Khao Yai National Park
Established in 1962, Khao Yai was Thailand's first national park. Today it is the second largest national park in Thailand and, in 2005, the area along with the surrounding Dong Phaya Yen mountains was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Flora and fauna
Tropical moist evergreen forest covers the central area of Khao Yai National Park. The rich diversity of plants (about 2,000 species) astound the new-comer. Towering trees draped in mosses, climbers and epiphytes, tangled trunks of the strangling figs, drooping lianas and spiny rattan palms, delicate ferns, multicoloured lichens and an ever-changing array of fungi. There is aways something new to discover in the forest. The park has a diverse plant community, comprised of five main vegetation types:
Dry Evergreen Forests: These forests cover the lower slopes of Khao Yai. There are a number of important plant species found within this type of forest, including Dipterocarps and Hopia. Bamboo is also often found in drier forests.
Dry Deciduous Forests: These forests also cover the lower slopes of Khao Yai. The most important plant species found within Deciduous Forests include Afzelia, Xylia and Lagerstroemia.
Tropical Moist Evergreen Forest: Tropical Moist Evergreen Forest covers around 70% of the park, including its central area. Dipterocarps are an important species found within these forests.
Hill Evergreen Forests: This forest type grows above 1,000 m. In Hill Evergreen Forests, the trees are smaller and ferns, mosses and epiphytes abound. Lithocarps and Catanopsis are amongst the most important species found here.
Grasslands: These areas are a unique habitat, and provide a grazing area year – round for some of the parks animals. Grassland provides a welcome relief to all the forest . The park mange (burn annually) the grassland to prevent trees from invading and to provide year round grazing for deer, elephants and guar. Wildlife is plentiful (70 mammal species, at least 74 species of herptile and thousands of invertebrates) but often hard to see. Sambar (large, grey-brown, often in groups) and barking deer (smaller, red-brown, usually in pairs or alone) are frequently seen in the grasslands or on spotlighting tours.
Khao Yai’s forests are teeming with wildlife and birds. Look up and down and form side, tread softly, and listen carefully to discover the real movers and shakers in the forest. Gibbons provide an excellent morning wake-up call with their mournful hoots. Quiet, patient walkers may catch a glimpse of these tree-living apes. Macaques are often seen on the roadsides. Elephants are sometimes spotted at salt-licks or on the road in the evenings and lucky (?) tourists may spot a tiger in the grasslands during the evenings.
Civets, squirrels, porcupines, and wild pigs add a bit of variety. Snakes and lizards usually make their presence known by a rustle in the undergrowth as you are walking. If you see a snake, treat it as dangerous unless you know otherwise!! Geckos are frequently seen catching insects on building walls and ceilings. Cicadas never stop their scratchy hum. Look up and down and from side to side to spot the real movers and shakers in the forest - the insects and invertebrates. A few Siamese crocodiles (Crocodylus siamensis) have recently been found within the park- some believe the crocodiles were released there while others believe they may indeed be a genuine wild population as this species can be present at higher elevations (such as the Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia.) This species is not aggressive towards humans and rarely grows larger than 3 metres (10 feet.)
Birds: We've got lots - over 320 species have been recorded. To the non-expert, birds are often just mysterious whistles, trills and calls, or a flutter of wings and a glimpse of colour. Patience is needed,good binoculars and a bird guide help. Roadsides, the old golf course, grasslands and the watching towers are good places to start . Hornbills are quite easy to spot, and hear the "gak gak gak" laugh of the Indian Pied (often seen in big flocks near Nong Pak Chi Tower in the evenings), or the deep resonant "gok…gok" of the Great Hornbill (usually seen in pairs or alone, the biggest of Khao Yai's hornbills)
Bats: Nearly 1 million insecteating bats live in a cave on the edge of the Park. Drive about 3 km to the north of the Park Chong entrance gate and take a small track on the left-hand side just past a temple. A few hundred metres up here take a right-hand turn and follow the track to the end. You can climb the hill to the cave. Please do not enter the cave - you will disturb the bats. Allow them to come out for about 3 minutes before taking any flash photography.
The lower regions of the park seem to be around 350m above sea level. Even at this altitude and in general throughout the park you will find a more attractive climate than in nearby Bangkok. The average day temperature throughout the year is around 23°C.
As for most areas in Thailand the year is split into three seasons. There is a hot season, cold season and a rainy season.
The Hot Season lasts from March through April. The day temperatures can be a bit above the annual average but it is still very pleasant due to the higher altitudes.
After the Hot Season the Rainy Season starts. This lasts from May till October. You will find many days with rain. Average day temperatures are still high but humidity also increases.
The Cold Season lasts from November till February. During this time the day temperatures are pleasantly in the low twenties. Night time might require a sweater as temperatures will drop furhter.
Khao Yai is along the way from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat). The nearest town is Pak Chong, which can be reach either via most Bangkok-Korat trains or via most buses to Korat. Once in town, hire or share a songthaew to the park's main northern entrance.
South entrance is about 13km north of Prachinburi. Head north on the roundabout on the road 3077.
The entry fee must be paid on each day that you enter the park. If you depart the park and return the same day, the entry fee does not have to be paid again.
One of the best ways to see the park is renting a car or motorbike in Pak Chong and staying one night in the park. If you don't have your own transport it is quite difficult to get to the park information centre as the bus from Pak Chong usually takes you to the ticket office and the natural park centre is about 10 km away. A lot of people hitchhike and park rangers are usually quite willing to take anyone as long as they contract their services for the day.
There is a single road through the park from the Pak Chong side to the Nakhon Nayok side. The road is sealed and in good condition throughout the 60 kilometre journey, though there are some winding stretches of road. There is a 60km/hour speed limit in the park, and there are numerous speed bumps to remind drivers to slow down. Animals (especially macaques) are likely to be encountered on the road, so caution is advisable at all times. There are no fuel or garage services in the park.
There are a number of lookout positions from where photographs of the scenery can be taken.
Take a night time jeep safari spotting deer. Booking can be made through most hotels. Bookings can also be made directly at the visitor centre in the park.
Visit some of the spectacular waterfalls. They might not be the largest you have seen but the scenery is simply stunning. During the Hot Season some waterfalls might be almost dry. The Rainy Season is the best time to see spectacular falls. During the months of June, July, August they can have plenty of water. Under these wet conditions flora also will be at its best.
At Zone 1 in the visitor centre there is a small souvenir shop offering a variety of souvenirs from Khao Yai National Park, such as bags, T-Shirts, and most important: leech socks to wear while you're hiking in the jungle to prevent these creatures to get under your clothes and attach to your skin.
Opening hours of the small souvenir shop aren't consistent. So you need just as much luck as you need for spotting wildlife.
At Zone 1 there are a number of small food stalls and a restaurant where visitors can order a variety of Thai food and drinks. Get there before 18.00.
The restaurant at the Lam Tha Kong camping ground has friendly staff. This one shuts its doors at 17.30 though on Fridays and Saturdays they usually close later.