Inside Thailand’s Most Famous National Park

Khao Yai National Park is a UNESCO Heritage Site and the pride of Thailand.

Covering more than 500,000 acres, the park is home to elephants, deer, crocodiles, tigers, leeches and a myriad of other species.

Activities include hiking through pristine nature, bird watching, relaxing, star-gazing, camping and long scenic drives on a motor scooter.

They also include figuring out where to rent that scooter; and, how to camp when you have no gear.

Good thing my wife and I were up for a challenge.

Sunset in Khao Yai National Park in Thailand
Sunset in Khao Yai National Park in Thailand

 

The atmospheric Khao Yai National Park in Thailand.
The atmospheric Khao Yai National Park in Thailand.

How the heck do we get around Khao Yai?

According to the Internet, lodging was available inside the park – and transportation could be procured at the visitor’s center.

Questions like “where is the visitor’s center” and “how do we get there” seemed like minor details we could figure out upon arrival.

So, after filling every extra bag we had with food and water, my wife and I hopped into the back of a communal songthaw taxi and headed for the park.

 

“Khao Yai. Khao Yai,” our driver announced from the front; as he pulled to a stop outside the massive front gate.

 

As far as I could see, there was no motorbike rental shop. But, we hopped out of the songthaw anyway and headed to the entrance.

 

We were left outside the main entrance to Khao Yai with no transportation.
We were left outside the main entrance to Khao Yai with no transportation.

 

Welcome to Khao Yai.
Welcome to Khao Yai.

OK, we’re here… now what?

At the gate, we found an incredibly friendly Thai park ranger – whose mastery of English was limited to the following key bits of information:

  • An overview of the park’s popular sites.
  • A summary of the admission fees.
  • Directions to the visitor’s center: located 14 kilometers away.

 

Fortunately, her English also included the rental price of her personal scooter.

At 600 baht per day ($20), it was far pricier than any motorbike we ever had rented. But, we had no choice; so, we smiled, paid the guard her hefty ransom and took off.

What followed was the most precarious drive and balancing act of my life.

 

This is actually a good stretch of road in Khao Yai.
This is actually one of the better stretches of road in Khao Yai.

Human Tetris – at 50kph

Carrie and I looked at the situation and laughed.

  • Two large people;
  • One small motorbike;
  • Four huge bags;
  • And a hat.

 

Here’s how we did it

First, we wedged one giant backpack between the handlebar and seat.

Somehow, we had to fit all this stuff onto our scooter.Next, we balanced a collection of other bags on our chests and backs – adding at least 40 pounds to Carrie’s body.

Finally, I found a teeny bit of space on the side of the bike to squeeze my feet into.

I can only imagine what the Thai locals who passed us must have thought – watching Carrie hold on for dear life while keeping her balance on each harrowing turn.

 

This was how we made it work.
This was how we made it work.

We made it… now, where do we sleep?

In America, you would never show up at a national park without reservations – let alone without a sleeping bag and tent.

However, this was Thailand: the land of smiles where anything is possible.

. . .

The Lam Takong Campground

At Khao Yai’s Lam Takong Campground, you can rent a tent, sleeping bag, pillow and pads for a mere 495 baht per night ($17).

The price even includes a covered camping spot on a cement floor – should you not want to pitch a tent on the open grass during monsoon season.

Plus, there’s a nearby eatery that serves up fresh Thai food all day long.

 

The Lam Takong Campground at Khao Yai National Park.
The Lam Takong Campground at Khao Yai National Park.

 

Our tent and covered sleeping area at the Lam Takong Campground.
Our tent and covered sleeping area at the Lam Takong Campground.

Things to do in Kho Yai National Park

In addition to long road trips, there is plenty to see and do at Khao Yai.

In our two days there, Carrie and I explored a large amount of the park and enjoyed the beauty of unspoiled nature.

Here are a few highlights…

 

khao_yai_national_park-Thailand-Greg_Goodman-6

The waterfall from The Beach

In 2000’s The Beach – staring Leonardo Decaprio – the Heo Narok waterfall shrouds a society of people hiding from the outside world.

Reality is a bit different; as the waterfall sits at the end of a paved path that is very popular with tourists and photographers.

. . .

