Most people associate Thailand with elephants, so it’s quite surprising that I still haven’t really seen any elephants during my time here. During my visit to Chiang Mai, there were options to visit an elephant sanctuary, but those usually get booked really fast and can get kind of expensive as well. The couple of other elephants I did see, however, were either chained, unhealthy or just looked plain unhappy. From what I’ve read and heard, many elephants in the tourism/entertainment industry are abused and mistreated, so I decided for myself before coming to Thailand that if I were to see an elephant, it would be a free, happy, roaming elephant.
This was partially what inspired my visit to Khao Yai National Park, which is a famous wildlife sanctuary and national park a couple of hours away from Bangkok. A couple of other friends from our study abroad group had visited Khao Yai a week before we did and told us how beautiful it was, so of course we had to make the trek to go see the beautiful wilderness of this national park. In order to avoid the mishaps of motorbikes and national bikes like we did in Doi Inthanon, we decided to just reserve a taxi from the app GrabTaxi (SUPER helpful!) for the whole day that would take us there, wait for us while we did our hike, and bring us back to campus, which ended up costing us around 2800 baht for the entire day. Entrance fees to Khao Yai are 400 baht/adult.
After a couple of hours driving, we ended up in Khao Yai and made a stop at the visitor center for some early snacks before heading out for a short hike and we saw this little cutie peacefully munching on some grass.
Kong Kaew Falls, a short hike nearby the visitor center that is approximately 1.5 km walk from the visitor center to the end.
So our friends had told us about needing to purchase leech socks, which you’ll need for sure if you’re hiking through the fields. For this more relaxed hike, you won’t actually need this (future note to self).
Fuzzy caterpillars everywhere.
Very Jurassic Park-esque.
For lunch, we stopped by the canteen across from the visitor center to fuel up before what we had thought to be a very intense hike. I got Chinese sausage with some red curry chicken.
Well, this is how the rest of our “intense hike” ended up turning out…we found out that we actually needed to rent a songthaew near the entrance of the park in Pak Chong (rather than the visitor center), where tour guides will usually charge you for the day and take you different trailheads and some will even accompany you on your hike. Some of the more intense hikes require tour guides for safety purposes! Since our taxi driver took us all the way to the visitor center, our only options for getting to the hikes we wanted to go to was to either hitchhike or hike all the way to the entrance of another trailhead. Neither of those options were really viable, so we ended up asking our taxi driver to take us to the top of the mountain, which he announced halfway to the top that he was almost out of gas…oops.
After some more research, we later found out that you can hire certified private guides at the visitor center to take you to the trailheads, but since we had paid for our taxi driver already, we figured it would be a cheaper option to just ask him to take us.
Many dangerous turns, swerves, and burning of tires later, we finally made it to the very entrance of Haew Suwat, which is one of the famous waterfalls actually filmed in a James Bond movie!
When I was younger, our family friend had this butterfly collection pinned on their wall and I remember the black butterfly with bright royal blue wings was always my favorite. If you look closely enough, there’s actually a whole bunch of these butterflies perched on the bamboo in this little forest!
Made it to the waterfall! It was probably a 10 minute walk down a couple of steep stairs and then we made it to the entrance. Again, not what we had expected from an “intense hike” through the fields (which our friends had done), but after speaking with some of the other people wearing leech socks, we found out that they had traveled with a tour guide and did a really long hike starting from another trailhead.
So I guess lucky for us, we got to skip out on some rigorous hiking this time, but at least we were able to see what we came for: Haew Suwat!
So nice to finally cool off and relax. Here in the mountains, it’s a lot cooler, green and more lush.
You even get the light mist of the Haew Suwat waters on your face as you just sit there enjoying the falls.
After hiking back up the stairs, we tried a different trail that took us to the top of the falls, where you get an even more incredible view (waterfalls to the right, side and bottom of you!)
We had told our taxi driver to take us to a viewpoint called Nong Pak Chi, where you might be lucky to spot herds of elephants and other forms of wildlife, but unfortunately our taxi driver was already running really low on gas and had to drive out of the park and get gas and didn’t know where this observation viewpoint was located. In other words, we ended up accidentally skipping/passing this part of Khao Yai, where I had really hoped to see some more wildlife, but nonetheless, we were still able to see some monkeys chilling on the road on our drive home.
For dinner, we headed back to UVillage on campus for some AYCE shabu for 279 baht/person and it was absolutely wonderful. Nothing ends off a good day like some good meals.