Elephant in Kui Buri national park

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What is the best national park in 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 hordes of tourists?

Pileated Gibbon in Khao Yai national park
Pileated Gibbon (Hylobates pileatus) female in Khao Yai national park. Unlike the White-handed Gibbons (Hylobates lar) the Pileated Gibbon is quite an uncommon sight. An encounter with these acrobats is always a delight on our tours.

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. What we mean with that is: some parks might have different habitats with different species. But if there is no easy way to get to those areas for the average visitor, then it is not really of use to mention here. The following information is purely based on our personal experiences of extensively visiting these parks. And this page is only about the national parks that we frequently visit. We do not compare the 100+ national parks of Thailand.

What national park should I visit in Thailand?

The following links will scroll you straight to each section of this article.

  1. What 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. What park offers the most beautiful scenery with large impressive trees?
  4. Where to go for hiking?
  5. What national park allows night activities?
  6. What park is most suitable to visit for a family with children?
  7. What 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 - What national park is best to visit?
  11. Summary of pros and cons per national park
  12. What wildlife can be encountered on the tours in these national parks?

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

Photographing a herd of elephants
Our tour guests photographing a herd of elephants.

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. For several years we had virtually a 99% success rate with elephant sightings in Kui Buri. Only early 2020, not long before the country went in lockdown, we had a couple tours in a row without success. Maybe the drought was causing that.

Kui Buri is 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 normally do the job. We are 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, to get a 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 that 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 quite good. But it varies a lot. Some weeks the elephants are seen 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 over the course of the day, 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-day tours in Khao Yai, chances are reasonable. If, however, your holiday is only truly successful with a wild elephant sighting, book our Kui Buri elephant safari!

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

Nature tours around Thailand
The incredible biodiversity that occurs in Thailand.

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.

Indochinese Water Dragon (Physignathus cocincinus) in Khao Yai national park
The Indochinese Water Dragon, Physignathus cocincinus is one of the amazing animals you are more likely to see on a Khao Yai tour in the wet season.

Great diversity is mostly linked to certain forest types. And of course a certain degree of protection from other threats is of importance too. 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 for example in 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 some specific large mammals and birdlife.

The jungles of Khao Yai and Kaeng Krachan are the best to see everything from insects, amphibians and reptiles to colourful birdlife and many types of mammals. It's these two parks that we recommend the most. Khao Yai probably has the edge in being most consistent in producing successful trips with a good variety of species. But on paper, Kaeng Krachan has the longer species list and therefore more exciting surprises are possible.

The public area of Kui Buri national park, consists of degraded forest. In the past much of the terrain was used by farmers. But that land has now been 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 add-on to any of the other larger and more divers parks. It will increase the diversity.

What 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 addition of the so-called Sea 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. The accessible part of Kui Buri is primarily degraded forest and open savannah. Huai Kha Khaeng's public area consists mostly of dry deciduous forest. Forest fires occur here annually. That keeps the undergrowth low, so there is good visibility. But it lacks the real jungle feeling.

Where to go for hiking?

Hiking is one of the activities that get you closer to nature. And every proper jungle experience should contain some beautiful hikes. Again, the answer is that Khao Yai national park and in second place, 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 it allows you to look around to spot animals instead of constantly focusing on where to place your feet.

On our tours we don't usually do long distance hikes. We walk slowly, and follow our senses. We 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 do a little bit of hiking in Huai Kha Khaeng, which is an exciting experience in itself. But in most cases more exhausting primarily due to less shade. In Huai Kha Khaeng 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. The terrain is easy, but it can be hot at times, and mosquitos are more of a problem here than in other parks. But standing in all your vulnerability next to some tiger pug marks or a leopard scrape, is a special feeling.

What 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, unfortunately. The night safaris in Khao Yai 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 if the conditions are not totally optimal.

On our tours in Kaeng Krachan we usually do some night walking around the camping area. And in Huai Kha Khaeng we can drive around at night, outside the park in the buffer zone forest. 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.

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

Exploring the jungle of Thailand with kids
Exploring the jungle with kids. Looking for tracks of animals, listening for wildlife calls, smelling elephant dung, and getting up close with all kinds of critters. An experience they will never forget!

We strongly recommend Khao Yai national park for families travelling with children. The diversity of both the wildlife, but also the activities that can be done, like a night safari drive option, a visit to the bat caves, waterfalls, viewpoints, and hikes, and the relative ease to see e.g., monkeys and deer makes Khao Yai the best option. Younger kids have shorter attention spans, so a bit more diversity in activities, as well as the higher chance to see wildlife make this park more suitable than others. By the way, also for adults that diversity will be appreciated. We usually recommend our 2.5-day Khao Yai tour for families with children. Also the Elephant Safari in Kui Buri is a great option for all ages.

Kaeng Krachan national park is also an option. But the itinerary is a bit less divers than Khao Yai.

Huai Kha Khaeng is not recommended for families with children. We spend a lot of time waiting quietly in wildlife watching towers. For the average kid (perhaps even for most adults too, haha) that will be quite boring. Surely the chance to see animals from these towers is pretty good. But then you often end up watching for example a grazing herd of Banteng for over an hour. If you think your kids are really into that, then feel free to contact us. But in most cases this is not really a great option, also because there are not enough alternative things to do. This park is not set up for tourists.

