Visiting national parks

The most disappointing thing is when you arrive to a national park and discover that beautiful pictures from booklets don’t match reality. And to the top of it you become bitten and dehydrated. In this article we’ll discuss what one can foresee prior to making a visit to any Thai national park.

All Thai protected zones with beautiful nature that I’m publishing at FalkTime I gather under this tag.

Contents

Butterfly
A butterfly in Khao Yai national park

Categories of protected zones in Thailand

What to await from each:

1. National parks

These protected areas cover huge territories and take care of the whole ecosystem – from an elephant and a little bush to landscapes and pebbles. Under protection can be both land and sea. The area of marine national parks consists predominantly of islands and the sea.

There can be several headquarters / offices in a national park. There you may find:

  • A small museum.
  • A lot of information (the primary source),
  • Some infrastructure – from a stall trading with water to a canteen.

Also here you can hire a ranger to assist you on a route for a moderate fee.

Staying at a national park

It’s possible and they do have accommodation – camp sites, bungalows and rooms. But there’s almost no chance to get any information about it in advance and especially to make a reservation. In my opinion it’s easier (and sometimes even cheaper) to book a room in a nearby village. At least you’ll have some infrastructure like 7-11 and no surprises.

There’s no public transportation within a national park. So if the sight you are interested in is located far from headquarters, you should think in advance, how you will reach it.

How to arrange transportation

Walking in most of cases won’t help you – it’s not only about distances but also terrain and climate. If you choose walking for a long distance, you should have enough water, repellents and sun block with you.

  • Rent a car / motorbike / bicycle in advance (there’s no such service in a park).
  • Hire a taxi for a day (it won’t cost much especially if you grab a songthaew or other private vehicle from locals for rent).
  • Hitchhiking (there’s a high risk that there will be no vehicles to stop, that’s why I don’t recommend relying on this method).
Nature trail
Nature trail in Khao Yai national park

While national parks contain diverse sights, next 3 categories can contain either sights that will suit any taste or be interesting only to nature lovers and biologists.

2. Wildlife sanctuaries

Most of wildlife sanctuaries protect fauna (sometimes also flora too). The idea is to create comfortable conditions for wild animals. Comfortable in meaning without people. Wildlife sanctuaries are smaller than national parks.

3. Forest parks

These areas are too small to get status of a national park. But they require protection especially from human activities. So Thai forest parks are a kind of mini-national parks.

4. Little nature reserves

Non-hunting areas, arboreta and other small parks. In non-hunting areas it goes not only about no hunting and fauna protection but sometimes about protection of plants and even the ecosystem, like in Cha-Am.

Phlio waterfall
Phlio waterfall in the national park of the same name

Rules

Rules for visiting protected areas are the same all over the world. Anyway, I’d rather mention them, so it won’t be unpleasant surprise for you later:

  • Keep silence.
  • Don’t leave rubbish.
  • Don’t use fire.
  • Take care of nature – don’t pick flowers or leaves, don’t break branches. Keep to trails and paths.
  • For some routes (even short, not just several-day long) you have to hire park ranger. He will help you not to get lost, to avoid conflicts with wild animals and he’ll draw your attention to unique things one may miss. Their services don’t cost much. So don’t neglect this rule and you won’t get into trouble.

Wild animals:

  • Don’t approach them, they are really wild.
  • Don’t feed them (they get used to “easy” food and later they die being hit by vehicles on roads of national parks; if you want to feed unusual animals – visit Thai zoo).
  • Feeding sea creatures is prohibited.
  • Don’t tease.
  • Watch your steps – bugs can be on the brink of extinction, while snakes can bite you.
Lake
A lake where wild animals come to drink water in Khao Yai national park

Recommendations:

  • Don’t use perfume and other chemistry with sweet and floral aroma. This way you can attract insects.
  • Choose clothes of natural (not bright) colors.
  • Draw your attention at warning signs. F.e. it is forbidden to swim under some waterfalls because if you get there, you may stay there forever.
  • Watch the time, day turns into night in Thailand very quickly. Twilight takes not more than 15 minutes.
  • Listen to your body. It’s very easy to get heat illness in Thailand. Remember to drink water regularly, wear a headwear, stay most of time in the shadow and use sun protection (renew its layer from time to time).
  • If you don’t tolerate heat, use any opportunity to swim (in a river, waterfall etc). Usually there’s cool water.
Erawan waterfall
2d level of Erawan waterfall in national park of the same name

Unexpected

Or what you should know if you don’t want to get disappointed in Thai national parks.

