A Year in Bangkok – A Weekend in Khao Yai

5 12 2010

Sign seen inside the park.

Khao Yai is Thailand’s oldest national park, founded in 1961, and is a National Heritage Site. It is over 2,000 square kilometres and is one of the biggest intact monsoon forests in Asia. It is a beautiful area but, sadly, road building to carry the traffic to expensive up-market resorts is cutting a swathe through that monsoon forest. If you saw the movie “The Beach’ you’ve seen a bit of Khao Yai as the waterfall they jump off near the beginning is actually Namtok Haew Sewat inside the park and trying to jump off it would be very silly indeed.

Namtok Haew Sewat.

There is a healthy population of wild elephant here and a wealth of other wildlife including tigers, leopards, various types of deer, bears, gibbons and the country’s largest population of hornbills. As you drive in the main entrance, you will usually see several macaques along the roadside. Once, I saw a monster scorpion on this roadside – it stood out as it was taking a rest on the white line at the side of the road. I stopped to look and was able to persuade it to take a little stroll up my arm! Another time, I saw some kind of marten here – imagine a pine marten if you know them and then think about twice as big and you‘ll have a rough idea.

Wild elephants in the park.

I first came here in October 2004 and stayed in the dire Phubade hotel in nearby Pak Chong, described by Lonely Planet as “Clean, well-maintained rooms catering to business people and Thai government officials have private bath.” Clearly, the person who wrote that had never stayed there. Usually, I find Lonely Planet very reliable but the more I get to know Thailand, the more inaccurate I find their Thai guide book. The hotel was grubby at best. I saw my first cockroach in Thailand in my room and there was certainly nothing even vaguely resembling a bath, private or otherwise – maybe they meant the Thai government officials have a private bath elsewhere! They also recommended a company called Wildlife Safari for guided treks and they were excellent. I cannot recommend them too highly.

This picture of a hornbill was taken through somebody's telescope.

I went on a day trek sometimes following elephant trails through the jungle and sometimes following a river. At the start of the day, we were surrounded by the eerie sound of gibbon calls high up in the tree canopy but despite the fact that there must have been an awful lot of them, we didn’t see a single gibbon. In the years since then, I have only rarely been treated to a glimpse of one. We ended up on that trek by approaching Haew Sewat falls from down river and it was a magnificent sight, especially in October when it is in spate as it is the end of the monsoon season. This was the first time I ever wore leech socks – very useful indeed at this time of year.

Our exclusive resort!

The guide was great, very knowledgeable about the plants and animals we saw but the going was very tough and, because the river was fairly high, included some rock climbing which I am not good at. As soon as I get a couple of feet above the ground, I start to get vertigo and, at one point, we were balancing along a ledge about ten feet above the raging torrent below us.

Our 'pool villa suite'.

The road from Pak Chong to the park was just starting to get a few resorts along it and, since then, Khao Yai has become the weekend playground of Bangkok’s privileged classes. That road and the surrounding area is now covered with resorts and housing development projects.

A giant sofa inside.......

I have been back several times for day trips from the city but have only just gone back to stay. And get this, we stayed in a place which costs just over 28,000 baht a night _ that is about six hundred pounds sterling. Not the sort of thing we usually do, especially as that didn’t include breakfast! It was my prize for winning a photography competition organised by Central Department Stores here.

.....and another one on the roof.

The place was lovely but, to my mind, absolutely not worth that sort of money. It is a tiny, very exclusive resort with just seven accommodation units and we had the pool villa suite which, as the name implies, included our own little private pool.

You need to be reasonably fit as there is no lift or disabled access.

Clearly then, we were going to make the most of this prize so we saw very little of the park on this trip, only popping in to see Namtok Haew Narok, an amazing waterfall which I think has Thailand’s largest single drop. It has three tiers but you can only get to see the top one. To get to it, you have to climb down what feels like thousands of steep concrete stairs.

Namtok Haew Narok in the dry season, sometimes called 'the walking man'.

I particularly wanted to see it at this time of year as it is in spate and there was a huge volume of water going over it.

Namtok Haew Narok in spate.

The park authorities have put up lots of concrete pillars in the jungle approaching the river near the top of the falls. This is to try and stop elephants getting through as they have been known to be swept over at this time of year. If you like waterfalls, then this is a must see but the steps are a bit scary if, like me, you are not good with heights.

Some of those steps.

Basically though, we chilled at our very expensive hotel, the Sala Khao Yai, but we were seriously disappointed by the quality of the food in their restaurant. Never mind, it was a lovely little break and an interesting experience staying in a place like that which, incidentally, the Tourist Authority of Thailand describes as ‘the best of the best resorts.’

Enjoying the sunken bath.

We drove back home through the park and took the lesser used southern route. I’m glad we did as it is still undeveloped on that side – much the same as the north west side was when I first visited and we found what looked like a pleasant, traditional place to stay whenever we decide to go again.

Some of the photographs in this entry were taken by Peter and Louise, two younger friends who each spent about five months here with us.

Looking from the resort toward the park.

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4 responses

18 12 2010
Lola rainey

Another great article about Thailand. The Tourism Bureau should pay you because you do a better job of promoting this country to westerners than they do. I’ll miss you in Jimmy at Union Tower but will keep abreast of your travels via the blog. Happy Holidays.

25 12 2010
Ben Salmons

Thanks Lola, hope to see ya before we move.

26 09 2012
Diana

Great photo blog Ben! I’m doing a school calendar, do you think I could borrow some of your pics? The calendar’s not for sale or anything, but I could put a photo credit. Please let me know. 🙂

26 09 2012
Ben Salmons

Thanks Diana. That should be okay, I’ll email you from my gapthai account.

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