What 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 crowded. 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 the wildlife is more habituated to humans. For this reason, gibbon watching is best in Khao Yai, simply because the animals are more used to seeing people than the gibbons in Huai Kha Khaeng, or even Kaeng Krachan which has only a couple somewhat more habituated families. 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 fairly low visitor number, too. Though, since it is one dead-end road and everyone entering does the exact same route, it can still feel a bit crowded at times. It doesn't reduce your chances though. On most weekdays it is still pretty quiet, generally speaking.

Kaeng Krachan is quiet on the trails, but at times can be busy on the road to the Sea of Mist viewing area and at 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 management 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 develop 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. They created special parking spots for mobile homes. Not commonly used though. The roads are of very good quality, often better than roads outside the park. Sadly, that causes the road users to speed. And that 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. Even though you are. But 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. So do not let the city-park resemblance at first sight discourage you. There is still a lot of stunning forest for you to discover.

In the other parks, this is much less the case. Kaeng Krachan has a tarmac road from the entrance to the first camp and another one kilometre or so passed it. But after that it turns into a dirt road, in some places of very poor quality. You need to cross some streams when driving in by car, and all that makes it feel more adventurous/wild.

The camp grounds have the necessary facilities. Not really according to Western standards, but who cares? You're in the jungle ;) ! It is not too bad either, especially the newer restrooms.

Huai Kha Khaeng has a gravel road that is of 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 to be less than 200 individuals. And if we do the maths and count the known tiger populations in the various parks that still have them, we wonder if 200 individuals isn't way too positively estimated :( .

Habitat loss might be one reason, though it is probably mostly poaching of the species itself and on prey species that have reduced this magnificent cat so dramatically. The value of the bones are the main cause. We fear that our generation might see this species go extinct from the wild. A big, big shame, but greed is impossible to fight.

Where are these 200 tigers?

The size of the tiger pugmarks compared to our hands
Tiger pugmarks!

In over a 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. Further east in the same forest complex there is still a breeding population, and they might enter Khao Yai, but then they still need to wander around quite a long distance before getting to the core area of the park.

Kaeng Krachan has a few, though these dense forests will make a sighting virtually impossible. Kui Buri has a few, though we have heard the last years they had trouble even getting any to show up on camera traps.

It's Huai Kha Khaeng where nearly half of the estimated number occurs. On our trips here, 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 really the part where this tiger population occurs. It's the other parts of this complex that are still inhabited by tiger. A return of this species in Khao Yai national park is possible. In 2020, wildlife crossings on the road that cuts Khao Yai off from the rest of the Eastern forest complex were completed. We have heard some negative comments on these crossings. But hopefully the tigers will start to use them and re-establish in Khao Yai.

Conclusion - What national park is best to visit?

Hornbill in Khao Yai national park
Great Hornbill flying in Khao Yai national park

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 the majority of our guests. It combines beautiful forest with magnificent trees, diversity of wildlife including the best chance of these parks to see gibbons. Also a good chance to see anything from big to small like hornbills, various types of mammals, snakes, other birdlife, and even though certainly not guaranteed, it's not too uncommon to even see wild 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 travelling with children we recommend our 2.5-day tour in Khao Yai.

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, would nicely break up the long journey to the South.

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.

Gibbon in Kaeng Krachan national park
A young White-handed Gibbon jumping from tree to tree in Kaeng Krachan national park. White-handed Gibbons we see fairly regularly on our tours in Kaeng Krachan.

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 more difficult, this is the place to be. Spotting wildlife is generally a bit easier in Khao Yai. But with a bit of luck, there's plenty of some cool stuff to be seen. The trails in Kaeng Krachan are not busy.

In Kaeng Krachan seeing an elephant is rare. But hopping over to Kui Buri for that specific 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 great here. The camping might not be for everyone, but those seeking a bit of an adventure in a great setting, are best off to choose for this park.

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 or seeing small creatures, though birdlife is quite nice 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 populations 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 very close to the head quarters and camp ground.

The dry deciduous forests burn every year. This keeps the vegetation between the fire-resistant trees low, which offers 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. But for families with kids it is probably better to look elsewhere.

Summary of pros and cons for each national park

Here follows a table with a series of interesting points. This will help you make a quick decision which park fits best with your preferences.

Scroll horizontally to see all destinations.

 Khao YaiKaeng KrachanKui BuriHuai Kha Khaeng
Chance to see wild elephants Reasonable
(30 - 40%)
Small chance
(15 - 20%)
Almost guaranteed
(90 - 95%)
Small chance
(15 - 20%)
Diversity of wildlife to encounterGreat varietyGreat varietyRelatively low diversityReasonable diversity
Beautiful jungle, impressive treesBeautiful evergreen forestBeautiful evergreen forestNot so pretty. Used to be farmland, now regeneratingDry forest, not too impressive
Walking possibilitiesQuite a few beautiful trailsJust a couple trailsNo walking possibilitiesOnly one nice trail
Walking gradeEasy to moderateEasy to moderateN/AEasy
Night activitiesSpotlighting night driveNight walking on our herping toursNo night activitiesNight drive outside the park
Suitable for families with kidsThe best option!Quite suitableGreat optionNot really suitable
Visitor numbersHighQuite highStarting to gain popularityLow
Human developmentQuite a lot, but trails still feel wildNot muchNot muchNot much
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 practice, the actual species that are more commonly seen are different in the various parks. That's also why it is interesting to combine multiple parks for a longer wildlife holiday with more variety. Of course, chances increase when spending more time.

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 here. But 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 here. But species you should certainly not expect to see.

  • Banteng
  • Golden Jackal
  • 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 here. But 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 here. But 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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