Visited: July 15-19, 2014
Site Type: Natural
Background and Opinion:
The ranges of Dong Phayayen and Khao Yai National Park make up one of the largest expanses of protected natural land in all of Thailand. They are home to hundreds of different species, including the endangered asian elephant, Vogel’s pit viper, and the pig-tailed macaque. While there are many places in Thailand where you can see these animals performing for the amusement of tourists, this is the eco-friendly way to go about it.
While in Koh Tao, I met a Spanish couple who had just been there and had nothing but good things to say. I already had it on my list of potential places to visit during my SE Asia trip as it is a UNESCO site, but this just strengthened the case. My real reason for visiting though, was the chance to see the rare asian elephant in its natural habitat. I knew the chances of actually spotting one were slim (and indeed, I did not see one), but I gave myself 5 days to give it a go.
1) Completeness / Preservation (9 out of 15): Although no Yellowstone, Khao Yai is impressive in its own right. Development is strictly regulated with a few cabins, tent sites, and a welcome center in the middle. To even get to these, you have to drive for half an hour of nature at its rawest. However, I must complain about the ‘night safaris’ which are just a line of jeeps in a row with large lamps, shinning at the many deer which roam the night.
2) Extensiveness of the Site (8 out of 15): I would not feel like I adequately explored it if I just did a day trip. While it is larger than most Korean NPs I’ve been too, it is roughly the size of the Mojave Desert in the US, or a small National Park.
3) Natural Significance (20 out of 25): I went on a back country style trail I will never forget. It was the rainy season, so no amount of bug repellent kept the leeches off and it was just a matter of spotting them before they bit too hard. We saw lots of monkeys and some porcupine spines while trekking through some very thick vegetation. The best thing was a huge 4-5 meter python which was on a tree directly above us on the trail. I took a short video, but unfortunately, the quality was not very good. Two of us in the hike didn’t see it initially, but the guy in the back said we came within a meter of it and just yelled at us to duck and keep walking. Incredible stuff.
4) Personal Impact (11 out of 15): I never got to see any elephants (though I did come across quite a lot of elephant poop). It was also pouring my first day, so I was pretty drenched by the time I made it to the welcome center. Nonetheless, seeing deer outside my window, having monkeys surround me without a human in sight (trying to steal my lunch), and viewing that python made this one of my favorite things in Thailand.
5) Logistics (3 out of 10): Despite almost everything being stupidly easy to arrange in Thailand, a visit to Khao Yai is not. Most of the people who enter the park are part of a tour organized by a hotel outside of the entrance. Khao Yai charges 400 baht per entry (plus 20 for the motorbike, 50 for a car. Thais pay only 40 baht), so most people only do day trips as another entry would be charged the next day.
Public transportation within the park is non-existent so either you come in with your own car / motorbike or you’re screwed. The wikitravel article on this says that hitchhiking is common, but personally, I ventured into areas where I didn’t see another vehicle for hours, so I question how reasonable this advice was.
In the nearby town of Pak Chong, I found a single place that was willing to even rent me a bike. I also had to leave my passport with them, but it all worked out, and they didn’t try to scam me or anything. It was definitely worth it, but quite a hassle overall.
6) Uniqueness (15 out of 20): Bonus points for having elephants, but it was a shame I didn’t get to see any. Can’t win em all!
Combined Score: 66/100
Is this a good score? Find out how it compares with other UNESCO World Heritage Sites in our rankings.
Curious how the scores are derived? Check out the scoring criteria.
Note: While the site includes other locations, I was only able to visit Khao Yai National Park and this evaluation is based on that.