Night safaris in Khao Yai – why the quality varies
We feel like we need to explain a bit more about the night safari drives before you decide to book this. The following information does not apply to the rest of our Khao Yai tour itineraries (the daytime programs), because we can use our own vehicles and guides without interference of national park staff for the activities during the day. The night safari drives however, are regulated by the national park authorities.
Only national park staff is allowed to operate these spotlighting night drives. Unfortunately our guides are not allowed to drive and spotlight by themselves. This means the quality of this particular activity is completely out of our hands. Sometimes you may be lucky and get a national park driver who is fine and taking the time to make the most out of it. Other times you may end up with a driver that seems to be more interested to return home early than to enjoy some wildlife watching. Unfortunately, we do not get to choose which driver and spotlighting assistant we get assigned. We simply get the next driver that's on the list. The lack of influence our own guides have on the quality of how the drives are operated are our main concern, and the primary reason we've decided to write this article.
During these night safaris you will be seated in the trunk of a pickup truck. With basically a 360 degrees view of the surroundings. And the national park staff will have a powerful spotlight to spot the animals as you drive around in the dark. Sometimes you will get a vehicle with a roof over your head, other times you may get a vehicle that does not have a roof. The lack of the roof is optimal for wildlife viewing. Great when the weather is good. But less fun on a rainy evening... Also be prepared that due to the driving wind, especially in the winter months but sometimes even during other times of the year, it can get pretty cold. The coldest we have experienced was 12 degrees Celsius which in the back of an open driving car is pretty cold! That's uncommon, but anyway.
The night drives always follow the same route. It generally only takes about 40 minutes to an hour to complete the entire loop. The national park does get busy, and lots of these visitors tend to also book these night safaris. Which sometimes results in a long convoy of night safari cars. All driving in the same direction, following the same route. This may give more the sense of a ride in an amusement park, than in a wildlife reserve.
Of course, like any other wildlife watching activity in nature, the results of these night safari drives vary from time to time. Some of our guests have been lucky to see a whole bunch of species including nocturnal animals that are not normally seen in daytime. Other times you may not see much more than a couple Sambar deer which you will undoubtedly see in daytime too. Most of our guests understand that this is part of nature and wildlife watching. But if you didn't get the feeling that the driver and spotlighting assistant tried hard to get the most out of your drive, then it may feel like a total waste of time and leave you frustrated. When our guests give feedback on our tours it is not uncommon to hear that they felt the night drive was a bit a waste of time. Therefore we feel like we should give you an idea on what to expect before you decide to book a tour package that includes this activity. And make it clear to you that we have zero influence on this particular activity.
Nonetheless, these night drives are a rather unique opportunity in Thailand to possibly see some nocturnal wildlife. And that is the only reason why we have decided to still offer this activity. We are disappointed it is generally not executed as great as it could have been. We believe it could be so much better if we would get more freedom to operate this by ourselves. But it is what it is.
Lastly, in addition to the complications regarding the night safari activity, there is the issue of the dinner. We include dinner in the evening that your night safari is scheduled. Because after a long day in the jungle it will probably be too late for you to wait until you get back to your hotel to eat. But most of the restaurants in the park tend to close before regular dinner time. The options that may remain are generally not so great. Unfortunately there is nothing we can do about this. We can't bring a chef cook and a kitchen on each tour. Then again, you probably do not book a wildlife tour expecting a culinary highlight. But anyway we thought we'd mention this.