One of the bigger draws of Thailand lies outside of its bigger cities, and long white beaches. There is a whole ecological playground out there for people to enjoy, and the most popular spot is only a two to three hour drive away from Bangkok, and is the oldest National Park in the country, Khao Yai. The name basically translates to big mountain, and though it spreads itself over a very hilly terrain, it is more of a tropical forest out in the middle of the farmlands. It is a beautiful place with many varieties of animals all over the place, and you never know what you will find with every corner you take.
The most famous of the animals that live in the wild in this place are the elephants and the horn-billed birds. The elephants are in the wild and allowed to roam freely among the 300 square miles of the park, and during the dry season they are often seen taking mud baths, and heading to the many waterholes to get a drink of water. Unfortunately, I did not come across any of them during my time there, but they are doing well especially after the devastating news about them the previous year. There was an accident involving a baby elephant, and its parents as they went over a waterfall in the park, but measures have been taken to try to prevent this from happening again.
I did get to witness the majesty of the horn-billed birds. There was a flock of them flying off towards the distance from the road we were on. They are huge birds whose wings span out to almost 180 centimeters, and their bright colors bounce off of the green landscape of the trees that populate the park.
I was lucky enough to witness them from the road, but there is one spot where many photographers go to try to snap a shot of these birds. There is a nest in a hole in tree where one of the female birds was raising a couple younger birds until they were ready to fly out on their own. Basically the female bird will tear out her wing feathers to keep her young warm and feed. They eventually grow back, but during the time she has to wait until they return, she is completely reliant on the male horn-billed bird. The male goes out for food and returns to the nest to feed the young ones and the female bird. If anything happened to the male bird, it would be the end for the whole family as the female and the young ones cannot leave the nest to fend for themselves.
This is one of the problems that come with the park. Many people come and visit the park, and are looking for that perfect picture to bring back with them. Some of the more ambitious visitors will set up camp with their cameras waiting for the perfect time to get that picture. Sometimes they get a little too close to the nest which scares away the male horn-billed bird. Rangers visit this spot constantly to ensure the survival of these birds, and make sure the place remain amazing for other visitors who come back generations later.
Another popular spot in the park is the waterfall where they filmed the Leonardo DiCaprio movie based on Alex Garland book, The Beach. Even if the movie had not immortalized this location, it would still be the perfect place to hike down to. It is only a hundred meter down some strange stone steps, but there are many places to nestle among the stones down there to enjoy an afternoon next to the cool water.
The park is a must see for anybody coming out to Thailand. It really demonstrates how diverse this country actually is, but I would highly recommend hiring a tour guide to take you around. There are only a couple of roads through the park, and if you do not know what you are looking for, you will miss a lot of what this park has to offer.
Of course, you will still be able to see the occasional deer, and spot the elephants at some of the hotter spots. There is also many monkeys that come out of the forest looking for a free handout or something shiny to steal from unsuspecting travelers.
But our guide was able to show us the more hidden treasures like the vipers hanging from trees that we would have only found by accident.
And I don’t think I would have enjoyed the surprise we would have had when we came across one of these dangerous snakes.
She was also able to look into some of the pools in the river to show us the animals that lives under the rocks there.
And the craziest one that I would never have found in a million years. There is a spider on this tree that blends in perfectly because of its camouflage. If she was not there to point it out, I would have never seen it. I’m looking at the picture right now, and know where it is, and I still have a hard time seeing it.
It was a nice way to get out of the smog and heat of Bangkok for a couple of days. The clean air, the cool nights, the amazing views, and the fun of seeing all of the wildlife in the preserved spot in Thailand worth the trip.
I still wish I could have seen the elephants though.