Camping in Thailand is a great outdoor experience, the warm climate and rich landscapes provide the perfect recipe for outdoor enthusiasts who like to sleep under the stars and get close to nature.
It has always surprised me that camping is not really that popular amongst travellers to Thailand. Most people head straight for the southern beaches or cultural cities of the north missing out on fantastic camping opportunities all over the country. A two or three night stay in one of Thailand’s national parks is a great way to experience the fantastic landscapes and nature on offer in Thailand.
Camping at Khao Yai National Park
The done thing in Thailand is to camp at national park headquarters campgrounds. This is a wise move considering the vastness of some of the parks. National park rangers are stationed at every park headquarters they are on duty 24 hours a day and can assist you if you have any problems. They also point out the main tourist attractions in the area and can be hired as guides if you fancy trekking out into the wilderness.
There are over 120 Thai national parks, 150 if you also include marine parks. Most of the parks on land have large campgrounds with toilets, showers and washrooms, some are more well maintained than others. Some marine parks also have camping facilities such as the popular Mu Koh Similan National Park in the Andaman Sea.
Camping equipment such as tents, sleeping bags, mats, pillows, and kerosene lamps can be hired from park headquarters for a minimal cost. A two man tent can be hired for the night for 150 Baht, sleeping bags and other accessories range from 10 Baht to 30 Baht per item.
National park tents available to hire
The entry fee for Thai National Parks varies from 200-500 Baht depending on the park. My personal experience of parks is that popular locations such as Khao Yai or the Similan Islands tend to charge the full amount but the quieter parks charge less. As long as you keep the ticket you only pay once no matter how long you stay in the park.
Self Guided Camping
Aside from tours which include camping, there is also the possibility to hire a car and explore places off the tourist trail. Many major hire car operators such as Avis and Hertz have bases in Thailand offering a wide selection of vehicles from eco-cars to minivans. Eco-cars can cost as little as 1000 Baht per day, and fuel costs in Thailand are well below that of many western countries. English language road maps can be bought from 7 eleven stores and GPS now works very well in Thailand. Roads in big city’s can be daunting for foreigners, but as you get into the countryside they become much easier to navigate and are often very quiet, especially on weekdays.
Motorbikes can also be hired in all of Thailand’s main tourist towns and are perhaps the best way to explore Thailand’s national parks. Motorbikes should only be hired in Thailand if you have experience and can ride comfortably. Various sizes are available to hire from 100cc Honda Dreams to big bikes 500cc and above. For off road enthusiasts 250cc Honda CRF’s and Kawasaki KLX’s are easy to find in big towns such as Chiang Mai or Kanchanaburi. Bikes range from 200-1000 Baht per day depending on the size and condition.
Hire a bike and off you go! Mr Pop offers reliable bike hire in Chiang Mai’s old city
Camping Equipment, Rent or Buy?
Tents and camping equipment can be hired at most national parks for a minimal cost. Good quality tents, sleeping bags, mats, and other equipment such as gas stoves and kerosene lamps can be hired at all of Thailand’s major national parks. If you would like to buy your own equipment, Tesco or Big C superstores sell cheap tents, sleeping bags, gas cookers, lamps, and other camping accessories. Tents can be bought for as little as 1000 baht, so if you plan on camping for 2 days or more, it’s well worth the cost, when you have finished you could always donate it to less fortunate people you may meet along the way.
Camping equipment available to buy in Tesco superstores is good enough to use for dry season camping
When to Camp?
The best time of year for camping in Thailand is from November to March. This is the driest and coolest time of the year, but it’s still very hot for most people. The only places that get really cool are high up in the mountains in northern Thailand in places such as Doi Inthanon National Park. There is still a chance of rain during the dry season but it is usually a short, sharp shower rather than persistent rain.
