Khao Yai national park, located in Nakhon Ratchasima province, is Thailand’s third largest National Park. It covers an area of 2,168 square kilometers. Directly joining onto Khao Yai are Thap Lan, Pang Sida and Ta Phraya National Parks. This substantial area stretches all the way to the Cambodian border and beyond, and is full of rich landscapes, and an abundance of wildlife.
There are several waterfalls in the park along with nature trails and campsites. The park is easily accessed from Bangkok, and while it should be avoided at weekends and holidays, it makes the perfect place to experience Thailand’s great outdoors.
Camping in Khao Yai National Park
Khao Yai National Park is absolutely perfect for camping. CampI under the stars whilst listening to the sounds of wildlife, what could be better! The park has a few campgrounds but Lam Ta Khong is the pick of the bunch.
Lam Ta Khong has a large open grass area surrounding a river which opens out into a lake. Otters can be seen swimming around in the river, and the trees above are home to a number of Macaque family’s who are sure to provide you with a wake up call in the morning. A large amount of deer also hang around the campground, they are completely relaxed and pose no danger, they also ensure the grass in kept short and neat.
Camping is a must-do activity at Khao Yai National Park
Tents, mats and sleeping bags are available to hire from the lodge near the entrance of the campground, and are kept in good condition. The camp grounds can get really busy during the high season and on public holidays and should be avoided completely by tourists during the Thai New Year Festival ‘Songkran’ at the beginning of April. Other times in the year it is possible to have the grounds to yourself, especially during the wet season, but you may have to take a gamble on the weather.
Lam Ta Khong campground is located in the centre of the Khao Yai National Park, a short distance away from the visitor center. Take the road leading to Haew Suwat Waterfall and the campground will be on your left. It is easy to find, maps are available from the visitor center.
Khao Yai Wildlife
Khao Yai’s changing landscape alternates between mountains, grassy fields, and forest, with lakes and rivers in between. This forms the perfect habitat for a vast array of valuable plants and wildlife. You are more likely to see wildlife in Khao Yai than anywhere else in Thailand (with easy access and good amenities). There are officially 3,000 species of plants, 320 species of birds and 70 species of mammals in Khao Yai.
We spotted this Crocodile whilst trekking at Haew Suwat nature trail
Birds include Red Junglefowl, Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo, and Great Hornbills. Birds can be spotted anywhere in the park from the side of the road to deep in the forest. Groups of Hornbills are seen regularly around Nong Phak Chi observation tower, especially in the evenings. Bird-watching requires a bit of patience and you need to be quiet, but it can extremely rewarding in Khao Yai as you really find yourself getting absorbed into the beautiful natural surroundings.
Mammals to be found in Khao Yai include Elephant, Bear, Gaur, Sambar Deer (large grey-brown), Barking Deer (smaller, red-brown), Macaque, Gibbon, Civet, Porcupine, Indian Muntjac and Asian Wild Dogs. Tigers were once known to roam the park though they have not been spotted for a while despite their presence being constantly monitored by the parks rangers.
A Macaque we saw on the road near to Lam Ta Khong campground
Snakes and reptiles are also well accounted for in the park with king cobra’s topping the bill. care must be taken when trekking in Khao Yai. If you come across any type of snake you must presume it is dangerous and act with extreme cation, the snake will usually disappear back into the jungle unless it feels threatened. Crocodiles are regularly seen around Haew Suwat nature trail, look out for the signs warning you as you approach the area. Large geckos can be seen during the evenings as they look for tasty meals around the lights.
The grasslands in Khao Yai are a unique habitat and provide all year round grazing for animals, the parks rangers meticulously maintain these area’s to ensure they stay healthy. Salt licks are a man-made feature and are dotted around the park to encourage animals to come out of the forest and at the same time, give animals vital minerals such as calcium. Viewing platforms are strategically placed around the salt licks and are a great way to spot wildlife as you can sit comfortably in peace and quiet.
