Updated: 8/30/22 | August 30th, 2022
Khao 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’d always heard great things about the park while I lived in the country. But despite living in Thailand for several years, I never managed to get there.
Luckily, I eventually got to play tour guide for a friend from Boston when they visited and used that as my excuse to finally make it there.
I can’t believe it took me so long.
The park is truly amazing. It’s filled with lush flora and fauna, tons of birds, waterfalls, beautiful hikes, a few wild elephants, and is virtually empty of tourists.
Arriving at our guesthouse in the afternoon, we were just in time to make a half-day tour. This tour brought us 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 build the monks a proper temple. However, the monks still come down here at night to meditate. I suspect the darkness and tranquility are good for meditation.
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 lesson on the composition of the dirt and how bat guano can be used to make explosives. Usually, when you’re visiting Thailand, tour guides 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.
The second cave featured over two 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:
We spent the following day back in 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 wingspan over two 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 that 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 on the trails, so it was nice to finally get somewhere where we could be alone with nature.
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. The rain abated just as we hit the last few waterfalls, including the one Leonardo Di Caprio jumped off in the movie The Beach.
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 only half a day from Bangkok, you should really consider visiting Khao Yai before you head off to the tropical islands that make Thailand so famous.
Where to Stay Near Khao Yai National Park
Now, I normally never use Lonely Planet for accommodation recommendations. However, this time I did, and I must say that for once, Lonely Planet didn’t disappoint. Despite being in LP for years, the Greenleaf Guesthouse had not suffered in quality (and having been back since, I can say it’s still one of the best places to stay near Khao Yai National Park).
Usually, press in a Lonely Planet book leads to 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.
Things to See in Khao Yai National Park
Here are some of the best things to see during your visit to the park:
- Haew Suwat Waterfall – This waterfall was made famous in The Beach and is definitely worth seeing (though unfortunately, you won’t be able to mimic Leo’s classic jump, as swimming isn’t allowed at the waterfall).
- Pha Diew Die Viewpoint – At 1,100 meters (3,608 feet) above sea level, this is probably the most breathtaking viewpoint in the park. You’ll get a sweeping view of the whole area and there are usually very few people around.
- Haew Narok Waterfall – This waterfall translates to “Sunken Hole of Hell” which is a very foreboding name for a gorgeous waterfall! It got its names from poachers who apparently heard the noise of its water crashing long before they saw the water and assumed it the crashing rumble was the gates of hell opening.
- Non Pak Chi Watchtower – This is a good place to stop to try and see some of the park’s wildlife, such as wild boars and elephants. Aim to be here for dawn or dusk for the best chances.
- Elephants (and other wild animals) – Best found at sunrise or sunset, there are actually hundreds of elephants located in the park. You can find them near some of the salt licks around the park, though you have to be patient (and lucky!). The best way to see them (and other animals) is to go on a night safari, as many animals prefer to be active during the cool night hours. Tours are organized by the park and cost 1,600-5,400 THB per person depending on number of people on the tour.
- Khao Luk Chang Bat Cave – This is the aforementioned bat cave, definitely a sight to see as all the bats exit the cave at once!
How to Get to Khao Yai National Park
If you want to visit the park, you’ll need to head to Pak Chong — it’s the closest town. Buses leave frequently from Bangkok’s Mo Chit Bus Station and the journey takes 3.5 hours. Expect to pay around 280 THB for the bus.
You can also take the train from Bangkok. Expect to pay at least 140 THB for the train (which takes just under 3 hours), however, tickets can cost upwards of 900 THB.
All guesthouses will pick you up from the bus or train station if you let them know when you’re arriving. They can also arrange a tour of the park (full day, half-day, or multi-day). Prices begin at 500 THB for a half-day tour and 1,600 THB per person for a full-day tour. Admission to the park itself is 400 THB for international visitors (plus 30 THB if you have a motorcycle).
You can hike many of the shorter trails yourself as well as camp in the park too. Regular Songthaew service runs from Pak Chong to the park entrance, though from there it is still 10 kilometers (6 miles) to get into the park. The ride from Pak Chong takes around 40 minutes and costs 150 THB. There are limited spots so book in advance. I wouldn’t hike the longer trails without a guide.
Another great way to explore the park is by motorcycle. You can rent motorcycles nearby for 300-600 THB per day, which includes two helmets. Car rentals are also available for around 1,500 THB per day.
Conversely, if you want to visit yourself but would rather not drive, you can hitchhike around the park. It’s very easy and people are usually happy to shuttle you around.
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