Considered by many one of the world’s premier national parks, Khao Yai is Thailand’s oldest and of its most pristine. It has been designated an Asean National Heritage Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thailand’s second largest national park, it is so expansive it covers over 2,000 square kilometers that include parts of four provinces, Nakhon Ratchasima, Saraburi, Prachin Buri and Nakhon Nayok. The terrain covers five vegetation zones from evergreen rainforest to tropical savannah. It offers more than 50 hiking trails, numerous waterfalls and a vast array of wild animals from elephants and gaurs to rare and colorful birds. And now there are many resorts, eateries, golf courses, vineyards, ranches and farms dotting the countryside and offering both quiet retreat as well as exciting adventure to all.
Khao Yai • National Park
Instead of the retail commotion of a shopping mall, it might be fun to symbolically paddle back in time. The Taling Chan Floating Market, held every Saturday and Sunday (weather permitting) in front of the Taling Chan Municipal Office, is where vendors bring all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables grown in local orchards and gardens. You should also try the khao lam (glutinous rice roasted in bamboo joints) and kluey khaek (deep fried sliced banana). Time permitting, take a boat ride through and see modest residences along the canal that will take you back to simpler, unhurried days.
Trail 1 : Nong Pak Chi starts at km 33 (7 km before the Visitors Centre). From the car park, an easy 3-km trail heads to the Nong Pak Chi Watching Tower. At dawn, and especially in the late afternoon and at dusk, visitors settle on top it in the hope to see wildlife near the waterholes and the saltlicks in the vicinity of the tower. Even if no game is spotted, the landscapes from here are gorgeous.
Trail 2 : Dong Tiew – Nong Pak Chi starts from near the Visitors Centre and is about 5 km long, ending at the Nong Pak Chi Watching Tower. It first cuts through grassland and secondary forest, then bifurcates in the middle of the forest to the tower.
Khao Yai was declared the Kingdom’s first national park in 1962. Covering more than two thousand square kilometers of tropical forests, grassy hill-slopes and mountain stream valleys, this densely wooded mountainous area had previously been inhabited only by sturdy villagers and staunch rebels, and in the first place by abundant wildlife. Since it was opened to the public, local and foreign tourists and Bangkok weekenders flock in fast growing numbers to delight in a safari drive through the nature reserve, camp in the cold ‘winter’ air, or hike on some of its nature trails, to enjoy beautiful waterfalls and viewpoints and in the hope to see some of its local fauna.
The combined Khao Yai-Tub Lan-Dong Phaya Yen nature reserves have been declared a World Natural Heritage Site by the UNESCO. Khao Yai National Park, a mere 200 km away from Bangkok, is the most visited nature reserve and the easiest to access from the capital. After entering from the Pak Chong gate and climbing rather steeply through evergreen tropical jungle, one reaches the Visitor Centre, where maps and information on the park can be obtained and a trekking guide or a night safari can be booked. Apart from driving through the magnificent forest and grassland landscapes, enjoying enchanting waterfalls and trekking on nature trails, camping, biking and bird - or game watching are the principal activities in the park.
Two stunning waterfalls are the main attractions of Khao Yai National Park. Haew Suwat Waterfall is the easiest to reach by car, as it lies just besides the parking lot at the dead end of one of the two asphalt roads. The waterfall is not very high (20m) but particularly scenic and popular. The water plunges from a forested cliff into a large green pool. The waterfall is naturally framed by huge tree branches, abundant and ever-wet foliage, and glittering boulders, which make it very photogenic. Haew Narok is the second best known waterfall of the park. It is located in the southern part, on the way to the Prachin Buri entrance gate. There are a dozen or so more waterfalls in the park, but they require longer and guided treks to get to. Driving up towards the Visitors Centre from the Pak Chong entrance gate, a first obligatory stop is at the viewpoint on km 30. From here, the view over forested mountains reaches up to the green, habited valley in a far and misty distance. Another
remarkable viewpoint is Pa Diew Dai, on top of the Khao Khiao Mountain. On the road to Prachin Buri, 14 km from the park Headquarters, a narrow asphalt road passes Khao Yai’s spirit house and winds up onto the summit. Here, a short walk through the tropical forest leads to the viewpoint. The sunrise over Rom Mountain is particularly beautiful. There are five principal nature trails one can choose from, with lengths from 3 to 8 km and walking times from approximately 1.5 to 5 hours.
Trail 3 : Dong Tiew – Mo-Singto is shorter (2.7 km) and can be completed in less than 2 hours. It starts at the same spot as trail #2 but bifurcates in the forest to the left and goes down through grassland onto the Sai Sorn (Mo-Singto) Reservoir which stretches along the main road.
Trail 4 : Visitor Centre – Haew Suwat is the longest, about 8 km long. The trailhead is found at the swaying cable bridge behind the Visitors Centre. As lots of small animal tracks cross this trail it is easy to get lost, so a guide is recommended. The trail traverses forests and follows a creek, to end at the famous Haew Suwat Waterfall. It is advisable to arrange for a car to return to the Centre.
Trail 5 : Pha Kluay Mai – Haew Suwat ends at the same waterfall, but starts behind the Pha Kluay Mai campsite. It’s a little more than 3 km long and it takes 2 to 3 hours to complete. Most of the time, it follows a small river cutting through the jungle.
There are longer hiking trails, but those take a full day or require an overnight (camping) in the forest, and a guiding ranger is compulsory. Some of the shorter hikes mentioned above can be undertaken alone, but though they are well marked in the beginning, it is posvsible to get lost where bifurcations are unmarked, animal tracks multiply the trails, and at river crossings. In the rainy season foot and leg protection (can be purchased or hired) is necessary, as leeches are abundant on wet places.
