Khao Yai National Park lies two hundred kilometres or one hundred and twenty miles northeast of Bangkok in central Thailand. Depending on how much traffic may be on the road at the time, it can take you between three and four hours to drive there on any given day from the capital.
When it was established in 1962, it was Thailand’s sole national park, which would now make it the oldest. The park covers an area of over 2,000 square kilometres (770 square miles) and stretches over the four provinces of Saraburi, Nakhon Nayok, Prachin Buri and Nakhon Ratchasima. In 1982 it was listed as an ASEAN Heritage site.
Khao Yai National Park encompasses a mountain range that sprawls across an enormous tropical evergreen forest and a wide grassland complete with an abundant variety of wildlife, including many endangered species of animals such as elephants, gibbons, tigers, leopards, sambar stags and Malaysian sun bears as well as more than 300 species of bird.
The park’s highest peaks lie on to the east along a landform known as the Khorat Plateau. One of the peaks is called Khao Khiaw or Green Mountain and rises to a height of over 1,300 metres about 4,400 feet. Another is called Khao Laem or Shadow Mountain and rises to a similar height as the Green Mountain does.
What to see and do at Khao Yai National Park
The road leading up to Khao Yai from the town of Pak Chong is lined with several Tuscany designed buildings reminiscent of a small Italian village. They include many resorts, hotels and guesthouses. Among the narrow cobblestoned streets are several restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops. This would be the ideal place to stay the night, have something to eat or just wander around the streets for a little shopping. It’s also the best place to book a tour of the park.
Although guides are sometimes available at the park’s headquarters, it would be far better to hire an English-speaking one from one of the guesthouses in the Italian Village outside of the park. You can, of course, go your own way.
There are a dozen or so trails of varying degrees of difficulty in which to choose. They can range anywhere from two to eight kilometres, or one to five miles. One of the trails in the park snake along the Lam Takhong River and at the upper reaches of the river you will find the Haeo Suwat Waterfall.
Haew Suwat Waterfall is just one of many falls dotted in and around the park. Should you be here between March and May you’ll also be able to see many varieties of orchids flowering all around the falls. Also along the trails, you’ll find several clearings with observation watchtowers where you may be lucky enough to spot a few animals.
In an effort to reduce the environmental damage within Khao Yai National Park, facilities such as accommodation and restaurants have since closed. However, from what I know the 18-hole golf course at Kirimaya Golf Resort and Spa is still in operation. There are also some dairy farms, vineyards and a winery here.
But then again this is not the real reason why you would come to a national park now, is it? Surely you come here to see the beautiful flora and fauna, or did I perhaps get it all wrong? Whatever your reason, you will love it.
From the main entrance, you drive along a winding mountain road dotted with lush greenery on either side. There are several viewing points where you can stop and survey some of the most spectacular scenery imaginable.
Getting to Khao Yai National Park
There are a couple of ways to reach the park by road from Bangkok, but the most accessible one is to take the northbound route along Phahon Yothin Road from Highway 1 to Saraburi. Then from there turn right onto Mitraphap Road on Highway 2 towards Nakhon Ratchasima which is a little further north east.
Continue on towards the small town of Pak Chong until you come to a junction on the route. After that, take the right fork into Thanarat Road. You’ll see a signpost marked Khao Yai. A short distance from there you turn right onto the secondary road 2090 which will take all the way to the park’s headquarters.
You can also take Highway 1 from Bangkok, thereafter you turn eastbound along the Rangsit–Ongkharak Road on Highway 305 to the town of Nakhon Nayok. From there turn onto Highway 33 and continue a short distance before turning left onto the secondary road 3077 which continues all the way to the park.
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