Posted by Beth | May 28, 2016
One of the best (though some would argue worst) things about Thailand is it is so easy to get around on the well-worn backpacker trail. Most tourists hit Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai in the North, then head south for the islands and beaches. Transportation is easy, English is widely spoken, budget accommodation is plentiful and the food is delicious and cheap. We wanted something a little bit different for part of our Thailand trip this time around so decided to head a few hours out of Bangkok to Khao Yai National Park.
We booked our trip a few days prior through Greenleaf Guesthouse in Pak Chong. A private room with a double bed was only $10 per night, but didn’t include hot water or AC. We ate nearly all of our meals at the restaurant on site since there wasn’t much else nearby, but the food was great and some of the cheapest food we found in Thailand. Since we booked both a half day tour and a full day tour in Khao Yai NP with Greenleaf, our transportation to and from the nearest town, Pak Chong, was included. We took a local minivan from Victory Monument in Bangkok three hours north to Pak Chong. Then on the way out we took an overnight train from Pak Chong six hours north to Nong Khai to cross into Laos over the Friendship Bridge.
Green leaf Guesthouse Tour Prices:
- Half day tour: 500 Baht
- Full day tour: 1,300 Baht
- Promotion: Both tours for 1,500 Baht ($43/person)
1/2 Day Tour: Swimming, snakes, caves and bats
On our way to the swimming hole we pulled over to check out some snakes, which combined with the rain made us all a little hesitant about jumping in the water. After a quick snack at a local market our next stop was a guided tour of a local Buddhist cave. In addition to viewing the Buddhist temple inside, we were “treated” to close-up views of a variety of spiders and insects. Caleb was a much better sport than I was and despite having to duck through tight passages enjoyed it more than me. The cave contained about 500 bats flying and hanging above this. Again, see the last sentence about me not being so into this cave.
Finally, our tour ended with pulling over in a random field just before sunset and watching two million bats fly out of another cave. This alone made the tour worth it.
Full Day Tour: Khao Yai National Park trekking and wildlife viewing
Khao Yai means “big mountain” in Thai, and is Thailand’s first officially protected national park and a UNESCO natural heritage site.
The full-day tour includes a little walking and a whole lot of driving around in the back of a truck. We were spoiled right away by spotting two different families of gibbons and a hornbill. In the video below you can see the hornbill as we saw it through the telescope.
But the rest of the day was downhill from there. During the two hours of trekking we did spot a few snakes, but it was too hot and humid for hiking to be enjoyable. After a cold tofu and rice lunch we walked a little more on a crocodile hunt. Apparently there’s only one crocodile in the park but he’s typically lingering in the same area so the odds of spotting him are 80%, though we came up empty. There are apparently 80 or so waterfalls in the park, including the famous waterfall shown in the movie The Beach, which was completely dry at this time of year.
One of the most entertaining parts of the day was when a giant tree fell down right on the main road through the park. Caleb and the other guys in our tour group were immediately recruited to help push the log off the road. See the video below:
We spent the rest of the afternoon driving in pursuit of wild elephants. The odds here were more like 50%, but again no luck. Overall it was a pretty long and disappointing day. Some of it is just luck for the wildlife viewing, but in general I wouldn’t recommend anyone make the trip to Khoa Yai National Park during the hottest months of the year.
The Khao Yai Farm and Wine Trail
We were surprised to learn Thailand has a few wineries, mostly concentrated around Khao Yai, and jumped at the opportunity to go wine tasting. We found this itinerary from Travelflish.org, and thought it’d be simple to hire a private driver to follow along and hit three or four different wineries. Unfortunately our driver only knew where two of them were, and wasn’t interested in taking us to some of the farms in the opposite direction. We ended up visiting PB Valley and Granmonte. Though none of the wine we tried was great, we did prefer the wines at Granmonte. It was a fun afternoon since we were in the area with time to kill anyway, but it ended up being fairly expensive (especially compared to how cheap and amazing wine tasting is in South Africa, New Zealand, and Argentina) and definitely would not be worth a day trip from Bangkok just to see the wineries.
In the end there’s a reason why Khao Yai is not on the tourist trail. It’s less developed than other areas in Thailand and there’s not a lot of worthwhile activities in the surrounding towns. But if nature, hiking and snakes are what you’re after it may be for you, just try to go when it’s a little cooler.