Last Update: February 2020
In the know destinations – Thailand
I can’t even begin to count the number of times that I’ve visited Thailand. Some visits were just short beach holidays or passing through on my way to other destinations. Several, longer visits involved extensive travel for months on my way to nowhere, just exploring this wonderful country.
Although the list of Thailand’s highlights seems endless, there are still many places in Thailand that are not yet overrun by tourists, but certainly worth discovering. Interesting cities oozing with local culture. Small laid-back riverine towns and spectacular nature reserves. Not exactly hidden gems, but without the usual crowds, only visited by the few travelers in the know.
Khao Yai is one of those locations. Except for weekends and local public holidays that is. On those days the national park is invaded by Bangkokians looking for fresh air and a break from hectic city life.
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Khao Yai National Park
Drive for 150km to the North East of Bangkok and you’ll end up in some of the most beautiful nature that Thailand has to offer. Khao Yai national park was established in 1968 making it the oldest and the 3rd largest national park in Thailand.
Some facts: 40 waterfalls, 60 mammal species, 74 reptile species, almost 350 bird species, 1 million bats, over 3000 plant species, highest elevation 1350m. However, Khao Yai isn’t about numbers. The beauty of Khao Yai is something you have to see with your own eyes.
Wildlife in Khao Yao is plentiful, but as anywhere difficult to spot. However, you should know that you are sharing the park with Siamese crocodile, bear, pangolin, badger and leopard. Even more so, no less than 18 tigers, including 6 cubs have been spotted by surveillance cameras as early back as 2017. Sightings of endangered animals are rare though. The chances to spot gibbon, wild pig, deer, macaque and wild elephant are slightly better.
Honestly, when we were there, we only spotted a few gibbons, birds and a whole lot of bats. We weren’t disappointed, because the luscious flora and the quietness of the jungle more than made up for it.
Entrance fee to the park is THB400 for adult foreigners (Thai only pay THB40). There’s an extra fee of THB10 for your bicycle, THB30 for your motorbike or THB50 for your car. In December and January, as well as public holidays the park tends to get overrun with visitors. Actually, the best time to visit would be in rainy season (June-October). Normally it won’t rain every day and nature is at its best. Lush green forest, active wildlife and filled up waterfalls. Admittedly, treks might be a bit tougher than in dry season.
How to get to Khao Yai
Khao Yai National Park is easy to reach from Bangkok, which in turn is easy to reach as well. Bangkok has two international airports with numerous flights coming in from everywhere. Check the Skyscanner website for the full schedule and prices of incoming and outgoing flights.
The park has two entrances. First is the Northern entrance, which is conveniently located along the highway from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) and near the town of Pak Chong. The second entrance (South East) is just North of Prachinburi. Below I describe how to get to the Northern entrance.
You will have to get to the town of Pak Chong first. From Bangkok or Korat you can reach Pak Chong either by bus, minivan or by train. Buses will drop you off at the Tesco-Lotus store on road 2 app 5km South of Pak Chong. Usually there are a bunch of motorbike taxis waiting there hoping to transport travelers to the park or Pak Chong.
Minivans, as well as train, will drop you off in the center of Pak Chong. From there, find the songthaews (pick-up trucks with roofed benches in the back) about 100m East from the bus station. They’ll whisk you off to the park’s entrance in about 50min for THB30 p/p.
Please note that within the park there is no public transport and the park visitor center is still a good 10km into the park from the entrance. If you arranged accommodation in the park it might be wise to charter a taxi from Pak Chong to bring you all the way to the visitor center. Expect to pay around THB300. Alternatively, rent a motorbike in Pak Chong and drive the 30km to the park by yourself (THB300 p/d).
Transport schedules and tickets
For bus/ferry/train schedules and tickets within in Thailand I always use the transport planning tool from 12Go.com to book online. Especially during high season and public holidays it makes sense to book ahead to secure your seat(s). The tool is incredibly easy to use, just fill in your place of departure, your destination and travel date. It will show the complete schedule and ticket price of all related transport. Make your choice and book instantly.
Again, there is no public transport in the park and distances are quite long. If you don’t have your own transport you will need to plan ahead. When staying in the park it’s best to rent a motorbike or a mountain bike. The first one can be rented in Pak Chong and the latter near the visitor center. If you’re staying in Pak Chong or in one of the guesthouses near the park entrance you can also opt to charter a private taxi or book a tour into the park.
Things to see/do in Khao Yai
It’s not a bad idea to book a tour with one of the many travel agencies. They offer night safari, tours to bat caves and special wildlife spotting tours. It’s also possible to book multiple day tours from Bangkok.
