Southeast Asia Natural Adventures
nature travel, wildlife tours, adventure travel and general travel to Thailand, Indonesia and Southeast Asia
Thailand: National Parks
Thailand's National Parks offer some of the most spectacular scenery in Southeast Asia, if not the world. From the justly beautiful and spectacular islands in Phang Nga Bay, such as famous Koh Phi Phi, and the underwater heaven of Koh Tarutao Marine National Park on the Malaysian border, all the way north to Doi Inthanon, Thailand's highest mountain, lie parks each of which could devour weeks of your time. Like all areas where hunting is or was present, most wildlife can present a challenge to find, especially the cats (Thailand can claim 9 species), tapir, bears, canids and especially the possibly-present asian rhino; however monkeys, members of the civet family, and especially the birds are more easily found with just a little effort, and preferably a knowledgeable guide. Unfortunately illegal logging, farming, clearing and housing continues to take its toll largely unchecked further out from the main centers; even so the National Park system is still a wonderful asset.
Most National Parks are accessible, at least in part; many have information centers with pamphlets and other useful material, accommodation both within the park and privately outside it, marked trails, and often access to guides of varying skills. Thailand is one of the few countries in Asia where you may see locals using their parks for its natural history values, rather than entertainment.
Most parks have entry fees, once again on a variable scale for locals and foreigners, and close at night. If you want to find much mammalian wildlife, so often nocturnal, you need to stay at accommodation inside the park.
In some parks the only transport is the always present shank's pony; in others there may be roads suitable for the ubiquitous mopeds (suitable, that is to the Thai outlook, which can be markedly different to ours in respect to what is automotively possible), cars, truck, boat or raft, or even elephant.
As with historically most of the country, Thailand's terrestrial National Parks are primarily rainforest. In the north this is often cooler and semi-deciduous, not appearing to many as the rainforest - jungle - of popular conception. The steamy, vine-clad forests, with grasping fig trees wrapping anything stationary too long, and only dim, filtered light reaching the ground, are typical in the southern and lower altitudes. However, whether mountain-borne or surounded by azure seas, the forests will contain orchids -Thailand has hundreds of native species, growing from sandy bogs to the tops of the tallest trees.
Khao Sok National Park, just north of Phang Nga Bay, has two main accessible sections, the main entrance area and the man-made Rajaphraba Lake. There are walking trails in the entrance area, and bamboo rafthouses on the lake, which has spectacular karst islands rising sheer from often misty waters. A good variety of wildlife is found here, although difficult to see. There are numerous places to see around and near the main entrance, but access is restricted at night, when most wildlife is active. This can be overcome by staying in the park, or in one of the huts adjacent to the entrance. As with all Southeast Asian parks, local weekend visitation is high, and for the best hiking, birding or general serenity, visit mid-week.
Perhaps Thailand's best known, or at least most visited, national park is Khao Yai, 125 miles northeast of Bangkok. With an area of about 800 sq.miles, Khao Yai has a good diversity of habitats from wetlands to mountain forest. It is particularly noted for its waterfalls and scenery. Despite its popularity it is probably also the best place to find wildlife in Thailand. Guided tours are available locally, but these vary in quality, so check carefully. Some outfitters offer nocturnal tours, which may reveal such intersting animals as colugos and civets. Very basic accommodations (bring your own bedding) and meals are available in the park, but there is a wider and better variety in nearby Pak Chong.
In the south, the Koh Tarutao Marine National Park could easily be described as one of the most beautifully scenic marine areas in the world. There is a maze of reefs and islands from the Thai-Malaysian border near Malaysian Langkawi Island (a delight in its own right) north to Phuket, and on into stunning Phang Nga Bay (Tarutao only encompasses the southern portion; Koh Phi Phi park covers part of the north). If diving, snorkeling, sea kayaking, yachting or beaching is part of your planes, don't miss this park, despite the difficulties of getting there and around.
Doi Inthanon National Park, about 50 miles southwest of Chiang Mai, surrounds Thailand's highest peak, the 8,830ft Doi Inthanon. Scenic montane forests with uncommon plants and birdlife, scenic waterfalls and hill tribe villages make the effort of geting here worthwhile.