Khao Yai National Park is located a few hours north east of Bangkok so it makes for an ideal scenic getaway if you are spending a some time around central Thailand. We travelled to Khao Yai from the ancient capital of Ayutthaya, you can see my post about Ayutthaya and how not to get scammed in Bangkok here. We took a train from Ayutthaya to the city of Pak Cheong, a quiet little place which lies about half an hour outside of Khao Yai, the train journey took around two hours (add on an hour for Thailand’s notorious delays). When you arrive in Pak Cheong you can walk out of the train station and head straight until you hit there main road, if you turn left and walk down the road you will find a blue bus which will take you straight to the Khao Yai National Park area and for the very economical price of 40 baht per person, the journey takes around an hour and the bus will likely be crammed full of passengers and luggage.
We stayed around ten kilometres away from the entrance of the national park in a guesthouse called No. 17 at Khao Yai, I was impressed by this place and the English speaking lady owner is really helpful as well as her father who drove us back to Pak Cheong after our stay, they offer apartments or private bungalows, we opted for the latter which was really nice, quiet and had a super comfortable bed, we didn’t want to leave.
The lady also organised a semi-automatic motorbike and an automatic scooter for us to rent, this is a bit more expensive than what you might find in one of Thailand’s cities but it was very convenient (I think they must just borrow them from locals). We only kept both the bike and scooter for one day before returning the semi-automatic so one of us could take footage of the park safely as a pillion passenger.
I would highly recommend renting a semi-automatic motorbike if you wish to solo travel around the national park, the one I had was 125cc and although it felt quite underpowered at times, especially going up some of the steep hills within the park it was adequate and did the job. People will often say that you are restricted with where you can go on your own, and while this is true we found we were able to have a good explore, even if you go into the national park without a guide you still have the freedom to explore probably over 100km of roads. If you do decide to go in with a guide they are able to take you off the beaten track and this is something that you are not supposed to do on your own, in fact it is prohibited, this is due to the fact that the park does contain some dangerous wildlife and people have gotten themselves into sticky situations in the past with elephants and guar. The park is host to a vast plethora of wildlife including but not limited to cobras, elephants, gibbons, guar, hornbills, barking deer and oddly enough a single crocodile.
We were really looking forward to seeing some wild elephants and while there are over 200 individuals who roam within the Khao Yai National Park area our wishes never came true, although they very nearly did; we were on our way to see a waterfall which was maybe 30km away, we had been driving down the road for 15 minutes when a park ranger on the other side of the road pulled us over and told us we could not continue as there was a herd of wild elephants in the road and if we continued we would be in danger of startling the animals which could result in us being trampled – this was for our own safety but I really wanted to see them, but obviously we turned back.
If you go to Bangkok you will realise that there are a lot of locals who make a living by scamming naive tourists, my previous post ‘How not to scammed in Bangkok and how to see a better side of Thailand just an hour to the north – two days in Ayutthaya’ talks about this issue and what to look out for. Something you will also learn about Thailand is that when it comes to sending the message that ripping people off isn’t acceptable the Thai government aren’t exactly leading by example, there are two prices in Thailand that are paid to enter some temples, national parks, museums etc. One price is for Thai people and the other is for foreigners with the foreigner price being significantly greater than the Thai price, we have put up with this for the duration of our stay as there isn’t much you can really do about it but the price difference in Khao Yai National Park was stomach turning, 40 baht for Thai people and 400 baht for foreigners. If a similar system were employed in most other countries there would be outrage.
So, once I had finished bending over at the entrance gate we carried on driving for a few kilometres before pulling into a small lay-by where wild monkeys come out of the forest towards the tourists hoping to grab some food or trinkets to steal. When we had our backs turned a monkey jumped onto the scooter reached in and ran off with what looked like a small piece of paper, this is when we both panicked thinking that the monkey had stolen the driving license of the person we loaned the scooter from. After the asshole monkey had finished gnawing on the paper I went into the forest to retrieve it, turns out it was the business card of a soap salesman.
Along the road you will see signs which will say things like ‘elephant crossing’ or ‘cobra crossing’, whether these are areas with high frequencies of animal crossings or whether it is something for us tourists to get excited about I don’t know. There are numerous places along the roads where you can pull over and take in the incredibly beautiful views, this is why I’d recommend a bike or scooter as you can go at your own pace and really take in the sights.
Around the park are a number of salt licks, these are places where the animals of the jungle travel to supplement their diet with the mineral rich salty soil, it is at these salt licks where you are likely to see animals like elephants, deer and guar amongst others. There are a few salt licks dotted around the park, some are located along less trodden paths and we found a few where you could actually quite easily get lost. My favourite was the watchtower which provided a very nice contrasting view of areas of controlled burning, thick jungle and a large watering hole. Another good spot for seeing wildlife was the Wang Jumpee, this is one of the less trodden paths and was also where I saw a great hornbill high in the trees, the only one I saw during our two days in the park. (If you zoom a million times you can see the great hornbill hiding in the canopy)
It is possible to see gibbons in Khao Yai, although these animals are possibly the shyest of all the primates so can be quite elusive; on one of the roads we saw a rope ladder hanging over the road connecting the two sides of the forest, this has been put there so the gibbons can cross the road having access to all of the forest.
As we were riding down one of the long roads I saw a small path through the brush and decided to check it out, I think this was one of the trails where the guides may take people for the day or night safaris; I had to climb over a large felled tree to gain access to the path and ventured in on my own for maybe ten minutes, this was quite off the beaten track and the noises in the bushes and the rustling at my feet really freaked me out, I eventually fled after hearing the noise of many buzzing bees in the trees above me. You can see the video of our two days in Khao Yai National Park below.
I’d really recommend seeing the waterfalls in Khao Yai, we only saw one but it was really beautiful and was the location for the famous waterfall scene in the Leonardo DiCaprio movie ‘The Beach’.
We’re currently part way through completing the Mae Hong Son loop in northern Thailand, we’re currently about 50km away from the border of Myanmar, the weather is scorching hot during the day and pretty cool as soon as the sun goes down. We have another 160km to do tomorrow on the bikes so I will be trying to catch up with writing about this experience, it’s been really cool up to now.