Covering 2168 sq km, Khao Yai is the third largest National Park in Thailand. It incorporates one of the largest primarily intact monsoon forests in South East Asia, which earned it the status of a Unesco World Heritage site. A weekend in Khao Yai offers a taste of what South East Asia has to offer in terms of biodiversity.
My trip to the park was very impromptu – I didn’t do any research and didn’t really know what to expect. I picked a guest house with the cutest name – Green Leaf and without knowing it ended up with the best guide in Khao Yai – Mr. Nine.
In Khao Yai you start seeing wildlife as soon as you drive through the park’s gate: Pig-tailed Macaques on the road, a pair of Black Giant Squirrels feeding high up in the canopy, and a White-handed Gibbon on another tree a few meters up the road and a Collared owlet – all on the way from the park entrance to the Headquarters.
Around the Headquarters we watched a Sambar and a Barking deer, a group of pin-tailed parrot-finches, White-rump Chama, Puff-throated Bulbul and Black-necked Oreol.
From the headquarters we went on a birding hike starting at km. 33 marker. The hike followed a trail through the mountains and presented plentiful bird watching opportunities. With help from Mr. Nine we spotted a large group of Long-tailed broadbills, Read-headed Trogon, Green Magpie and Racket-tailed Drongo. Most importantly, we saw a pair of Great Hornbills up in the canopy. We stayed and watched these magnificent birds for a while and when they flew off we found another pair sharing a tree with a pair of White-handed gibbons.
Khao Yai is home to four species of hornbills— Great, Oriental Pied, Wreathed and Brown. Great and Oriental Pied hornbills can be seen quite easily in the park, while Wreathed and Brown hornbill sightings are quite unpredictable unless a nest location becomes known.
After a quick lunch we headed for Haew Suwat Waterfall, the one that Leonardo DiCaprio and his friends jumped off in the adventure drama “The Beach”, though the lagoon where they landed is located half way across the country on Kho Phi Phi island.
On the way to the waterfall, Mr. Nine spotted a Colorbill Ground Cockoo – a highly coveted species by birdwatchers from all over the world. The car park at the waterfall turned up a Gliding lizard that was happily camped up high up on a tree and had no desire to glide anywhere.
In late afternoon, as we were driving on Tad Ta Kong Falls road a young bull Asiatic Elephant emerged from the forest and proceeded to walk along the road behind our car. He walked with us for quite some time, and always kept to the right side of the road! After a while he was joined by an adult bull and they slowly made their way back into the thick of the forest. It always amazes me how such large animals evolved to live in thick tropical forest.
As the sun began to set we stopped for quick supper in the grasslands and for as long as we stayed a lone Verditer Flycatcher remained perched on a dead tree waiting for its own meal.
Our last wildlife sighting occurred well after sun down. On the drive back we saw a large bull Elephant calmly and regally walking along the road near a salt lick not far from the park’s headquarters.