Khao Yai national park
The best national park in Thailand for wildlife watching.
Why to visit Khao Yai?
A visit to Khao Yai offers a great chance to see all kinds of wildlife. The national park has healthy populations of gibbons, hornbills and lots more. There is even a chance you might see Asian Elephants in the wild.
Accompanied by a guide you will likely see some of the stars of Khao Yai on your visit. Looking for a guided tour? Click here for guided tours in Khao Yai. We have visited many of Thailand's national parks, but no park beats Khao Yai national park when it comes to wildlife watching.
Visit Khao Yai national park!
This is the best tip we can give. Jungle trekking in the North of Thailand might be more popular, but if you would like to see wildlife, the North will be very disappointing. For wildlife Khao Yai is THE place to be.
Go with a local guide
We don't tell you this to sell more tours, but simply because it's the best way to see more wildlife. And not to get lost...
The local guides know the park from inside out and know where the animals often forage. More importantly, the guides have well-trained eyes that will help you to discover everything from the smallest to the largest wonders of Khao Yai national park. You will be surprised what you would have walked past without noticing had you been visiting on your own!
Visit on weekdays
Khao Yai national park is Thailand's most popular national park. 95% of the visitors in Khao Yai are Thai nationals. It is great to see that locals are enjoying their own nature parks, which will only make them more aware of what still survives there. And hopefully helps in protection of these wonderful places. But you might be looking for a place to get away from the busy daily life. Try to avoid weekends and national holidays.
If your planning only allows a visit in the weekend, it is definitely still worth to visit. But you will have to share the roads and the main attractions like the waterfalls with many locals.
Like in other parks around the world with high visitor numbers, the wildlife has learned that people are not to be feared. That's why the popular parks often offer better wildlife observation opportunities than nature reserves with very low visitor numbers and therefore often bigger problems with poaching.
The good news is that, generally speaking, the Thais do not really like walking. Even less when it is in a jungle. So, even in busy weekends you might still have the forest to yourself.
Do NOT feed the animals
Most people understand you should not feed the wildlife. But some people get tempted when a young macaque is standing on its hind legs, looking with its cute human-like face into your car. You will notice these animals are quite tame, because of the many people before you who have not obeyed this rule. However, what the 'feeders' do not see, is what happens after that.
Often, the monkeys get too close to the cars. Fatal road accidents are very common. Not everybody seems to care about the speed limits, nor the monkeys. Some people even seem to consider them as a nuisance and do not even reduce speed. By driving slowly and understanding that you are entering their home, not the other way around, you will reduce the risk of these vulnerable creatures (they are listed on the IUCN Red List as Threatened - Vulnerable, even though they are common in Khao Yai.) getting injured or killed.
If everybody stops feeding them, the situation won't get worse. Already, they have learned to steal food from bags and tents. They even know how to open the zip of a tent. And in some cases they show aggressive behaviour. Actual attacks on people are still rare. But mock-charging and showing their long canine teeth is not a rare behaviour. By feeding this will only get worse. Don't let us get similar situations like they have encountered in African national parks with baboons that had to be shot, because they were getting too dangerous.
Bring a sweater
Often, we give this advice to our guests, but many of them think they won't need it. Until they get in the park. Due to the altitude and the forest cover, the temperatures are cool year-round. Surely, not always to the level that a sweater is required, but it is impossible to say that for sure in advance. So, this advice applies to the entire year, especially in the winter months, November - January. Some days are fine. But especially if you do a night drive in an open-air safari truck, it really cools down quite a bit.
In the colder winter months we have used double sleeping bags in the wintertime, and sometimes even brought a scarf for the night safari! The scarf might not be necessary for people who are more used to a cold climate, but nonetheless it is better to bring a sweater and not need it, than not bringing it and regretting it.
Bring a compass
This really only applies if you are visiting without a guide. Even though there has been some improvement on the more popular trails, still some trails in Khao Yai are not well-marked. And besides that, there are no good trail maps available. Often (wildlife) trails branch off the original tourist trails and might cause confusion. All people we have met that thought they had a good sense of direction, get totally disoriented in these jungles. It is easy when following e.g., a river. But once you get into the continuous forest it is really hard.
Even the most basic map can help you if you bring a compass. Study the map before you start the trek. If you do get lost, and know there is a road to the east that cuts through the entire park, a compass will help you find it. Without, you are completely lost and will rely mostly on luck!
At the end of 2010, a park ranger got lost and has never been found. Do not think you know better than the rangers. Stories of tourists and locals getting lost are very common. Another story happened in a different wildlife sanctuary but this could just as easily have happened in Khao Yai. This local actually knew the trail well, but he was chased off the trail by a herd of elephants and then soon lost his orientation and never managed to get back to the trail. He survived despite being lost for 14 days before he was found! A compass and some basic study of the area/map would have solved this situation.
