Last Update: August 2022
Although the list of Thailand’s highlights seems endless, there are still many places in Thailand that are not yet overrun by tourists. Nonetheless, many of them are but certainly worth discovering. Interesting cities oozing with local culture, small laid-back riverside 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 definitely 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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Less than 150km to the North East of Bangkok some of the most beautiful nature that Thailand has to offer awaits you. 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. Impressive right? However, Khao Yai isn’t about numbers. Instead, 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.
To be honest, when we were there, we only spotted a few gibbons, birds and a whole lotta bats. No disappointment here, 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.
Reasons to visit/avoid Khao Yai
3 Reasons to visit Khao Yai
- The sheer beauty of nature with incredible scenery is the number one reason for a visit. You can witness tropical rainforest up close during a trek, but also from one of the many viewpoints. The fact that you share the jungle with so many rare animals and plant species only adds to the experience;
- The proximity to Bangkok offers great opportunity for you to visit Khao Yai even with a full itinerary. It’s possible to book 1 or 2 day tours from Bangkok, including transport and accommodation;
- Wine!, ….wine? Yes, wine. Maybe not very obvious, but Khao Yai is making quite a name for itself as wine country. Shiraz and Chenin Blanc are the main grape varieties that do very well in the Khao Yai soil and climate. Several wineries are open to the public for wine tastings and vineyard tours. Some of them also have excellent restaurants and guest houses.
3 Reasons to avoid Khao Yai
- Every weekend and on public holidays a great migration takes place. It seems that Khao Yai is very popular with Bangkokians causing traffic jams on the main roads #1 and #2 towards the National Park. Hotels rates skyrocket, but are packed anyway. Trust me, on weekends and holidays, you do not want to be here;
- The park itself is pristine, wild and truly a natural wonder. However, the area North of the park is overdeveloped with golf courses and large scale themed hotels and attractions. It’s all wonderfully done, but it might not be everyone’s taste. This part of the area definitely has that Disney vibe, love it or hate it;
- Wildlife in the park is abundant, but that doesn’t mean all animals will pose for you in plain sight. They are elusive by nature and shy away from humans as much as they can. Therefor, sightings are not very common, except for the unavoidable monkeys. If the only reason for your visit is to actually spot rare wildlife I guarantee that you will be disappointed.
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It’s not a bad idea to book a tour with one of the many travel agencies in nearby Pak Chong village. Most likely your guest house in Pak Chong can offer tours as well. Most common tours include a night safari, bat caves and special wildlife spotting tours. It’s also possible to book 1 or 2 day trips from Bangkok with transport and accommodation included. Of course you can explore independently, but then it’s advisable to have your own transport. .
As said before, there are more than 40 waterfalls in the park and “Haew Narok” is the largest of them all with about 150m height in total. Only tier 1 at 50m height is open to the public. Apparently there could be wild animals hunting for food at the higher tiers so for safety reasons tier 2 and 3 are closed. If you really want to go there, contact the park staff. For a bit of extra money a ranger will accompany you.
Another notable waterfall is “Haew Suwat”. This is the one from the scene in the movie The Beach. 20 meters high and the basin is suitable for swimming in dry season. During wet season the flow of the water could be too strong for swimming, so beware.
If you feel like doing something different than the usual in Thailand, why not visit the Khao Yai wineries? GranMonte offers tours of their vineyard and winery with a wine tasting. The PB-Valley Khao Yai Winery also conducts tours that include an electrical powered bus ride on their estate.
Many of the “do it yourself” trails that include several waterfalls, start at or near the visitor center. Just pick up a map at the center and your good to go. For longer treks that venture deeper into the forest it is mandatory to hire one of the parks certified guides that can be arranged at the center. This isn’t a money scheme, many visitors have gotten lost in the past. As a bonus these guides know the better trails and they can also provide context about the area and wildlife which definitely enhances the experience.
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.
Yod Khao Khieo is the highest mountain (1292m) in the park and provides impressive views of the area. Some of the viewpoint are accessible by road while others require a few 100 meters walk.
North of the Pak Chong entrance numerous themed resorts and parks have sprung up offering entertainment for the predominantly Bangkok crowds. Especially when traveling with children some of the themed attractions might be fun. Primo Piazza, Pete Maze, Farm Chok Chai, Toscana Village.
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The supply of accommodations is through the roof, although they are spread out over a large area North of the park. Many of the 5 star resorts carry an European theme. You can stay in a replica castle, an English village on the Thames or a Tuscan village with a view of the inclining Pisa tower. How about sleeping in an air bubble, or a cedar log house? Well, it’s not for me, but fortunately there is also no lack of good quality 2 and 3 star accommodations.