Camping in Thailand is possible all year round, though it does depend on how hardy you are, and the type of tent you are using. If you buy a 500 Baht tent from Tesco then don’t expect it to stand up to the heavy rains in Thailand’s monsoon season (July-October). Having said that, there are often covered areas in campgrounds called Sala’s where you could pitch even the most basic tent and still keep dry. Tents hired from park headquarters are surprisingly good quality and can withstand heavy downpours, although staff will still recommend camping under a Sala during the wet season.
The wet season in Thailand often puts people off, but for nature lovers it’s a great time as the landscapes and nature really flourish. Waterfalls can be particularly spectacular, in Doi Inthanon National Park there are seven easily accessible waterfalls which are well worth the visit alone.
Recommended Camping Spots in Thailand
Doi Inthanon National Park
The close proximity to the main tourist centre in Chiang Mai make Doi Inthanon National Park a great choice for campers. There are several fantastic waterfalls to discover, along with summit of Doi Inthanon ‘the roof of Thailand’. Kew Mae Pan nature trail, located just below the summit of Doi Inthanon is one of Thailand’s most spectacular walks, and when combined with the great waterfalls, and sleeping under the stars, you are sure to have an unforgettable outdoor experience.
There are a few campsites in Doi Inthanon National Park. The official national park campground is located at the base of the summit road, there are also national park style bungalows to rent for the night.
There are also 2 private campsites, the first is located 100 metres up the hill from the official campsite. The campsite, named Sureya, is on the side of a hill overlooking the flower farms in the valley below. Each night the farm turns on its lights which illuminate the whole valley providing a unique camping experience.
The other campsite is located next to a small river at Ban Mae Klang Luang, there are also several bungalows. Here you can bathe in the river and visit the nearby step paddy fields, the area is very scenic and super clean. There are also BBQ’s and fire-pits to use at the site. This is by far the best spot but you need to bring your own camping equipment.
Camping near the flower farms at Sureya campsite
Riverside camping at Ban Mae Klang Luang is our choice for Doi Inthanon camping
Most people visit Doi Inthanon on day trips booked from the tourist hub in Chiang Mai’s old city. These are usually rushed and you do not get to see many of the parks attractions. We recommend at least an overnight stay to fully appreciate the park, it is one of Thailand’s best national parks. The best time to visit is from November to February for the views, and from June to December for the waterfalls.
Khao Yai National Park
Khao Yai National Park is in Nakon Ratchasima province. Although it is only a 2 hour drive from Bangkok, the nature and wildlife are worlds apart. There are 2 large waterfalls in the centre of the park, Haew Suwat and Haew Narok, and several more located on the outskirts.
The best thing about Khao Yai is the wildlife, you are pretty much guaranteed to see something whether it is a cheeky monkey on the roadside or a wild elephant deep in the jungle. You do not have to go far to see wildlife, Elephants are regularly seen crossing the main road through the park in the early mornings and evenings. Gibbons and Long Tailed Macaque’s are everywhere, when I visited they were providing an early morning wake-up call right next to my tent! There are also asian wild dogs, wild boar, gaur, and deer spotted regularly, not to mention a whole host of reptiles including cobra’s and crocodiles. Leeches are a problem during the wet season but leech socks are available to buy from the parks visitor center and solve the problem nicely.
Khao Yai has 2 campsites, Lam Ta Khong is the pick of the 2 located in the center of the park near the visitor centre. It features a large open grass area surrounded by a river and a lake. Otters are regularly seen swimming in the river, and the surrounding trees are home to a number of macaque and gibbon family’s. A number of deer also hang around the campground ensuring the grass is kept short and neat.
Lam Ta Khong Campsite at Khao Yai National Park
We found this perfect spot right next to the river at Lam Ta Khong campsite
Huay Mae Kamin Waterfalls
Huay Mae Kamin waterfalls are located in Khuean Srinagarindra National Park in Kanchanaburi province. These fantastic falls are missed by most people as they chose to visit the nearby and very busy Erawan Falls. The seven leveled falls are absolutely beautiful from July-December and offer some of the best camping I have seen in Thailand. The best thing about camping here are the refreshing pools of water located right next to your tent. There is no need to use the shower facilities each morning as you can get out of your sleeping bag and jump straight into to the water, there is no better feeling!
