Khao Yai National Park is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in all of Thailand. It was the first natural area in the country to be declared a National Park, in 1962, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005.
Intro to Khao Yai National Parks
Within Khao Yai live more than 3000 species of plants and trees, and a great variety of wild animals including 66 species of mammals, such as deers, macaques, elephants and bears, more than 320 species of birds, reptiles such as monitor lizards, crocodiles and snakes, and a large population of insects, among which spectacular butterflies stand out.
But some of the animals present in the Park are very difficult to spot, and it is essential to manage expectations: the chances of seeing a tiger are almost non-existent, and spotting elephants is rather rare -although sometimes they are seen even from the road-. But at the same time it would be very rare for you to leave the Park without having seen deer, macaques and monitor lizards, and it is guaranteed that you will see beautiful natural landscapes, rivers and waterfalls, and that you will be able to walk along beautiful trails through dense rainforest.
What have we seen in our several visits to Khao Yai? Almost everything: Elephants, bears, snakes, may kinds of birds, one crocodile, one small bear, etc.
Three Things you should know about Khao Yai
It’s only 3 hours from Bangkok
It is even possible to visit it on a single day lightning excursion from Bangkok, although in this case you better consider booking it with a tour agency to make the most out of your time. But if possible, it is much better to go on your own and spend a couple nights in a cabin or tent inside the Park, so you can get to know the place better and can enjoy the beautiful starry nights amongst monkeys and deers.
Roads are good, but there is no public transport
The Park is very well cared for, it has good roads which are a pleasure to drive along, and in addition to basic accommodation it offers some restaurants, small supermarkets, several cafeterias, and an information center -the Visitor Center– which is very useful for the traveler. Bear in mind that there is no public transport inside the Park, so the best way to visit it is by renting a motorcycle, car or bicycle.
Entrance fee is 400 THB for foreigners (40 THB for Thais)
Visiting Khao Yai is recommended for all types of travelers. For the more sporty and adventurous there is a good variety of really beautiful hiking circuits -don’t forget to wear appropriate clothes and footwear!- but don’t worry if you are not: to enjoy the Park there’s no need for a great physical effort, since many of its highlights are easily accessible by road and through easy paths.
🥾 Hiking in Khao Yai
Trekking is the best activity one can do in Khao Yai
At the Visitor Center you can get a map with 7 hiking routes. All of them are quite well marked with green signposts nailed to trees. Keep in mind that only route 1 is circular, while the other 6 begin and end at different locations, so it is necessary to either organize a vehicle to pick you up at the end, walk back along the road or hitchhike, a fairly common practice in the Park.
We’ve done most of these trekkings in Khao Yai so here you have our first-hand opinion
▶️ Trail 1: A short and easy 1 km walk It is a quiet and easy walk of only about 15 minutes along a small path that begins just behind the Visitor Center, goes a bit into the forest and visits the small Kong Kaeo waterfall. It is a beautiful path, ideal for those traveling with very young children, and offers good chances of spotting gibbons.
▶️ Trails 2, 3 and 4: 1 hour hikes (3 km) Trails 2, 3 and 4 are ideal for those looking to get into real jungle, but without getting too tired. These routes are about 3 km long and are usually done in an hour or a little more.
- Route 2 is relatively easy as it is quite flat, starting at the Pha Kluai Mai camping area and ending at the majestic Heow Suwat waterfall. Look out: the trail follows a stream in which crocodiles are sometimes seen.
Pol did see a crocodile doing the trail number 2, we believe must be the same crocodile that bit a French tourist a few years ago
- Route 3 follows a trail that in some sections becomes quite steep, crosses a beautiful jungle area with many huge trees, and ends at an observation tower good for spottingboth birds -in the lake next to it- and wild mammals.
- Route 4, which runs from Dong Tiew to Sai Sorn Dam, is the easiest of these three, and also starts close to the Visitor Center, making it a good option for those who do not have their own vehicle. This trail visits a jungle area where different types of gibbons live.
