Khao Yai National Park

On my day off from working at the English camp, myself and two other amigos headed out from our bungalows, rented bikes, and drove up to Khao Yai National Park for the day.  This post will tell you what’s good.  For clarity, we entered through the north entrance near Pak Chong.

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One of many signs warning visitors about the wild elephants of Khao Yai, though we never saw any!

What makes Khao Yai National Park special?

Khao Yai National Park is the 3rd largest national park in Thailand and was established in 1962.  The park covers an area of 2,168km and is mostly comprised of thick highland jungle as well as some grasslands.  Khao Yai National Park is famous for its abundant wildlife including wild elephants, monkeys, and deer.  It also has two big beautiful waterfalls to visit with Haew Suwat being the scene of the famous waterfall jump in the 2001 Leo DiCaprio movie The Beach.

How to get there?

Khao Yai National Park is about 3 hours north of Bangkok and would make an excellent weekend retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city.  Guesthouses and hotels can be found in abundance around the approaches to the park and in nearby Pak Chong.

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The mighty jungle

Once at Pak Chong, or just outside the north entrance to the park, you can rent motorbikes for the duration of your stay.  Having a motorbike to ride through the park makes a hell of a difference.  It was super convenient as it meant that my friends and I were able to get to see everything we wanted on our own timetable.  Plus, on a bike it is much easier to see wildlife as you can stop where you want to take pictures and not have to worry about missing out like you would if you were part of a tour.  Just be sure to gas up before going in, you don’t want to run out of gas out in tiger country! (Joking, tigers are rarely seen now in this part of the park).

What to see/do?

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Haew Suwat, made famous by The Beach.  Where they jumped was debated as the waterfall has changed a fair bit since the movie came out over 15 years ago.

Most of the park is covered in thick highland jungle but there are some grasslands.  There are also several waterfalls to visit, the most notable being Haew Suwat, of The Beach, and Haew Narok.  If you only have time for one, I’d recommend Haew Suwat.  Not only is it more famous but it really is more exotic, not to mention that the trail to Haew Narok gets extremely steep and is not for those of lesser inclination.  I should also note that while people have jumped the Haew Suwat 25 meter waterfall, you are now prohibited from doing so and it has been like this for at least 10yrs as there have been deaths.

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A bit of a hike to get to down a steep path, but still quite an impressive sight to see!

The other major attraction, besides the beautiful surroundings of the jungle, is the abundant wildlife that inhabits the park.  It is possible to see deer, gibbons, elephants, tigers, leopards, bears, wild dogs, and other species throughout the park.  You will almost certainly see deer as they like to hang out around the Visitor Center.  You will also probably see monkeys including gibbons.  On the way to Haew Narok we saw a ton of monkeys.  As for the elephants, obviously a big draw for tourists, it is harder to say.  We didn’t see any, but we saw plenty of elephant poop out on the road to Haew Narok so they must be out there!  The other animals likes the tigers, leopards, bears, and wild dogs, are rarely seen and mostly only come out at night but especially in the less visited parts of the park away from the trails and roads.

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Deer hanging out by the Visitor Center

Besides going for hikes down the numerous trails or driving around looking for wildlife, another cool thing you can do is actually camp inside the park at one of several designated camping grounds.  This is totally safe, though you might wake up to find deer gently grazing outside of your tent. Another word of warning, if you do decide to go hiking along the trails, stick to them!  Every year people get lost in the park, sometimes for days, after wandering off the trails….

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We saw lots of monkeys on the road to Haew Narok.

Another really cool thing we did was go bat watching.  We drove our bikes out into the countryside, after leaving the park, and went to a spot where it is possible to see literally thousands of bats flying together in arching trails through the sky.  The best time to go is just before sundown.  We went on our own but it is possible to pay to get a guide to take you there.  This was arguably the highlight of our day, it was incredible to see so many bats and the sound they made as they flew all around us.

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Giant monitor lizard chilling on the bank of the river near the Visitor Center
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Giant spider as big as my hand trying to get a leaf out of its web, this was on the trail down to Haew Narok….definitely poisonous!

Food and drink?

If you are entering the park at the north entrance near Pak Chong, it is a short drive to the Visitor Center where nearby are a number of food stalls and restaurants/cafes with seating areas.  There is also a small convenience store there for snacks, drinks, ponchos, etc.  It might be an idea to bring your own food and drink.

How much?

It is 400 baht to get in to the park for farangs, but the ticket does allow you to go in and out of the park on that date.  To take a motorbike in it costs an additional 30 baht.

Food can be found in the park for under 100 baht depending on what you are looking for.  It is also more than possible to eat cheaply in Pak Chong and the surrounding area if you eat Thai food.

Motorbikes can be rented for around 300 baht a day but that may change depending on where you rent it.  Typically just a copy of your passport is needed to rent a bike.

