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Which is the best national park of Thailand to visit?

Where do I have the best chance to see elephants in the wild?
Where to go for beautiful hikes in evergreen forest?
Where to go to avoid the hords of tourists?
We will answer these and more questions for you. This page is primarily meant for national park visitors, and therefore places are reviewed based on the areas that are open to the public. The following information is purely based on our personal experiences of extensively visiting these parks.

On safari in Thailand

Visiting the national parks in Thailand. Which is the best park to visit?

 

Which national park should I visit in Thailand?

  1. Which park offers the best chance to see elephants in the wild?
  2. Where is the best chance to see a great diversity of wildlife?
  3. Which park offers the most beautiful scenery with large impressive trees?
  4. Where to go for hiking?
  5. Which national park allows night activities?
  6. Which park is most suitable to visit for a family with children?
  7. Which park receives the most visitors?
  8. How about human development and road quality in the parks?
  9. And where can we see tigers in the wild?
  10. Conclusion – Which national park is best to visit?
  11. Summary of pres and cons per national park
  12. What wildlife can be encountered on the tours in these national parks?

 

Wild elephants in Thailand

By far the best chance to see wild elephants in Thailand is in Kui Buri national park, though in Khao Yai national park it’s not uncommon either.

Which park offers the best chance to see elephants in the wild?

A frequently asked question, and an easy one to answer. Kui Buri national park!
No other park offers even close to half the chance of what you have in Kui Buri. So far, on all our visits to Kui Buri we have encountered wild elephants. And situated on the much travelled road to the Southern islands and beaches, there is no reason why not to add a Kui Buri elephant safari to your holiday itinerary 😉 . No need to spend 3 or more days searching, and no strenuous hiking necessary. Just an afternoon African-style safari drive will do the job. We are normally very careful with any guarantees in terms of wildlife sightings, but in this case it seems you need to be extremely unlucky not to succeed.
However, Kui Buri is not the destination to go to get the real jungle feeling, nor to see a large diversity of animals. It’s all about elephants, and with some luck Gaur or even Banteng.

From the parks we have on offer, visits to Kaeng Krachan & Huai Kha Khaeng are the least successful in terms of elephant sightings.
Khao Yai national park, is reasonably good. But it varies a lot. Some weeks the elephants are seen almost daily, and sometimes a week or two go by without any elephant sightings. So certainly no guarantees here!
We’ve done 1-day trips in Khao Yai encountering elephants in various different locations, and we have done 4-day tours in Khao Yai without even a single elephant sighting.
Still, on a multi-day visit, like our 3- or 4-day tours in Khao Yai chances are reasonable. Test your luck 😉
If however your holiday is only truly successful with a wild elephant sighting, book one of our Kui Buri national park tours!

 

Where is the best chance to see a great diversity of wildlife?

In short, our Khao Yai national park tours & our Kaeng Krachan national park tours are the best options to see a great diversity ranging from reptiles and birds to larger mammals.

Vogel's Pit Viper in Khao Yai

The stunning Vogel’s Pit Viper, Trimeresurus vogeli. One of many animal species that could be encountered on a trip in Khao Yai national park.

Great diversity is mostly linked to certain forest types, and of course a certain degree of protection from other threats. Generally lush and humid jungles have more diversity in plantlife and therefore also in wildlife.
Even though most parks do have parts of such evergreen forests, these are not always accessible for visitors. Like e.g. Huai Kha Khaeng wildlife sanctuary. This park has a small public access area, and within this area there is not too much lush jungle to find. Still, tours in Huai Kha Khaeng offer good opportunities for especially large mammals and birdlife.
But the jungles of Khao Yai and Kaeng Krachan are best to see everything from insects, amphibians and reptiles to colorful birdlife and many types of mammals.
It’s these two parks that we recommend for the average visitors.

The public area of Kui Buri national park, consists of degraded forest. In the past much of the terrain was used by farmers, but now returned to nature. Degraded forests are not good for diversity, but certain species thrive in these conditions, as can be seen by the large number of elephants and gaur that inhabit this place. Kui Buri makes a great side-trip to any of the other larger and more divers parks to get the full jungle/ wildlife experience.

 

Which park offers the most beautiful scenery with large impressive trees?

This question is closely related to the wildlife diversity question.
Again, Khao Yai national park & Kaeng Krachan national park are the clear winners in this category.
Khao Yai has the edge when it comes to the scenery in terms of waterfalls. Kaeng Krachan has the best views on vast tracts of jungle, with the adition of the so-called See of Fog, a blanket of mist that covers a large forested valley in the early mornings.
Both parks offer beautiful trails lined by impressive trees.

