Khao Yai Overview
- World Heritage wilderness
- Country life
- Safaris, spas and shiraz
A couple of hours from Thailand’s pulsating capital, Khao Yai, and its animal-packed national park, is quite literally a breath of fresh air.
Dominated by the monsoon forests of the Dong Phaya Yen mountains, this lush hilly landscape offers more than 2,000 square km of Unesco-protected jungle, waterfalls and wildlife – a diverse habitat that’s home to creatures great and small, from hornbills and hoopoes to lizards and leopards. Beyond the park gates, fertile farmland and fashionable weekend retreats lend the ‘Provence of Thailand’ an air of sophistication not found in other rural areas – complete with vineyard vistas and verdant fruit orchards. Leave Bangkok to spend a few days here and you’ll find a mix of tropical adventure and tranquillity that’s hard to find elsewhere.
Keenly Khao Yai
Khao Yai National Park is Thailand’s oldest, third largest and most popular national park, well deserving of its Unesco World Heritage status. The magnificent mountainous terrain rises to 1,351m at its summit, covers five vegetation zones and contains one of the biggest untouched monsoon forests on earth. It is home to more than 300 types of bird, and hundreds of species of other wildlife, including elephants, bears, bats, gibbons and tigers.
- Hire a car and driver or use your hotel’s car service: taxis are few and far between in these remote reaches.
- Tipping culture
- Tips aren’t expected, but are gratefully received, and you might want to round up taxi fares and food bills. Established restaurants usually add a 10 per cent service charge.
- Siesta and fiesta
- The park is open every day from 6am to 9pm. Most shops and restaurants open from 9am to 6pm (shopping malls and convenience stores stay open until 9pm). Banks open weekdays, 8.30am–3pm.
- Packing tips
- Binoculars and zoom lenses for close encounters of the bird kind; mudlark trainers for trekking; long trousers to keep leeches at bay on waterfall walks.
- Recommended reads
- Craig Robson’s beautifully illustrated Birds of Thailand will help you identify the country’s feathered residents. Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap is an illuminating, poetic series of short stories about Thai life. Philip Cornwel-Smith’s Very Thai is an entertaining insight into local popular culture.
- North of the park is the country’s agricultural heartland, so scour menus for locally sourced beef, cheese and organic produce. Som tam – green papaya salad in a sweet, spicy and sour dressing – is particularly relished in the north. Stalls at the fruit market at Klang Dong are heaving with locally grown jackfruit, custard apples, mangoes and grapes.
- Regional specialities
- There’s a growing wine industry in this part of Thailand; hey, it’s no Napa Valley, but the vineyards are worth a visit, and the wines – shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, chenin blanc and tempranillo – are interesting. PB Valley (www.khaoyaiwinery.com) and GranMonte (www.granmonte.com) are the two most sophisticated producers.
- Thai baht (THB).
- Time zone
- GMT +7.
- Dialling codes
- Country code: 66; regional code (0)44 (drop the zero if you’re calling from overseas).
- Do go/don't go
- The cool season (November–February) is the best time to visit, when the May–October rains have left the jungle lush and fresh and migrating birds fill the skies; expect warm sunny days and cool evenings. The mercury hits the mid-30s in March/April, but Khao Yai is still one of the coolest spots in Thailand. Midweek visits will be rewarded with solitude: weekends and public holidays see an influx of escapees from Bangkok.
Don't go home without...
... a piece of pottery by the artisans at Ban Dan Kwian, famous for their textured, rust-hued ceramics. The village’s kilns turn out utensils, chimes, vases, jewellery and cutesy figurines made with fired clay from the Mun River.