In the initial stages of planning our Thailand trip, Drew researched the country’s attractions. Khao Yai National Park caught his attention as it ranked high in articles focusing on Thailand’s natural wonders.
Rather than centering our trip on urban destinations, we crafted our itinerary around national parks and pristine landscapes. Khao Yai became an early and enduring highlight of our journey, affirming its reputation as one of Thailand’s standout destinations for nature enthusiasts.
Welcome to Our Khao Yai National Park Guide
In this travel guide, we will be sharing our experiences at Khao Yai National Park and providing some tips for your visit. But before we get started, let us introduce ourselves. We are Allie and Drew, originally from the DC area.
We crossed paths in 2018 and, during the pandemic, embraced a nomadic lifestyle. Allie, a NICU nurse, took a leap into travel nursing, securing a three month contract in Boston in the summer of 2022. Travel nursing and Drew’s tech job, which had become fully remote, allowed us to live in various cities including Austin, Loma Linda and recently in Seattle.
As we ventured beyond the familiarity of our hometowns, we discovered a passion for hiking and Allie developed an interest in photography. The diversity of the US, with its national parks and varied terrain, captivated us. Our goal is to continue combining work-related travels within the US with the freedom to take international trips whenever the opportunity arises.
Our 12-Day Backpacking Journey in Thailand
Inspired by a desire to explore nature and immerse in diverse landscapes, we chose Thailand as our next adventure – drawn by its national parks and cost-effective travel options. Following our tradition of exploring unique destinations after each nursing contract, we leveraged the advantage of traveling from the west coast of the US to save time and costs.
Embarking on a 12-day journey, we started in Bangkok – delving into the city’s rich culture by touring temples, wandering through Chinatown and participating in a captivating food tour. Our exploration then led us northeast to Khao Yai National Park where we spent two days immersed in the jungle, encountering wildlife and admiring the unique ecosystems.
Continuing our journey southward, we spent two nights in Prachuap Khiri Khan, a coastal gem off the tourist path. Here, we explored the landscapes and soaked in the authentic local charm. We visited two parks not far from the city – Kui Buri National Park and Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park.
We were particularly drawn to Kui Buri National Park because of its population of over 300 wild elephants within the park. Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park was also great – featuring beautiful limestone mountains and cliffs, a large cave with a temple within its walls and beautiful marshlands.
Further south, we reveled in the coastal beauty of Khao Lak, enjoying a luxurious stay in a resort and embarking on a full-day snorkeling tour to the Surin Islands. The vibrant coral reefs around the islands provided some of the most exceptional snorkeling experiences we have encountered.
Venturing inland to Khao Sok National Park, we explored Cheow Lan Lake (a huge artificial lake/reservoir dam), marveling at the towering limestone cliffs and surrounding lush jungle. Our stay in one of the floating resorts on the lake added a unique and serene touch to our Thailand trip.
The grand finale unfolded in Phuket, where we relished the island’s beauty and embarked on a memorable snorkel trip to the Phi Phi Islands. From Phuket, a hopper flight took us back to Bangkok, marking the end of our incredible journey through Thailand before returning to the United States.
Why Khao Yai National Park is a Must-Visit
The primary allure for our visit to Khao Yai stemmed from its reputation as the premier wildlife destination in Thailand. The park lived up to this distinction, offering exceptional opportunities to witness diverse wildlife.
Its accessibility from Bangkok, coupled with the quality accommodations surrounding the park, made it a compelling choice. Khao Yai’s blend of rich biodiversity, accessibility and comfortable accommodations solidified its place as a top-notch destination for nature enthusiasts like us.
An Overview of Our Two Day Itinerary
We dedicated two full days to exploring Khao Yai National Park, and booked a guided tour with Tontan Travel which included a night safari drive. This timeframe allowed us to delve into various ecosystems.
This took us from lush jungle trails to expansive grasslands, and elevated cliffs and mountain tops. The diverse landscapes presented numerous chances for wildlife encounters and our experiences were extraordinary.
Our tour commenced with a safari truck picking us up from our hotel. As we ventured into the park, Apple (our guide), navigated the terrain, encouraging us to get out of the truck when wildlife sightings occurred.
Among our initial sightings were gibbons swinging through the trees above our heads, an elusive orange whip-tail snake slithering through the branches, a scorpion along the side of the road, as well as many macaques.
Lunchtimes at the national park’s food hall became a delightful part of our routine, with a menu featuring delicious made-to-order Thai favorites. Following a satisfying meal, we embarked on a jungle hike, guided by our emphasis on moving quietly to heighten our chances of spotting wildlife.
Apple, a wealth of knowledge, stressed the significance of listening to the jungle sounds for safety and awareness. This approach proved crucial when we encountered a green viper hanging inches above where we had passed.
