportunity to see a different side of the park including nocturnal animals. The safaris are conducted in an open back truck and use high powered spotlights to locate wildlife. In addition to animals which we viewed during the day, we came across a civet cat and several large porcupines.
Bat Cave – The main bat cave, Khao Lak Chang Cave, is located outside of the park boundary. Each night, an estimated 2 million bats exit in line starting at dusk for around an hour. This is one of natures great spectacles. While we watched, a handful of eagles began to hover around the cave waiting for their dinner to fly into the open. One brave bat dared the trip alone and was immediately chased by several eagles. The bat darted and dove before eventually outmaneuvering the raptors and flying away. The storm of bats then suddenly emerged from the cave mouth to start their nightly feeding. Eagles dove at the bats, causing the cloud to twist and turn in a similar fashion to mackerel avoiding a porpoise. The air was filled with the whir of wings and chirps of the bats as they used echo location to guide their way. This was one of the highlights of our visit.
Waterfalls – The park is home to 44 beautiful waterfalls, especially during rainy season. Some are easily accessible and have become famous from appearances in Hollywood movies, while others are less known and reachable only on foot through the jungle.
Where is your favorite spot for wildlife sighting? You can get more inspiration with posts from our other safaris in East Africa and South Africa, where we roamed with all of the Big Five! Also check out other posts from our adventures including our trek through Nepal, camper van-cation around Tasmania, stop in Indonesian paradise and misadventures in India. They are sure to inspire your lust for travel!
Are you getting the itch for long term travel? Head over to our Planning Page where you can learn how to prepare for a lengthy trip, see how to never check your bags on planes, find out about travel security and make sense of travel insurance, amongst others.