Khao Yai National Park is Thailand's best-known and most important expanse of heavily forested wilderness. The park, which covers an area in excess of 772 sq mi/2,000 sq km about 120 mi/200 km northeast of Bangkok, is at the gateway to the country's northeast, an area known locally as Issan. Khao Yai was established as a park in the early 1960s and was the first area of pristine natural beauty in Thailand to be given protective status; it has since been listed as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Known for its forest, abundant wildlife and favorable climate, Khao Yai is a considerable attraction for Thais looking for weekend adventure and relaxation as well as for visitors from outside the country. Its proximity to Bangkok makes it an ideal getaway from the confines of the concrete jungle.
Wildlife within the park includes wild elephants, deer, bears, gibbons, leopards and some of Thailand's last remaining tigers. Birdlife is particularly abundant in the Khao Yai region, with more than 320 species recorded there. Understandably, the park is very popular with bird-watchers, especially during the cool season of November-February, when many colorful migratory birds arrive.
Khao Yai has more than 31 mi/50 km of trails throughout the forest, many created by the movement of elephants. Qualified and informative national park guides are available to lead visitors on treks through the forest to a wildlife watchtower. Trekking with a guide is a worthwhile experience, and you may see beautiful flowering trees, wild orchids, butterflies, plenty of birds such as hornbills and, if you are lucky, some of the park's bigger residents. Night safaris are also offered.
There are several stunning waterfalls in the park, which are at their most attractive during the wet-season months of June-October. Several reputable tour companies operate in the area and offer a range of well-planned excursions for two or three days, which include exploring nature trails, camping and river-rafting. Others explore by car or motorbike; vehicles can be rented in nearby Pak Chong.
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