I have 3 full days for my first time in Khao Yai NP, in the second week of April. I am camping and don't have a car/bike.
What is the best way to spend my time?
I hope to have seen lots of birds (and more?) in Mae Wong, Mae Ping and Doi Inthanon, so my priority in Khao Yai will be mammals, primates.
What are the best trails or sections of road to walk? Where are the best places to sit and wait?
If I was to take a guide for one day only, where should I go for the best value, ie seeing lots and seeing things I would miss myself?
Thanks, and thanks for advice in earlier posts too.
Practically speaking, without transport, I would say just choose which camp site (theres two - Lum Ta khlong & Pha Kluai Mai.- and they are not that far apart) and do small walks on the local trails from there. Probably head over the to the Nong Pak Chi observation tower for a day, do a day on the Pha Kluai Mai trail to Heao Suwat waterfall. Seeing "mammals" is going to rely a lot on luck for you.
For me, personally, if you want to see something then your chances with a guide are increased immeasurably as well as the guide will have transport to get you to other areas as well as tap into the other guides (i.e. by radio). Depends how keen you are to see something. Just by staying in the camping area vicinities and trails you will more than likely see macaques, deer, squirrels, gibbons.
But if you want a chance to see elephant or more interesting stuff and views then you will need to be mobile. I always have a car when in any park so not sure how to advise you on mobility in Khao Yai.
Thanks for the input.
Not seeing elephants would be disappointing. Are there places where they are more likely to be? From reading through past posts, I get the impression that roads are actually one the better places for seeing them.
Dhole and jackal would be a good get. And bears would be a super highlight. Are there any places where they can be seen habitually? Or is that where the 21century technology (radios, mobiles and wheels) come in to play?
There is no place in Khao Yai to go for guaranteed, or even near-guaranteed sightings of Dhole, Golden Jackal or one of the two bear species.
For elephants Kui Buri national park is pretty much guaranteed. They are not uncommon in Khao Yai but certainly not seen on a daily basis like in Kui Buri. They wander around a lot, so it is hard to predict where they go. Salt licks can be interesting to visit, but without a vehicle this becomes complicated. BOth camp grounds in Khao Yai do get visited every now and then by elephants, so who knows the wildlife will come to you ;-)
Khao Yai is the best place to see Dholes, but still an uncommon mammal to see; however definitely quite a bit easier than e.g. the bears.
For Dholes you can try the various grassland areas and along the water reservoirs and rivers. Lack of vehicle is again a problem. If camping at Lamtakong camp ground it means you have access on foot to the old 'golf course' area where I have seen Dholes on quite a few occasions. If camping at Pa Kluay Mai camp, your best bet is to walk the trail to Haew Suwat waterfall. I have seen them on kills a few times along that river, but I would not say this trail would be your best bet overall.
Especially scanning the shores of the various water bodies throughout the park can be successful as they often kill their favorite prey, Sambar deer, after first chasing them into the water.
Golden Jackal I have only seen twice in Khao Yai and with the amount of time I have spent there, that is to be considered very rare. To compare, I have also seen Clouded Leopard twice in Khao Yai in the years I often visited the park, so that shows a bit how hard they are to find there (or I have been very unlucky with the jackals; OK and I admit I have been very lucky with the Clouded Leopard ;-) ).
Golden Jackal is quite easy in Huai Kha Khaeng, also relatively often seen in Kaeng Krachan these days near the Ban Krang camp, and on quite a few visits in Kui Buri I have seen this species.
About the bears. In Khao Yai - from my experience - Asian Black Bear is the most common. They are found throughout the park. Sometimes also seen in the grasslands or the trees bordering these open areas. But with sightings averaging at maybe 2 - 3 per year, when visiting very regularly, the chance you see one in a couple days is still very low ;-)
Sun Bear has been easy for a while in Kaeng Krachan when a habituated individual started visiting a site behind the kitchen at Ban Krang camp, but even though I have heard of recent sightings, I think it is not visiting as frequently as it used to do a year (or two) ago.
Other than this habituated individual, this species is hard to find. Still I consider Kaeng krachan the best place to go for Sun Bear. I have seen them a couple times in true wild setting (I do not count the kitchen bear as a proper sighting, haha.). And get the impression that they are more common than in Khao Yai, maybe because competition with Asian Black Bear is much higher in Khao Yai?
For elephants and partly for Dholes it is useful to talk with other people whilst in the park.
Yet, without a vehicle it would be hard to get to any location if someone were to tell you they have seen them.
Dholes stick around a couple days (depending on the size of the pack) around a Sambar kill. So therefore sharing a sighting is useful.
Elephants when showing up in an accessible area usually hang around for a while, so therefore these two species are often shared among the local guides.
As Paul mentioned, a guide will definitely increase your chances a lot, but I also admit that nothing is better than finding the animals by yourself even if that means you will be seeing less/ require even more luck than when with a guide.