In the park several sleeping options are available. Two campsites where all camping equipment incl. tent and sleeping bags 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 and or company co-workers 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 has not been online for some time now.
Note: Staying inside the park is convenient, but know that the accommodations aren’t in the best of shape while pretty expensive.
Outside the park
As mentioned, the accommodations are spread out over a large area North of the park. Some of them are as far as 10-15km from the park entrance. Maybe consider staying on or around the Thanarat road leading to the park. The accommodations here can help you with transport to/from the park and hook you up with tours or groups. My recommendations:
The Frog Khao Yai Resort
Mid Range = from THB1000 to THB2500
Such a nice place, not too far from the park entrance and still very secluded. This is a well maintained resort in the middle of agricultural fields and with a mountain backdrop. The cabins are cozy and comfortable. We certainly enjoyed the free frog concert every evening. Ended up longer than initially planned. Best to have your own transport. Nice breakfast included.
The Pig House
Luxury = from THB2500 to THB6500
Don’t be fooled by the name. It’s super clean and the rooms are sooo spacious! The small scale resort (8 rooms) is right on the edge of the park and close to the entrance. Staff is always cheerful, which really adds to the nice atmosphere. On my next visit to Khao Yai this is where I’ll be staying again.
Pak Chong accommodation
Another option is to stay in Pak Chong village and visit the park on a day trip. There are quite a few good budget options and the village is lively so you are not confined to your accommodation premises. My recommendation:
Cozy Creek Khaoyai
Mid Range = from THB500 to THB1000
Within walking distance of Pak Chong city center, so do visit the lively night market. The resort is rather new and it shows. Rooms are clean, fresh and everything works! You can relax in the nice garden and the in house cafe serves good quality coffee, juices and comfort food. Breakfast is extra, but of a high standard.
To compare more prices and read reviews check out Agoda.com. More than often, Agoda has interesting accommodation deals, especially outside of high season.
There are only a few eateries in the park, but they have a habit to close down whenever they feel like it. This is incredibly annoying, since there ain’t no walking to the next block for an alternative. So, if you’re staying in the park without your own transport make sure to bring food, if only as a backup. And if you do, please do not leave your garbage in the park like some other folks before you did.
There are a few food stalls and a restaurant at the visitors center and normally there should be one of them open at least. That is, until 6pm. After that, they’re all closed. Unfortunately I never tried them so I don’t know if they’re any good.
Outside the park
If you do have your own transport you’re in a better position. The area just before the Northern entrance has many shops and a market where you can buy food. Further up 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 some Western food options.
ข้าวต้มหน้าอำเภอ I think the English name of this restaurant is Naa-Ampur, but not sure as it only has Thai signage. 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 excellent Thai dishes, stir fries, noodles and soups. I personally witnessed the kitchen staff work very hygienically.
StarGio’s Italian Restaurant There’s always time for pizza, right? Decorated with photos of 1950s-60s celebrities and a classic car parked out front. Kinda retro American diner 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 seconds.
Raising Pha Nich (เลี้ยงพานิช) 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.
Also read: “Top 11 must try Thai food”. Order with confidence!
Waterside House Also known as “Ban Mai Chay Nam Museum and Restaurant.” You won’t believe your eyes. The place is packed with American memorabilia. On top of that the restaurant serves good, not great, but good enough Thai comfort food. This is a great opportunity to bump up your instagram big time.
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 Pak Chong entrance.
Pak Chong is easy to reach from Bangkok and /or Korat by either bus, minivan or 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 taxis and motorbike taxis waiting to transport travelers to the park or to Pak Chong village.
The minivans and train both have their drop off in the center of Pak Chong. From there, find the songthaews (public transport) about 100m East from the Night Market, between the deer statue and the pedestrian bridge over the main road. They’ll whisk you off to the park’s entrance or surrounding hotels in about 50min for THB50.
Transport schedules and tickets
Use the transport planning tool from 12Go.com to book your bus/train ticket to Pak Chong online. Especially during high season and public holidays it makes sense to book ahead to secure your seat(s).
Fill in your place of departure, your destination and travel date. It will show the complete schedule, ticket price, as well as departure and arrival station of all related transport.
Make your choice and book instantly.
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).
Distances within the park are extensive. 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 in the park itself. As an alternative, opt to charter a private taxi or book a tour. You can even book a daytrip from Bangkok.