If you are looking for a break from the bustle of Bangkok, the incredible views and charms of Khao Yai might just be exactly what you need. Located in the northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima, Khao Yai is only around a three-hour drive from Bangkok. Once there, you’ll have an array of natural and man-made attractions to delight in. Ready to discover the best Khao Yai has to offer? Let’s dive right in!
No mention of Khao Yai can start without its wonderful and expansive national park. In fact, Khao Yai National Park is so big, it actually crosses over into three other provinces. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park is home to over 800 species of wildlife, including ones that are under threat. These species depend on the vital tropical forests that span the area. At viewpoints across the park, gazing at the magnificent vastness of these forests will take your breath away.
Before we move on though, first a heads-up: There is no transportation in the park yet, so you will need to have your own ride to get around. We recommend going with a local by car or van to make the most of your trip. Not only will they know all the best spots to glimpse the diverse wildlife, they can also help you communicate with the rangers if you’re curious about anything. Once you’re all set, you’re ready explore the area. Here are two spots you cannot miss!
Don’t let Haew Narok or the “Abyss of Hell” scare you. While you need to climb down the steep stairs to see the waterfall, the fantastic view waiting at the bottom is worth it! From this vantage point, you’ll mostly get to see the second tier of the waterfall. Until the stairs, the 1-km trek to the waterfall is relatively easy. Surrounded by the forest on either side, you can enjoy the cool air and the sweet sounds of birds chirping on your walk too. Make this walk even more exciting by going with a local familiar with the area to help you spot the fascinating wildlife, from lizards to the rare Asian elephants.
If you’d like to get more of a bird’s eye view of the waterfall, make sure to ask the local ranger from the station at the trailhead to guide you to a different trail, though whether that could be done is not for certain.
You can rest assured that finding and reaching Haew Suwat won’t be a problem. By far the most popular waterfall at Khao Yai National park, Haew Suwat is the serene spot to let go of your worries for a while. Not only can you park your car at the site, nearby there is a viewing platform you can easily get to and take in the 20-meter waterfall from above. To get the full experience though, we recommend trekking down to the pool at the base of the waterfall. It could be quite tricky, and particularly slippery during the rainy season, but the effort is worth it. Relax on the smooth rocks and dip your toes in the water as butterflies flutter around you.
While it may be tempting to jump off the cliff like Leonardo DiCaprio did in his move ‘The Beach’, the currents can often be so strong that both cliff-jumping and swimming are prohibited. The river you will pass on the way to the waterfall is also home to crocodiles, and if you spot one, maybe refrain from taking a selfie.
To catch the waterfalls at their most immense and impressive, it’s best to visit during the rainy season between May and November. During the dry season, from March to April, much of the water at the falls is dried up. However, this is a great time to go for bird-watching. If you want your stay at the Khao Yai national park to be a hiking adventure, then a visit around the cold season from November to February should be ideal. For hiking, it’s best to have a trusty local with you to help you navigate and learn about the amazing wildlife and flora. You may also want to try camping, which you can do in the two camp sites in the park, Lam Takong and Pha Kluaymai. At night, you can go on the Night Safari to get even more glimpses of the wildlife in their natural habitat!
To avoid the crowds and traffic jams on the way there, plan your visit on weekdays. Stray away from Thai public holidays if you can. Crowds can be especially overwhelming between December and January.
If you plan on going during the rainy season, beware that rocks around the waterfalls could be slippery, so prepare your best sneakers. Leeches will also be roaming about, but no worries. At the Visitor Center, you can buy a pair of leech socks to protect yourself. Some trails also require a guide with you as they are dangerous. If you are camping at the camp sites, you’ll likely come across daring deer sniffing around for some food.
You should also note that there are two sets of entrance fees, one for locals and another for foreigners. The entrance fee for foreigners is 400 Baht for adults and 200 Baht for children, plus 50 Baht if you’re going in with a car. While locals pay a much cheaper entrance fee, the park is still a truly worthwhile experience you should not miss.
What to do outside of the national park, you ask? If you’ve ever spent time playing FarmVille, here is your farm brought to life! Complete with red barn houses, white picket fences and black-spotted cows, Farm Chokchai provides a fun escape for city-dwellers. You will be guided on a tour which includes learning about the milking process (where you can volunteer to milk a cow yourself!), pony or horse riding in an old western town replica and a rodeo show. Tickets for the tour are 300 Baht for adults and 150 Baht for children. They are quickly sold out, so make sure to book at least a week in advance. The tour is mainly in Thai, but there is an English handbook and signs at each stop that you can follow. Or better yet, you can go with a local friend to help you follow the tour.
If all of this farm life is too steady for you, up your adrenaline by going on an ATV ride! You will have to pay 170 Baht extra, but we think the thrill is worth it. Try your hands on the rugged four-wheeler and blast through the field. There’s also a go-cart ride if you want to try the Mario Kart experience instead.
Who knew a little piece of Italy is right here in Thailand? One of the reasons why Khao Yai is often referred to as the “Europe of Thailand”, Palio Village is the picturesque stroll you need when in Khao Yai. Modeled after the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, Tuscany, the adorned shopping plaza pops with quaint colorful buildings and cobblestone streets. In the center of the “village” is a square where you can rest on a bench near the lovely fountain, or chill in the bars and coffee shops that surround it. With classical music floating through the speakers, you’ll really feel for a moment that you’ve transported to Italy.
What’s more, just a 30-minute drive away is the gorgeous vineyard PB Valley. Tuscany is also famous for its wine and stunning vineyards, so this is only fitting. Sip some delicious wine and feast your eyes on the scenic view. While you’re at it, why not have a local wine enthusiast guide you through the vineyard? You’ll leave with wine knowledge to impress your friends! Or are you still under the Italian charm? Then head to the gorgeous Primo Piazza, where you can even pet alpacas and sheep! With a friendly local to show you around and help you capture those amazing shots for the gram, you’ll surely enjoy your time there even more.
Saving the best for last, we have the marvelous Jim Thompson Farm. If you’ve spent any time at all in Thailand, you’ve probably come across the name Jim Thompson quite a few times. No doubt the first thing that springs to mind is the famed silk, but after a visit here at Jim Thompson Farm, sunflowers will also soon spring to your mind too. The field of vibrant sunflowers attract many visitors each year, but make sure to go between November and January or the flowers will be wilted. Still, even if you miss the blooming period, there are still a colorful array of flowers to make up for it.
The ticket is 220 Baht for adults and 180 Baht for children. Once inside, you can also visit the Isan Village to learn more about silk production and weaving. At the farm, there are also yummy snacks and fresh produce to buy, so don’t miss it! If you leave Jim Thompson Farm with a craving to see even more lovely flowers, be sure to stop by The Bloom, a flower garden spanning over 100 acres with 30 varieties of flowers to get your fix!
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