Pha Trom Chai Viewpoint

For nearly 25 kilometers, our scooter bumped and chugged its way up the crumbling old road leading to the Pha Trom Chai viewpoint.

From time to time, the sky teased us with moments of sunshine breaking through the clouds.

However, by the time we arrived at the panoramic viewpoint, both the sky and ground were covered in a dense layer of fog.

“Oh my gosh! Look at this amazing view,” we joked. “You can see for hundreds of inches! What an incredible wall of white.”

 

After laughing until our sides ached, we dried our tears and made the best of the situation.

I even managed to get a few nice photographs out of the it.

 

The way to the Pha Trom Chai Viewpoint was full of fog.
The way to the Pha Trom Chai Viewpoint was full of fog.

 

Our scenic view from the Pha Trom Chai Viewpoint.
Our scenic view from the Pha Trom Chai Viewpoint.

Scattering Aunt Donnie’s Ashes

My dear Great Aunt Donnie was a World War II veteran and a pioneer in the gay community.

When she died at the ripe age of 91, I promised I would scatter her ashes around the world.

. . .

Donnie’s adventure in Khao Yai

First, we crossed a rickety wooden swinging rope bridge near our campsite.

Next, we traversed lush green fields, ran through waist-high grass and meandered alongside a clear blue lake.

Finally, we stopped to rest atop a hill of red mud; which resembled a Martian landscape thanks to years of erosion.

It was here – in this magical spot – that I left a bit of Aunt Donnie under a tree.

In my mind, she said,

“Wow bubbie; that’s a fine tree you left me under. Now, bring on the rain. I wanna take a ride on that red dirt slide”

Aunt Donnie has a rest on a tree in Khao Yai.
Aunt Donnie has a rest on a tree in Khao Yai.

A Dense Forest Buzzing Around My Head

After saying goodbye to Aunt Donnie, Carrie and I continued walking – until she discovered a beautiful temple inside the forest.

khao_yai_national_park-Thailand-Greg_Goodman-2We went in to explore; and, a few minutes later, I noticed a loud buzzing sound around my head.

Carrie assured me that it was nothing – just a few harmless sweat-sucking bugs.

Silly me, I believed her.

. . .

Hours later, Carrie revised her story; saying, “I don’t know WHAT they were – it was like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

She also revealed that “a few bugs” actually meant “an entire swarm was buzzing above your head and covering your Mets hat.”

Good thing she waited until later to tell me… I probably would have run out of the forest: screaming and waving my arms while being eaten alive by mystery-bugs.

 

A hidden temple inside the forest of Khao Yai.
A hidden temple inside the forest of Khao Yai.

Adelle – the kindest woman on Earth

After two days in the park, we returned our motorbike and decided hitchhike back into town.

This proved to be more difficult than expected; until an angel named Adelle stopped the entire caravan of cars she was traveling with to pick us up.

From the comfort of her back seat, we were treated to stimulating conversation, good laughs, air conditioning and a luxurious ride.

 

The kindness continues

When we stopped for lunch at a fresh corn market, her entire group refused to let us pay: and even bought us more corn for the ride.

Then, before saying goodbye at the bus station, Adelle made sure we were sitting on the correct bus with our tickets in hand.

Three years later, I have so much gratitude in my heart for the experience.

If you’re reading this – thanks again, Adelle! :)

 

As you can imagine, driving around Khao Yai was a pleasure.
As you can imagine, driving around Khao Yai was a pleasure.

Where is your favorite park in the world?

 

  • Will Hatton

    This is a very helpful piece. A lot of people tend to just focus on the more popular tourist destinations and fail to explore the ones that take them closest to nature. Awesome post!

  • Carole

    Great post, beautiful scenery and pictures! Especially that hidden temple shot (your wife did well by telling you about the bugs afterwards!). You may enjoy our website which provides a lot of photographic storytelling on top of the traditional travel tips: http://www.ooaworld.com Say hi if you ever stop by! I’ll be reading on your beautiful website! Happy Travels!!xx

  • duyduc

    Extremely beautiful photos about wild nature. This place is a real jungle, This kind of trip is suitable for anyone interested in peaceful and nature, something like adventure trips like http://ultimatehanoiadventures.com/