A weekend trip to Khao Yai National Park

Khao Yai National Park is about two hours drive from Bangkok. My husband and I have visited the place once before but always wanted to go back and explore further. Famous for its waterfalls, jungle treks and wildlife (including leeches!), it’s a perfect spot for a quick holiday because it has open fields as well as jungle treks. Many treks can be done without a guide, and we did two, one short and one long, stopping along the way near the running water to admire some colorful butterflies. The longer trek through the jungle took us three hours one way; the road wound up and down, straight and easy to walk on, then blocked by fallen logs, then almost vertical so we had to climb, while other sections of the trail had steps, some man-made, some just tree roots and hard packed earth. Quite a few thorny plants, some at eye level. My long pants were very useful to keep me scratch free but not great to keep the leeches away, even if I had sprayed my legs and arms with insect repellent. They probably liked the orange flavor. I should have worn socks.

Many of the animals didn’t seem too bothered to see humans – the gibbons were quite friendly, climbing up on cars and even coming close to touch people and beg for food. A curious baby gibbon found a scorpion but kept well clear of it.
The deer were grazing in the open fields, and a couple of them came quite close to an information booth where a ranger was watching. It felt so out of this world to just sit in the car and see the animal a few meters away. It wasn’t afraid, just grazed placidly as in the distance a fawn was bleating, probably calling for its mother. When we came back by the same route the deer was sitting on the grass.
In the jungle we spotted a crocodile, sunning itself on a log, and a baby monitor lizard tentatively making its way out of the water. Gibbons jumped between trees above us, big millipedes scuttled on the path and above all, extremely loud cicadas sang various rhythms.

The waterfalls didn’t have that much water – it’s best to visit them during the rainy season which is still a bit away – but we enjoyed dipping our feet in the shallow water and laying down for a short nap on the rocks near the small Kong Kaeo waterfall. The most spectacular, Haew Narok Waterfall, is a sheer fifty-meter drop to a natural pool at the base. Visitor access is restricted to a wooden deck accessible after going down 175 steps. Walking down the steps felt like descending from a sky scraper with no walls. I felt a bit dizzy but held on to the rails and walked slowly. Climbing back up was even more challenging because some steps were almost vertical. The way to Haew Suwat Waterfall is straight through the jungle. One of the most famous waterfalls, it can be seen up close, as the terrain is not that rocky.

The best part of the whole trip was seeing the animals in their natural habitat. The weather was hot but not as hot as in the city, about 28 degrees Celsius, and plants kept us away from the sun – it was almost like going through a tunnel. We saw elephant droppings and near a suspended bridge a Giant Black Squirrel (that’s the name of the species) bigger than a cat, who successfully avoided my attempts at photographing it.

Another famous attraction of the area is watching the bats come out at sunset. We found a place to watch them, behind a temple, a few kilometers away from the park itself. Apparently there is a bat cave somewhere in the mountain and if you’re there at the right moment you can see them flying away. What’s impressive about it is not that you see the bats up close – in fact they’re so far away they resemble a wisp of smoke – but the fact that it takes about five minutes (I looked at my watch) for all of them to fly away from the cave in a long queue. I’m glad we had the opportunity to see them.

On our way back we stopped at Khao Yai Art Museum and saw bronze sculptures and lovely paintings by Thai artists. My favorite is a painting I called “Beautiful Death”. There’s something beautifully ugly about it, like a reminder of the ravages of time.

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18 Responses to A weekend trip to Khao Yai National Park

  1. M-----l says:

    I’m quite grumpy that the Giant Black Squirrel managed to elude your camera. I guess I’ll just have to look at the monkey on the car some more. That’s something I’ll never see where I live.

    • Delia says:

      That makes two of us M. Most of the time all I could see was a black tail hanging from a branch here and there. But it was the biggest squirrel I have seen and I’m glad I did.
      The monkeys were cute but naughty, especially the small ones. Some climbed on cars and started bending the radio antennas.

  2. Brian Joseph says:

    Thanks for this post Delia.

    Based on your pictures and your description this looks to be such an incredible place.

    I walk and hike a lot but the places that I typically visit are so very different from this park as they are mostly in the Northeastern United States.

    The pictures of the artwork also look to be impressive. I wish that I knew more about Thai artists.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Brian,
      Khao Yai is a great place for some fresh air and getting in touch with nature (and some wildlife). I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to visit and will probably go again. I love hiking, if only I could do it more often.
      It would be nice to see some pictures from your part of the world.

      The artwork is really interesting – I wonder what inspired the sculpture of the bronze head. I don’t know much about Thai artists in particular but I have admired their work in the past.

