Thailand is abundant with so many natural wonders I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite, but this year I stumbled upon one that definitely lingers somewhere near the top.
I traveled to Khao Yai National Park, as so many others do, in search of elephants. One of the largest wild populations in Thailand calls Khao Yai their home, but they aren’t the only creatures the wildlife paparazzi goes gaga for! Other popular species in the park include gibbons, macaques, tigers, bears, leopards, guar, pythons and more.
Founded in 1962, Khao Yai National Park was Thailand’s first, one of one hundred and twenty-seven National Parks that now grace the country. It’s also the most visited, and consistently rated as one of the best in Asia. At three times the size of Singapore, Khao Yai National Park is still only the second largest in Thailand after Kaeng Krachan! At 2,376 square miles (6,155 square kilometers) it dwarfs tiny Koh Tao, the 13 square mile (33 square kilometer) island that I call home in Thailand. The size is reflected in the name — ‘khao’ is Thai for hill and ‘yai’ translates to big. Therefore, Khao Yai means big hills.
I visited Khao Yai National Park in January of 2016 with four friends — you can read about my experience here and here. It turned out to be a logistically difficult trip to coordinate. According to several sources, over 95% of visitors to the park are Thai nationals, many with their own transportation, leaving both English language information and tourism infrastructure limited. I read guidebooks, I scoured message boards and blogs, and I took pages and pages of notes about my own trip in order to create what I hope will be the most comprehensive guide on the internet to planning your own trip to Khao Yai National Park, independently or otherwise! It’s long, but it’s detailed – and if you’ve done this trip too, I’d love to hear from you in the comments to make this an even more valuable resource to other travelers.
Because this guide is so extensive, I’ve created a little table of contents to help you skip around to where you want to be:
map via Koh Yai Guide
The National Park’s official website has limited English advice, and many of the sites that do have plenty of helpful details also sell tours to the park, thus don’t have much incentive to provide information on visiting independently. That said, many of the staff at the Visitor Center speak fantastic English, and can be reached at +66 08 6092 6529.
Khao Yai’s gates are open from 6am to 6pm, though you can exit after 6pm if you stay in the park for a night safari. Haew Narok and Haew Suwat waterfalls close at 5pm. Park restaurants also close at 6pm, making it important to plan meal times carefully. The Visitor Center, however, is open from 8am to 9pm.
Thai person 40 baht
Western person 400 baht
Bicycle 20 baht
Motorcycle 30 baht
Car 50 baht
Mini van 100 baht
You must pay both the personal entry and the entry for whatever vehicle you arrive on (unless, of course, you arrive by foot). If you have a Thai work permit, education visa or driver’s license you may be able to pay the Thai price, but don’t count on it – it seems it depends on who is at the gate that morning.
Most sources claim that you cannot leave and re-enter the park without paying the entrance fee again. However I did read at least one account of a traveler being able to leave the park to eat outside and return on the same day without paying the fee twice. While I can’t vouch for it myself, it appears that you may be able to exit and return freely within the same day. You cannot, however, visit the park, leave to sleep outside it, and return the next day on the same ticket.
Khao Yai National Park has both a southern and northern entrance. While the southern entrance in Prachin Buri Province is technically closer to Bangkok, it is very far from the Visitor Center and campsites, and due to the lack of transportation and services it is very seldom used by international travelers — see an overall map of the area here. This guide will exclusively reference the northern entrance in Nakhon Ratchasima Province, as my personal attempts to coordinate a trip from the southern entrance went in circles.
Pak Chong is the gateway city to the park, 12.5 mile (20km) north of the northern entrance. There are several options for getting there — see a rough map of Pak Chong here.
We arrived in Pak Chong via an afternoon ferry from Koh Tao to Chumphon, followed by a train to Bangkok’s Hualampung Station, followed by a train to Pak Chong. On the way back to Bangkok, we took a government bus to Bangkok’s Mo Chit Bus Terminal.
