The week around New Year many Thais flock to the national parks for day visits, or often even overnight camping. It's the scenery and the cool winter weather that attracts them, usually more so than the wildlife.
Probably the most popular destination is Khao Yai national park, which gets so crowded in this time of year that we have decided not to offer tours in the week around New Year in Khao Yai. A shame really, because this year again we had to disappoint such a large number of foreign tourists wanting to do tours in Khao Yai national park. It made us think how to help these visitors in the future during the national holidays. Therefore, we decided to do another survey trip to Pangsida national park. This time in the last weekend of December and see how busy this park would get.
Pangsida national park lies at about 230 km from Bangkok centre, and it takes about 3:15hr to get there. So, not much longer than getting to Khao Yai. The main entrance to the park is in Sa Kaeo province. This lies on the popular route between Bangkok and Cambodia, travelled by many who plan to visit e.g., Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The border crossing at Aranya Prathet - Poipet is only 45 min, <60km away from Sa Kaeo.
The good news is that despite being the main holiday season for the Thais, we shared the campground with only 6 other tents on the most busy night! That's what they call 'crowded' in Pangsida ;). Quite different from Khao Yai where there are usually a couple thousand campers in that particular weekend! Most of the year, especially on weekdays you will likely be the only visitor in Pangsida.
The Pangsida waterfall - only at about 3 kms from the park entrance - is the main highlight for the Thai tourists. 90% of the visitors will turn around and leave again after seeing the waterfall. While in our opinion, the park only starts to get interesting after this point, where the paved road ends and the gravel road starts. The road continues all the way till a viewpoint about 22km from the Pangsida waterfall.
Most people tend to believe that the further away you go from people, the more wildlife you will encounter. However, most of the time this is not the case. It is more likely the other way around. A surprise, right?
The lack of tourists is great in a way, and there is no better feeling than having a huge forest all to yourself, BUT it also means the wildlife rarely encounters human beings. For that reason they are more skittish and flee before you might have even seen them. The feeling we get on the visits we have done to Pangsida, is that it is a bit more challenging to see the wildlife. Likely because of this particular reason.
Still, every time we have visited this national park, Pangsida has showed us some amazing wildlife. Maybe not a huge number of animals, but often rarities that are not easily seen in any of the other national parks in Thailand.
This trip we even managed to confirm the survival of the reintroduced, critically endangered Siamese Crocodile. It was not sure if the reintroduced individuals had survived. Some survey trips by herpetologists had retrieved no sign of survival. And some experts considered the area unsuitable for this species, despite the historical records showing these animals had inhabited this park in the past. So, it was very exciting when we managed to spot a healthy adult basking along a river deep in the park.