Huai Kha Khaeng, and especially Kui Buri can’t beat these two parks. Kui Buri is primarily degraded forest and open savannah. Huai Kha Khaeng’s public area consist mostly of dry deciduous forest. Forest fires occur here yearly, and keep the undergrowth at bay, so there is good visibility. But it lacks the real jungle feeling.

 

Where to go for hiking?

Hiking in Khao Yai national park

Hiking in the evergreen forests of Khao Yai national park.

Hiking is one of the activities that bring you closer to nature, and every proper jungle experience should contain some beautiful hikes.
Again the answer is that Khao Yai national park and Kaeng Krachan national park are the best options. Khao Yai has the most extensive trail network, and at the same time the terrain is not too hard. For some people a difficult hike sounds more adventurous, but generally an easy to moderate hike means that there is time to enjoy the surroundings, and look around to spot animals instead of constantly focussing on where to place your feet.
On our tours we don’t do long distance hikes. We walk slowly, and follow our senses to listen and watch closely if we can discover any of the inhabitants of the jungle.
The hikes are about being in nature, and not about getting somewhere.
In Kaeng Krachan the trails are a bit more difficult. Sometimes with lots of stream crossings hopping over slippery rocks, or sometimes with steep descents and ascends.

The lush evergreen forests of Khao Yai and Kaeng krachan offer enough shade for pleasant hiking. As well as the diversity of creatures from small to large that make the walks interesting. We also offer hiking in Huai Kha Khaeng and Kui Buri, which are an exciting experience in itself, but in most cases more exhausting primarily due to less shade.
The overnight tour package in Kui Buri contains a hike which is primarily in open savannah. It’s tough due to the burning sun, not due to difficulties in terrain. But it’s exciting because the high occurance of the large herbivores.
In Huai Kha Khaeng too there are only a few trails, but going out on foot in the territory of the big cats like tiger and leopard is probably one of the most thrilling experiences there is. Again terrain is easy, it can be hot in times and mosquitos are more of a problem here than in other parks. But standing without the protection of a car next to some tiger pug marks or a leopard scrape, is a special feeling.

 

Which national park allows night activities?

Only in Khao Yai national park official night drives are permitted, in the other parks night drives are not allowed. The Khao Yai night safaris are operated by the park staff. A park ranger will drive the car on the pre-defined route. The driver decides the speed and how long we stop to watch the animals. We have no influence on this. Generally speaking, the drivers drive a tad too fast for our liking, but anyhow we have decided to remain offering these night safaris. Simply because there is a good chance to see different animals than in daytime, even under the mentioned conditions.

On our tours in Kaeng Krachan and Huai Kha Khaeng we usually do some night walking around the camping area. The authorities don’t allow us to go deep in the jungle. A bit a shame, but understandable. Especially, on our herping tours night walking is an important activity, as it increases the chance to see reptiles and amphibians.

No night activities possible in Kui Buri. Too many elephants and gaur around, which is simply too dangerous.

 

Which park is most suitable to visit for a family with children?

We strongly recommend Khao Yai national park for families travelling with children. The diversity of the wildlife, but also the activities that can be done, together with a night safari drive option, a visit to the bat caves, and the relative ease to see e.g. monkeys makes Khao Yai the best option. We usually recommend our 2.5-day Khao Yai tour for families with children from about 4 years old. A longer trip might be possible if the kids are a bit older and have special interest in nature.
Also the Elephant Safari in Kui Buri is a great option for all ages. However, we do not offer the overnight tour in Kui Buri for families with kids under 15 years old.

From the age of about 10 years onwards Kaeng Krachan national park will also be an option. Mostly because the trails are a bit harder, and the itinerary a bit less divers than Khao Yai.
Huai Kha Khaeng is not recommended for families with children.

 

Which park receives the most visitors?

This is certainly Khao Yai national park. Though, Kaeng Krachan gets quite busy as well in the winter season weekends.
Whenever possible, we always recommend to avoid weekends and public holidays, in any of these parks. Most importantly in Khao Yai, and Kaeng Krachan.
In all these parks, Thai locals make up the big visitor numbers. Khao Yai might also be the most popular national park amongst foreign tourists, but the foreign visitor numbers are very low compared to the number of Thai visitors, less than 5%! The average Thai tourist prefers scenic sites, easily accessible, without the need to walk much. And generally speaking, most of them are not interested to see wildlife. So, the trails are usually not much busier in weekends than on weekdays.
But on the roads and certain scenic sites it gets crowdy. The night drives in Khao Yai are surprisingly popular amongst the Thais.