You can reach Pak Chong by train from Bangkok, Ayutthaya, and Khorat (the nickname for Nakhon Ratchasima town), among other destinations. See a full map of Thailand’s rail connections here.
While planning this trip, I frequently read to skip the train to and from Pak Chong as buses were faster and more efficient, and trains are often delayed. But I adore train travel in Thailand, and thus was determined to try it on this journey. There are ten trains a day from Bangkok to Pak Chong, many of which stop in Ayutthaya – one of the few destinations from which you will not have to connect through Bangkok in order to reach Pak Chong. You can also depart straight from the train station at Don Muang Airport, if you are connecting from a domestic flight within Thailand.
There are ten departures a day from Bangkok to Pak Chong, with the longest listed journey time at about four and a half hours, and the shortest at just over three. Most trains leave their departure city on time and slowly become more and more delayed throughout their route. So an early morning train originating in Bangkok is likely to leave and perhaps even arrive on time (ours did).
If you are coming from the South of Thailand, I highly recommend the route we took: Train 174 Rapid Service to Bangkok, departing Chumphon at 7:36pm and arriving at Hualamphong Station at 5:10am. I always sleep surprisingly well in the bunks! When we arrived in Bangkok, we had just enough time to hop onto Train 21 Special Express to Pak Chong, the first and fastest train of the day departing at 5:45am and arriving at 8:52am. Many overnight trains coming from Chiang Mai and other areas in the north will also be able to transfer to Train 21 to Pak Chong as well.
For current schedules and prices, reference the State Railway of Thailand website or call +66 02 223 7010. Schedules as of August 2016 from Hualamphong to Bangkok can be found here, from Don Muang can be found here, from Khorat can be found here, and from Ayuthaya can be found here. There are no left luggage facilities at the Pak Chong Train Station, though there is at Bangkok’s Hualamphong.
There is no central bus station in Pak Chong, though there is frequent bus and minibus service to both Bangkok (2h30) and Khorat (1h). Allegedly there are minibuses to and from Lopburi (2h) and Ayutthaya (2h30), but I was unable to find reliable information about these routes.
Public buses from Bangkok’s Mo Chit Bus Station depart every twenty minutes or so from 4am to 8pm, taking about three hours. Just show up and ask when the next bus is leaving, as there are multiple companies that run this route. Departing Pak Chong, you can catch buses back to Bangkok from multiple bus terminals. One is located on Mittraphap Road, Pak Chong’s main drag, across from the giraffe statue. We paid 137 baht each for a first class bus to Bangkok’s Mo Chit Bus Station from here. Tickets to Khorat were also for sale. Another bus station sits Southwest of the stoplight at Th Tesabarn 8.
Minibuses from Bangkok’s Victory Monument are a little faster, a little more expensive, and don’t tend to leave until full. Minivans from Bangkok depart every hour from 5am to 9pm, taking about two and a half hours. From Pak Chong, they depart from outside Tae-Wa-Da Plaza near the giraffe statue or the terminal mentioned above. Some sources say the last minibus leaves at 7pm, others claim 9pm. The cost is around 160-250 baht.
If you’re heading in the other direction, you may also be able to catch buses to other northeastern destinations such as Buriram, Khon Kaen, Khorat and Ubon Ratchathani from a terminal from an orange building a bit further northeast up Mittraphap Raod. More information can be found here.
Renting a car in Bangkok is an option and will save you the hassle of trying to arrange transportation within the park. Renting at either the domestic Don Muang Airport or the international Suvarnabhumi Airport will avoid the worst of Bangkok gridlock and get you right on the highway headed to the park – Don Muang is a tad closer, if you have an equal choice between the two. It’s about a two and a half hour drive, without traffic. Personally I have never driven a car in Thailand, though I may attempt this for a future trip.
You can also hire private transfers if you don’t feel comfortable driving yourself, though at great expense. Expect to pay around 2,200 baht one way or 3,200 baht round trip within the same day.
