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Thailand is famous for its many islands (เกาะ gòr) and its big cities (เมือง meuang) like Bangkok and Chiang Mai, but did you know that the country is also home to tons of beautiful national parks (อุทยานแห่งชาติ ùt-tá-yaan hàeng châat)? As a matter of fact, there are a whopping 127 of them across the country. Of them, 22 are classified as marine national parks (อุทยานแห่งชาติทางทะเล ùt-tá-yaan hàeng châat taang tá-lay). There are over 30 in the process of being created as well, which will push the number over 150. It may be hard to imagine when walking around the concrete jungle of Bangkok or the tourist traps of Phuket, but there are plenty of places in Thailand where wild animals such as tigers and elephants still roam free. It would take a lifetime to explore them all, but here’s a quick look at three of Thailand’s national parks – one closer to Bangkok, one near Chiang Mai, and one in the south in between the coasts:
Khao Yai was the first national park in Thailand, established in 1962. It’s the third largest and definitely the most popular park in the country. The park was given UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2005 as part of the greater Dong Phaya Yen–Khao Yai Forest Complex, which is home to a whopping 800 species. This is one of the few remaining places in Thailand where you can still spot elephants in the wild. It’s also home to two species of gibbon, the rare Asiatic black bear, barking deer, and so much more. You can view an extensive list of the wildlife at Khao Yai here. There are multiple day treks available in the park where you can spot wildlife, visit waterfalls, and do a bit of bird watching, for starters. The best time to visit is during the cool season from November-February. Check out this short video from NDTV to get a glimpse at Khao Yai NP:
Home to the highest mountain in the country, it should come as no surprise that Doi Inthanon is also known as the “Roof of Thailand.” This park is actually a part of the Himalayan mountain range, with elevation between 800–2,565 meters (2,625–8,415 ft). It’s named after a former king of Chiang Mai who wanted to preserve the forests of northern Thailand. There are quite a few waterfalls within the park, some just off the road and others that you have to trek to. The park is also home to over 300 species of birds, making it a great birdwatching destination. The most popular activity here is reaching the summit to take in the views from the highest place in Thailand. Take a look at Doi Inthanon in Part One of our series on the famed Mae Hong Son Loop, taking you around 1,864 curves through northern Thailand:
If you’re island hopping in the south of Thailand, why not mix it up a bit and pay a visit to Khao Sok NP? Its location makes it a great choice if you’re bouncing between the two coasts. Thailand’s 22nd national park, it’s home to the country’s largest virgin forests and said to be one of the oldest evergreen rainforests in the world. Here you can visit a lake, plenty of waterfalls, and a few caves. There are a few hiking trails in the park that you can do on your own – ignore the signs and warnings that you’re not allowed to go further without a guide. Of course, if you do want to hire a guide that’s possible, it’s just not required. If you want to stay for a night or two, there are lots of guesthouses in the area, and even some floating houses on the lake. See more of Khao Sok in this great video from World Travel Guides:
As you can see, there’s much more to Thailand than its sandy beaches, sparkling temples, and bustling cities. If you’re planning a trip to the Kingdom of Smiles, do your best to fit at least one national park into your itinerary – you won’t regret it!