Updated September 4th, 2018.
Located only a few hours away from Bangkok, Khao Yai is Thailand‘s third largest National Park and a wildlife haven that dates back to the 1960s. It’s one of the best places in Thailand to spot wild Elephants!
Khao Yai’s other claim to fame is the incredible Haew Suat Waterfall, made famous by Leonardo Di Caprio in the cult travel film, The Beach.
Things to do in Khao Yai
In Khao Yai, it’s all about getting out and exploring the countryside. There’s a couple of ways to do this, either independently, or via an organised tour.
If you want to do it independently you will need to hire a motorbike, pay park fees and plan properly, as the park covers a large area.
Also, going independently means you miss the insights of a guide, and you have to bring your own specialist equipment such as leech socks & torches.
Trekking paths are abundant in Khao Yai National Park
The highlights of the area are the opportunity to see wild animals and majestic waterfalls. In the park, there are said to be 67 species of wild mammal including the Asiatic black bear, Asian elephant, gaur gibbon and even tigers! The area is also rich in plant life and is a bird watchers paradise!
Most of the park is covered in lush vegetation which makes for great trekking paths. Many of the guides know these inside out but often only the most common are marked on the maps.
Visitors can walk the many hiking trails in the area to spectacular waterfalls, observation points and even a dinosaur footprint (an ambitious four-day trek!).
TIP: Ultimately, we prefer not to go with tour groups but in this instance, we think it’s a better option (both financially & experienced based) to go with a guide who knows the area well and can help you to make the most out of it in a short space of time.
Another spectacle that attracts backpackers to the park are the thousands of ‘wrinkle-lipped’ bats that live in an eerie cave on the edge of Khao Yao National Park.
Every evening at twilight, thousands upon thousands of these bats come out to hunt creating a thick black cloud that spouts from the mouth of the cave, that seems like one giant living organism in a ribbon pattern across the sky.
Where to stay
Considering the dearth of backpacker orientated options the guys at Greenleaf are pretty good. The rooms are very basic, but clean and they run inclusive day tour options making it easy to get in, see the national park and get out again quickly if you’re short on time.
It’s possible however that they may not rent you a room if you do not wish to join one of their tours, especially in high season. They also have an in-house restaurant which sells pretty decent Thai food.
It’s also possible to camp inside the National Park, if you have your own tent, and there’s a host of other, more upmarket options all along the main road.
Update – Since this guide was originally written, the “dearth of backpacker orientated options” has changed somewhat. Greenleaf still has a good reputation, at least, for their tours, so we wouldn’t leave them out, but joining them, we now have…
Hello Hostel Pakchong – A very plush, clean option with dorm rooms for $9 USD and doubles for $20 USD. It’s close to the train station and night market and has lightning fast WI-FI.
At Home Hostel – With prices and positive comments very similar to those of Hello Hostel, but also offering a smaller dorm (4-bed) option for $10 USD, at home is another very popular choice.
Pallet Hostel – Is the third option, with rooms at a similar price, equally good location. I guess you’re just going to have to choose your favourite from the pictures… By the way, all three of them have breakfast included.
If you’re after a flashier option, Isaree Corner offers funky modern bungalows for somewhere around the $60 USD mark.
Getting there and in…
If arriving from Bangkok it’s possible to get either a minibus from Victory Monument or a train from Hualampong to Pak Chong, the closest town.
From there it’s approximately a ten-minute taxi or songthaew ride. We stayed at Greenleaf and were picked up for free from the train station.
When you leave, it’s possible to go back out to Bangkok the same way, if travelling onto Nakhon Ratchasima (also known as Khorat & the gateway to Isaan) we were advised to take a bus, as the train station is further out and connections were easier.
Where to go next?
- A great stop only an hour from Khorat is Phi Mai, a small understated Thai town with some excellent Khmer ruins which can be an alternative to Angkor Wat if you don’t have the time to get to Cambodia.
- Bangkok is only a few hours on either the bus or train.
About the author: Ben is a keen traveller who is currently eating and photographing his way around South East Asia and writing about his experiences both on his own website and for us as an ambassador
You can follow more of his writing on his personal blog, The Hungry Backpackers.