The main issue with visiting Khao Yai independently is that the park is vast and huge, and Pak Chong is 17 miles (27km), or a thirty minute drive, from the park’s Northern gates – and even then, the Visitor Center and the many trails that start there are a further 9 miles (14km) away.
So once you’ve gotten yourself to Pak Chong, you still need to get to the park entrance gates, and then to the park’s Visitor Center and around. There are several options for getting into and around the park.
By Foot, Bike or Hitchhiking
The cheapest option is to take a public truck or songthaew from Pak Chong town to the main northern entrance of the park from 6am to 5pm, which costs 40 baht. The trucks departs from the 711 near the giraffe statue east of the night market on the main road, which you can reach on foot from all main public transportation stations. You should also be able to hop onto the songthaew from guesthouses on the main road to the park in Pak Chong and Mu Si. The last songthaew on the way back to Pak Chong from the gates depart around 4pm.
When you get to the park entrance gates, you’ll have to hitchhike to the Visitor Center, from which many trails to top attractions within the park begin. Get used to asking for rides if you need to reach the park cabins or camp grounds, or any of the far flung waterfalls.
The good news is hitchhiking in the park is fairly easy – the five of us easily found a ride back to the start of a hike along Phakluai Mai trail, where we’d left our bikes, from the Haew Suwat waterfall where our hike concluded. If you plan on hitchhiking extensively, you may wish to visit on the weekends when there will be far more people driving through the park.
From Pak Chong, you can also take a taxi all the way to the Visitor Center or to a campground for around 300 baht, but be sure to get the cab driver’s number to arrange for pick up when leaving, and consider negotiating a side-trip to Haew Narok on the way in or out, which is in the deep southern end of the park and will require a ride of some sort or another to see.
Once inside the park, you can hire the services of a park ranger for a guided hike for 500 to 1,000 baht (full price list shown below), which will include transportation to the trailhead. This could be a great way to seek out some of the more far-flung trails and waterfalls – and enjoy some added information – if you’re exploring the park on foot. You might even be able to sweet talk them into picking you up at the entrance gate upon arrival by calling ahead, or into dropping you off on your way out.
A final option? At the Visitor Center, I was excited to see bicycles for rent for 50B per hour – and I’m sure you could negotiate a long term rate. This is another great alternative for those who prefer to forgo motorized transportation.
One intriguing option is to combine taking a tour with some independent exploration of the park. Sign up for a day tour in Pak Chong with a company like Greenleaf Guesthouse or Bobby’s Jungle Tours, and arrange so that they leave you in the park at the conclusion of the your tour, and pick you back up at the end of another tour a set amount of days later. If you sign up for both a half day and full day tour, both these companies will also pick you up and drop you off at the bus and train stations as well. This will give you the benefits of getting to and from public transportation easily, getting to and from the Visitor Center conveniently, and giving you some guided and some free time in the park. Skip ahead to read more about Tours available in Khao Yai National Park.
If you didn’t rent a car in Bangkok but are hoping to get around in one, your options are limited, however I’ve read that cars may be rented for 1,500 baht per day at Rimtarninn Hotel, however my calls to attempt to confirm this were not successful. If you want to try it for yourself, take a passport and international driver’s license.
Rimtarninn Hotel & Car Rental
430 Mittraphap Rd, Pak Chong
T: (044) 313 3656
Don’t want to be behind the wheel? Reportedly, for 1,500 baht, you can hire a taxi for the full day from Pak Chong.
In my opinion, the very best option! This is how I explored Khao Yai National Park.
Motorbikes can be rented in Pak Chong town for 300 baht per twenty-four hours, with extra helmets available for 50 baht per twenty-four helmets (one bike includes one helmet). We had hoped to rent manual motorbikes, but rented from Honda, where only automatic motorbikes were available. If anyone has information about the selection of Petch Motor or at Thai Yen Co Ltd, hit me up!
