Khao Yai National Park is a park that has not always appealed to me. It is Thailand’s oldest National Park and also the one closest to Bangkok, and is often dubbed as “Bangkok’s playground”. It is probably the playground moniker that had made me a little reticent of the park.
Additionally, the constant drone of cars and loud motorbikes, loud music from weekender’s cars and the speed at which local cars, taking the shortcut from Prachinburi to Nakorn Ratchasima, travel on the park’s main road have all contrived to keep me away.
I had pondered my issues with Khao Yai last year and decided that I may have become a “National Park Snob” and even though my strong personal preference was for the more isolated parks with limited numbers of visitors I should investigate Khao Yai National Park a little more. So I undertook a series of day trips to the park over the last year. I have now come to appreciate just how good Khao Yai National Park is. And how important it is.
One of the major surprises is just how few of Khao Yai’s many visitors (currently up to 800,000 a year!) leave the roads and car parks and actually venture out on the forest trails. Khao Yai has some excellent trails and one can be in old growth forest within 50 meters of some trail heads with some fantastic as well as huge tree specimens. Additionally, if trekkers simply a) choose the trail well (i.e one that does not start in a camp ground or visitor centre) or b) choose to visit on a weekday then the chances of not being disturbed by others on a trail are very high.
Another surprise is just how well the National Park Office actually manages the huge amount of visitors. It is extremely well thought out and the areas that one has access to are very small as a percentage of the Park’s total area - this is great for the wildlife. Their habitat management schemes by the roadways are excellent for giving day trippers the chance of an animal sighting. Their strict rules and controlling the camp areas and roads at night are great for keeping wildlife resident in the surrounding areas by reducing their night time disturbances. In terms of daytime sightings of mammals alone I have seen elephant, otter, dhole, gaur, indian civet, short toothed civet, lars gibbon, pileated gibbon, giant squirrel, marten, badger and wild pig as well as wild (i.e. not the semi-tame animals in the camps and car parks) northern pig-tailed macaque, sambar and muntjac. All within 2 kilometers of a road.
And these are some of the factors that add up to making Khao Yai National park probably the most important National Park in Thailand in regards to education. It is the most suitably located (in a huge population catchment) as well as managed resource the DNP holds in its portfolio for introducing large numbers of people to the delights of nature and through it’s public awareness materials and installations - the importance as well as the fragility of Thailand’s natural heritage.
So why not visit Khao Yai yourself? You may be surprised who you see.
Be careful to look all around when you need to go to the toilet! Wild Asian Elphant in Khao Yai National Park