▶️ Trail 5: the most recommended, about 3 hours hike Excursion number 5 is probably the most recommended for a first visit to the Park. At a slow pace, it will take you about 3 hours. If you wish, you can rent the services of a Park Ranger guide. They charge between 500 and 1000 THB depending on the hiking trail of your choice. This hike starts right next to the information center and ends at a beautiful bird viewpoint. From there you will need a vehicle or hitchhike to return to the information center.
⭐ Trail 5 is our pick as the most recommended one since it’s a long but relatively easy trail and gets inside the real jungle
▶️ Trail 6: 8 km hike through the jungle ending at a waterfall Tour 6 is about 8 km long, can be completed in about 3 hours, and starts behind the Visitor Center. The first stretch follows a paved road, but only for short. After that it is a quite beautiful path, in some sections quite steep, which requires crossing a stream and finally reaches the Haew Suwat waterfall, the most famous in the Park. Trail 6 is the most difficult path of all these, and in this case it is mandatory to hire a Park Ranger as a guide.
ℹ️ Things to do in Khao Yai (other than trekking)
Discover the Haew Narok Waterfall
Haew Narok waterfall, with its impressive drop of about 150 meters, is the largest in the Park, and during the rainy season it is truly spectacular. In the driest time of the year, around March and April, it can get practically dry. To get there, you must first drive 22 km south of the Visitor Center until you reach the waterfall’s parking lot. From there, walk 1 km along the path that leads to the waterfall, crossing a beautiful wooden bridge over the river. At the end of the path there is a simple set of steep stairs with a railing, that will allow you to access various observation platforms from which to admire the imposing waterfall.
Visit the famous Haew Suwat Waterfall
Despite being much smaller than Haew Narok, Haew Suwat waterfall is the most famous in Khao Yai, both because it is more easily accessed and because it appears in the famous movie The Beach. But keep in mind that it is not allowed to bathe or jump into the water from the cliff, as Leonardo DiCaprio does in the film. The strength of the current and the variable depth of the water are good reasons enough, but there is even another even more convincing reason to respect the prohibition: crocodiles often swim here. The drop of the waterfall is about 20 meters high, with a circular pool at its fee, surrounded by large rocks which are perfect to sit and contemplate the landscape. Haew Suwat waterfall is located a few km south of the Visitor Center, and can be reached both by car or on foot, either through hiking routes 2 and 6. To get to the waterfall from the parking lot just walk about 100 meters along a beautiful tree-lined path.
Go up to the Pha Diao Dai viewpoint
Pha Diao Dai viewpoint is the most impressive of those within the Park: a natural rock platform about 30 meters wide, at an altitude of 1,150 meters, which ends abruptly on a cliff and offers spectacular views over the dense jungle of Khao Yai. The viewpoint is located about 14 km southeast of the Visitor Center, and to get there you have to follow the road south for about 4 km, take the detour that goes east, and continue until reaching the viewpoint car park. From there you have to walk along a beautiful path of about 500 meters, which runs on a wooden platform through the forest and past a swamp.
Enjoy a Night Safari
If you spend at least one night inside the Khao Yai National Park, you can sign up for a night safari, a very cheap activity that you can book at the Visitor Center, and consists of riding in a van with a large lantern for half an hour along the Park’s roads, trying to spot wildlife.
🏨 Where to stay in Khao Yai
Khao Yai is a super popular destination among Thais, and there are plenty of accommodation options.
Inside the Park
Tents in Khao Yai
There are two camping areas for sleeping in tents, and both have a restaurant, small supermarkets, cold showers and squat toilets. Lam Takhong is the largest and most popular camping area, on a meadow next to a small river, and has a better infrastructure. If you bring your own tent, the price is 30 THB/night, but you can also rent a tent equipped with a mat and bag right there, with two size options: 150 THB/night for small tents of up to 2 people, or 225 THB/night for larger tents where up to 3 or 4 people can fit. Other items that may be necessary for camping, such as blankets, sleeping bags and pillows, are rented for a price ranging between THB 20 and 50/item.