734/1-4 Mittraphap Rd, Pak Chong
T: (099) 442 9444; (081) 924 9449; (099) 442 94444
361/3 Mittraphap Rd, Pak Chong
T: (044) 280 248; (081) 718 2400
Thai Yen Co Ltd
293 Mittraphap Rd, Pak Chong
T: (044) 341 188
Honda’s hours are 8:00am to 5:00pm Monday through Saturday, 8:00am to noon on Sundays. It is an easy fifteen minute walk from the train station and even closer to the bus terminal we used to head back to Bangkok after. Remember that you must return with the tank full. In case of flat tire, there is a 500 baht pickup charge to switch out the motorbike, plus the cost of any damage to the bike.
Getting to the park entrance from Pak Chong can be intimidating. At one point you’re on a four line highway with tankers passing, so it’s a good idea to have some comfort level on a bike before arriving. Once inside the park, grab a map from the visitor’s center. Google Maps showed the roads but had limited labeling, and it didn’t correspond to park maps and phone service was limited so don’t rely on it. Park maps and signage will get you where you need to go.
Once inside the park, petrol is for sale at Haew Narok for 70 baht per liter. Better to fill up at the visitor center where it’s 50 baht per liter and of better quality.
Overall, the roads within the park were fantastic. One exception? The road to Pha Diew Die Viewpoint could use a little love, so drive with caution on that one. There is a 60kph speed limit in the park and numerous speed bumps to enforce it. Animals – mainly monkeys, though elephants can be an issue too – like to hang on the side of the road, so please drive with caution, and consider these safe driving tips.
Allegedly there is a motorbike rental stand near the entrance to the park for 600 baht/day but I did not see it during my visit (though I wasn’t looking).
For those choosing to stay outside the park, there are many, many options, particularly along Thanarat Road — which shoots directly from Pak Chong down to Mu Si and the Khao Yai gates. Some may be accessible via the public songthaew from Pak Chong to Khao Yai, others may require a taxi. If you are staying outside the park and especially if you book tours with your accommodation, many places will pick you up at the train or bus station. You can explore options here on Agoda, my favorite site for booking accommodation in Southeast Asia.
However, I strongly encourage you to sleep inside the park. You’ll be able to visit on multiple days without paying multiple entry fees, you’ll have access to the trails in the early morning and at sunset, when wildlife is most active, and you’ll get to truly immerse yourself in the beauty of this enormous national park!
That said, it won’t be easy. There are no hotels within the park, just simple campsites and basic cabins. If you plan on camping in a tent, prior reservations are likely not needed – though I encourage you to avoid weekends and holidays, when the campsites reportedly take on a more party-like atmosphere among Thai students. There are two campgrounds available, Lam Takong and Pha Kluai Mai.
If you have your own camping supplies, you’ll need to pay just 30 baht to pitch your tent. If you’re renting, tents for three people (225 baht), tents for two people: (150 baht), sleeping bags (50 baht), and sleeping pads (35 baht) are available — fees quoted are accurate as of January 2016.
However, if you prefer to stay in one of the park’s rustic cabins, they are frequently booked up by tour groups and school groups, so prior reservations are strongly recommended – the morning we arrived, there was a sign that all cabins were sold out (thankfully, we had a booking.)
You can find a map of the park’s campsites handed out at the Visitor Center here, and see some photos here. You can make reservations as early as sixty days ahead, and for a maximum of three nights. You can check availability here, though the tool is only partially in English.
Cabins of various sizes for a capacity of two to thirty people are available in four zones: zone one is closest to the visitor center and thus best for those without transportation, zone two offers six and eight person bungalows with scenic views and zone three is set along a vast field. Zone four, also know as the Thanarot Zone, is in the southern portion of the park. Cabin prices range from 560-2,100 baht (800-3,000 on the weekends).
We stayed in Bungalow 205 in zone two, though next time I’d book Bungalow 206 for the best view. The two bedroom, two bathroom cabin was equipped with six hard beds, six glass bottles of water, an electric kettle, charging outlets, no fridge or cooking facilities (we were unclear if these were available elsewhere in the campgrounds), flush western toilets, no toilet paper, and alleged hot water showers that actually were cold.