The advantages of higher visitor numbers are that there are more and usually better facilities. And also wildlife is more habituated to humans. For this reason, e.g. Gibbon watching is best in Khao Yai, simply because the animals are more used to seeing people than gibbons in Huai Kha Khaeng, or even Kaeng Krachan.
You can see the same effect in Africa where the wildlife is so used to safari cars, that they just continue minding their own business when a bunch of tourists arrive.
Many people think that hiking far away from the people results in more sightings, but because of the above reasoning this is generally not the case. Even in Khao Yai, on our ventures away from the tourist trails, whenever we came across gibbons we did not see much more than a glimpse, because they are scared. The families on the more used trails just do their thing and usually offer better chances to take pictures and just enjoy the sighting.
At the same time, our sightings of the rarest species along popular trails and roads have proven that these creatures don’t avoid these areas.

Huai Kha Khaeng is by far the least visited of these parks. On many of our visits we have been the only ones in the park. Sometimes local school groups visit, but usually we have no trouble avoiding these. Kui Buri has a low visitor number, too. On most days there is less than a handful of safari cars.
Kaeng Krachan is quiet on the trails, but at times can be busy on the road to the Sea of Mist viewing area and on the camps. It’s also one of the most popular parks amongst Thai bird photographers who frequent the park throughout the season.

 

How about human development and road quality in the parks?

In Khao Yai national park there is quite a lot of human development. The Thai vision on nature mangement is different than… well different than our personal vision 😉 . Thailand as a country is a rather fast growing economy, ahead of its neighboring countries. They prefer to convert every track into a tarmac road as a result of this. Similarly, in the national parks we notice that whenever budget allows, they tend to feel the need to develope things.
Khao Yai national park seems to have the biggest budget, and that can be seen. The visitor centre looks quite modern, there are many ranger houses. Just this year they even added parking spots for mobile homes. We have yet to see a mobile home make use of them, but that’s another thing.
The roads, apart from the stretch up to the highest viewpoint and the army radar station, are of very good quality, often better than roads outside the park. Sadly, that causes the road users to speed, which results in unnecessary roadkill. Along parts of the road they even created totally unnecessary structures and planted trees in a city park manner.
So at first sight, you don’t get the feeling that you are in the middle of a huge forest. But actually you are. And the good thing is, as soon as you get off the road, and go on one of the trails, you soon forget about all this and you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. Even though we don’t really like to see all this development, we have learned to look passed it. ‘Peel off its skin’ and you discover a beautiful forest.

In the other parks this is much less the case. Kaeng Krachan has a tarmac road from the entrance to the first camp, but after that it turns into a dirt road, in some places of very poor quality. Some streams need to be crossed by car, and all that makes it feel more adventurous.
The camp grounds have the necessary facilities. Not really according to Western standard, but who cares? You’re in the jungle 😉 !
Huai Kha Khaeng has a gravel road that is reasonable quality. There are quite a few buildings especially near the head quarters to house the park staff. Other than that it feels quite wild.
Kui Buri has little development in terms of buildings, and the road is an off-road track.
The area itself in Kui Buri shows humans used to farm here. Tree species that are not native like Eucalyptus and the open areas are remnants of this.

 

And where can we see tigers in the wild?

We thought, lets just add this, some people ask.
The answer is easy: Nowhere!
The number of wild tigers in Thailand is estimated at maximum 200 individuals. And if we do the maths and count the known tiger populations in the various parks that still host them, we wonder if 200 individuals isn’t too positively estimated 🙁 .
Habitat loss might be one reason, though it is mostly poaching of the species itself and on prey species that have reduced this magnificent cat to near extinction.
The value of the bones on the Chinese market are the main cause. China is doing nothing to reduce this illegal trade, and thanks to that our generation will see this species go extinct from the wild. A big, big shame, but greed is impossible to fight.

Where are these 200 tigers?

Tiger pug mark

A huge tiger footprint we came across in Huai Kha Khaeng, just 600m from our tents…

In the last decade no evidence of tiger has been found in Khao Yai national park. It’s not unthinkable that an individual, or even a handful would still roam these forests, but surely no viable population.
Kaeng Krachan has a few, though these dense forests will make a sighting virtually impossible.
Kui Buri has a few, though on one of our last visits the rangers expressed their worries about the decreasing trend of tigers showing on camera trap images. Hopefully this is purely based on an unlucky camera trap season.
It’s Huai Kha Khaeng where maybe half of the estimated number occurs. Only on our tours in Huai Kha Khaeng we consistently keep finding tracks of tiger and also leopard. The rangers go out daily on patrols to fight the war against the poachers. And it is a war. Casualties are not uncommon. We can only admire the courage the rangers here have to continue risking their lives to protect the lives of the tigers.
The rangers, out and about in the forests almost daily, often for many years, have usually only once or twice seen a tiger in the wild. It shows how rare a sighting is.
We will keep trying, and maybe one day we will be able to make one of our guests happy, but chances seem to decrease while the clock is ticking.
Let’s hope this species will survive the greed of humanity.

