Guide to visiting Khao Yai National Park, Thailand

Lying just 137 km east of Bangkok, in Nakhon Ratchasima Province, Khao Yai National Park is one of the best places in Southeast Asia to see the region’s wildlife, which makes it one of the best places to visit in Thailand for nature lovers. It is a particularly good spot for seeing wild Asiatic elephants, as well as the endangered White-handed gibbons, several species of Hornbills and plenty more of Thailand’s animals.

At 2168 sq km, Khao Yai is the third largest National Park in Thailand. It incorporates one of the largest primarily intact monsoon forests in Southeast Asia, which earned it the status of a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Asian elephants in Khao Yai National Park -Thailand's animals
Asian elephants in Khao Yai National Park, Thailand

Beyond wildlife spotting, Khao Yai is home to several waterfalls, including Haew Suwat waterfall, made famous by The Beach movie. Waterfalls are at their best during the rainy season when they turn into thundering torrents framed by lush green forest shrouded in mist.

Visiting Khao Yai National Park

Haew Suwat waterfall in Khao Yai National Park
View of Haew Suwat waterfall from a cave at the water level. Image – Depositphotos

Being so close to Bangkok, Khao Yai National Park is easy to visit either independently or on an organized tour. It is a popular day tour destination from Bangkok. There are a few different tours available, depending on what you want to do and how much time you have.

Khao Yai National Park Tours from Bangkok

The classic 11-hour Day Tour from Bangkok to see the highlights of the park

Jungle trekking Day Tour that includes a 2-hour hike to Nong Park Chi observation tower.

Trekking & Waterfalls Tour includes visits to Khao Yai’s two biggest waterfalls: Haew Narok and Haew Suwat

A Two-Day Tour that includes a visit to Khao Luk Chang Bat Cave to see over two million Wrinkle-lipped bats emerge from their roosting cave at dusk.

variable squirrel
Variable squirrel

How to Get to Khao Yai Independently

If you prefer independent travel, there are a few ways to get to Khao Yai. Keep in mind that you’ll still need to book a tour from Pak Chong or your accommodation unless you have your own set of wheels. Khao Yai is not a walkable national park. It is enormous.

You can catch a bus from Mo Chit Bus Station in Bangkok to Pak Chong. The journey takes about 3.5 hours. From Pak Chong, you can catch a taxi to your accommodation.

You can also take a train from Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong Train Station to Pak Chong. The train takes as long as the bus – about 3.5 hours.

Alternatively, you can book a private minivan shuttle from Bangkok.

Khao Yai Accommodation

There are plenty of accommodation options between Pak Chong and the park’s entrance. The options range from affordable guest houses to upmarket lodges. Check the options available for your dates on booking.com which has all the latest deals and discounts.

My favourite place to stay in Khao Yai is the Greenleaf Guesthouse. The accommodation at Greenleaf is fairly basic, but Mr Nine, the guesthouse owner, is THE BEST wildlife guide in Khao Yai! If your main focus for visiting the park is wildlife watching, I highly recommend Greenleaf.

Camping in Khao Yai

If you have your own transport, you can camp in Khao Yai. There are two campsites in the park that have showers, toilets and parking spaces. Tents and sleeping bags are available for rent. Lam Takong Campsite is located in a central location, about 6km from the visitor centre.

Sambar doe at Lam Takong Campsite
Sambar doe at Lam Takong Campsite

Pha Kluaymai Campsite is located 3km east of Lam Takong and has slightly better facilities. The restaurant at the visitor centre serves meals, so you don’t even have to bring your cooking gear.

Best time to visit Khao Yai National Park

Khao Yai is a year-round destination that can be added to your Thailand itinerary, whatever your travel dates are. The best time for a visit depends on what you would like to see and experience. I visited Khao Yai several times during both seasons, and I loved both seasons in the park.

In the dry season (Nov-Apr), the roads are better in the park, it is better weather for hiking, and birds and mammals are easier to spot since the vegetation is thinner and dryer.

In the wet season (May-Oct), however, Khao Yai has more of a jungle feeling. The vegetation is lush and green, the waterfalls are in full flow, and the forest floor is covered in multi-coloured fungi in all shapes and sizes.

Spotting Wildlife in Khao Yai

In Khao Yai National Park, you start seeing wildlife as soon as you drive through the park’s gate. In the few kilometres from the gate to the park’s Headquarters, we saw Pig-tailed Macaques, a pair of Black Giant Squirrels, a Collared owlet, and a White-handed Gibbon.

