Thailand is lush. Some of the greenest rainforests, fittest waterfalls, and clearest oceans are waiting for you at Thailand’s national parks. Bursting at the seams with wildlife, these green spaces definitely add to Thailand’s attractiveness as a travel destination.
As fun as lounging on a beach sipping a Singha is (which, admittedly, is fun), you might regret not making the time to see a few of these majestic places. So grab your bug spray, pack some clothes that you can make a little messy, and get yourself out into the wild.
What is a National Park
A national park is an area protected by the government due to its natural significance or beauty. This broad definition encompasses geological formations, native plant species, and wildlife. Protection stops the land from being put to commercial use and preserves the area in its undisturbed natural state.
The National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation Department has done a fantastic job of taking care of Thailand’s natural resources, designating almost 31% of the country’s landmass as protected areas. In addition to 156 national parks, there are 67 non-hunting areas, 120 forest parks, and 58 wildlife sanctuaries, all of which enjoy a variety of protection statuses.
The parks offer differing but reliably incredible attractions, and although you won’t have time to see them all (156, don’t try it), you can never see too many! Whether you’re backpacking Thailand, staying long term, or just there for a couple of weeks’ holiday, these national parks should definitely have a space in your plans.
National Parks in Thailand
There truly is a national park out there for everyone, and Thailand has some of the best around. Thai living costs are sufficiently low that the parks are very affordable for westerners, and with hundreds of parks to explore, Thailand will not disappoint. Here are some of the most breathtaking.
1. Khao Yai National Park
- Size: 2,166 km
- Location: Nakhon Ratchasima,
If you made a list of the best national parks in Thailand and left off Khao Yi, I wouldn’t trust it. Established in 1962 as the country’s first national park, It’s easy to see why they started off with this one. Still currently the third largest park in Thailand, the landscape is fantastic and it is one of the best places in the country to see Thai wildlife.
There are 320 types of birds and 66 species of animals that roam the forests of the park. The Asian black bear, the endangered Indian Bison, and the elusive tiger can all be seen on safari. The real attraction, however, is the park’s elephants. This is one of the last places in Thailand where wild elephants roam free.
The park includes the Sankamphaeng Mountain Range, and there are hiking trails that are great for a climb. Waterfalls scatter the forest area and are the perfect places for bagging some incredible photos.
Due to some tourists trashing the area, the park has started mailing garbage back to litterers’ homes. Make sure you pick up after yourself!
Where to stay – MUTHI MAYA Forest Pool Villa Resort
The village of Mu Si is the closest to the park, and if you want to get that “one with nature” vibe, Muthi Maya is your best bet. Sporting incredible views of the surrounding forest, this hotel is a true oasis.
2. Ao Phang Nga National Park
- Size: 400 km
- Location: Phang Nga
If you know the name of any island in Thailand, it is most likely James Bond island. What you probably didn’t know is that this impressive island is just one of 42 such karst islands scattered around Ao Phang Nga national park. Made famous as a filming location for the James Bond movie, “The Man with the Golden Gun”, it is one of the most visited and photographed sites in all of Thailand’s national parks.
In addition to awesome Islands and sheer rock cliffs, this maritime park also boasts a multitude of sea-level caves. With the still waters in the bay, exploring these caverns via canoe and kayak is an insanely instagrammable way to spend the day. And don’t forget to brush up on your snorkelling, ‘cos it’s great for that too.
Last but certainly not least, Ao Phang Nga is the location of the largest and best-preserved mangroves in the country. These are not only a joy to see close up, but also play host to an array of fascinating wildlife, including several endangered species.
Where to stay – Jamesbond Bungalow Koh Panyee
Located on the floating village of Koh Panyee within the park itself, you can’t get a better experience anywhere other than here. The hosts are super helpful with booking tours and excursions, and staying a few nights is a great way to have a look at local life on the island.
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3. Namtok Phlio National Park
Yes, the two parks above are nice, however, they can get pretty crowded with international tourists. If you’re into the local experience, head over to Namtok Philio park, a firm favourite among Thai nationals.
