Set in beautiful mountainous territory, Khao Yai National Park was Thailand’s first ever national park, and you could say it is a case of ‘the original and the best’. Covering 2,100 square kilometres – four provinces’ worth – and part of the larger Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, there is a wealth of opportunity for exploration.
You’ll find several waterfalls, acres and acres of rainforest and expansive grassland – all roamed by some of the world’s most exciting animal species. Elephants, Asian black bears and over 300 species of bird can be found here and it is a delight to discover them in between the trees and making their way across the plains.
Best of all, all this is not far at all from Bangkok. It is just 200km and an easily accessible day trip away from Bangkok, from where you can get a direct bus.
Haew Narok is the highest of the many waterfalls in the park, making it a good vantage point for elephants who are often found in this area. There are three tiers to this fall, a triple dose of an awe-inspiring water feature that is reached by hiking a 600m trail. Film fans should also check out Haew Suwat, which has appeared in ‘The Beach’ with Leonardo DiCaprio. For sheer picturesque wonder, the orchids surrounding the rocks at Orchid Waterfall make it one of the most beautiful.
One of the main draws of Khao Yai National Park is its elephants. A symbolic and spiritual species for the Thai people, the elephants move majestically around the park and there a few better sights than a herd on the move. Also found here are monkeys, Asian black bears and sun bears, cobras, pythons and an incredible variety of birds – around 300 species in total. One of the spectacles that has made the area famous is the nightly display at the Khao Luk Chang Bat Cave, where the bats flutter up into the night sky as a great cloud-like mass. It has a uniquely spooky atmosphere and is well worth paying a visit for. Curiously, there is also a sole crocodile in the park which tends to camp in the same spot along one of the trails.
PB Valley Khao Yai Winery
There’s nothing better than a good glass of wine in scenic surroundings and this is something you can do at Khao Yai too! This vineyard produced its first bottle in 1998 and is now well established as an award-winning attraction, with tours running five times per day. These fruity wines are a treat, as are the seasonal gardens next to the vineyard which are lined with dragon fruit, passion fruit, mango and Japanese melon orchards.
It is no wonder that this national park is one of the top Thai attractions: as the monkeys dart across the road when you first arrive, you know you’re in for a treat straight away. Why not book a guided, private wildlife tour to take you around all the best spots. But even if you’d rather make your own way around the park, there is always the lookout post of the Nong Pak Chi tower, from where you can observe the whole ecosystem of the park with an eagle-eye perspective.