Accommodation can be found for as low as 400 baht a night and up near the park and in Pak Chong.

I hope this post proves useful to any trips you make out to this beautiful part of the country!  Like if you enjoyed the post! Leave a comment about your own experience! Share to a friend if you know they’re making a trip this way! Subscribe if you want to see more posts like this!

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The Angkor Wat Experience

Back in December 2014 on Boxing Day I flew from China early in the morning and promptly went to my hostel to get changed, meet up with my friend, and head on out to Angkor Wat.  Here are some logistics on getting there, getting around, what to see, and after Angkor Wat.

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Getting to Siem Reap

Siem Reap is the closest city to Angkor Wat so most people choose to stay here for their visit to Ankor Wat.  Siem Reap is easily accessible to the outside world via air, land, and even water!

Air: Siem Reap International Airport is the second largest in the country and is accessible by direct international flights from many Asian countries.  It is also possible to fly from Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville.

Land: Buses and minivans can be caught from Phnom Penh for $6-10+USD. The journey is at least  five and  half hours and it is advisable to take the minivan company Cambodia Post VIP Van at $8 and is more comfortable while stopping less often and  driving responsibly.  Taxis can be caught from Phnom Penh for $60-80+.   If you’re coming from Sihanoukville buses typically cost $20+ and I would definitely recommend taking a night bus.

Water: Fasts boats from Phnom Penh to Tonle Lake near Siem Reap run daily through most of the year depending on water levels.  Tickets are $35 and some people question the safety of these boats but the rewards are great; getting to see the real Cambodian interior and rural life on the waterway.

Getting about Angkor Wat

First off, a one day Angkor Pass to the park is $20USD and $40 for three days.  There are multi day and longer tickets on sale as well.  Most visitors to Angkor Wat hire a tuktuk for the day and split the cost between friends or groups from their hostel.  My friend and I paid $20 for the tuktuk driver to take us to and from Ankor Wat, as well as around the Angkor Wat national park to whichever site we wanted to see.  Plus a tip is recommended.  It is also cheaper to get a tuktuk from Siem Reap than getting one at Angkor Wat.  Bicycles can be rented for a day for a few dollars and Angkor Wat is only 7.5km from Siem Reap for those who choose to save a bit of money and get a day of exercise while surrounded by the marvels of the Angkor Wat national park.

Which sites to see?

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Angkor Wat: The main event. The big tamale. Angkor Wat is the central structure of the national park named after it.  The UNESCO site is simply a breathtaking experience to behold once you first lay eyes upon it.  The Khmers are so proud of it they use the image of Angkor Wat on just about everything, including their national.  Be sure to visit in time for the sunrise and sunsets as those times make for some magical pictures.

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The Bayon: One of the more visited temples and is famous for the many faced towers that look out over the walls.  Not quite the hall of the Many-Faced God, but still a spectacular example of classical Khmer architecture currently being restored by a team of Japanese conservationists.

Ta Prohm: The Tomb Raider temple.  It is among the favorites because of the massive trees growing out of the centuries old crumbling structures that really lend to the feeling this place was lost in time.  This is regrettably one of the temples I missed, all the more reason to go back!

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The Elephant Terrace: A viewing platform for King Jayavarman VII on which to preside over official ceremonies, such as after harvests and battles.  Lots of people flock to get up close to the elephant carvings.  I personally just had the tuktuk driver slow down to get a few pictures.

East Mebon: Completed in 943AD, the temple is actually built on an artificial island that once sat in the middle of a vast water reservoir.  Nowadays it is hard to imagine but it is food for thought as your reach the top and look on out over what the land would have looked like over a millennia ago.  It also has distinctive 2 meter tall elephant sculptures that make for a great picture, just be sure to not climb on them.

After the Angkor Wat

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Siem Reap is a bustling backpacker town with an abundance of things to do besides just see Angkor Wat.  The two biggest things that backpackers do in Siem Reap is to visit the night market street and the famous pub street.  In and around these areas you can find just about anything you need to buy or eat, ranging from budget to more upscale establishments.  Pub street particular is a great place to meet new people after a day out trekking through Angkor Wat.  You can also visit the landmine museum, go to a firing range, go ATVing, a day trip to Tonle Sap lake, take a nature and wildlife tour, have your feet massaged by fish while you sip on a beer, and a whole lot more.

I hope this post helps inspire those thinking of making the pilgrimage here to make it a reality.  I’m not a religious person at all but being there was a religious experience.  I felt very calm and relaxed at the park, especially when I was within the walls of Angkor Wat itself.  Going to Angkor Wat was one of my bucket list items and it was everything and more than I ever hoped it would be in terms of the sense of awe at the architecture, natural surroundings, and what I felt was an abundance of positive spiritual energy.  I want to return one day after having read more on the site and Buddhism to get an even better understanding of this truly awesome place. Safe travels, friends!