If I shout Thailand, what’s the first 3 things you think about? Temples, pad thai and elephant rides?
I’m pretty sure I’m not far from the truth – unfortunately…
Of course I agree on the temples and the food, but if you’ve read my blog before or follow me on social media, you’ve probably understood by now you won’t find me riding an elephant. Like… EVER!
I could talk for 2 hours about all the reasons why but this article by Dan Flying Solo sums it up quite perfectly.
Instead I chose to go look for them in the wild – where they should be – and even though *spoiler alert* I didn’t get to see any, that day in Khao Yai national park I got a lot more than what I’d wished for. ‘A national park in Thailand?‘, I hear you thinking… Well yes, there is indeed more to this amazing country than temples and poorly treated animals.
So put on your hiking shoes and let me show you around! Yes, hiking shoes, not sneakers like me, unless you also want to slip and nearly fall with your but in the middle of a mudd pool. Luckily my boyfriend was just in time to grab my backpack and prevent me from falling all the way down – but I’m pretty sure it was NOT an elegant sight… Anyway… let’s go!
Khao Yai national park is located near Pak Chong in Nakhon Ratchasima province. The amazing archeological site of Phimai is located in the same province, about 2,5 hours away. Both totally off the beaten path in terms of visitors but quite easily accessible, they would definitely be on the list if I was a ‘Top 10 things to do in Thailand‘ kinda girl!
Check out the bottom of this article for all the practical information you need in order to organise your own visit!
Visiting the park
The day starts around 8.30 am, when the truck from the tour company picks you up at your hotel. If you’re staying in Pak Chong, it’s about a half an hours’ drive to the park, shorter if you’re staying in one of the hotels along the way like I was. The groups are small, 8 – 10 people max., and the truck is completely open to assure you can get a good view of all the splendour of the park.
You enter the park around 9 am and spend the first 2 hours driving around the park and spotting the first animals: birds, spiders, scorpions, and if you’re lucky even some monkeys or, who knows, an elephant!
After that, it’s time to put on your sexy anti-leech socks for a hike inside the hidden parts of the park.
Follow your guide on the tiny paths that slalom through the dense, almost jungle-ish vegetation – try to avoid the spider webs with HUGE spiders in them – and enjoy the calm. The guide seems to know everything about the plants and animals and races through the forest on his slippers as if it was a walk in the park. Luckily the air is almost fresh over here and there’s lots of shadow thanks to the huge trees, even though it’s very hot outside.
If you’re lucky you might get to see these fluffy guys way up high in the trees, just fooling around, swinging from one branch to another. By this time, I pretty much didn’t care if I got to see elephants anymore… I mean how cute are they?!?
After about an hour and a half, the vegetation becomes less dense and the views get wider. Forests turn into vast meadows with grass reaching up to your hips, slowly waving back and forth as you follow the narrow path leading through it. The only sound you hear is the soft whispering of the wind as is gently caresses the grass. That and the sound of jaws dropping wide open before the incredible beauty that lies ahead…
Around 1.30 pm you arrive at a cabin from where you can enjoy the most amazing views while you eat. It’s a simple meal but well… who needs fancy food when there’s views like these?!?
After lunch, a short walk will bring you back to the truck and it’s time to go see waterfalls! There’s a few of them throughout the park and it’s a nice stop for some relaxing and a bit of freshness. I would have liked to go for a swim, but unfortunately that wasn’t possible.
Next up is about 3 more hours of driving through the park, just relaxing and admiring the views with the wind in your hair. Don’t imagine any movie-like scenes though, you know when they’re driving romantically through the countryside in a convertible with an expensive silk scarf elegantly draped around their head and when they get out of the car not 1 hair has moved? Nope, those things might happen in the movies, but they definitely DON’T happen in Khao Yai national park…
But maybe if you’re lucky you’ll get to see some more monkeys, and you can be sure you’ll be treated with an amazing sunset. And let’s be honest, who cares about having bad hair when you get all that in return? Right, nobody!
Tours can be booked through most of the hotels, but we booked ours in advance with Greenleaf Tours. We paid 1300 Baht each for a whole day (from 8.30am to 7.30pm, price for 2014), including the tour guide, lunch, water and entrance to the park. Evening tours of the park are also organised. They seem awesome, but unfortunately we arrived too late to do one.
There’s plenty of hotels and hostels in Pak Chong or along Th Thanarat, the road leading up to the park. You’ll find everything from $ to $$$, so no worries there’s something for everyone. I stayed at the Prairie Hills Resort in Mui Ne, about halfway between Pak Chong and the entrance to the park. Double rooms cost around € 65 / night and are pretty awesome. The service is amazing – the guy from the reception even went to buy us food from the grocery store in the middle of the night because we were so exhausted when we got there – the restaurant is nice and the food is delicious, and there’s a nice pool.
The town nearest to the park is Pak Chong, so you’ll probably arrive here first. There’s (mini)busses from and to Bangkok (2h30), Khorat (1h), Lopburi (2h) and Ayutthaya (2h30). If you’re coming from Ayutthaya, I would however recommend you take a train and don’t take the most expensive seats – but well I’m a sucker for traveling in 2nd class Asian trains so that might just be me…
If you’re not staying in Pak Chong, you can take a sorng taa ou or a bus towards the park or your hotel. In this case, make sure not to arrive in Pak Chong too late, because at night there’s no busses and they’ll make you pay a small fortune for a private ride in a sorng taa ou – yep, that’s experience talking…
So, have you ever been to Thailand? What was your favorite ‘special’ experience? Let’s head over to the comment section to talk about it!
All accommodation, food, transportation and the tour have been personally paid for by yours truly, and all opinions are personal and straight from the heart, as usual.