Honestly, this National Park is nothing short of a zoo! A drive-by zoo, where all the inmates are having permission to roam freely in an area of 2,168 km². How many times have I dried the tears of guests coming on my tours in Asia, when there was no wildlife to be seen on days and days of hiking through the jungle?
Growing a little bit weary of the latent disappointment I one day purposefully designed a trip with an overnight stay in a hide somewhere in Malaysia. Together with a 77-year old recreational hunter we were sitting on watch all night in front of a beautiful clearing with salt lick, only to hike back the next day with stories about termites and butterflies to tell. Mind you, even those are big by European standards, but not quite the size game you want to write home about as a wildlife loving tourist.
Or this last trip in Southern India when we had a couple of elephant rangers coming with us as a safety measure, because in these hills you’d ALWAYS come across the big Indian elephant and they are actually not to be messed with. Four days out in the woods and tons of elephant poo, even elephant odour, but not a centimetre of grey skin between the trees. We had tiger leeches though.
Arrive Khao Yai National Park and no need to look any further: Elephant families and single male elephants in musth effortlessly observed by the road from the safe haven of a car, sambar deers in amounts and proximity that you get quickly bored of them, gibbons, hornbills, porcupines, gaurs (the Indian bison), snakes, monitor lizards, scorpions, macaque monkeys obviously and a great variety of Asian birds – all to be seen rather swiftly on a day trip with one of the many enjoyable jungle guides of nearby Pak Chong.
For hiking and visiting some of the many stunning viewpoints and a couple of the 44 superb waterfalls (one of which featured in the film “The Beach” with Leonardo di Caprio) I recommend staying at least one more day, preferably in a tent on the campground to get as much nature exposure as possible.
You can expect to be stumbling over dog-sized porcupines on your way to the toilet at night, warding off sambar deer and macaque who attempt to share your dinner and waking up to the sounds of gibbons and hornbills in the trees across the river. You’ll likely make some Thai friends as well who these days come in big numbers from nearby Bangkok to escape the heat, the air pollution and the general city madness.
Founded in 1962 Khao Yai is the oldest national park in Thailand and the third biggest of the country by size. Together with three other national parks, Thap Lan, Pang Sida and Ta Phraya, and the Dong Yai Wildlife Sanctuary Khao Yai forms the Dong Phayayen – Khao Yai Forest Complex (DPKY-FC), a nearly uninterrupted forest belt of about 230 km width. The Forest Complex is one of Southeast Asia’s most significant ecosystems and designated as such a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005.
Unfortunately while rather unsurprising Khao Yai is not all flowers and sunshine. The UNESCO World Heritage is facing a couple of serious issues and threats in recent years:
As in most other Asian forests these are mainly rosewood poaching and general encroachment plus a major highway project, that is supposed to improve the infrastructure of Thailand as a strongly developing country. I found these two articles of high relevance for getting a bigger picture of the related stories
If you want to go, these are good starting points for your planning:
On my two-day Khao Yai adventure I did also enjoy the highly creative signage in the park:
Dancing deers and bulls
Meanwhile here my best of elephant picture book
Selected shots of various animal encounters
And lastly my impressions from hikes number 3, 4, 5 and 1