When it was established back in 1962, Khao Yai was Thailand's one and only official national park. Since then, Thai conservationists have just about convinced authorities that national parks are beneficial; there are more than 100 in existence today. Khao Yai National Park remains one of the foremost green areas in the country, however. This wonderful park abounds with nature, making for a pleasant retreat from the heady mess that is Bangkok. From the mountains in Khao Yai to the park's diverse flora and fauna, there is enough here to persuade even the staunchest of city-slickers that the country life may just be the way forward.
Covering an area of roughly 1,500 square miles, Khao Yai is a veritable gift box of nature's best treats. The 3,000 species that call the area home include such rarities as Asian black bears, elephants, Indian sambar deer, and even the odd tiger. Visitors to the park can spot these greats of the animal kingdom by joining one of the nighttime tours, which begin just as the sun goes down. On these tours, professional wardens take groups of tourists around the park, normally in jeeps, while keeping their eyes peeled and their ears open in anticipation of catching a glimpse of an animal as it goes about its life unaware. Travelers interested in eco tours during a Thailand vacation should consider the park as one of the top places to visit on their trip
During the daytime, the main attractions at Khao Yai include trekking any one of its 50 designated trails and seeking out the park's spectacular waterfalls. These waterfalls are far from being the largest in the world, but they are some of the most idyllic-surrounded by verdant Thai scenery, this is natural beauty like only Southeast Asia can do. Heaw Narok is the largest waterfall to be found in the park, and lovely Heaw Pratoon and Heaw Suwat are also worth seeking out. The natural beauty of this site is a fine complement to the more urban attractions around Thailand and to the architectural wonders that are its temples.
In terms of hiking, intrepid walkers can chose one of the trails that ascend the higher peaks to be found here. Of the many mountains in Khao Yai National Park, the tallest is Khao Rom, which reaches a height of 4,432 feet (1351 meters). While that may be akin to a glass of water before breakfast for a professional mountaineer, it's enough to keep most travelers busy for a day or so, with the hiking trails to its peaks proving some of the most challenging-and rewarding-in the entirety of Khao Yai.
For many visitors to Thailand, Khao Yai provides the calm after the storm of Bangkok. The two destinations are close enough for the mountains in Khao Yai to serve as a doable weekend retreat from Thailand's capital. A train plies the route between Bangkok's main train terminus and the small town of Pak Chong, from which the Khao Yai National Park is only a short walk or ride away. As a result, this is a popular destination, and you'll find sufficient tourist amenities, such as hotels and eateries, to ensure your stay in the mountains in Khao Yai is as comfortable as it is memorable.
Top image: berniedup (flickr), CC BY-SA 2.0