KHAO YAI NATIONAL PARK – WHERE ARE THE ELEPHANTS?
Exploring nature at Khao Yai National Park
Thailand comprises almost 100 national parks. We decided to visit the oldest one, Khao Yai National Park. It is located 120 kilometers north of Bangkok and therefore a popular destination for weekend trips amongst locals. But also international visitors like to explore the huge park and its untouched nature. Like us 🙂
A cute baby macaque looking directly into our camera
Khao Yai National Park was founded in 1962 and is connected with three other national parks. All together were proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the name “Dong Phaya Yen–Khao Yai Forest Complex” and cover an impressive area of 6,155 square kilometers. So plan at least one week when coming here 🙂 . No, just kidding.
Why should you visit Khao Yai National Park?
We’ve never seen signs before saying “Beware of wild elephants”
We were very excited about the park as 200 to 300 (every source says something different) elephants call Khao Yai National Park their home as well as almost 70 other types of mammals (e.g. gibbons, macaques, Asien black bear, gaurs, leopards), 3,000 species of plants and roughly 300 species of birds. That sounded like a busy national park to us. So we wanted to try our luck and spot as many animals as possible.
Just a few kilometers after entering Khao Yai National Park with our rental car at the northern entrance (which is the bigger one compared to the one in the south), we were welcomed by the first macaque. Lars and I touched the window button reflexively when suddenly one of them jumped on the crash barrier right next to our car. This monkey looked right into our faces and BoB’s eyes got bigger and bigger. This curious monkey made us even more excited about all the things we were getting to see in the park.
A macaque at the first view point
At kilometer 30 you reach the first view point where you get a little impression of the parks dimensions. Unfortunately we were not that lucky with the weather and couldn’t see that far. More interesting at this view point was the group of ten macaques or more that approached the parked cars.
This is IMPORTANT: Don’t leave anything outside the car otherwise it will change its owner and you will never see it again. It was hilarious to see how clever those monkeys are and how they stole fruit and drinking bottles from the pickups. BoB got a bit nervous when he saw how the monkeys took all the things they could grab with them. They would possibly also love to take a little golf ball.
The visitor center
The visitor center is located 11 kilometers behind the northern park entrance. This is bit weird as you have already past the first trails before you get the park map and realize that you have to drive all the way back. But I guess there is a reason for the location of the visitor center.
There is definitely a reason why you should go there. You don’t only get a free map of the park (please ask for it at the reception), the center also gives a lot of interesting information about the park’s flora and fauna. In a really good way it shows the difference between the five vegetation zones (yes, there are different five vegetation zones!) and the animals in life-size. Trust me it’s not as boring as it might sound!
Trails and park map
Map with trails of Khao Yai National Park (click on the map to enlarge it and press the “back button” of your browser to close it), Source: khaoyaiguide.com
As you can see in the map Khao Yai National Park offers many different trails depending on your experiences, your physical fitness and your time limit.
Before you chose a trail ask for more information in the visitor center. Depending on the season the trails can be in bad condition.
Giant trees on the Nong Phak Chi Nature Trail
As we only had one full day, we wanted to hike the shorter 3 kilometer Nong Phak Chi Nature Trail that starts at kilometer 33 (see no. 12 and 13 in the map above). On our way we passed some impressive giant trees, spotted two monkeys high up in the trees and were amazed by the loud sound of the nature around us.
Unfortunately I have to say that we were not very successful with our hike as at one point we couldn’t find any signposts. We were three people and a golf ball and couldn’t figure out the trail as it was covered by leaves. We didn’t have the feeling that people had used this trail the days before. So after 45 minutes we had to turn around and go back to our car.
The park is so huge that it seems to be easy to get lost. Due to our experience we recommend taking a guide.
The easiest and most comfortable way of exploring the national park is by car. Within one full day it’s possible to see all main highlights. When you start in the early morning you have enough time to do shorter treks and to visit the highest waterfall of the park, Haew Narok, which is situated far to the southern end of the park.
Camping at Khao Yai National Park
There are also easy trails that start at the visitor center. If you do not have a car and want to explore the park by feet, you should plan a few days and stay on one the two picturesque campgrounds, Lam Takong and Pha Kluai Mai. They are equipped with public toilets. While camping you can experience the real park atmosphere. We were surprised how busy the campgrounds were and it looked like a lot of fun. The parks gates close at 5pm so you have the park almost to yourself.
Elephant watching (or No elephant watching)
No elephants but a beautiful landscape
One of the main reason to visit Khao Yai National Park is the elephants. To see these giant mammals moving freely in the nature must be awesome. Throughout the park there are different saltlicks where elephants as wells as other mammals meet. This usually happens in the morning or in the evening when the temperatures are lower.
Me trying to spot some elephants from the viewing platform
Unfortunately I have to disappoint you. I cannot show any pictures of elephants. We didn’t spot any, not even one :(. We had a bad timing and went to a viewing platform from where one could see a saltlick during the hottest time of the day. That was stupid. Anyway, we enjoyed a great view of the surrounding landscape.
Well, that’s nature and you never know what you’ll get to see. Maybe you are luckier than us. Fingers crossed!
At the saltlick on the left you can usually spot elephants
Leonardo DiCaprio and the waterfall
Haew Suwat Waterfall – famous for Leonardo DiCaprio’s jump in the film “The Beach”
Leonardo DiCaprio?? Yes, he also knows Khao Yai National Park. Especially one waterfall, Haew Suwat. It is the famous waterfall where Leonardo DiCaprio took a running jump while filming the movie “The Beach.”
You know how it is… when you know that a place was a film location your expectations are usually high. Also we were curious about this waterfall.
Indeed, it looked a bit dramatic with its dark rocks and the jungle around. However, due to the low water level in the dry season, one only saw a lightly dropping rivulet as a waterfall. Conclusion: Okay, nice to see.
A platform with a view of the waterfall can be easily reached from the road. If you want to have a closer look from ground level, you have to climb down a short steep stairway.
Little golf ball BoB at Haew Narok Waterfall
The Haew Narok Waterfall is the highest at Khao Yai. It tumbles in three drops combining for a total of over 150 meters in height. This waterfall is pretty far from the other main attractions and only reachable by car or with a tour. Walking is not possible. It’s a 1 kilometer long trail that leads to a platform. The first part is very even and easy just the last part is a bit more challenging as you have to climb down a long and steep stairway. But it’s definitely doable and just take your time, the end is closer than you might think.
Unfortunately visitors only get to see one of the three drops, which is still worth seeing but not as spectacular as a 150 meters high waterfall. Golf ball BoB definitely enjoyed the view.
Tours at Khao Yai National Park
Well, you see there is a lot to do and see at Khao Yai National Park. You can easily spend a few days here and next time I would put my tent on one of the campgrounds and enjoy the park more intensively.
Have you been to Khao Yai National Park? Have you seen any wild elephants that crossed your path? Or did you even camp there and can tell us how it felt like? I am looking forward to your comments in the section below.
Thanks for reading and safe travels,