Bungalows In Khao Yai
Within the Park you can also rent bungalows and houses of different sizes, which are basic and old but reasonably comfortable. They are distributed among 4 different areas. Bear in mind that areas 1 and 2 are at walking distance from the Visitor Center and have a restaurant, while areas 3 and 4 are in isolated locations and are definitely not a good option if you don’t have your own wheels. The price of most double rooms is 800 THB/night if booked online through the Department of National Parks website (http://portal.dnp.go.th), and also if booked directly there upon arrival, although in this case if it is not a weekend or a holiday the price gets cheaper, 540 THB/night. During weekends and holidays the demand is very high and it is essential to book in advance.
Outside the Park
The vast majority of visitors to Khao Yai National Park choose to stay in Thanarat Roade area, which has a wide range of resorts of all sizes and categories, from the very cheap Greenleaf Guesthouse, with rooms from 200 THB/night, to the luxurious Hotel des Artists, with villas up to 5,000 THB/night. Keep in mind that Thanarat Road area refers to both the road and its surroundings in a very broad sense of the term, so we recommend that you check the exact location well before making any booking. If you are staying here and do not drive your own vehicle, check with your hotel if they offer free transfer from/to Pak Chong on arrival/departure.
Pak Chong is not really a pretty town, and it is the accommodation option that we least recommend. The only advantages are wider options for restaurants, shops and services of all kinds, as well as being next to bus and train stations. Accommodation options within Pak Chong town are low-range and mid-range hostels and hotels, while the most luxurious options are found on and around Thanarat Road, and other locations outside of town.
Amazing resorts outside the Park
An impressive boutique resort very popular among wealthy Thai people. The hotel features Pool Villas with an amazing view of the nature.
Thames Valley Khao Yai
Thames Valley it’s a five star resort much bigger than Sala Khaoyai. This hotel has its own European style castle. It is not far from the park.
Botanica Khao Yai
Botanica Khao Yai it’s a serviced condominium surrounded by nature and has two really nice swimming pools.
🧭 Getting around Khao Yai National Park
Khao Yai National Park is really big, and it is highly recommended to rent some kind of vehicle for its visit, as there is no public transport inside the Park.
Comfortable ways to visit Khao Yai
The most common, economical and practical option is to rent a motorcycle upon arrival from one of the rental shops in the center of Pak Chong, especially along Mittraphap Street. They are generally open from 08:00 to 17:00, and are usually closed on Sunday. The most usual rental price is 300 THB/day. You must leave the passport in deposit. The 30 km journey from Pak Chong to the north entrance of the Park is easy and along a good road.
Car rental is also a very good option to visit the Park, although car rental businesses are not abundant in Pak Chong. You’ll find one at the Rimtarn Inn Hotel, on Mittraphap Rd. Another option is to hire the car in advance with the Korat Car Rental agency, which despite being located in Nakhon Ratchasima -about 90 km to the east- can deliver vehicles in Pak Chong. The price varies depending on the model chosen, but is usually around 1,000 or 1,500 THB/day.
Vehicle with driver (in a tour or not)
If you visit the Park on your own and can’t or don’t want to drive a vehicle, you can rent a vehicle with a driver, be it a songthew, a car or a van. The small songthaews that can be found in the center of Pak Chong, which generally work as a taxi, can also be chartered as a private vehicle to visit the Park, for a price that needs to be negotiated but usually is around 1,500 THB/day. On the other hand, it is possible to hire the services of a van with a driver through local travel agencies and most hotels, for a price of about 2,500 THB/day, gasoline aside.