Phone signal has improved a bit in recent years. But still once you are deeper in the jungle, you won't be able to call for help. With an analog compass you do not rely on battery life.
The souvenir shop in the park at the visitor center might have cheap compasses in stock. But to be sure, better bring one from home or buy it before you enter the park, and test if it indeed points in the right direction...
Back off when you see wild elephants
Elephants might seem slow, clumsy and docile, but you are wrong. They are able to outrun you, and people have been killed, even in Khao Yai! Follow these tips, act wisely, and there should be no need to be worried.
Elephants have a comfort zone and when you enter that zone, they will let you know. Do not try to be brave by standing your ground. There is no need to do that with elephants, even though it might work in many cases. Stand your ground when you see a tiger or other large predator like a bear. Running from a predator will trigger their predatory instinct. But an elephant just wants to let you know you have come too close and should back off. Give it some space by backing off and do not make sudden noises since that will only make the situation worse.
If you are driving by car or motorbike and encounter an elephant on the road, keep an eye on the animal(s) and on other traffic. Do not be selfish. Everybody would like to see these magnificent creatures, and if you happen to be the last one in a row of cars and hardly able to see what is going on, do not just block other people's escape route. You might be the cause of them getting stuck and cause a dangerous situation for those who are near the elephants.
Many visitors in the park have no experience with encountering wild elephants. Some get scared and make strange moves, so be prepared. Give other people enough space, and wait for your turn to get a better sight of the amazing animals.
If you are the one that has the best view, make sure other people do not block your escape route. If it gets too crowded, you are better off to leave before it is too late.
If it is just a solitary elephant you can slowly pass if he seems to be relaxed and gives way to cars by turning its head towards the forest for feeding. That is your moment to pass. Keep a steady pace while passing, but don't drive too fast. If it's a herd of elephants, I hope for you that you are not in a hurry...
Early 2021, a solitary male elephant killed a man that was camping at one of the designated camp grounds. Park authorities have reduced the camping possibilities after that incident. Check with the authorities about the current situation.
As a side note, in September 2021 a national park ranger was killed by a Gaur. These massive bovines are not so commonly encountered and usually very shy, but faster than an elephant and extremely powerful.
And never forget, you are just a visitor in their natural home.
Park restaurants close early
If you're visiting the park on your own and staying overnight in the park, make sure you buy your dinner on time. The park restaurants tend to close early in the evening. Especially on weekdays in the low seasons.
Do not expect to get food after 18:00, especially at the restaurants at the camping grounds. Sometimes they even close early in the afternoon!
If you do have your own vehicle, and you found the restaurant is closed, you might have one more option. At the junction where the research center is located, turn right (or left if you come from one of the camping grounds/ Haew Suwat waterfall) onto the road to the south that leads to Haew Narok waterfall. After about 200 meters you'll see a guarded gate. Turn left, just before this gate, onto the road that leads to Pha Dieo Die viewpoint. After just 100 meters you'll see a small road to the right that leads to the Thanarat Zone cabins. On this corner you'll see a slightly hidden food shop on your right ( https://goo.gl/maps/PU8Q2UPaPaMWzsLQ9 ). Besides preparing food, they sell snacks, cold drinks and other necessities like toilet paper, soap, etc. They sell mainly to the park staff, and are open most days till 20:00 or sometimes even later.
Buy leech socks
On our tours we provide leech socks when necessary, but if you're visiting the park on your own and plan on hiking in the jungle especially in the months April to October, buy a pair of leech socks in the souvenir shop in the park. And wear long pants that you can tuck into these leech socks. You will probably regret wearing shorts.
It sounds more scary than it is, leeches are small worm-like creatures of 1 to 3 cm long. They don't transmit diseases. Though there have been some unusual cases of hookworm entering the bite site. This is not scary either and definitely not common. But if you start to notice a strong itch a couple days after and see a red trail meandering just below your skin starting from the leech bite site, then it is wise to either take deworm medication or freeze it with nitrogen ice or the freeze spray used for sports injuries.
The leech bite does not hurt, usually you don't feel anything at all. The only 'problem' with leeches is that if they attach long enough, more than 30 seconds or so, they will inject anticoagulant. When you remove them afterwards, it will keep bleeding for quite a while. So, getting blood stains in your clothing is the only real trouble.
For some people, just the idea of being 'attacked' by leeches is the biggest issue ;)
Visit Khao Yai national park!
This is the best tip we can give. To see wildlife, Khao Yai is THE place to go.
Ooh wait, we have told you already...
What is there to see?
