Khao Yai National Park

By Nomadic Matt | Published September 22nd, 2008

Khao Yai National ParkKhao Yai National Park is located about 2.5 hours north of Bangkok, and is one of Thailand’s best national parks. Established in 1962, it was Thailand’s first national park, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

I have always heard great things about the park, but, despite living in Thailand for a few years, have never managed to get there. When I played tour guide a few weeks ago to a friend from Boston, I used that as my excuse to finally make it there.

I can’t believe it took me so long.

The park is truly amazing - beautiful, empty of tourists, filled with lush flora and fauna, and even a few wild elephants.

Arriving at the guesthouse in the afternoon, we were just in time to make their half-day tour. This tour brought you to a few caves and a natural spring. The first cave was home to over 2,000 bats and used to be a Buddhist monastery before the local community helped to build the monks a proper temple. However, the monks still come down here at night to meditate. I suspect the darkness and tranquility is good for meditation.

Khao Yai National Park

Our guide seemed to be an expert in everything - showing us all the insects, talking about the life cycle of bats, and even giving us a soil lesson on the composition of the dirt and how bat guano can be used to make explosives. It was all quite fascinating. He knew quite a bit and spoke excellent English, something very rare on tours in Thailand. Usually, tour guides in Thailand are just ushers, walking you from place to place, discussing very little, letting you take your photos, and then moving on. But this guide knew it all and was able to explain the history and zoology of not only this cave, but the whole region itself.

The second cave featured over 2 million bats, and we arrived just in time to see them head out for their nightly feed. Watching it was like watching something on the Discovery Channel - a seemingly endless stream of bats flying out in pursuit of their evening meal as the sun set below the horizon. Our guide, who seemed to know our cameras better than any of us, was able to catch some of it on tape for us through the telescope:

It was a spectacular scene to watch.

The following day was spent back into the park for a full day of hiking through the jungle and trying to spot wildlife. Our day began with bird-watching, followed by a five-hour trek through the jungle. We spotted a lot of birds throughout the day, including the Great Hornbill, which has a wing span over 2 meters wide. Monkeys hovered on the side of the road, and gibbons swung through the trees. As we made our way through the jungle, it became clear to me we were the only group on this trail, allowing us extra personal time with the animals. Usually in northern Thailand you see a lot of tour groups so it was nice to finally get somewhere where you could be alone with nature.

Khao Yai National Park

The monsoon season kicked in about halfway through our trek, pouring down an ocean of water on us as we made our way back to the car. As a souvenir, a leech attached itself to my hand, though I quickly burnt it off. They don’t hurt, but it takes a long time for the wound to heal. I was bleeding for quite a long time. The rain abated just as we hit the last few waterfalls, including the one Leonardo Di Caprio jumped off in the movie The Beach.

Now, normally I never use Lonely Planet for accommodation recommendations. However, this time, I did (as did everyone else at the guest house). I must say, for once, Lonely Planet did not disappoint. Despite being in LP for years, the Greenhouse Guesthouse had not suffered in quality. Usually, press in a Lonely Planet book means higher prices and poorer quality. However, this place offered cheap accommodation, excellent food, reasonably priced tours, and very knowledgeable tour guides. If you ever go to Khao Yai, this place comes with my highest recommendation. I’d go back in a second.

Khao Yai National Park

Khao Yai National Park is everything that people say it is. Despite being one of the biggest and most well-known parks in Thailand, there were few tourists there, making for an enjoyable and peaceful experience. With it being half a day from Bangkok, it’s a park you should really consider visiting before you head off to the tropical islands that make Thailand so famous.

For more information on Thailand, visit my guide to Thailand travel.

comments 12 Comments

Love the photo of the bats in the sky. Looks like a lovely place.

I want to go there.

The waterfall Leo DiCaprio jumped from in The Beach, is that the one pictured above?

Lucky the leech didn’t attach itself to more delicate parts!

there is this tree near a coffee plantation close by which is home to thousands of bats..when you take a look at the tree, you can hardly see the leaves..and once I heard that there was a gun shot somewhere and the bats suddenly started hovering..it almost looked like it had become night..unfortunately, i didnt have pictures

I want to see monkeys!

NomadicMatt

@erica: No, that’s a different waterfall.

@lakshmi: that would have been a great photo!

@laura: when you, we will see monkey’s…..matt can climb a tree and pretend if we don’t!

@quick: yes thank god!

Are you taking me there when I come visit?

NomadicMatt

@new: I took them at sunset. I think the video is bright because I’m taking it through a telescope so it magnified the light a bit.

Sounds really good. Not expect natural park like this so close to Bangkok. Would try when I visit Bangkok next time.

Quality of tour guides vary, but luckily my Bangkok guide and Chiangmai trekking guide were great. The Chiangmai guide was ok for English, but really knows about jungle, trekking, rafting etc.

local guides, local wisdom

We recently went to Kao Yai and did the Greenleaf Guesthouse trip too – but we did the full day trip. It was a bit disappointing, there wasn’t much to see, unless you’re into bird watching, which took up the largest proportion of our time during the trip.

Another participant of our trip did the half-day trip where you visit the bat caves the day before and was very enthusiastic about that trip too, but found the whole day trip – just like us – rather boring.

So if you go there, I’d suggest start with the half-day trip, and then, only if you want to see more, do the whole day trip. Of course, if you’re into bird-watching, then the whole day trip will be fun for you.

Erin

Sounds cool; thanks for the recommendation! What is the best way to get to this park from Bangkok?

I went up to the Khao Yai National Park in January on the way back from Korat but just drove through and stopped at a few of the waterfalls. We did get to see a few of the elephant and monkeys but nothing like the hornbill in your photograph. I will take your recommendation of the guest house for my next visit and may be stay a couple of nights and take a guide as they obviously know the exact places to go.

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