Although the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex – to give the National Park its full name – has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list for nearly 20 years now, we’ve regrettably only just managed to incorporate the fantastic site onto one of our regular Thailand tour itineraries.
Until recently, our range of offerings has included north and south Thailand tours so Khao Yai National Park, with a location in the northeastern, Nakhon Ratchasima, region has always been somewhat tricky to squeeze in. The park’s location is a 4-hour drive from Bangkok so it can be visited as an extension from the capital for anyone with 3 or 4 days to spare, however, it does fit perfectly with our new Thailand World Heritage, Isan Tour.
This northeast Thailand tour has actually been on our menu for a while now although we introduced it shortly before Covid hit so…The tour kicks off in Bangkok before taking you a short distance north to another UNESCO-listed site, the ancient capital of Ayutthaya. From here it’s a convenient drive to Pak Chong – the nearest town to the Park and home to a selection of accommodation.
Our Khao Yai visit then includes 2 nights and a full day exploring the park including hikes and a 4WD safari with plenty of opportunities to discover the flora and fauna as well as well-preserved jungle scenery. According to UNESCO, the park’s residents include 112 mammal species and 392 different birds and, while one could spend days (or even weeks) exploring the park fully, our day tour certainly provides a taste and, well – we’ve got other exciting destinations to fit into the itinerary as well.
Note that this is a rainforest environment, largely covered with dense jungle and not comparable to African savannah or even the low scrub of the excellent Sri Lankan national parks such as Yala or Wilpattu so wildlife can be shy and hard to spot. You could pass within metres of a large mammal without even knowing it’s there! We find that it does make sightings that much more rewarding and, accompanied by extremely good, and well-equipped, local guides, sightings of various mammals, birds, reptiles – and of course the rainforest insect life and flora – won’t be in short supply. It’s not about ticking any ‘big 4’ (or 5 or 6) off a list – it’s more an opportunity to appreciate the entire ecosystem as a whole.
Our recent tour included white-handed gibbons as well as several macaque species, sambar deer, great hornbills (in addition to numerous smaller bird species) and a white-lipped viper plus traces of bear and elephant. Whichever specific species we come across, you’ll be immersed in the lush, rainforest ecosystem and…spectacular views and landscapes are guaranteed.
From Khao Yai, we head east for something completely different – the spectacular Angkor period temple of Phanom Rung, atop an extinct volcano, but that’s for another post.
Note, while we usually suggest topping up this one-week Thailand World Heritage with a few days at, for example, Koh Mak or Koh Chang, we also have an extended version of the tour, The Emerald Triangle, which continues east from Ubon Ratchathani into southern Laos – and includes, also UNESCO-listed Wat Phu, and the sublime 4,000 Islands before crossing into remote northern Cambodia and following the Mekong south to the Khmer capital Phnom Penh.