Black giant squirrel
Black giant squirrel

Khao Yai National Park is probably the best place in the country to see the endangered White-handed gibbons. The most surprising thing about the gibbons is that they are not monkeys but apes! Just not the great apes, but the lesser apes. Their lack of tails is the main giveaway.

white-handed gibbon
White-handed gibbon

Gibbons are the most musical family of mammals. They produce the most complex and easily recognizable songs. So, even if you are unlucky enough not to see gibbons in Khao Yai, you will certainly hear them.

Around the Headquarters, we watched a Sambar and a Barking deer browsing on the lawn. In the bushes surrounding the lawn, we spotted a group of pin-tailed parrot-finches, White-rump Chama, Puff-throated Bulbul and Black-necked Oreol.

Nong Phak Chi Tower Hike

From the headquarters, we went on a bird-watching hike starting at the kilometre 33 marker.  The hike followed a trail through the mountains and turned up some very cool birds. With help from Mr Nine, we spotted a large group of Long-tailed broadbills, Banded kingfishersMustached barbetGreater flame-backed woodpeckerRed-headed Trogon, Green Magpie and Racket-tailed Drongo.

We didn’t see any animals from the viewing platform on top of the tower, but during another visit, we heard crashing noises in the trees as we walked towards the tower. Mr Nine was certain it was the Gaurs.

These amazing bison-like animals stand up to 185 meters at the shoulder and can weigh up to 900kg. Despite their impressive size, their camouflage skills are extraordinary. We investigated the area where we heard them for a good half an hour but never caught sight of them.

Hornbills in Khao Yai

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.

Great hornbill in khao yai national park

Khao Yai National Park 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. Kaeng Krachan National Park is a better place for spotting Brown hornbills.

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”.  Although the lagoon where they landed is located halfway across the country on Kho Phi Phi island.

On the way to the waterfall, our guide, Mr Nine, spotted a true rarity – Colorbill Ground-Cuckoo. To his disappointment, none of us were proficient enough birders to appreciate the sighting the way he did.

The car park at the waterfall turned up a Gliding lizard, similar to those found in Borneo. It was happily camped up high up on a tree and had no desire to glide anywhere.   

Wild Elephants in Khao Yai

In the late afternoon, as we were driving on Tad Ta Kong Falls road, a young bull Asian 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!

wild Asiatic elephants in Khao Yai National Park

After a while, he was joined by an adult bull, and they slowly made their way into the thick forest. It always amazes me how such large animals came to live in the thick tropical forest.

Khao Yai is the best place in Thailand to see wild elephants. But if you are dreaming of seeing these giants up close, check out this excellent post about how to find and enjoy an ethical encounter with elephants in captivity in Thailand.

As the sun began to set, we stopped for a 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.

Golden Jackal

Safari in Sri Lanka - golden jackal in Wilpattu National Park safari
The jackal disappeared too fast for me to photograph it, so here is an image of a Golden jackal In Sri Lanka’s Wilpattu National Park

The most unexpected and, therefore, exciting sighting of a mammal was a Golden Jackal running across the road in front of our car. It was in good view for only a few brief moments, and it was too dark for photography, but we had a good look at the handsome creature. Such a great way to finish up a day of wildlife watching in Khao Yai.

To maximize your wildlife spotting opportunities, consider booking a night drive through the Khao Yai National Park website. The tour departs from the park’s visitor center, takes one hour and costs 600 Baht. There are two departure times: 7 pm and 8 pm.

Reptiles of Khao Yai

White-lipped viper, curled up in Khao Yai
White-lipped viper curled up by the trail

The rainy season is a good time to see some of Thailand’s reptiles in Khao  Yai. The most impressive snake in Khao Yai is the Reticulated Python. Typically, you’ll see them in bat caves, but if you are lucky, you might spot one shortly after it ingested a large prey. Pythons can dislocate their jaw, which allows them to swallow an animal as large as a Sambar deer.

Thailand's wildlife - reticulated python, Khao Yai
Reticulated python waiting for a bat to get close

When it comes to venomous snakes, the most striking (in terms of appearance) is the Viper. They can be notoriously difficult to spot, but if you are visiting with a good guide, they’ll be able to point one out to you.

The White-lipped Viper was so well camouflaged that I walked right past it even though it was curled up next to the trail. Only when Mr Nine called me back was I able to see it.

White-lipped viper, Khao Yai National Park, Thaniland
White-lipped viper

The one venomous snake we spotted all on our own was a juvenile King Cobra, mostly due to its vivid colouring of a bright red band against the otherwise black body.

Juvenile King cobra in Khao Yai National Park
Juvenile King cobra

Another attractive snake I spotted in Khao Yai was the Oriental Whip Snake, which isn’t venomous.

