The park is the third largest in Thailand. It covers an area of 300 square kilometers, including tropical seasonal forests and grasslands. Its altitude mostly ranges from 400–1,000 m above sea level. There are 3,000 species of plants, 320 species of birds, and 67 species of mammals, recording in this, Thailand's most famous National Park.
Khao Laem Grassland is the largest grassland area in Khao Yai and sits below the Khao Laem peak. Our map (dated 2000) noted an alternative route back to the start of the trail from the grassland, via Khlong Hin Orn, but we were not able to find the trail head at either the start or the end of the supposed alternative track - the ranger on duty at the Khao Laem sub-station also had no knowledge of the alternative route so it may not exist anymore. If anyone does have info on an alternative track pls post.
Access the trail is from the Heao Suwat waterfall car park - you must cross the river about 50 meters upstream from the souvenir shop to find the trail head.
Length of trail :: 9 km (incl return)
Hiking time :: 4 hours for full trail incl return
Difficulty level :: moderate (scale : easy, moderate, hard, ouch)
Minimum essentials :: 1 L water, snacks, sugar source.
Note in the file and gps track I have also included the route to the Namtok Pha Gluai Mai (orchid forest waterfall).
What a fantastic trail if you have the time and definitely will need either GPS or a guide to take you to the edge of the grasslands.
There is a new wire river crossing that is about 100 meters from the parking area of Haew Surat waterfall as the trail begins to make it a bit exciting.
Walking the trail now after the rains is fantastic although a bit easy to fall off the track thus very much recommended to take a ranger or have GPS. They report 3 km to the view point at the wire crossing however its more like 4.2 km to the viewpoint of the grasslands.
Chatting with the Rangers who we met on the trail they reported evening sightings of over 200 guar, frequent sightings of dhole, asiatic jackal, pig, and elephant.
They also mentioned that for Happy New Year they will be allowing people to spend the night around the Ranger Station.
Walked this trail this last weekend although it doesnt seem to have rained very hard yet in Khao Yai it was enough to kick in some of the plants and fungi on the Khao Laem trail.
Crossing the river can still be done on food rather than using the wire. Leech season has begun so if you plan to make this trip plan accordingly. The trail wasnt too muddy which makes for safe and if needed fast trekking. Going out was 1 hour and 15 min to reach the top of the grasslands.
What I like about this trail is that its really only used for the Rangers to get to their substation thus plant life is fairly normal without the poaching some of the other more traveled trails get. I saw many different orchids and an abundance of fungi.
As for tracks there are quite a bit of them as well. Lots of dog activity, pigs, civet cats etc especially as you approach the grasslands.
Along the way I ran into a Ranger who gave it his best shot at persuading me to turn around saying there where elephants fighting (heard this a couple times before) and it was snake season. After I showed him my GPS and told him I had done the trail before he seemed fine with me proceeding. I wanted to ask him a few questions about any special animal sightings but it seemed he was finishing his shift and off he went.
Once I reached the grasslands we set up a place to sit down and watch the grasslands from the viewpoint, recent rains have them looking as good as they will look all year. Was hoping to see a late morning guar or elephant but wasnt that lucky.
Also to note since last I went on this trail the Rangers have made some small adjustments to the trail on the ascent just as you pass the salt lick on the left side (about 20 min into the trip). The trail is clearly marked and easy to follow.
The grassland is beautiful, and so is the trail, especially because it's normally only used mabe once a day by the rangers. It's easy to follow, but as far as I know it's not officially open for visitors without ranger. Though, I see no need to hire a ranger for a trail that is so easy to follow.
Last time, couple of weeks ago, I noticed several trails wandering off heading South. As soon as I have my GPS I will check it out. I expect it should lead to the stream where the alternative route back is supposed to be according to the 'old' trail map.
The trail can indeed be done in a short time like 1.15 hr if you really need to, just heading back to your car as quick as you can, but still that makes a late afternoon stay at the grassland impossible. For Gaur you need to be out there at least till 18:00, preferably till 18:30 - 19:00. That means walking back in the dark, which even though I love to do night walks is a bit too long of a trail. And it even adds another problem, because the road to the parking lot at Haew Suwat will be closed around 17:00PM.
So the only real option is camping at the grassland, but seems like you need to become friends with the rangers first before they will allow you to.
BTW I love the 'elephant fighting' and 'snake season' arguments. For me that would be even more reason to go, haha. Some (read: many) rangers have no idea what attracts the foreign visitors to these parks.
In so many parks when you ask at the entrance if there is any wildlife to be seen. They say mai mee. And they really insist, laughing as if you are asking something stupid. Heard it again last time when I visited Pang Sida.