Nong Phak Chi Observation Tower
Nong Phak Chi is one of several observation towers located in Khao Yai National Park. The tower can be reached by a short walk from the main road, and is a great place to relax and spot wildlife
The observation tower is in Ban Nong Phak Chi, in Khao Yai National Park. The tower is conveniently located 1km along on a nature trail accessed from the main road, around 3km from the parks visitor center. There is a salt lick close to the tower to attract wildlife to the area, along with a lake, open grassland and forest.
Nong Phak Chi is a great place to chill out and spot some wildlife
Wildlife regularly seen in the area includes Elephants, Deer, Gaur, Wild Asian Dogs, Porcupine, Wild Pigs, and Giant Hornbills. The are no lights on the 1km path, so its recommended to take a flashlight if staying until it goes dark.
The tower is well worth a visit, elephants are regularly seen here and can sometimes hang around directly underneath the tower. Packs of wild Asian dog are also regularly seen around the salt-lick and lake.
Haew Suwat Waterfall & Nature Trail
Haew Suwat is the most well known waterfall in Khao Yai National Park, it is where Leonardo DiCaprio famously jumped from in the movie ‘The Beach’.
Water plunges down a 20 metre drop into a large pool down below which has a viewing area made up of rocks. There is a large cliff to one side which makes interesting viewing as locals place small sticks there as a gesture to nature in the hope that it never collapses. The waterfall is best viewed during the rainy season but water flows throughout the year.
Haew Suwat Waterfall is easily accessible, around 12 km from the visitor center and a 5 minute walk from a large car park reached by a paved road with plenty of signposts.
Haew Suwat waterfall, made famous by the hit movie “The Beach”
The waterfall can also be reached by Haew Suwat Nature Trail which is well worth the effort if you have time. The trail starts from Pha Kluaymai Camp Site which is close to the visitor centre, and is around 3 kilometres to Haew Suwat Waterfall. There are also another 2 smaller Waterfalls along the way. The scenic trail follows a river where there is a great chance of seeing crocodiles and large water lizards such as Monitors and Chinese Water Dragons. Look out for the warning sign when you enter their territory.
Haew Narok Waterfall
Haew Narok is the highest waterfall in Khao Yai National Park, water thunders down 150 metres over 3 levels. The Waterfall is located in the south of Khao Yai national Park around 10km north from the south gate at Prachinburi on road 3077. The highest drop is 60 meters and during the rainy season the water really thunders down here in dramatic style.
Haew Narok waterfall, water thunders in dramatic style during the wet season
Haew Narok Waterfall is located down a 600 metre long trail, accessed off the main road. The last part of the trail leads down some remarkably steep steps which should be navigated with cation during the rainy season.
The trail leading to the waterfall is a good spot to look for birds, lizards and macaques. There are also a number of salt licks near Haew Narok so Elephant activity is common. On the trail you will see Elephant gates which prevents them from passing through, in the past they have wondered through the area, and fallen to their death over the cliffs near the waterfalls.
Haew Narok is very difficult to capture by photograph ,the amount of spray generated by the water makes it almost impossible to get a photo at all.
How to get to Khao Yai National Park
Although Khao Yai is a vast wilderness, it is still relatively easy to get to. It is possible to reach Khao Yai in 2 hours from Bangkok, most of the journey is by motorway making it very quick and convenient.
To reach Khao Yai from Bangkok, take highway 2 heading east to Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat). Pak Chong is the nearest town to the parks entrance, and can also be reached by trains and buses by taking the Bangkok to Korat service. Once at Pak Chong you can either rent a car or motorbike or take a songthaew to the parks main northern entrance.
The southern entrance to the park is around 12 kilometers north of Prachinburi’s province’s main town along road number 3077. This should be the preferred route for anybody travelling from Chonburi (Pattaya), or Trat (Koh Chang). The 3077 south entrance road is also the area you are most likely to encounter Elephants crossing in the early mornings and evenings.
When to go to Khao Yai
Due to Khao Yai’s close proximity to Bangkok, the park gets busy at weekends and during public holidays. We recommend visiting on a weekday where you will most likely have the place to yourselves. Khao Yai should be completely avoided during major public holidays such as Songkran, which is the Thai new year celebration. Songkran usually runs from 10th – 19th April.
Photo Guide – Khao Yai National Park
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