Khao Yai national park is the third largest national park of Thailand. 2168 Square kilometres of wilderness. The forests of Khao Yai consist mainly of evergreen forest, but open grasslands can be found throughout the park. Impressive stands of primary forest still remain, especially in the northwest of the park, where most of the trails are.
There are few roads in the park. The accessible area is limited to the main road that connects Pak Chong (in the north) and Prachin Buri (in the south), and two dead-end side roads, one leading to the highest mountain of the park, the Khao Khieo area, and the other road passing the 2 main camping grounds leading to Haew Suwat waterfall. Some smaller roads lead to the park's accommodations.
Several nature trails are open for tourists, and guides are not compulsory for most jungle trails; if it's wise to hike without a guide, is another story. Carefully read our tips, above, before you take off on your own. Or look at our guided trips in Khao Yai. Khao Yai is a great place for wildlife photography and birding.
How to get to Khao Yai national park?
To get to Khao Yai national park, it's best to travel via Pak Chong. The tours to Khao Yai start from Pak Chong. The northern park entrance is about 180kms from Bangkok.
Coming from Bangkok, Pak Chong can be reached by public bus, shuttle minivan, or by train. Trains depart from Hualampung train station and these trains travel via Ayutthaya. Public transport is cheap and straight forward. However, if you prefer the convenience of a private transfer, contact us for more info. We offer private transfers from Bangkok or elsewhere by minivan or taxi.
If you'd like to get to Khao Yai on your own, but don't have a vehicle, then you can take the public truck that runs between Pak Chong town and the entrance of the park. The trucks depart from the 7-eleven just to the east of the night market on the main road that runs through Pak Chong centre. It's within walking distance from all main public transport stations. Once you get to Khao Yai national park's entrance you need to hitchhike the next 14kms to the visitor center and even more if you intend to stay at one of the park cabins or camping grounds. Be aware that Khao Yai national park is huge - 3 times Singapore! - and so are the distances between the different sights. If you're on foot, you will be very limited. Though hitchhiking is quite easy, especially in the weekends when lots of Thais visit the park. There is a motorcycle rental place near the northern park entrance gate. Not sure how likely they are to be booked out, but it is worth the try and offers way more flexibility when travelling inside the park.
The southern entrance at the Prachin Buri side is more quiet, but it's a long way from there to the visitor center and other than a concrete trail to Haew Narok waterfall there are no nature trails that are open for visitors.
Weather & climate in Khao Yai national park
The weather in Khao Yai national park is generally quite pleasant. Khao Yai has three main seasons, each with its own advantages. It's worth to visit the park, year round. Due to the higher elevation and forested hills the climate tends to be more pleasant than on the surrounding plateaus, even in the hot season. Evening temperatures are low year round, so even in the hot season we recommend you to bring a sweater, especially if driving around in an open safari truck. Many tourists don't expect this cooler weather when visiting a tropical country like Thailand.
November to February is generally the cool and dry season. Temperatures are pleasant during the day, but it gets cold at night. Some nights we've slept in two sleeping bags! Don't expect to see spectacular waterfalls during this time. But generally the skies are clear.
Usually, the hot season lasts from March to April. Some years are wetter than others. And we've encountered days below 14 degrees Celsius in March. Weather is hard to predict, so come prepared.
In May it tends to rain more than in the previous months. And the wet season really takes off in July and lasts till October. Be prepared for rain, but don't stay away because of it. The forests are lush, the waterfalls look great, and the animals don't disappear. The forest actually seems more alive in the wet season.
Wildlife of Khao Yai National Park
There are too many species in Khao Yai national park to list them all, but to give you an idea we will list a few.
Lesser Mouse Deer
Northern Pig-tailed Macaque
Bengal Slow Loris
Black Giant Squirrel
Indian Giant Flying Squirrel
Asian Black Bear
Malayan Sun Bear
Asian Golden Cat
Indochinese Tiger Dramatically reduced by poaching, if not totally extirpated!
Common Palm Civet
Small-toothed Palm Civet
Small Indian Civet
Large Indian Civet
Small Asian Mongoose
And we're not even halfway...
Vogel's Pit Viper
Large-eyed Pit Viper
Oriental Vine Snake
Indochinese Rat Snake
Brahminy Blind Snake
Indochinese Water Dragon
Crested Forest Lizard
Barred Gliding Lizard
Scale-bellied Forest Lizard
Cardamom Mountains Forest Lizard
Butterfly Bent-toed Gecko
Cambodian Parachute Gecko
And many more...
Austen's Brown Hornbill
Oriental Pied Hornbill
Crested Serpent Eagle
Mountain Hawk Eagle
Great Eared Nightjar
Siberian Blue Robin
Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo
Asian Fairy Bluebird
And so much more...