After Huai Kha Khaeng, the largest population within Thailand is thought to be in the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex. That seems to contradict the statement we made about Khao Yai national park. Khao Yai national park is indeed part of this forest complex, but not the part where this tiger population occurs. It’s the other parts of this complex that are inhabited by tiger. A return of this species in Khao Yai national park is possible if the plans to make wildlife crossings on the road that cuts Khao Yai off from the rest of the Eastern forest complex will be developed.

 

Conclusion – Which national park is best to visit?

Of course this depends on your personal preferences, but despite the development and the high visitor number, we still consider our Khao Yai national park tours the best option for the average Thailand visitors. It combines beautiful forest with magnificent trees, diversity of wildlife including the best chance of these parks to see gibbons, but also good chance to see anything from big to small like hornbills, various types of mammals, snakes, other birdlife, perhaps crocodile, and even though certainly not guaranteed, it’s not too uncommon to even see elephants. The trails are not too hard so you get the time to look around instead of constantly looking where to place your feet.
Besides this there are some activities like the night safari drive which increases the chance to see nocturnal wildlife, and the nearby bat caves where a million or more bats fly out around sunset. These last two activities are not available in the other parks. This makes for a divers program, and therefore also the best option for families with kids. For these families traveling with children we recommend the 2.5-day tour.

Kui Buri national park is the best option for elephant lovers. Easy-going trip also suitable for families with children.
Many Thailand visitors head South towards the end of their holiday to relax on one of the beautiful islands.
If wild elephants are high on your wish list, a side trip to Kui Buri national park would nicely cut the long journey to the South. Or just as an addition to any of the other parks to secure your chances to see elephants.
This park doesn’t offer the true jungle experience that many are looking for, but as an addition to one of the other parks or for those seeking a nice trip without having to exercise much 😉 this is a great option.

Kaeng Krachan national park is the wilder brother of Khao Yai. For those who can let go of Western standards, but looking for beautiful jungle hikes, sometimes a bit difficult, this is the place to be. Spotting wildlife is generally a tad easier in Khao Yai. The trails in Kaeng Krachan are rarely used by others.
In Kaeng Krachan seeing an elephant is rare, but hopping over to Kui Buri for that purpose is quite easy from here. The common Dusky Langurs, and the reasonable chance to see various other primates including gibbons, makes this a wonderful place to be. Reptiles and birdlife are also common.
The camping and the rougher trails might not be for everyone, but those seeking a bit of adventure in a great setting, are best to choose for this park.
Not the most kid-friendly park, but if they are getting a bit older, it’s an option.

Huai Kha Khaeng wildlife sanctuary is mostly interesting for dedicated wildlife enthusiasts, and wildlife photographers. This place is not about the surroundings. And even not much about hiking and seeing small creatures, though birdlife is not bad here. This park is about mammals. Tourists are usually more rare than the many endangered species in this park.
This place is the wildest of Thailand, and not in the last place because of hosting the largest tiger and leopard population of the country. Despite this, we can almost guarantee that you are NOT going to see these big cats. But we keep finding their tracks, sometimes within just a couple of hundred metres from the camp.
The dry deciduous forests burn every year, keeping the vegetation between the fire-resistant trees low, and offering good visibility. Not the most beautiful and pleasant of all places to walk, so instead we spend quite a bit of time in observation towers where we wait for the wildlife to come to us. Waiting for several hours is not for everyone, but if it’s just about the results, this is a great method. Like no other place this park is full of prey species, even the endangered Banteng is quite commonly seen here.
This park makes a great addition to either of the other big parks, Khao Yai and Kaeng Krachan. So for those who plan to spend a week in nature, a combination of Huai Kha Khaeng and one of the other parks will be a great option. This place is not for families with kids.

 

Summary of pres and cons for each national park

Let us give a final overview of common interests of Thailand visitors to help you choose which national parks to visit, based on the information published, above.