Now for the hard part: making reservations. You can do so here through the National Park’s website, but payment will be tricky. Credit cards aren’t accepted; you’ll have to pay via online bank transfer or in person at a Krung Thai Bank within forty hours of booking (you’ll receive confusing directions upon making your booking). As I do not have a Thai bank account, I gave cash to a friend who did and they made the transfer for me. I assume this won’t be an option for most, which leaves you with the choices of making an international bank transfer, going in person to a Krung Thai Bank once you’ve landed in Thailand, or asking a particularly helpful staff person at a Thai hotel or travel agency you’ve booked to do the transfer for you and add the total to your bill. After, be sure to email The Department of National Parks at email@example.com with your payment receipt and your booking code. It is a huge inconvenience, but I do think it was worthwhile!
Other tips? Checkout is at noon. If you are camping in a tent, make sure your food is secure as animals are notorious for breaking in. Allegedly, there is sporadically working wifi in the Visitor Center, but we never tried to use it. There’s a left luggage room in the Visitor Center if you want to explore before check-in or after check-out. Good luck!
In Pak Chong and Mu Si, there is a seemingly endless array of bizarre places to eat. We had lunch at alien-themed Galaxy 17 and dinner at European palace-inspired Midwinter Green. Both were expensive by Thai standards but quite a unique experience. The cheapest options would be eating at roadside stalls without English signage or at budget guesthouses like Greenleaf or Bobby’s. If you’re stocking up on snacks before heading in to the park, there’s both a mini Tesco Lotus and a 7-Eleven along Thanarat Road on the way from Pak Chong to the northern gates.
Within the park, simple Thai food is widely available, though cafes close early. Across from the visitor center at the main “restaurant,” there’s no table service, but rather several food stalls where visitors can order a variety of Thai food and drinks. There’s also a convenience store that sells snacks, and basic necessities like soap, insect repellant, and toilet paper. Everything closes up by 6pm, so plan accordingly!
There are also small restaurants at both the Lam Tha Kong and Pha Kluai Mai campsites – we had lunch at the latter, as we read the former is not regularly open. Other options include small restaurants at Haew Narok and Haew Suwat Waterfalls, a small restaurant and convenience store at Thanarot / Zone 4 lodging, and a café at the turnoff from the main road on the way to Haew Suwat. All offer simple Thai dishes like curries and stir fries for just 30-40B per item, and are typically open from 8:00am to 4:00pm.
Khao Yai is a hiker’s paradise! There are several outdated park maps floating around online, some of which include trails that the park no longer maintains. Here is the updated map currently being handed out by park officials of the six trails they are currently promoting, and here is the park’s descriptions of those trails.
Here’s a bit about some of the trails as well as the guide prices that were quoted to me in January 2016:
1 – A simple 1.2km loop around the Visitor Center taking an estimated one hour. I wish we’d done it! There’s a resident family of gibbons that hangs around in the morning and it’s purportedly great for birding. Guide not required.
2 – A 3km one-way hike that takes an estimated two hours. Read about my experience! Guide not required, though be prepared to hitchhike back to the starting point.
3 – A 3.3km, two hour hike to the Nong Pak Chi wildlife observation tower. The tower overlooks a small pond and salt lick, and offers great chances of seeing elephants at dawn and dusk. A park ranger guide is recommended at the rate of 500 baht per group.
4 – An easy 2.7km trail to the reservoir, taking an estimated hour and a half. Supposedly great for birding. A park ranger guide is recommended at the rate of 500 baht per group.
5 – Another trail to Nong Pak Chi, this one leaving from the Visitor Center and taking three hours over 5km. A park ranger guide is recommended at the rate of 700 baht per group. Can be combined with hike #3.
6 – A five hour, 8km trek to Haew Suwat waterfall from the Visitor Center, passing several other falls along the way. A park ranger guide is recommended at the rate of 1000 baht per group.
