Thailand is home to so much breath-taking wilderness, with an impressive 127 National Parks of expansive untouched land and wild marine reserves. They are protected, allowing such a diverse range of flora and fauna to thrive. The many mountains, streams, forests and waterfalls are just a part of its inherent charm and natural beauty. Many species of exotic animals roam freely on the land, not to mention it is also home to a staggering 10% of the world’s marine species, ensuring that you won’t be disappointed if you visit one of its 22 marine national parks.
With so much on offer in the spectacular national parks of Thailand, here’s a selection of five of our favourites.
1. Khao Phanom Bencha National Park
20km north of Krabi and around 1,400m above sea level, exists the exotic green paradise that is known as Khao Phanom Bencha National Park. It is a world untouched by time, with moving streams and shimmering waterfalls cascading into secret, glassy emerald pools. All of this beauty is hidden amongst overhanging prehistoric ferns and thick, lush vegetation. Here you will find an incredible diversity of animals, such as Asian Tapirs and Asiatic Black Bears and more than 218 bird species including eagles and woodpeckers. This park is a beautiful place to hike and feel inspired by nature with timeless, subtle wooden bridges crossing over water and blending into the dense foliage.
Visiting the park’s waterfalls is essential, especially Huay To and Huay Sadeh waterfalls. Huay To Waterfall starts at Phanom Bencha Mountain before splitting into five separate cascades, each with their own name. Huay Sadeh has three of its own cascades flowing down into pools of pure water.
2. Mu Ko Angthong National Marine Park
Immerse yourself in an aquatic blue, mesmerizing world of colourful marine life at Mu Ko Angthong National Marine Park. Situated approximately 30km northwest of Koh Samui, its 42 small islands cover an area of about 102 square km, 82% of that area being water. Mu Ko Angthong is a marine wonderland with incredibly beautiful, vibrant and diverse aquatic life everywhere.
The 42 islands rise up from underwater limestone mountains which, over centuries have transformed into mesmerizing shapes and forms with the weather and water sculpting them. The formations themselves have been described as reminiscent of the intricate appearance of the structures of Angkor Wat.
Snorkelling, kayaking, diving and hiking provide an escape from daily life, for both adventure and relaxation.
3. Phu Kao–Phu Phan Kham National Park
Phu Kao–Phu Phan Kham National Park is located around 60 km northwest of Khon Kaen and covers some 322 square km of amazing wilderness dominated by mountains of sandstone and forests. It is also home to beautiful temples, waterfalls and ancient rock paintings as old as 3,500 years.
The Phu Khao mountain range is very popular, consisting of nine mountains which are perhaps the result of a volcano which became extinct millions of years ago. On the plains, below the mountains, exist many wild animals, waterfalls, bizarre rock formations and prehistoric cave paintings.
For history and culture, the western side of the park offers up the elaborate Wat Phra Phutthabat Phu Kao Temple. The name of this temple, the “Temple of Buddha’s Footprint,” was named when a 17th century hunter discovered an indentation in a puddle of water which looked like a giant footprint, thus to be declared as that of Buddha.
Also on the western side of the park are the lovely Tat Fa and Tat Hin Taek waterfalls. Where the waters of Tat Fa wind through the forest it is a lush and wondrous sight, cascading from the heights into a large pool below.
4. Khao Yai National Park
Thailand’s most visited reserve, Khao Yai National Park, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to one of the largest monsoon forests still remaining in mainland Asia. It has five distinctive vegetation zones encouraging a wide array of flora and fauna. The wildlife is suitably diverse with nearly 400 species of birds, 200 or so elephants, and leopards, macaques, tigers and otters as well as many more beautifully exotic animals.
The vast number of waterfalls, some of which are considered to be the most impressive in Thailand are also one of the main attractions of Khao Yai.
If you are a wine lover, the western area of the park hosts vineyards representing some of Thailand’s most famous and award winning labels. You can also embark on night safaris (with a guide of course), hiking trails, visit a museum and take in the view at spectacular viewpoints. This national park has a multitude of activities to make it an unforgettable experience.
5. Doi Suthep National Park
16km northwest of Chiang Mai lies Doi Suthep National Park, home to one of the north’s most sacred temples, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. First established in 1383 as a Buddhist Monastery, the temple now sits gloriously at a height over 1,000m above sea level, providing breath-taking panoramic views of Chiang Mai. Aspects of the temple are influenced by both Buddhism and Hinduism, with statues of the Emerald Buddha as well as the Hindu God Ganesha both existing on the site. If you feel fit enough you can venture up the 306 stairs to the temple grounds. If not, there are also tram services which go up to the temple site.
Travel just 4km west of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and there lies the Bhubing Palace which serves as a royal winter residence. This palace is open to the public except when the royal family is present. It is great for bird and butterfly watching and also has another amazing view of Chiang Mai.
For more nature, there are three exquisitely beautiful waterfalls recommended; Huey Kaew, Mon Tha Than and Dtaat Mook. At Huey Kaew Waterfall you can even climb to the top if you are careful enough, and bask in some sunshine.