Khao Yai National Park
Earth : Asia : Southeast Asia : Thailand : Isaan : Khao Yai National Park
Measuring 2,168 km squared, Khao Yai is the second largest national park in Thailand. In 2005 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the larger Dong Phaya Yen–Khao Yai Forest Complex . Situated on the southwestern boundary of the Khorat Plateau, it occupies the western part of the Sankamphaeng Mountain range. Thick jungle covers the mountainous slopes, interspersed with some scenic waterfalls.
Flora and fauna
More than 80 percent of the park is forested. Vegetation types include tropical rainforest, dry evergreen forest, hill evergreen forest, mixed deciduous forest, dry dipterocarp forest, and grassland. 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.
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.
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.
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 gaur.
Khao Yai’s forests are teeming with wildlife. Wildlife is plentiful (46 mammal species, at least 74 species of herptile and thousands of invertebrates) but often hard to see. Gibbons provide an excellent morning wake-up call with their mournful hoots. Quiet, patient walkers may catch a glimpse of these tree-living apes. Pig tailed macaques are often seen on the roadsides. 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.
Mammals: One of the main draws to the park are its two species of gibbon - the White-handed or Lar gibbon and the Pileated gibbon, both of which can be spotted relatively easily. Many animals can be seen on the grasslands, including Sambar deer (large, grey-brown, often in groups), barking deer/muntjac (smaller, red-brown, usually in pairs or alone) and occasionally gaur. Elephants are sometimes spotted at salt-licks or on the road in the evenings (or even day) if lucky.
Carnivore species include clouded leopards, marbled cats, leopard cats, golden cats and dholes. The last conclusive record of a tiger was in 2005. However, there have been a few unofficial sightings since then and its possible that transient individuals still visit the park. Lucky tourists may catch a glimpse of these along the roadside, while dhole are sometimes seen hunting on the grasslands and near the Sai Sorn reservoir. Other mammals include asiatic black bear, sun bear, serow, Binturong, Hog Badger, Pangolins and Mouse-‐Deer.
Nearly 1 million insect-eating bats live in a cave on the edge of the park. Drive about 3 km to the north of the Pak 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. Best not to use flash photography as this can disturb them.
Birds: 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. 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). Siamese fire-back and silver pheasants are frequently seen in the forest.
Reptiles: 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 m (10 feet.) These can be seen along the river from Pha Kluamai Campsite to Haew Suwat falls (roughly 90 minutes), basking on the edge of the riverbank near the 'Beware of the crocodile' signs. 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.
The parks elevation (ranging from 100 m to 1,350 m) provides a relief from the heat of the surrounding lowlands. Annual rainfall is 2,270 mm and there is a mean annual temperature of 27°C.
The climate is monsoonal and as in most areas in Thailand, the year is split into three seasons: hot, cool, and rainy.
Hot season March-April. The day temperatures can be a bit above the annual average, but it is still very pleasant due to the higher altitudes.
Rainy season May-October. You will find many days with rain. Average day temperatures are still high and humidity also increases.
Cool season November-February. During this time the day temperatures are pleasantly in the low twenties. Nights might require a sweater as temperatures will drop further.
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.
Khao Yai is along the way from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat). The nearest town to the north entrance is Pak Chong, which can be reached either via train or buses running between Bangkok and Korat. From here taxis, songthaews or motorbike hire can take you onto Khao Yai. The south entrance is about 13 km north of Prachinburi- Head north on the roundabout on Rt 3077. A road runs through the length of the park from the Pak Chong side to the Prachin Buri side. The park is an easy drive from Bangkok.
Buses regularly leave from Bangkok's Mo Chit bus station to Pak Chong (terminating in Korat)- the journey takes about 3-4 hours and costs 150 baht each way (March 2014). Minibuses to Pak Chong can be caught from Bangkok's Victory Monument.
Nearly all trains from Bangkok to Korat/Ubon go via Pak Chong, however this is much slower than the bus. This route also goes via Ayutthaya, which is halfway between Pak Chong and Bangkok and about a 3 hour journey (53 Baht, 3rd class no aircon, March 2014). When disembarking at Pak Chong follow the road to the high street and turn left to get to the centre of town.
Pak Chong to Khao Yai:
A giant novelty giraffe sculpture marks the centre of Pak Chong. The bus 'station' and Songthaeows on to Khao Yai can be found on opposite sides of the road, while the train station is about 300 metres south of here (look for the sign for the Hotel Phubade). There is also a taxi rank.