  3. Vishy says:

    Beautiful post, Delia! Enjoyed reading about your hiking adventures. The pictures are very beautiful! Those stairs that you had to descend to reach the platform near the waterfall – well, reading that made me dizzy 🙂 So nice to know that the monkeys are very friendly. The picture are all very beautiful. I loved the one of the crocodile lounging in the sun and the pictures from the art museum. Thanks for sharing.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Vishy,
      It was a great trip. Those stairs were a bit of a challenge but totally worth the trouble. That waterfall is amazing.
      I’m glad we saw the crocodile on the log and not on our path. That wouldn’t have been fun, I think.

  4. Hi Delia,

    A lovely post again! Looks like you have had a wonderful trip. Thank you so much for sharing the pictures. They are so good. 🙂 I love the deer and the gibbons. And, I so wish that the squirrel could have been slightly patient. 😉

    • Delia says:

      Hi Deepika,
      It was a really wonderful trip. I thought the second time wouldn’t be as exciting but we ended up seeing and doing a lot more than on our first trip there.
      Squirrels, they’re never famous for their patience. 🙂

  5. Priya says:

    The place sounds wonderful. Such posts of yours do inspire me to post about something other than books, every once in a while. The singing of cicadas reminds me of something completely random – apparently, it is only the male cicada that can make the chirpy noise, the female is mute and so some poet said, “Happy are cicadas’ lives, they have voiceless wives!” The giant black squirrel, if it is the same one we see here in India, is such an elusive beauty, it’s not surprising you couldn’t photograph it. Lovely pictures, though, I can tell you had fun. 🙂

  6. Delia says:

    Hi Priya,
    It looks like I haven’t posted as many book reviews this year. Or reading much. 🙂
    You should definitely try posting about something else other than books if that’s what you feel like it. I’m curious to see what you come up with.
    I had no idea about cicadas, that’s a fun fact to know. Thanks for sharing. There must have been a whole army of them out there, they were so loud, like a metal works shop going full power.
    The squirrel could be the same you see in India. Apparently they’re famous in this part of Asia. Unfortunately it was well hidden in the thick foliage and it blended quite well so we’re lucky we saw it for a few brief moments.

  7. TB Markinson says:

    What a lovely place to visit, except for the leeches. We managed to make it through Danum valley in Malaysia without getting bitten by a leech. We were the only two in our party who didn’t give blood. The monkeys are quite bold. That would scare me a bit. I love seeing animals in their natural habitat, but I don’t want them climbing on me.

    • Delia says:

      Hi TB,
      The leeches were part of the experience. 🙂 I was bitten by four (yep, I counted). Two I managed to feel right away and pulled them out. The other two drank their fill and left. When I visited the place in February (the cold season) I was wearing the same shoes and never got bitten.
      It’s good you managed to escape them.
      I’ve heard the monkeys can be a problem but I think the visitors to the park got the idea they shouldn’t feed them so they were not violent at all, just curious. They put on a show, climbing the trees, jumping on cars, but they were fun to watch and never a danger to anybody.

  8. Caroline says:

    What a beautiful place. I’d love to see that. I love bats. I remember large bat colonies from Sri Lanka.
    This is a place I’d love to vist as well. 28° is just perfect.
    That photo – please be a crocodile. Hilarious.
    Wonderful post and wonderful photos.

    • Delia says:

      It is quite amazing, Caroline. It’s nice to see green everywhere instead of buildings, even if only for a few days. Do you like hiking?
      28 degrees was what my phone said but it felt hotter than that. Still, standing in the shadow of a tree made a big difference. Nice and breezy.
      That sign was funny. I wonder why they didn’t repaint it.
      Thanks for the nice words.

  9. Tracy Terry says:

    Whilst not a big fan of animals kept in captivity I do acknowledge that sometimes this is the lesser of two evils and that quite unlike the zoos of my childhood places like this make a huge effort to maintain the animals natural habitats.

    Thank you for sharing what sounds like a magical place.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Tracy,
      It’s a national park so like you said they make an effort to protect the animals . I have seen them walking around and nobody tried to harm them or interact with them other than taking a few pictures. I don’t like zoos either, horrible places.
      Thank you for visiting and for your comment.

  10. Lovely photos! The waterfall and the pond looked so inviting for a swim until I saw the alligator in the next picture and thought, “probably not a good idea!” 😉

    We once met a couple who had enough money to travel wherever they wanted to live. They would go to an airport, close their eyes and run their fingers down the departure screen and wherever their finger stopped, that’s where they would go. If they liked it, they’d stay 3+ months, if not perhaps only weeks. In any case, they said Thailand was one of their favourite places!

    So glad I found your blog! Thanks for stopping by mine!

    • Delia says:

      Hi Cleo,
      I’m so glad that alligator was on the log and not on the path. There were many places to stop on our trek, beautiful, peaceful places.

      I envy the people you talk about. That would be a dream, to be able to travel anywhere and spend as much time as I want there.
      Thailand is a very popular tourist destination, I always compare it to a great train station – people come and go, they rarely stay for very long.
      Thanks for returning the visit.

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