That Thailand is a popular tourist destination is a statement none can deny. A visit to this exotic country means drawing up an itinerary that includes visiting the exquisite Thai beaches, ambling along its chock-a-bloc shopping lanes, gorging on delightful Thai dishes and indulging in the nation’s thrilling life. It is time to add another activity right at the top in this must-visit list – a trip to Thailand’s oldest and most visited res Khao Yai National Park.
Conveniently located at about 200 kilometres from the bustling capital of Bangkok, Khao Yai National Park stands as one of the largest, unblemished monsoon forests currently inhabiting Asia. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, Khao Yai is among the largest three national parks in Thailand. It extends over 2,168 sq. km. and is situated on the southwestern boundary of Khorat Plateau, occupying the western part of the Sankamphaeng Mountain range. Around 70% of the park is covered with tropical, moist, evergreen forest and this is where you will meet the diverse flora and fauna of the nation. Teeming with wildlife, Khao Yai boasts of around 392 bird species, staking claim to hold the largest population of hornbills, including the Great hornbill.
This is also one of the few places where wild elephants still survive – a major attraction of the park. A wide range of animals call the park home, but the main draws, here, are elephants and the two species of gibbons (Lars gibbon and the Pileated gibbon), both of which can be spotted relatively easily. Why, the first mammal I spotted was the endangered Lar Gibbon. This shot didn’t come easy as it Gibbons can only be spotted in the inner part of the forest – accessible by taking a hike inside the jungle and following their calls. Many other animals can be seen on the grasslands, including Sambar deer, barking deer and occasionally, Gaur. Carnivore species include clouded leopards, marbled cats, leopard cats, golden cats, dholes and tigers, but the sighting is extremely rare. Then there is the black bear, sun bear, mouse-deer, hog badger and pangolin – to name a few – that reside in denser parts of the forest.
There resides in Khao Yai a colourful and diverse array of birds. A birder’s paradise, the large number of birds present here means that each birder walks away with a unique list of highlights. Khao Yai is known to hold the largest number of Hornbills in Thailand. Great, Oriental Pied and Wreathed Hornbills are abundant and easily seen; Austen’s Brown Hornbill can be found sometimes, too, although the latter is scarce. The mixture of forest and grassland landscape allows birders to see many a different species.
This national park is home to Vogel’s Pit Vipers, King Cobras, Banded Kraits, Indo-chinese Water Dragons, Flying Dragonsand Siamese Crocodile, amongst many others. It was recently found that Siamese crocodiles can be seen along the river from Pha Kluamai Campsite to Haew Suwat falls, basking on the edge of the riverbank near the ‘Beware of the crocodile’ signs. The best way for herping is to explore different areas and habitats on foot, especially when darkness falls. If you see a snake, treat it as dangerous; unless you know otherwise!