The tropical forest at Khao Yai is captivating. Knobby lianas spiral around strangling figs. Root-buttresses support high and candle-straight dipterocarp trees like thin walls stretching out in all directions. Giant fern trees,are seen approaching the cars, to the delight of young and old.
These pig-tailed macaques lure tourists and are on stand-by for cookies, potato chips or bites of sandwiches. One should never feed wild animals, as it disturbs their natural habit and can be very harmful for them. The sharp, rascally monkey eyes screen every car and every human hand movement as scrupulously as the visitors who follow the slightest of their gestures. Gibbons are also abundant in the park, but are easier to hear than to see. Elephants are not easy to be encountered in the park, at least not in daytime.
broadleaved evergreen rainforest plants and rotting tree stumps fill the dense and damp scenes around watershed areas. Rattan palms, epiphytes, tangled trunks,
a variety of fungi and drooping lianas add to the Tarzanesque movie scene. Creeks ripple their muddy water through the moist, evergreen woods, descending in foaming little cataracts and dragging branches and floating leaves along their murmuring way down.
Unfortunately, not always wild animals are seen while driving or hiking in the accessible parts of the Khao Yai National Park. Quite often, monkeys with spiky hair tufts upright on top of their egg-shaped cranes are seen approaching the cars, to the delight of young and old. These pig-tailed macaques lure tourists and are on stand-by for cookies, potato chips or bites of sandwiches.
One should never feed wild animals, as it disturbs their natural habit and can be very harmful for them. The sharp, rascally monkey eyes screen every car and every human hand movement as scrupulously as the visitors who follow the slightest of their gestures. Gibbons are also abundant in the park, but are easier to hear than to see. Elephants are not easy to be encountered in the park, at least not in daytime.
Two species of deer are common in the park, the large, grey-coloured sambar deer and the smaller, red-brown barking deer. Apart from the Visitors Centre and the adjacent restaurant where a couple of tame specimens wander about, it is seldom to see deer in the heat of the day. At dusk, they can be spotted grazing in the open grasslands around the park’s headquarters. At 07.00 and 08.00 PM, when darkness has blanketed the cooling hills and the moist grasslands, 40-minute safari tours on open-deck trucks are organized, weather and sufficient customers permitting. With the aid of a mega torch-lamp, stringed to the truck battery, a park ranger screens the hill-slopes and treetop foliages, and elated visitors count the number of deer disclosed, often only by their reflecting eyes. The sambar deer is Thailand’s largest antelope species. They are robust and beautiful grey mammals with a shy and serious look and huge, always attentive ears which are sometimes picked clean by tiny parasite birds. They are sometimes nicknamed horse deer, because of their shoulder height (around 1.50 meters) and their solid length (1.80 to 2.50 meters). The barking deer is a much smaller and redbrown antelope which also feeds on grass and leaves, and on fallen fruit - given their small stature. Not higher than a good half meter, they weigh only 20 to 30 kg.
The last years, mountain biking and bird watching became popular pastimes in the Khao Yai National Park. Every day, groups of tourist can be seen equipped with extra long camera lenses and impressive tripods, searching and waiting patiently to spot thick-billed pigeons, banded kingfishers, blue-bearded bee-eaters and a whole range of other tropical birds. One of the most searched-after trophies is the great or wreathed hornbill, spectacular birds with enormous, bended beaks surmounted by a platform-like horn. Tigers, leopards, Malayan sun bears and Asian jackals are living in the park, but almost never seen.
Even without the excitement of seeing game, drives and hikes through the Khao Yai National Park are always worth undertaking, pleasant as they are for the crossing of gorgeous tropical vegetation, the funny sounds or mournful hoots of playful gibbons and myriads of birds, and the idea that the raucous squawking might be of a great hornbill or that there might be a dangerous beast lurking around the corner.
How to go: By far the most convenient way is to go by car. From Bangkok take Highway 1 to Saraburi, then Highway 2 towards Nakhon Ratchasima, and turn right at Pak Chong. Thanarat Road (Rd 2090) is another 40 km long and leads directly to the Pak Chong (Northern) park entrance. Another possibility is to branch off after Rangsit on Highway 305 to Nakhon Nayok and continue on Highway 33 towards Prachin Buri, where a turn to the left engages on Road 3077 and gets to the Prachin Buri (Southern) gate. The park can also easily be reached from Nakhon Ratchasima, via Highway 2. From Bangkok’s Mo Chit Northern Bus Station, regular buses run to Pak Chong. From there, a local bus can be taken to the park’s entrance.
When to go: Khao Yai National Park is open
all year round, and the tropical forests are evergreen,
even in the driest season. The most pleasant season though is the cool season (November-February). That’s when large crowds of people, especially on weekends, visit the park. Night temperatures drop to a chill, fog lingers at dawn, and daytime temperatures are around a perfect 20- 25°C. Summer temperatures are bearable compared to lower-laying areas and still nice at night time. The rainy season is the greenest and the waterfalls are at the most impressive, but protection against leeches is a must.
For guided group visits or reservations for accommodation in the park, visit www. dnp.go.th or call Parks Reservation Division, National Park Office, National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department at tel.+66 (0) 2562 0760
Khao Yai National Park
P.O. Box 9, Pak Chong District,
Nakhon Ratchasima 30130
Tel. +66 (0) 3735 6033, (0) 4423 9305,
(0) 8 6092 6529 www.dnp.go.th