Camping with your own swimming pool at Huay Mae Kamin Waterfalls
There are 2 campgrounds, one overlooking Si Sawat Reservoir near the parks main entrance, and another at the bottom of the falls near the banks of the reservoir. The bottom campsite is the better one as you can pitch-up right next to the water. Due to its location next to the parks back entrance most people tend to miss it so you can have peace and quiet surrounded by pristine nature. Both campsites have good quality restaurants right next door so there’s no need to bring any food. Tents and equipment can be hired from the main office at the top of the falls.
Thong Pha Phum National Park
Thong Pha Phum National Park is located in the north west of Kanchanaburi province. The parks ‘off the trail’ location makes it difficult to reach for foreign tourists but it has become very popular with Thai tourists who flock here by the minivan full during the cool season from November to February. The highlight for most visitors is trekking to the top of Khao Chang Phueak which is the parks highest peak. Other attractions in the area are the viewpoints out to Khao Chang Phueak from the parks headquarters, Jok Ka Din waterfall, Pilok Mine, and the viewpoints looking across Burma right next to the border.
There is a large camping area in the parks headquarters with rustic toilets and shower rooms. There are 3 great viewpoints looking out across the mountainous jungle, it’s possible to pitch you tent right next to these viewpoints. There are also Tarzan tree houses which you can stay overnight in, they are high up and offer great views across the dense jungle.
The best time to camp is from November to June. After June, the great views are often blocked by mist which comes with the rain, heavy rain can hit the park from July to October.
Camping at Thong Pha Phum National Park Headquarters
Khao Laem National Park
Khao Laem National Park is in Kanchanaburi province. Camping here provides the chance to camp next to the huge Khao Laem Reservoir. There are 2 campsites, one at Khao Laem main park headquarters and one just across the road at Pom Pee viewpoint. Pom Pee viewpoint is by far the better spot as its right next to the reservoir with offers fantastic views and magical sunsets.
Sangkhlaburi district is only 35km to the north of Khao Laem and is an unmissable destination to include on any camping trip or visit to the area. Sangkhlaburi is a multicultural town next to the Myanmar border and features a huge bridge made from teak stretching across the reservoir. There are also several ancient ‘sunken temples’ to explore by boat trip or kayak, which were lost when Khao Laem Dam was built in 1985.
Camping overlooking Khao Laem reservoir at Pom Pee viewpoint
Surreal sunsets at Pom Pee viewpoint in Khao Laem National Park
Thi Lor Su Waterfall
Thi Lor Su is Thailand’s largest and most spectacular waterfall. The falls are located in Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary in Tak province, northern Thailand. At its peak during the wet season the waterfall stretches over 300 metres across, and plunges 200 metres down huge limestone cliffs.
Thi Lor Su Waterfall during the wet season
Thi Lor Su’s remote location makes it notoriously difficult to get to but it adds to the whole adventure. During the dry season it is possible to drive most of the way (4wd) and walk the final 1.5km trail leading to the falls. Most people tend to join guided tours which also include rafting along the stunning Mae Klong river, trekking, and camping. During the wet season, access is even more limited, roads are closed and the only way to get there is by a combination of river rafting and jungle trekking. It is well worth the effort to see this amazing waterfall and pristine natural surroundings.
The campsite is located 1.5km away from the waterfall. Tour company’s operating from Umphang town supply guides, tents, camping equipment, food and drinks. There are toilets, showers, and washrooms located on site along with a simple shop selling drinks and snacks.
The places listed above are area’s I have personally camped at but there are great camping spots located all over the country. Other spots worth mentioning and on my list of places to camp at are Khao Sok National Park in Surat Thani province, Chiang Dao in Chiang Mai province, Phu Kradueng Mountain in Loei Province, the Surin islands in Phang Nga Province, and Ko Lao Liang in Trang province.
Please feel free to leave a comment and share places you have visited, lets get more people enjoying the great outdoors in Thailand!