 

 Khao Yai NPKaeng Krachan NPKui Buri NPHuai Kha Khaeng WS
Chance to see wild elephantsReasonable
(30 - 40%)
Small chance
(15 - 20%)
Guaranteed
(99.9%)
Small chance
(15 - 20%)
Diversity of wildlife to encounterGreat varietyGreat varietyRelatively low diversityReasonable diversity
Beautiful jungle, impressive treesBeautiful forestBeautiful forestNot so pretty, partly plantedMostly not so impressive
Hiking possibilitiesExtensive trail networkFew, but beautiful trailsFew options, and no shade!Few options
Hike gradeEasy - ModerateModerate - hardEasyEasy
Night activitiesSpotlighting night driveNight walk around campNo night activitiesNight walk around camp
Suitable for families with kidsBest option!
4yr+
Quite suitable
8yr+
Great option
4yr+
Not suitable
16yr+
Visitor numbersHighQuite highRelatively lowLow
Human developmentQuite a lot, but not on trailsLittleLittleLittle
RoadsAll high quality tarmacPart tarmac, part unpavedUnpaved roadUnpaved, gravel road
Chances to see tigersNo chanceVirtually no chanceVirtually no chanceExtremely tiny chance


 

What wildlife can be encountered on the tours in these national parks?

Every park has its own common species. On paper there is quite a bit of overlap, but in reality the actual sightings are different in the various parks, making it interesting to combine these parks for a longer wildlife holiday with more variety. Of course chances increase when spending multiple days.
Nothing is guaranteed in nature! But with a bit of luck you might see the following species in these parks.

 
KHAO YAI NATIONAL PARK

  • White-handed Gibbon
  • Sambar Deer
  • Red Muntjac
  • Northern Pig-tail Macaque
  • Black Giant Squirrel
  • Asian Elephant
  • East-asian Porcupine
  • Small Indian Civet
  • Asian Palm Civet
  • Great Hornbill
  • Oriental Pied Hornbill
  • Indochinese Water Dragon
  • Water Monitor Lizard
  • Flying Dragon species
  • Vogel’s Pit Viper
  • Oriental Vine Snake
  • Wrinkle-lipped Bats

 
Some uncommon species that our lucky guests have seen in Khao Yai, species you should certainly not expect to see 😉

  • Bengal Slow Loris
  • Pileated Gibbon
  • Dhole (Asian Wild Dog)
  • Asian Black Bear
  • Sun Bear
  • Binturong
  • Gaur
  • Small-toothed Palm Civet
  • King Cobra
  • Reticulated Python
  • Smooth-coated Otter
  • Indochinese Serow
  • Buffy Fish-owl

 
KUI BURI NATIONAL PARK

  • Asian Elephant
  • Gaur
  • Sambar Deer
  • Oriental Pied Hornbill

 
Some uncommon species that our lucky guests have seen in Kui Buri, species you should certainly not expect to see 😉

  • Banteng
  • Monocled Cobra
  • Siamese Hare
  • Hog Deer
  • Wild Boar

 
KAENG KRACHAN NATIONAL PARK

  • Dusky Langur
  • Banded Langur
  • White-handed Gibbon
  • Stumb-tailed Macaque
  • Black Giant Squirrel
  • East-asian Porcupine
  • Great Hornbill
  • Oriental Pied Hornbill
  • Oriental Vine Snake
  • White-lipped Pit Viper
  • Flying Dragon species
  • Cross-bearing Spiny Lizard

 
Some uncommon species that our lucky guests have seen in Kaeng Krachan, species you should certainly not expect to see 😉

  • Leopard
  • Sun Bear
  • Masked Palm Civet
  • Large Indian Civet
  • Wild Boar
  • Lesser Mouse Deer
  • King Cobra
  • Reticulated Python
  • Crab-eating Mongoose
  • Yellow-throated Marten
  • Pope’s Pit Viper
  • Tickell’s Brown Hornbill

 
HUAI KHA KHAENG WILDLIFE SANCTUARY

  • Banteng
  • Sambar Deer
  • Red Muntjac
  • Hog Deer
  • Eld’s Deer
  • Wild Boar
  • Golden Jackal
  • Long-tailed Macaque
  • Common Butterfly Lizard
  • Clouded Monitor Lizard
  • Green Peafowl
  • Black-hooded Oriole
  • Black-headed Woodpecker
  • Blue Magpie

 
Some uncommon species that our lucky guests have seen in Huai Kha Khaeng, species you should certainly not expect to see 😉

  • White-handed Gibbon
  • Indochinese Grey Langur
  • Leopard
  • Asian Elephant
  • Dhole (Asian Wild Dog)
  • Siamese Hare

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