Khao Yai National Park is famous for being Thailand’s oldest national park, and one of Asia’s best, making it an extremely popular tourist destination for both foreigners and Thais alike. The park covers an area of 2,165 square-kilometres, making it Thailand’s third largest national park and an obligatory stop on the tour itineraries in the Bangkok area.
Being part of the Dongrak Range, the park covers a varied terrain resulting in five distinctly different vegatation zones. Its highest peak, Khao Rom, is 1,351 metres above sea level. The mountain range separates the plateau in the northeast (Isaan) from the main Thai central plain; and is a popular weekend playground for Bangkokians. The park headquarters are located approximately 200kms from Bangkok in the heart of the park, but there are several other campgrounds as well as a couple of reservoirs and the Nong Phak Chi watchtower.
The biggest draw, however, are the many waterfalls spread out across the park. Nearest the HQ is Kong Kaeo waterfall, but the best is probably Haew Suwat, which featured in the movie The Beach. It’s at the end of a sealed road that reaches the eastern edge of the park, where you will find several other falls. A trio are also found at the southwest corner, though less accessible from the park network. The park HQ has basic facilities such as toilets, campground, restaurant and food vendors.
The wildlife and diverse vegetation here make Khao Yai National Park a nature lover’s paradise. You’ll have to look hard to spot animals here these days, but tropical evergreen forest covers most of the park beneath which are some 2,000 different species of plants; a truly spectacular sight. At least nine well-maintained hiking trails are marked from the HQ or Haew Sawat Waterfalls entrance (taking up to five hours). Another rewarding activity is mountain biking, but unless you have your own bike and some trail maps you’re better off taking a tour with Spiceroads.
The higher peaks are covered with dry evergreen forest and the lower lying parts of the hills have grasslands. There are over 70 different mammal species in the park. Sambar and barking deer are seen often on the grasslands and some visitors get a real treat by spotting gibbons on walking trips.
Elephants are becoming less common for visitors to spot but there are still some around. Bird life is everywhere in Khao Yai as there are over 320 avian species on record. Over one million bats have made caves here their home and it really is an electrifying experience to witness them billowing out at dusk.
The park enjoys cooler temperatures than most of Thailand, due to its higher elevation, and this is another reason that it remains popular as a holiday destination. The average temperature is 23°C and the rainy season lasts from May until October, with the waterfalls particularly stunning during this time. The winter season from November to February can get rather cool, especially in the evenings when temperatures of 9 or 10°C are common. From March to April the summer tends to be hot and dry but still notably cooler than the rest of Thailand with temperatures reaching the high 20s to low 30s. The waterfalls are far less impressive at this time.
Transportation to Khao Yai
The best option is to hire a car and take Highway 2 two-and-a-half hours northeast to Khorat. Just before reaching Pak Chong take a right onto the 2090 towards Nakhon Nayok.
You can also catch a bus to Khorat (leaving from the Northern Bus terminal in Mor Chit every 15 minutes) and get off at Pak Chong, where you can switch to songthaew minibus in front of the 7-Eleven store, that take you to the park HQ. Over weekends there are also limited direct buses from Mor Chit to the park HQ.
Hotels and lodging in Khao Yai
Greenleaf Guesthouse: is seven kilometres from Pak Chong and a backpacker favourite. It’s clean, comfortable and very helpful in offering tours into the park and other activities. Often recommended. 52 Moo 6, Thanarat Rd., Pak Chong, Nakhon Ratchasima. Tel: (044) 936 361.
Khao Yai Garden Lodge: is a popular package tour stoppover also seven kilometres from Pak Chong which offers tours into the park, also popular with German travellers…more details and booking
Aurora Resort Khao Yai: is situated in the most naturally beautiful location and is only 2 hours away from Bangkok. Aurora Resort has different styles of rooms to suit different tastes of travelers. With fresh cool air and rich nature…more details and booking
Botanica Khao Yai Resort: is newly built and is designed to bring visitors and nature together, a total of 115 guestrooms including 68 suites provide luxurious and spacious accommodation, with each providing views across the hills and forestlands of Khao Yai, and with private balconies from which to enjoy the cool fragrance of the countryside…more details and booking