A regular Songthaew services runs to the northern entrance of the park, you can ask to be dropped off at any point along the route. The journey take about 40 minutes (price 40 baht, April 2014) but they only drop you at the park entrance. The park does not have an internal public transport system so you will need to hitchhike 10 km to reach the park centre and accommodation. Traffic is frequent and anyone with space will give you a lift; pick-up trucks are the best bet as you can just jump in the back with minimum hassle. If using this method you will have to further rely on hitch hiking once within the park as many of the sites are spread out from one another (but this is less stressful that it sounds and an easy way to get around.)
If travelling independently, a motorcycle hired from Pak Chong or on the road to Khao Yai will grant you with more freedom than relying on hitchhiking and is probably preferable if your budget allows for it. One line of the road is a motorcycle line so even if you're not experienced with motorcycles it is a rather easy ride.
Automatic motorcycles are available at Honda (Google Maps coordinates 14.706668, 101.417039). The cost is 300 baht per day and two helmets are included. The staff speak good English. They rent out cars too at 1800 baht per day. The opening hours are
Mon-Fr full day (until 5-6pm)
Sat half day (until 12-1pm)
Sun 6.00 pm (bike returns only, no rental).
Remember if staying outside the park you will have to pay each time you enter.
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. Petrol is available at the guard house (“Patrol Guard” on the visitor centre's map) 500m south of the visitor centre. 40 baht per bottle.
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. If you do not have your own transport it is easy to hitchhike around the park, just wave down any approaching car or truck, most people are more than happy to take you if they have room.
There is a single road through the park from the Pak Chong side to the Nakhon Nayok (Prachin Buri) 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 is limited fuel services in the park.
There are a number of lookout positions from where photographs of the scenery can be taken.
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. Swimming is not allowed at the falls. 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.
The prime reason for coming to Khao Yai is to see the amazing wildlife and scenery. The best way to see this is by walking one of the many trails in the park - the easiest can be walked alone but many require hiring a guide as they are not clearly marked and it is easy to get lost.
Go on an organised tour:
Within the visitor centre there is a well-stocked souvenir shop offering typical tourists wares, such as bags, t-shirts, and most important, leech-socks to wear while you're hiking in the jungle to prevent these creatures getting under your clothes and attaching to your skin. Another smaller souvenir shop can be found on at the junction for the camping grounds (beneath a water-tower).
Opposite to the visitor centre, the 'Khao Yai Welfare' store can be found - a small food store offering drinks, snacks and noodles.
Within the park
There are number of cafe-type food stands throughout the park although their opening hours are in-consistent; so you need just as much luck as you need for spotting wildlife.
The park centre is the primary place to eat with something usually open even out of season. Opposite the visitor centre there are a number of food stands overlooking the river offering meals for about 50 baht and a restaurant where visitors can order a variety of Thai dishes. The restaurant has an english menu and makes food fresh. The 'Khao Yai Welfare' store has drinks, snacks and noodles available. On quiet days your options may be more limited, you should get there before 18:00 or risk going hungry.
There's an eating area at the Lam Tha Kong camping ground open from ~8:00-~16:00. The adjoining snack and sundries shop is open ~7:00-~17:00. They will stay open somewhat later if there are customers. There is a restaurant building at the far western end of the Pha Kluay Mai camp, only open during busy periods.
Restaurants with small shops can also be found at Haew Suwat and Haew Narok falls, but again they may shut early during quiet periods.
Outside the park
The area surrounding the park's northern entrance is the midst of a development boom and if you have your own transport there are many restaurants and shops to suit all budgets and tastes. A small Tesco Lotus and 711 are found 3 km from the entrance on the way to Pak Chong; between these two stores a market operates in the afternoons.
Outside the park on Thanarat road there are a smattering of food options. For local cuisine with a number of english speaking staff, the place to go is Krua Khao Yai located up Thanarat Rd 13.5km (Opposite the Chocolate Factory). They are famous for their smoked ribs. Service is extremely busy during holidays.
Another is near Greenleaf Guesthouse called Nina's, (on Thanarat Road, up the road about 1 km from Greenleef Guesthouse, right by the dairy). Nina's is an air-conditioned restaurant with coffee and western desserts as well as great traditional Thai dishes. The lady speaks good English, as she spent two years in the U.S. getting her MBA. Not cheap at all, but a nice meal. 200 baht. edit
There are no bars within the park and most eating areas shut early. Outside the park near the northern entrance there are number of places you can buy drinks.
There are many sleeping option both within and outside the park.
Many tour agencies provide accomodation within the park including:
Outside the park:
On the South-eastern side of the park it is possible to rafting, best between July and October when the water is higher.
Thanarat Road Km. 19.5, 215 Moo 5 Thanarat Roed Km.19.5 Pakchong. tel. 0 4429 7183.. Near the northern entrance of the park it is possible to raft on the Lam Takhong river. It is possible to take elephant rides with the same organiser (The Jungle House resort).