A day trip to Thailand’s Khao Yai National Park. Here we study the diverse range of vegetation, insects and animals that the park has to offer.
To a Westerner who grew up in amongst the urban surroundings of concrete and corner-shops, the words “National Park in the tropics” conjure up all manner of horrifying images.
Back in the relative solace of suburban London, where the most fearsome predators come in the form of a trio of irate gnats, one literally finds oneself half the world away from the venom hurling, fatal sting administering, stampeding, clawing, biting and generally disagreeable collection of creatures which dwell in Thailand’s foremost nature reserve: Khao Yai National Park.
Khao Yai, literally “mountain big,” is located some three hours or 250 kilometres from Thailand’s capital city, Bangkok. The park covers four provinces and is an impressive 2168 square kilometeres, making it the largest in Thailand.
Home to numerous species of reptiles, birds, mammals and vegetation, I tentatively edged closer to the park gates, solemnly humming a random tune which for some reason sprang to mind (You can check out anytime you like, but…..).
The fact that I was armed with an imitation Swiss Army knife did little to ease my anxieties, but I nonetheless parted with the 40 baht entrance fee (400 for those unfortunate enough not to have a Thai work permit in their possession) and coughed and spluttered my way in, my form of transport being a slightly asthmatic moped.
Being a week day, Khao Yai was all but my own, with tourists generally choosing to visit during public holidays or weekends. Fortunately within the vast expanse of thick vegetation and rolling mountains which the park is comprised of, the infrastructure has been well sculpted, and plenty of asphalt is present for those who don’t wish to err from this mere gesture of civilization.
The Nong Pak Chee Nature Trail and Observation Tower
Some four kilometers into the park I happened upon signage for my first port of call, the Nong Pak Chee Observation Tower. After following the sign’s instruction to continue into the heart of the park for another ten kilometers, I dismounted my motorcycle and eagerly started the “leisurely 30 minute stroll,” according to the guide book, to the observation tower where the trusty guide book also nigh-on promises views of elephants, crocodiles, wild boar and for those who are into that sort of thing, tigers. Lest we forget that this “leisurely 30 minute stroll” is also probably littered with an assortment of venomous reptiles, lying in wait of their next victim.
The cacophony of insect, bird and monkey calls let me know that I was well and truly in the wilds of a tropical monsoon forest. However, the screeches and yells seemingly turned into what my brain processed as a sadistic sniggering (they’re laughing at me!!) Double-taking my surroundings, I realized why this in fact, may be true. Here I was, completely alone, essentially hiking through some else’s back garden. Let’s just hope Mr. Tiger isn’t the grounds keeper.
My paced quickened into an all out sprint, which saw personal bests being broken left, right and centre, even with a rucksack full of water. I suppose primal fear does that.
I arrived at the watch tower a little ahead of schedule, climbed the wooden staircase to the summit and looked out in awe at the stunning section of jungle that lay ahead. Before me, surrounded by vegetation so dense that a shotgun round would merely ricochet off the thicket, was a lake. This water source was obviously the focal point of midnight rendezvous, feasting, and watering. Although it wasn’t exactly a hive of activity during my time in the observation tower, I patiently waited with ill founded optimism (the guide book has a lot to answer for) on the off-chance that a herd, or a pack, or a gaggle of something or other might make an appearance and allow me a happy five minutes with my camera.
But alas, after an hour of taking in my quite beautiful surroundings, I reasoned that being nocturnal was en vogue around these parts, and 40 winks is currently order of the day, although how you can enjoy a satisfactory slumber amidst this racket is a total mystery. Oh well, let sleeping tigers lie, as they say.
Spicy Beef Salad – Lunch
After such a morning, I decided my next destination would be the park’s information centre where the eateries were situated. I opted for a yam nam tok neua, literally “salad waterfall beef” which is basically a grilled beef salad. The nam tok or “waterfall” element is brought about by the way the meat is cooked. When the cuts of beef or pork are sizzling over a tray of glowing embers, it causes the fat to drip from the meat which in turn gives the visual effect of that of a waterfall. Hence, yam (spicy salad) namtok (waterfall) neua (beef) .
Hew Suwat Waterfall
This seemed to be a most appropriate dish, considering my next stop was to be the most well known nam tok in Thailand, if not the entirety of South/East Asia, “Hew Suwat Waterfall.” Brought to immediate fame by Leonardo Di Caprio and company jumping from its peak in the 1999 movie, The Beach, Hew Suwat is located approximately 30 kilometres from the park’s main entrance.
The waterfall is a single tier affair which is naturally in its most spectacular state during the rainy season, which falls between August and November. But even in mid-February when I visited, it was still an incredible spectacle. The abundant presence of colourful flora, birds and butterflies supplemented the experience like a cherry would an iced bun.
So, there was a conclusion of tranquility to a day of fearless exploration. I remounted my wheezing vehicle for the last time that day and made my way back down the hair-pin bend riddled roads of Khao Yai National Park, from whence I once came.