Khao Yai National Park
This is one of the largest remaining intact tropical rain forests on mainland Asia, filled with spectacular birds and mammals—wild Asian elephants, tigers, clouded leopards, rare small leopard cats, dhole, chattering gibbons and macaques, “chanting” baboons, Asian wild pigs, hog badgers, gaur, sambar, and red muntjac. Many are visible from the 25 miles (40 km) of trails that were originated as, and still are, animal tracks through this 840 square miles (2,168 km2) of forested mountains and grasslands laced with rivers and waterfalls just 100 miles (160 km) northeast of Bangkok.
Ferns, air-nourished epiphytes and orchids can cover tree trunks. Wildflowers attract 250 kinds of beautiful butterflies by day, and after these have retired to roost—sometimes hundreds in the same tree—more than 1,000 moth species at night.
Great hornbills four feet (1.2 m) long, with imposing yellow bills and red eyes, swoop down for small lizards around park headquarters. Trail margins are enlivened by scarlet minivets, vernal hanging parrots, ethereal Asian fairy-bluebirds, raucous green magpies, blue-winged leafbirds, bright greenand- blue long-tailed broadbills, along with quietly gorgeous red-headed and orange-breasted trogons, seven kinds of dazzling sunbirds, 12 species of woodpeckers, and hosts of warblers and flowerpeckers. Flights of 1,000 or more black bazas—raptors with dramatic black crests and rufous-and-white breasts—can be counted on a single day in fall migration.
Silver pheasants, green magpies, white-crowned and slaty-backed forktails, and four kinds of hornbills frequent the short, undemanding Moh Sing Toh Trail, sometimes mixing with Asian elephants, red muntjac, and wild pigs. A trail reservoir is visited by little grebes, red-whiskered bulbuls, and occasionally leopard cats and tigers, and the walk becomes a blossoming avenue of trees in February and March.
Fruiting strangler fig trees along the (also easy) trail opposite Darn Chang attract swarms of birds—sometimes flocks of 12–20 great hornbills and 50 or more thick-billed green pigeons— and mammals as well: palm civets, giant black squirrels, white-handed and pileated gibbons, pig-tailed macaques, bear-like binturongs, hornbills, bats—and since tree fruitings overlap, the parade can go on for months. Farther on, the trail leads to a vast grassland area where large flocks of wreathed hornbills fly with whistling wings over waving grasses. Deer and sometimes elephants graze, and crested serpent-eagles soar overhead.
Other trails lead to waterfalls and ponds where short-clawed otters swim, salt licks where gaur and elephants get minerals and, rarely, tigers stalk smaller, less challenging prey. Canopy towers offer views of red-whiskered bulbuls, chestnut-headed bee-eaters, and bright-capped cisticolas. Most trails are well-marked, between 1.5 and six miles (2.5–10 km) long, and manageable for the non-expert, though a guide is a good idea for longer, more remote treks.
Trips can be arranged to limestone caves where flights of wrinkled-lipped bats darken the sky at dusk. Night tours with spotting guides are available, and permission is sometimes granted to stay overnight at a tower. Park headquarters has species lists and guides, including a few Englishspeaking ones.
Accessibility has made Khao Yai Thailand’s—and one of the world’s—most popular national parks with more than a million visitors a year, a mixed blessing. To reduce crowding the government removed an adjacent golf course and tourist hotel, but more visitors still come than can easily be accommodated without interfering with wildlife, so best avoid weekends and holidays.
Presently the park has dorm-type rooms (bring sleeping bag or bedding) with a few cabins and tenting facilities available by reservation. Limited food is sold near headquarters. More elaborate lodgings are outside the park and on the road to Pak Chong, where tours and Englishspeaking guides can be arranged.
Problems include human encroachment—the park has become an island in a sea of agriculture— and poaching. A management plan developed with aid from World Wide Fund for Nature and Wildlife Conservation Society includes programs for conservation education as well as park employment for local villagers.
All year is interesting. Heavy rains occur July–October but wildlife is easier to spot then (also more leeches and insects) and rains often last only three–four hours daily.
Convenient air-conditioned busses and trains go to Khao Yai from Bangkok, or a driver-guide can make the trip on good roads in about two hours.
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