Bicycles are available for rent for 50 baht per hour from the Visitor Center.
Khao Yai is bursting with waterfalls – forty four of them, according to some sources! The most popular are Haew Narok, the largest in the park and located near the southern entrance, and Haew Suwat, made popular by the movie The Beach and located in the east of the park. Swimming is not allowed at any of the park’s waterfalls. Haew Narok is reached via a .6 mile (1 km) each way, stair-heavy footpath from the car park, while Haew Suwat is reached via a .125 miles (200m) each way path from the car park. The next two most popular are Kong Kaeol Waterfall, reached by hike #1 around the Visitor Center, and Pha Kluai Mai Waterfall, reached by hike #2.
Other sights include the Nam Pak Chi observation tower, which can be reached from the hikes outlined above or from an easy .5 mile (900m) walk from the main road, a path that begins a short 1.1 mile (1.8 km) drive north of the Visitor Center. Two viewpoints we visited included a overlook at the 30km mark after entering the park’s northern entrance, and the Pha Diew Die Viewpoint, reached via a raised .2 mile (300 meter) walkway. There are also spirit houses right next to the northern entrance gates and en route to the Pha Diew Die Viewpoint that are worth a look.
Don’t miss the Visitor Center, which is not just a source of information and maps but an impressive museum in its own right.
Remember there are no guarantees in National Park full of wild animals, so don’t get your heart too set on seeing a specific species! Unfortunately, we didn’t spot elephants – but by the time we left we had seen a crocodile, countless deer, a big horned stag, two types of monkeys, snakes, field mice, crazy bugs, porcupine, and my favorite, a common palm civet! Elephants? What elephants?
The best way to see animals is to hire the services of a park ranger, go trekking at dawn and dusk, take a night safari, and hang around the campgrounds. You can find a full list of the species spotted in the park here.
Think the party is over when the sun goes down? It’s just getting started! National Park-hosted safaris are available nightly at 7pm and 8pm, and last around one hour. Read about my experience. A must do, and a bargain at 500 baht for the truck – so for our group of five, we paid just 100 baht each. Allegedly on Saturdays you can pay 50 baht to join a vehicle rather than renting the whole thing. Those staying outside the park are able to take the 7pm time slot.
Yes, this is a guide for doing it independently, but it’s good to be aware of the tour options available within and around Khao Yai National Park, in case you decide that DIYing seems a little much.
The two standards tours on offers from hotels and travel agencies around Pak Chong are a half day tour that stays on the outskirts of the park and takes in a cold spring, a Buddha cave, and millions of bats emerging from a cave (see my review of this tour), and a full day tour that goes into the park and takes in wildlife viewing, waterfalls, and a nature trek. At budget favorites Greenleaf Guesthouse and Bobby’s Jungle Tours, the prices are 500 baht for a half day, 1,300 baht for a full day, and both for 1,500 baht. Similar tours are available at higher prices from other hotels and travel agencies. As stated above, you may wish to combine these tours with a few nights of independent exploration in the park!
I also looked into overnight expedition-like tours with both Khao Yai and Beyond, which offers bush camping in remote areas of the park, and Ton Tan Travel, which offers private tours with the option to stay overnight in the park for free. However, I can’t vouch for either of these companies as I haven’t used them personally — I’d love to hear from anyone who has!
- Pack a sweater – you’re in the mountains (up to 1351 above sea level!) It was 16C/60F overnight when we were there.
- Dress well for hitchhiking – Thais are conservative and neatly dressed even in a National Park. You’ll have better luck catching a ride with them if you’re not shirtless and sloppy.
- Don’t feed the animals. Duh, though we did see deer being fed. Signs everywhere warn not to, and some threaten 500 baht fines for doing so. Feeding by the road is especially dangerous, as it encourages behavior that could lead to accidents.
- Consider leech socks for longer treks, especially in rainy season. They are sold in the Visitor Center!
