Thailand features an incredible 127 national parks, meaning you’ll definitely have to pick and choose which to visit during your time there. Use this handy guide to decide which park to add to your itinerary!
FOR ANIMAL LOVERS
Want to see an elephant or two? What about a gaur? Head to Kui Buri. This national park in southern Thailand boasts that 99 percent of the time, visitors will spot elephants or gaur in the park. In total, over 100 gaur and over 300 elephants call Kui Buri home. Visit from November to April to avoid the rainy season. Entrance is 200 THB for foreigners, 40 THB for locals, and an extra 30 THB if you drive a car into the park.
In the south, near the Thailand/Myanmar border sits Kaeng Krachan, the largest national park in the country. Especially popular with bird-watchers, this dense park is mostly comprised of rainforest. The area around the Ban Krang campsite is arguably one of the best places for observing rare birds and butterflies. Kaeng Krachan is a great choice for campers who want to avoid crowds (except on national holidays, when the park is saturated with locals!).
Located in central Thailand, Khao Yai is the country’s third largest national park and one of the best for seeing wildlife. Elephants, bears, gaurs, otters, gibbons, and macaques live in Khao Yai, as well as an extensive population of birds and reptiles. There is also a cave where around three million wrinkled-lipped bats live (they come out around sunset, for amazing photo ops!). It’s possible to explore the park by car, motorcycle, or scooter, and you’ll want to visit from November to February for optimal weather.
The waters of Mu Ko Similan are considered to be among the best in the world for diving. Head underwater to see coral reefs, stingrays, turtles, barracuda, leopard sharks, eel, and many other species of fish. Each of the 11 islands has a name, but they are often referred to simply by number instead. The best time for diving and snorkeling is December to April — though you’ll have to visit from October to May (as the park is closed during the rainy season).
FOR WATER BABIES
Khao Sok is Thailand’s most popular national park, situated in the south near Phuket and Krabi. While there are some wildlife species in Khao Sok, it’s rare to see them near tourist areas. The park is more popular for jungle treks and canoeing/rafting on Cheow Lan Lake, a 64 square mile (165 square kilometers) body of water contained within the park. Khao Sok also features a number of waterfalls and swimming holes, plus an underwater cave. Visit from January to April for optimal weather, and be sure to have 300 THB (40 THB for locals) at the entrance.
Most visitors to Ko Lanta (an island district on the Andaman Coast) don’t realize there is a national park to visit. Those who do will find white sand beaches, hills, and rainforest along the coast, a mangrove forest, and several caves good for exploring. The smaller islands of the park are great for snorkeling and scuba diving, but are closed during the rainy season (May to October). A group of nomadic sea gypsies (Chao Le) even call Mu Ko National Park home.
On the oceanic border of Myanmar, this archipelago is a popular destination for swimmers, divers, and snorkelers. The clear water of Mu Ko Surin National Park makes it easy to spot a variety of fish, coral, and sea anemone. Those lucky enough might even spot manta rays, whale sharks, or pickhandle barracudas. Like several other national parks, Mo Ko Surin is closed during the rainy season (May to October).
FOR THE HIKERS
Sometimes referred to as “The Roof of Thailand,” Doi Inthanon is actually part of the HImalayan Mountains and includes the tallest mountain in Thailand. The high altitude yields humidity and lower temperatures year round, making it a good option for visitors during the summer months. Summiting Doi Inthanon is the main activity, and those who do so early in the morning will be rewarded with spectacular views. Visit during late January and February to see the Siamese sakura flower trees blossom.
Though the main attractions of Erawan may be the waterfalls and caves, hiking is the best way to visit. Follow some of the nature trails from the HQ area and explore the hilly forest landscape of this western Thai park. Though this area is prone to rainfall, the hills protect Erawan from most of the inclimate weather, making it a good option during the summer months (when many of the other parks are closed). Visit in April during the annual Songkran festival to see the many waterfalls turned into celebratory hotspots.
FOR THOSE WHO WANT IT ALL
This park in the Kui Bui district of southern Thailand was the first coastal national park, but that distinction is only the tip of the iceberg for what Khao Sam Roi Yot has to offer. Though its name may mean “the mountain with three hundred peaks,” the park itself features caves, wildlife, hiking trails, forest, beaches, a freshwater marsh, and camping opportunities. The main attraction is Phraya Nakhon Cave, which houses a royal pavilion and has a large hole in the ceiling that lets light filter in. If you’re planning to stay for a day or two, the Sam Phraya campsite has three-person tents available to rent for 210 THB.
Header image by Marcin Kalinski.