Adventurous ways to explore Khao Yai
Mountain bikes can be hired both at the Visitor Center information point and at the Lam Takong camping area, for a price of THB 200 / day. Unfortunately those bikes are often on maintenance, so don’t count too much on them.
Khao Yai National Park has lots of daily visitors, most of them Thai tourists traveling by pickup, and once inside the Park many of them have no problem picking up hitchhikers in the rear trailer and taking them a few kilometers further along the route they follow. It can be a fun way to visit the Park if you have time to spare -we have done it and had a great time!- but obviously it is not the fastest way to travel, it involves some waits and is only suitable for reasonably busy Park areas.
Some travelers choose to use transport only to arrive and leave the Park, and visit just by walking. It is then necessary to stay in one of the more central camping areas or bungalows, limit the visit to the many interesting spots and trails you can reach by walking -which are many-, and perhaps try hitchhiking to get a bit further afield.
☀️ Best time to visit Khao Yai
The ideal time of year to visit Khao Yai National Park is between November and February, when it doesn’t rain and the cool temperatures are ideal for hiking.
The rainy season –between May and October– is not a bad time either, and it has the advantage that vegetation shines with a vibrant lush green, and rivers and waterfalls flow full of water … but on the other hand it is more unlikely to spot elephants, you’ll sweat a lot due to the humidity, some sections of the terrain can be quite slippery, and leeches are common -we recommend buying the long anti-leeches socks sold at the Visitor Center-. The worst time is between March and April, since despite not raining, it is when it is warmer, the vegetation is less green, the rivers flow with little water and the waterfalls can dry out completely.
It is better to avoid weekends and holidays, since then it is usually crowded with Thai tourists, and it can be difficult to find accommodation within the Park. In any case, there are always few people on the trails, since Thais in general are not big fans of hiking, and prefer to enjoy the places that can be reached by vehicle and spend the rest of the time relaxing and having a picnic with family and friends.
🚇 How to get to Khao Yai from Bangkok
The best way is to drive your own car. But if you have to go by public transportation, then the easiest way to get to the Khao Yai National Park is to go first to the small town of Pak Chong, either by train or by bus, and from there travel the remaining 30 km south to the northern access of the Park.
🚊 BY TRAIN
Pak Chong is one of the stops on the “Northeast” railway line, which crosses the country from Bangkok to the Laotian border, cutting across the large Isan region, so train is a very good option in case you depart from Bangkok, Ayutthaya or any other town close to this train line. From Bangkok there are 11 daily train departures between 05:45 and 22:45, and seat prices range from THB 68 to THB 392. The average duration of the journey is 3.5 hours, although depending on the train chosen it varies between 3 and 4.5 hours.
🚍 BY BUS
If you go to Khao Yai from Bangkok, buses and minibuses bound for Pak Chong leave from Mochit bus station from early morning to late afternoon, for a price of around THB 150, and the journey takes about 3 hours. In Pak Chong there is no bus terminal that centralizes all departures and arrivals, but there are several small stations and stops scattered throughout the center of the town, especially at various points on Mittraphap Street, the main artery of the city.
🚖 HOW TO GET TO YOUR HOTEL OR THE PARK ENTRANCE
After arriving at Pak Chong you will have to use another transport to go to your accommodation or to the Park, depending on your preference. On arrival, the two main options are either taking a songthaew or renting a motorcycle.
The main songthaew station is found in the center of Pak Chong, immediately east of the locally famous giraffe statue, and a short walk from both the railway station and the various bus stations in the city. Large shared songthaews run from early in the morning until 4:30 p.m., traveling the 30 km from here to the north entrance of the Park, for 30 THB/person. This option can also be used to get to your accommodation you stay on Thanarat Road, where most of the accommodation offer is concentrated, since songthaews ride along it on their way to the Park. After 4:30 p.m. you will have to get one of the smaller songthaews that ride around the center and use it as a taxi, although the price will be much higher, between 200 and 300 THB/way.