Khao Yai National Park – waterfalls and wild elephant spotting near Bangkok


5.30am, ring riiiing. As the alarm rings I slowly peel myself out of bed, eyes half closed wondering why we had to make plans to get up so early. Last December we had friends visiting from Sydney and decided just the day before on a quick day trip out of Bangkok. By 6am we were on our way, no coffees in our hands but very excited by the thought of spotting wild animals at the third largest national park in Thailand! Khao Yai National Park is only a couple of hours away (about 180 km) and less than an hour into our drive, the bustling streets of Bangkok were replaced by scenery of lush open rice fields.

Driving through Chachoengsao just outside of Bangkok.

We entered the national park from the south entrance at Neon Hom Visitor Centre, paid the entrance fee and grabbed a map. The park itself is 2166 km² and has many waterfalls, hiking trails and viewpoints dotted along different routes. Too many for us to explore in one day but we really only had 1 goal, to spot an elephant! As others were figuring out where we could go, I went off to look at a little stall nearby. I picked up a few snacks from the stall and while walking back to the car the aunty at the stall yelled for me to go back. I thought, did I forget to pay her? “Elephants! Elephants! Quick!”, she said with excitement showing me her phone. Someone had told her there were wild elephants spotted further ahead. We rushed off with the vague directions we were given and kept our fingers crossed.

After about 20 minutes of driving and many evidence of elephants being in the area (there were quite a few droppings scattered on the road), we started to wonder if maybe we had just missed the elephants. We continued on with hope.. and there it was!

My first time seeing an Asian elephant in the wild!

The Elephant

We joined the parked cars on the other side of the road and hurried down to observe this male Asian elephant enjoying himself in the dirt pit. I’ve seen many elephants in my lifetime but to see one in the wild was definitely special. I noticed lots of dents and a few puncture holes on the ranger’s truck and asked him if they were from these wild elephants. He pointed out a few more holes and told me the ute had been rammed and stepped on multiple times. As I was trying to ask another question the elephant started walking towards us. “Everybody back in the car!” The ranger shouted into his megaphone with urgency. We all rushed back into our cars and continued to watch the elephant as he made his way across the field.

Continuing to watch the elephant from a safe distance.

We went back to the same spot before leaving the park and spotted another (or the same) elephant! He walked back into the trees and as big as he was, it seemed like he just vanished.

The monkey thief

 After a short walk along the trail behind the main visitor centre we settled down for lunch at the food court nearby. There were many stalls selling all kinds of food – grilled chicken, rice dishes, spicy salads, fruits and more. We all sat down in the open food hall with our food when all of a sudden we spotted a macaque running straight towards our table. At the blink of an eye the monkey grabbed my partner’s bag of sticky rice and disappeared up into the trees. We all agreed that the sticky rice heist was very well calculated, definitely a story to remember!

Coming back to see what else it can steal.

The walks & waterfall

With limited time we decided to only visit one waterfall that was a short walk from the carpark. Along the way we spotted some big and small lizards and a few mushrooms on fallen logs. Being December and not the wet season, the waterfall was drier and we were able to walk right behind the curtain of water into the little rocky cove. Despite Leonardo Dicaprio jumping into the pools of this exact waterfall in the movie ‘The Beach’, swimming is not actually allowed.

Haew Suwat Waterfall – getting sprayed by the waterfall was very refreshing!

A little lizard saying hello.

After seeing pictures of what we thought were flocks of toucans at the visitor centre, my friend decided it was going to be her goal for the day to spot at least one (they were actually Great Hornbills). We were always looking up when we heard rustling in the trees to see if there was one. With no luck, we drove to a lookout in the late afternoon hoping to catch them flying back to the large trees where many of them were photographed. We stood there looking patiently but nothing, walked to the next lookout and apart from gangs of monkeys – nothing. No luck today, we thought. Having seen an elephant, deers, lizards and monkeys we were already pretty satisfied, but out of nowhere on our second walk to Nong Phak Chi Wildlife Watching Tower two hornbills swooped down into the low trees next to us. List ticked, goal achieved!

By 6.30 pm we were out of the park, very tired but very content. It was a full day filled with many lucky encounters that we were all very grateful for and it’s definitely a place I would like to come back to explore more on a longer trip.

Top – Walking to Nong Phak Chi Wildlife Watching Tower.

Bottom – Great Hornbills (Photo credit | ThingsAsian)

Article By Oun V.


Khao Yai National Park