Oriental whip snake, Khao Yai, Thailnand
Oriental whip snake

The enormous Monitor lizards are quite common in Khao Yai and are easy to spot when they are around.

Mr Nine also spotted both a male and a female Scaly Bellied Lizards for us, which we would’ve otherwise missed.

If you take the tour to Khao Luk Chang Bat Cave, you’ll also spot Indo-Chinese Water Dragons at the swimming hole you visit on the way to the cave.

Butterflies of Khao Yai

The rainy season is also a good time for seeing insects, particularly the butterflies. Paris peacocks brightened the forest with splashes of iridescent blue and green, while Intermediate maplets surprised with splashes of bright orange.  Common Helen was also abundant, as well as Orange Emigrant, Streaked Magpie Moth and Sumatran Butterfly Moth.

Bat caves of Khao Yai

Khao Yai is a great place to see a variety of bat species. Some can be found in caves, and others fly out of their roosting caves in the millions and put on an incredible spectacle.

Temple Cave

One afternoon I joined the half-day tour with Greenleaf to see the local bat spectacle. The first cave we visited was, as usual, located at a temple. It was quite big and housed a few species of bats.

horseshoe bat in a temple cave in Khao Yai National Park
Pete – the Horseshoe bat

The first one we spotted was a Horseshoe, “Peter” who had a favourite place to roost in the cave and therefore was easily located. Further into the cave, I spotted at least two different species of Roundleaf bats in the roosting colony.

roundleaf bat, Khao Yai
Roundleaf-nose bat
reticulated python, Khao Yai
Reticulated python waiting for a bat to get close

Khao Luk Chang Bat Cave

Our next stop – the main spectacle of bats of Khao Yai National Park,  was a few kilometres from the temple. Here, each day at dusk, two million Wrinkle-lipped Bats emerge from their cave to hunt insects at night.  Two million bats spilling out of a cave is indeed a wildlife spectacle. It seemed that the stream of bats would never end. Even in Gomatong cave in Borneo, I have not seen anything like it.

Wrinkle-lipped bats emerging from the cave in Khao Yai, Thailnand
Wrinkle-lipped bats emerging from the cave

Such a high concentration of biomass is bound to attract a suite of predators. We watched Shikras launch into the stream of bats and pick an easy dinner. The bats took about an hour to exit the cave and dissipate in the surrounding landscape.

Fruit Bat Cave

Another day, Mr Nine and the guides at Greenleaf arranged a visit to a different cave for us. This cave is not on the tourist itineraries as the climb up to it is very steep over the uneven rocky ground. The track we were following was practically non-existent, which made us feel like real explorers. A group of Long-tailed Broadbills provided a much-needed reason for a rest stop during the climb.

Long-tailed broadbill in Khao Yai National Park
Long-tailed broadbill. Image – Depositphotos

Inside the cave itself, the bats were wide awake. As a result of them being awake, we became covered in their droppings within minutes of entering the cave. Tony managed to catch one of the roosting young, and we were able to have a good look at him. The bats turned out to be the Cave Fruit Bats – the species that Tony studied for his PhD in Malaysia.

He told us that these guys fly for over 50 km a night in search of food. During their roosting time, they congregate in large colonies and take advantage of each individual’s knowledge about the flowering trees.

cave fruit bat in Khao Yai
Cave fruit bat

Naturally, some individuals in the colony will be luckier than others at searching for food. These lucky few would have had a very good feed at night, and their chests would still be covered in pollen.  As they come in contact with other members of the colony, that pollen lets the others know which trees are currently in flower.

The bats know where all the trees in their territory are, and once they know which species are in flower, they head right to them the following night.

Khao Yai Waterfalls

Apart from exceptional wildlife-watching opportunities, Khao Yai is home to four waterfalls. The best time to see them is when they are in full flow during the rainy season, but you’ll enjoy them even during the drier months.

Haew Narok Waterfall

Haew Narok waterfall in Khao Yai National Park

The biggest waterfall in the park, Haew Narok, is 80 meters tall, and in the rainy season, it is quite a spectacular sight. It is located about 10km from the south gate and can be reached by a 600-meter trail from the road.

Haew Suwat Waterfall

Haew suwat waterfall in Khao Yai National Park

Made famous by The Beach movie – one of my favourite travel movies of all time, Haew Suwat waterfall is only 20 meters tall and is not quite as impressive as the movie made it out to be. In fact, the lagoon where the characters of the movie landed after jumping off the top of the waterfall is located halfway across the country, on Phi Phi Island.

Haew Suwat lies 13 km from the visitor centre and can be reached by an easy 100-meter walk from the road. If you don’t mind a steep climb, take the stairs down to the water level.