Single day and multiple day treks are possible. Many of the “do it yourself” trails, including waterfalls, start at or near the visitor center. Just pick up a map at the center and your good to go. For treks deeper into the forest arrange a local guide at the center. He/she knows the better trails and is also able to provide some context about the area and wildlife.
If you have your own transport and you want to do something different, why not visit the Khao Yai wineries? Wineries In Thailand? Oh yes. GranMonte offers tours of their vineyard and winery with a wine tasting. The PB-Valley Khao Yai Winery also conducts tours that include a (somewhat cheesy) motorized train ride on their estate. The Village Farm, which is a bit further out, grows flowers and fruits next to the grapes for their wine.
More things to see/do in Khao Yai
Khao Yai has an interesting museum showing modern art by Thai artists. Opening hours are everyday from 9am to 5:30pm, admission free.
During weekends and public holidays, Khao Yai is extremely popular with tourists from Bangkok. In the area North of the Pak Chong entrance numerous themed resorts and parks have sprung up offering entertainment for the Bangkok crowds. Especially when traveling with children some of the themed attractions might be fun. Primo Piazza, Pete Maze, Secret Garden, Scenical World.
If you like to indulge in adventurous activities, then always make sure to travel with the right travel insurance. One that also covers your medical care abroad and includes evacuations and repatriation. You’re a hundred miles away from professional health care …just saying.
Where to stay in Khao Yai
In the park there are several sleeping options available. The park has two campgrounds and offers cabins in four different sections of the park. At the campgrounds all camping equipment incl. tent can be rented, just don’t expect it to be in the best shape. Note that on weekends and public holidays the campgrounds are often swarmed by school children on a field trip.
The park also offers 2pax rooms, 4pax cabins and group lodges. It’s best to book ahead as these often sell out especially on weekends. Also, it might be wise to let a local tour company assist you with the booking, because the park website is not really helpful. Try for yourself.
Outside the park
You can also consider staying in one of the guesthouses on or around Thanarat road leading to the park. The guesthouses here can help you with transport to/from the park and hook you up with tours or groups. Organic farms and wineries around this area are often open to visitors.
Mid Range = from THB1000 to THB2500
Small scale homestay guesthouse in a nice garden enviroment with mountain views. Owner and staff are welcoming and can help you with information about the area and attractions. Excellent breakfast included.
The Frog Khao Yai Resort
Mid Range = from THB1000 to THB2500
Well maintained resort in the middle of agricultural fields and mountain backdrop. The cabins are cozy and comfortable. I had a good stay here. Ended up longer than initially planned.
Pak Chong accommodation
Another possibility is to stay in Pak Chong town and visit the park on a day trip. In town there are quite a few good budget options.
The Goodville Cottage
Budget = from THB500 to THB1000
Close to the main drag with plenty of restaurants and the intimate night market. The premises are well kept and the staff is friendly. The included breakfast is mediocre though.
To compare prices and read reviews of all Khao Yai and Pak Chong accommodations check out Agoda.com. The best prices, regular discounts and off season deals.
Where to eat in Khao Yai
There are a few eateries in the park, but they have a habit to close down whenever they feel like it. So, if you’re staying in the park without your own transport you should definitely bring food yourself, if only as a backup. Please, do not leave your garbage in the park.
There are a few food stalls and a restaurant at the visitors center and usually there should be one of them open at least. That is until 6pm. After that, they’re all closed. Unfortunately I never tried the park restaurants so I don’t know if they’re any good.
Outside the park
If you do have your own transport you’re better of. The area at the Northern entrance has many shops and a market where you can buy food. Further down Thanarat road there are ample restaurants and eateries to choose from.
In Pak Chong town there’s even more choice. Absolutely no shortage of decent Thai eateries here and even a few Western food options.
Stargio’s Italian Restaurant Decorated with photos of 1950s-60s celebrities and a classic car parked out front. Kinda retro American style that helps the ambiance. Simple Italian cooking is ok and the price is even better. If they stop the noisy kids from running around in the restaurant I just might return for second’s.
Pha Nich Promise me you will eat at this restaurant next time you’re in Pak Chong. Do yourself a favor and order the Phat Kaphrao (Pork and Basil). With a crispy fried egg on top it is honestly the best I had anywhere. No need to panic.
ข้าวต้มหน้าอำเภอ I don’t know the English name of this restaurant as it only has Thai signage, but this is as Thai as it gets. Don’t come for the ambiance, come for the food (and a beer or two to quench the chili blaze). They have a large variety of dishes, stir fries, noodles and soups. I personally witnessed the kitchen staff work very hygienically.