Founded in 1962, Khao Yai was the first national park in Thailand, and the second largest in the country. Because of its sheer biodiversity, unique environs, and globally important rainforest, Khao Yai, along with the nearby Dong Phayayen mountains, were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
While recent development has stressed the ecosystem, the park remains a natural wonder; it is home to more than 800 species of fauna, including 112 mammal species such as Asiatic black bears, Asian elephants, gaur, tigers, gibbons, Indian sambar deer, Indian muntjac, dholes, and wild pigs. Additionally, almost 400 bird species and 200 reptile and amphibian species also call the park home.
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There are six official numbered trails established by the park, which range from a short hour’s walk to a five-hour hike into the jungle to reach Haew Suwat waterfall, plus there are options for multi-day overnight treks. Some shorter trails don’t require a guide, but hiking through the forest with a naturalist offers a unique insight into the park’s diverse plant species and abundant wildlife.
Khao Yai is a blend of moist evergreen forest, mixed deciduous forest and dry evergreen forest, creating interweaving habitats for a wide variety of plants and animals. There are some 2,000 to 2,500 plant species here and possible wildlife sightings include gibbons, stump-tailed macaque, sambar deer, barking deer, great hornbills, elephants, wild dog and more. Khao Yai is also home to almost 400 species of bird and several of the park’s hiking trails show off the best avian habitats, such as #4 which heads to Sai Sorn Reservoir. If you’re looking for intrepid wildlife encounters, opt for a night safari to witness the jungle come alive after dark.
Khao Yai National Park contains some of Thailand’s most powerful cascades. Haew Narok’s waters roar as they plunge 150 meters into the pools below - especially impressive during the rainy season. Another waterfall to chase is Haew Suwat, which featured in the movie “The Beach.” The falls are easy to access by road or on foot, and where the current is not too strong, you can swim in the lagoons.
One of the best ways to explore Khao Yai is on two wheels, but with such an undulating landscape, the trails are most suited for experienced cyclists. Choose between dirt roads winding through forest or the paved highway that runs through the national park. Leisure cyclists may prefer the more relaxed bike path around nearby Lam Phra Ploeng Reservoir.
Khao Yai’s fertile ground makes for great grape growing and there are several acclaimed vineyards operating within the borders of Thailand’s little slice of Tuscany. Take a guided tour, sample homegrown flavors with a spot of wine tasting, then pair your drink with a hearty Italian meal.
The name Jim Thompson throws up images of reflective fabrics, soft material gliding over skin and exquisitely designed garments, but it’s at the brand’s silk farm where the magic truly happens. Your appreciation of fine quality silk will intensify further once you take a guided tour of the rustic farm and learn the traditions behind this near-lost art.
The natural playground of Khao Yai lends itself well to golf, while the cooling breezes and palpable drop in humidity makes the sport an enjoyable pastime in an otherwise tropical climate. There are several courses dotted about the national park, but the best is Kirimaya - an 18-hole course designed by Jack Nicklaus (par 72), which boasts gorgeous mountain views.
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Home to elephants, gibbons, and all manner of flamboyant tropical birds, a road trip through Khao Yai is an easy, rewarding rite of passage for Thailand travelers.
Gibbons are endangered in every country they are found; learn more about how to visit these playful primates carefully and respectfully in Thailand’s Khao Yai.
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