Haew Sai Waterfall

Just 700 meters north of Haew Suwat, there is Haew Sai waterfall. It is smaller than Haew Narok and Haew Suwat, but its main appeal lies in its quiet setting. It is slightly off the beaten track and doesn’t get many visitors. To reach this hidden gem, follow the same trail you took to the bottom of Haew Suwat waterfall.

Pha Kluai Mai Waterfall

The smaller Pha Kluai Mai waterfall is reached by a 2.3 km out-and-back trail from the Pha Kluai Mai campsite. The trail is quite popular with birdwatchers and it is generally quiet and peaceful.

Khao Yai Viewpoints

For great views of the wild expanse of Khao Yai, visit one of the viewpoints in the park. The views are best in the early morning and late afternoon, but even if you only have the chance to see them in the middle of the day, don’t miss the opportunity.

Khao Yai viewpoint

Yod Khao Khieo Mountain

This is the highest point in the park and in the entire Nakhon Nayok Province. It is located about 11 km from the visitor centre and has three different viewpoints as well as some short walking trails.

The best viewpoint here is Pha Deaw Dad Cliff (also spelt Pa Deo Die Cliff). It is easily reached by a 600-meter trail along an elevated wooden walkway and a sets of stairs. It’s a great place to spot some of the park’s birdlife, so you may like to bring a picnic and enjoy the sprawling views of the forested peaks as you look for the birds.

Nong Phak Chi Wildlife Watchtower

Located 2.5 km north of the visitor centre, this watchtower lies at the end of the popular hiking trail that runs from km 33 on the main road to the watchtower. The viewing platform at the top of the tower offers 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape and good opportunities for spotting wildlife.

Mo Sing Wildlife Watchtower

Even closer to the visitor center is Mo Sing Watchtower. Like Nong Phak Chi tower, it is located near a saltlick and offers a good opportunity for spotting deer as they come to eat the ‘salt’.

More on Thailand Wildlife and National Parks


19 thoughts on “Guide to visiting Khao Yai National Park, Thailand”

  1. I always love your wildlife photos, you have so much talent!

    I’d looove to meet those squirrels! I have never seen either type, but they look awesome, especially the variable squirrel dude!

    Those mushrooms are pretty cool too!

    Reply
  2. I never thought about visiting Thailand or about the wildlife that lived there. Now it will be on my wish list! Great photos and blog!

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  3. So glad I found your post. I’ve been living in Thailand on and off for years yet never been to see the animals in national parks. And it’s do close to Bangkok too! I loved the way the fruit bats use the knowledge of their fellow bats to find food. Fascinating!

    Reply
  4. These photographs are amazing, particularly of the birds, who are very difficult to capture clearly. Great post, thanks for sharing :)

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    • Thank you, Ali. It is so true, birds can be tricky to capture – they are often so small, very quick and like to hide behind the branches :)

      Reply
  5. Wow! you have so much talent on your photos, they are so beautiful! I love nature and animals. I would surely come here to visit in Thailand.

    Reply
  6. We were in Thailand for a month recently but sadly we didn’t make it to this part of the country. I really wish we had! We loved experiencing the countryside and wildlife in the north, but we didn’t know about some of the national parks elsewhere.

    I love your pictures – the barking deer looks so cute! Will be putting this in itinerary for our next visit for sure.

    Reply
    • Thank you Alex. I hope you do get the chance to visit Khao Yai on your next trip. It is a fantastic spot and you see a lot of wildlife, much more than in the parks up north. You get to experience a totally different side of Thailand in Khao Yai.

      Reply
  7. Gorgeous photos! I’ve been to Thailand so many times, but somehow never thought of it as a wildlife viewing destination, just more of a beach destination. Will definitely rethink this on our next visit!

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    • Thank you, Shelley! I have a feeling that if you like beaches, you would love the jungle. SE Asia is amazing for wildlife watching. Even just for a day trip from Bangkok, it is absolutely worth it.

      Reply
  8. I would love to do the birdwatching hike. It looks like a magnificent place to see the wildlife in a natural environment

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    • It absolutely is. And it is so easy to visit from Bangkok. It is such a different world compared to the hectic, always ‘on’ city. A perfect getaway :)

      Reply
  9. Khao Yai National Park looks amazing. I am a big fan of gibbons. So excited to see that they are in abundance in the park. Also, I have enjoyed watching great hornbills. They are such messy eaters. What a fantastic park to visit to see so many animal and bird species.

    Reply
    • Lol, I agree about the hornbills – I have stood underneath a tree where they were feeding once :). Amazing birds to watch though, aren’t they?

      Reply

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