English language

English is almost useless in most of Thai protected areas, even in national parks that are popular among tour companies the staff hardly speaks English. The only advantage – you can get some information from stands. But it can appear to be written in Thaiglish or translated via Google Translate.

Namtok Muak Lek
Arboretum “Muak Lek waterfall”

Waterfalls

Dried-out waterfalls

Unfortunately after looking at pictures in booklets one can get impression that waterfalls should be as picturesque as it is shown there. But their beauty consists of water and the most important reason for its presence is precipitation.

The most picturesque time for visiting waterfalls is the end of rainy season.

So if you are interested in waterfalls plan your trip to Thailand from September to November. Note that in the beginning of rainy season (June-July) waterfalls may stay dry. It depends on how rainy was the previous hot season.

On FalkTime pages I will tell you about each waterfall what time is the best to see it in all its glory. I’m sure you don’t want to see something like this upon arrival:

Dried-out waterfall
Here will be a waterfall in the end of rainy season

To the honour of people working in Thai national parks I must mention that every time I had approached checkpoint of a national park, first they warned me of completely dried-out waterfall. And only when I was telling that it doesn’t matter, they were selling me a ticket. But we were talking Thai.

Swimming in a waterfall

Every place has different infrastructure (sometimes no infrastructure at all), so if you want to avoid difficulties, take a big towel with you. Though some of people may find it unethical, you’ll get an opportunity to change underwear being wrapped in a towel (so no one will see you naked).

When swimming in a waterfall is forbidden, it means that there’s a threat to your life.

Watch your belongings – f.e. next to 2d level of Erawan waterfall you can be robbed by monkeys. You never know, what they would take – snacks or your expensive camera. If you don’t see these furry thieves, it doesn’t mean that they don’t watch you. The best idea is to put your belongings next to Thais who have brought their dog with. This dog will scare monkeys away.

A dog resting on suspension bridge
Muak Lek arboretum
Fish

Whether you see them or not, in most of Thai rivers live fishes. So if you feel someone is tickling or slightly biting your feet – these are they. From one hand this is the fish spa for free, from the other hand you may not like it. The only way to avoid this “free service” is to be active in the water – as soon as you stop fish will come back to clean off your skin.

Brook carps in Phlio waterfall
Namtok Phlio national park

Lush vegetation

Despite of all-year-round warm temperature there are not only evergreen trees in Thailand but deciduous also. Of course the landscape in total will stay green and remind of summer, while some views will be different.

One can’t shorten the path in protected areas by walking straight through the forest – the vegetation is dense and often prickly while some plants are poisonous. Avoid being scratched by unknown plants.

Thorny tree
Thorny tree trunk in Sai Yok national park

Land leeches

With the rain or just wet weather land leeches go for hunting. These little creatures climb up the grass or bushes (up to ~70 cm high) in order to step over to an animal or a human from there. Leeches can’t infect you and they are even good for health – anyway later, when they’ll get enough of your blood, leeches will fall off you. But I would feel myself very uncomfortable to discover there guests on my body.

If you want to prevent land leeches attack, take knee socks with you – put them on and put trouser-legs inside them. This way land leeches will have to climb up the dry clothes, so they will either give up, or you will notice them before they reach your skin and shake them off.

What to take to a national park

You should not count on shops and stalls that will be at the entrance to a protected area. First of all in forest parks and non-hunting areas there can be neither a shop/stall nor a place to have a glass of water. Secondly you would barely find right sizes or brands you need even in touristy national park. Thirdly there may be a line of tourists wishing to buy some water in popular protected areas.

  • At least 1,5 l of water per person
  • Any repellent (spray, cream etc) produced in Thailand
  • Headwear
  • Sun protection
  • Comfortable light but closed shoes (like sneakers)
  • Trousers light and breathable
  • Swimwear and towel
  • Knee-socks (against land leeches)
Namtok Sam Lan
Dried-out Sam Lan waterfall. If you don’t wanna see smth. like this, plan your trip to Thailand wisely
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