- Think carefully before tackling longer trails without a park ranger. At the end of 2010, a park ranger was lost in the jungle and has never been found, and my guidebook and news reports warned of travelers forced to sleep in the park overnight after braving unruly trails. The ones we took were well marked, but be wary of others! Aim to have reached your destination by at least 3pm, and hire guides for longer treks. It’s never a bad idea to leave a note or message letting someone know what trail you’re taking and what time you plan to be back.
- First aid is available at the park headquarters, located at the turnoff for the Zone 2 and 3 camping areas. One of the boys in my group stepped on a piece of glass near our cabin and was able to get the wound cleaned and bandaged up there for no charge. If you need more extensive medical care, find a list of nearby clinics and hospitals here.
- Officially, alcohol is banned in all Thai National Parks. Unofficially, if you enjoy a low-key bottle of wine on the porch of your cabin after a long day – I won’t tell.
This is the total breakdown of my two nights, three-day trip cost to Khao Yai. Not included were our first lunch and dinner in Pak Chong, or our transportation to Bangkok from Koh Tao (a ferry, transfer and train package cost 1,228B).
Train to Pak Chong: 392B
My half of a 48-hour motorbike rental: 300B
Bus back to Bangkok: 137B
Upgraded room at Greenleaf for one night: 400B
My portion of the National Park cabin rental for one night: 405B
My park entry fee: 400B
My portion of the motorbike entry fee: 15B
Half day tour with Greenleaf: 500B
Snacks at 711: 296B
Breakfast at Greenleaf: 88B
Dinner in the park (including juice and coconut): 140B
Lunch in the park (including soda): 70B
Breakfast in the park (including tea and a coconut): 85B
Total: 3328B, or $95USD. Not bad for a weekend away!
We were able to see almost all the park highlights within a full day — and a few quick hours the next morning. However, I would have enjoyed having a second full day in the park to hire a ranger for a longer hike, try the short loop around the visitor center, and to increase our chances of spotting wildlife.
Here’s what my ideal two night Khao Yai itinerary would be:
Day one: arrive in park, drive to visitor center, enjoy visitor center, do hike #1 around the visitor center, have lunch, then do hike #2 to Haew Suwat. Take a night safari in the evening.
Day two: Hire a ranger for an early morning trek around Nong Pak Chi Observation Tower – hike #3 or #5 or both – followed by lunch at the campsite. Drive to the park’s southern highlights (Haew Narok waterfall, Pha Diew Die Viewpoint, spirit house).
Day three: Do an early morning hike #4 if you want one last taste of nature before departing.
You also may wish to add a night in Mu Si or Pak Chong before or after in order to see the bats of Khao Luk Chang Bat Cave, which sits 3.7 miles (6km) north of the park boundaries.
Whenever you can! Khao Yai is accessible year-round. November to February is generally sunny, dry and cool, and a great time for hiking (this is when I visited.) March and April are the hottest time of the year everywhere in Thailand, including Khao Yai – while the high elevation may offer some relief from the heat at sea level, the waterfalls will be at their least impressive. May to October is rainy season, though there are long periods of clear skies, the jungle is lush and green, and waterfalls are at their most wow-able.
If you’re visiting from April to October, leech socks are a must. You can stock up in the Visitor Center.
Unless you’re planning to hitchhike and will benefit from more people on the roads, avoid weekends and national holidays when the park is filled with domestic tourists escaping the cities. According to one park ranger we chatted to, Thais aren’t big hikers or walkers, so even on a busy weekend when the viewpoints and waterfalls are packed, you’ll have most of the jungle trails to yourself.
Another benefit to going midweek is cost, as there is a 30% discount on park lodgings at this time.
The bottom line? Khao Yai is amazing, and you should go whenever and however you’re inspired to! This is one of the longest, most comprehensive guides I’ve ever put together, and I truly hope it helps fill a gap in the available English-language information on traveling to Khao Yai National Park. Have you been? Tell me everything in the comments below! Questions? I’ll do my best to answer.