At the end of the first day, our exploration extended into the night with a safari drive, illuminated by a spotlight. This adventure revealed porcupines, foxes and deer – providing a different perspective of the park’s inhabitants.
On the second day, after more hikes and sightseeing, our guide treated us to a sunset spectacle. We stood at the base of a cave, watching many thousands of bats gracefully exiting for their evening feeding routine. The synchronized movement of the bats in a streamlined formation against the backdrop of the setting sun was a mesmerizing sight.
This two-day itinerary, complete with diverse landscapes and wildlife encounters, left us feeling that we had truly immersed ourselves in the beauty of Khao Yai National Park. We can’t recommend the park enough.
Benefits of Booking a Tour with Tontan Travel
For our Khao Yai visit, we opted for a guided tour, a decision we were absolutely thrilled with. Our knowledgeable guide from Tontan Travel not only provided fantastic insights into the park, wildlife, and the region but also tailored the experience to our priorities, focusing on wildlife sightings.
Navigating the jungle with quiet expertise, he pointed out fascinating details we never would have noticed without him like elephant tracks, giant spiders and their webs, fig trees, vines and vipers in low-hanging branches.
Booking through Tontan Travel proved to be an excellent choice. The tour included delicious, freshly cooked Thai meals within the park. Having a private tour allowed us to communicate our specific interests and preferences effectively. If you plan to visit Khao Yai National Park, we highly recommend Tontan Travel for a personalized and enriching experience.
Top 3 Highlights of Khao Yai National Park
1. Elephant Sightings
Witnessing wild elephants both in the open field and casually strolling along the road was a mesmerizing experience. Observing these majestic creatures in their natural habitat gave us an appreciation for their grace and grandeur. The sheer size and gentle demeanor of the elephants made it a magical encounter, creating lasting memories (and amazing photos).
2. Hornbills in the Fruit Tree
One of the most enchanting moments on our tour was spent watching hornbills amid the lush canopy of a fruit tree. These large birds, adorned with distinctive orange beaks, added a vibrant and exotic touch to the natural surroundings. Watching the hornbills interact with each other and their environment showcased the national park’s rich biodiversity.
3. Night Tour Adventure
The night tour provided an opportunity to explore Khao Yai after dark, revealing a different side of its beauty. With the park closed to the public, we were immersed in its nocturnal wonders, encountering an array of animals that come to life after sunset. From elusive nocturnal creatures to the symphony of sounds in the dark, the night tour offered an immersive experience, allowing us to appreciate the park’s ecosystem in a new light.
Each of these highlights contributed to an awe-inspiring visit, making Khao Yai National Park a truly exceptional destination for nature enthusiasts and somewhere you don’t want to miss while visiting Thailand.
Where to Stay Near Khao Yai National Park
When visiting Khao Yai, we highly recommend staying in Pak Chong, a town located approximately 30-40 minutes outside of the national park’s main entrance. Pak Chong is a popular choice for visitors to Khao Yai. There are numerous options for accommodations and restaurants.
During our stay, we enjoyed the ambiance of Botanica Khao Yai Resort. This resort seamlessly incorporates the outdoors into its design, providing a comfortable retreat for nature enthusiasts with a touch of luxury.
Tips for Your Visit to Khao Yai National Park
- Clothing, Footwear and Protection from Insects & Leeches: Pack long pants and long sleeves to protect yourself from ticks & leeches, and wear hiking boots or comfortable shoes suitable for walking through the forest. The guides often provide leech socks that come up to your knees. Wear them over your socks and pants for added protection. You will also want insect repellent on exposed skin to protect from mosquito and insect bites. Finally, be mindful of the weather, as conditions can vary. Pack a lightweight rain jacket or poncho in case of unexpected rain.
- Guided Tours: Opt for guided tours (like Tontan Travel) to make the most of your visit in Khao Yai. Experienced guides can enhance your wildlife spotting, and provide valuable insights into the park’s flora and fauna. Guided tours also help to coordinate meals within the park, entrance fees, and communication with other Thai speaking guides and park rangers.
- Getting There: Plan your transportation to Khao Yai National Park in advance. The park is easily accessible by car from Bangkok, and often your tour company can arrange for transfers from the surrounding areas.
- Entry Fees and Regulations: Check the official Khao Yai National Park website here for up-to-date entry fees, park regulations and other info.
- Best Time to Visit: Consider visiting during the “dry” season (November to February) for more comfortable weather and better wildlife sightings. Be aware that it may still rain and you should prepare with a rain jacket.
- Accommodations: Book accommodations in advance. We recommend you plan to stay in Pakchong and perhaps at Botanica Khao Yai Resort.