With plenty of pools and iconic waterfalls to cool off in, swimming in the park’s translucent waters is definitely the highlight of this Thai national park. There are even fish swimming alongside you in the pools in case you’re feeling lonely.
Aside from the nutty water features, ancient religious structures (such as stupas and chedis), are common in the park, helping to heighten the peaceful energy of this place. If you find yourself in Chanthaburi, this should be near the top of your to-do list.
Where to stay – One Chan Farmstay
This farm stay is a fantastic base from which to explore the park. Comfortable, clean, close to nature, and located right next to the entrance of the park. Combine that with a unique stylish wooden aesthetic and you’ve got yourself a winner.
4. Pha Taem National Park
This park has a little something extra. It’s full of wildlife, like other parks, and yes, it is unbelievably green and beautiful, like other parks, but this one also has a history. And an impressive sheer cliff that you have to try not to fall off.
Home to over 300 hundred cave drawings, 3,000-4,000 years old, these aren’t just a couple of doodles. This is a collection of intricate geometric designs, animal drawings, and scenes from everyday life. The largest section comes in at a whopping 180 meters long. It is a time capsule that has been preserved by the jungle and is a fascinating look back at our ancestors.
Spending a day in maybe the most interesting national park in Thailand would be a day well spent.
Where to Stay – Khong Chiam Orchid Riverside Resort
The closest location to the park, this resort features similar views of the Mekong that you get inside, making you feel like you never left! Equipped with a pool, fantastic restaurants, and spacious rooms, don’t be surprised if you have to extend your stay (it happens).
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5. Erawan National Park
There are many waterfalls in Thailand, but one of the best-looking and most unique is located in Erawan national park. This seven-tiered fall is aptly nicknamed ‘the elephant falls’ because the rocks look like (you guessed it) an elephant!
While that fact is cool in itself, the seven tiers create different swimming pools, with various heights, depths, and views. If one is too crowded, just pop down to the next one! The area houses four caves, as well as walking trails through the forest.
Another selling point is that it is super accessible. A lot of these parks which are further out require some degree of planning to get to. However, Erawan is connected to Kanchanaburi via public bus and is only an hour and a half away.
Where to stay – Shanti Organic farm Bungalow
Stay in the park in this organic farm stay. Made with recycled and renewable products, sleep tight in these comfortable bungalows. The owners (interestingly) can also arrange to bring you to local events such as temple fairs and weddings, giving you a fully immersive experience during your stay. This farm is part of a multitude of eco-resorts that exist in Thailand.
6. Kui Buri National Park
Elephants are a popular choice for a person’s favourite animal. I should know because they are mine too! However, it is hard to get close to them in an ethical way. Either you are supporting activities that harm them, such as elephant shows and rides, or you are betting on a wild encounter. And even if you do manage to sight them, the chances of getting near them are slim.
Don’t fear, Kui Buri has got you covered! You can join 4×4 tours that bring you up close and personal to these majestic beasts in a way that doesn’t negatively affect their way of life. This spectacular Thai national park has installed viewing platforms near several watering holes, allowing you to see them from afar too.
Another feature of the park is a small manmade forest containing 200,000 sandalwood trees. This is the only place that is allowed to supply wood for the coffins of the royal family, making this a natural relic of sovereign importance.
Where to stay – PierView Rooms
With no accommodation available in the park, the easiest way to ‘do’ the park is a day trip from Hua Hin. Pierview Rooms is located downtown, near the tour offices, as well as near the beach. Clean and spacious, this place is a no-brainer.
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7. Khao Sok National Park
With so many activities available in one place, and such picturesque views, it is no wonder that Khao Sok national park is so popular with visitors, both foreign and local.
The most popular activity is a boat tour of Cheow Lan Lake. Getting there is half of the fun, as you will glide through the remnants of the oldest rainforest in the entire world. Once you arrive, you will be greeted by the lake itself, with several caves to explore and an impressive waterfall.
If you don’t need to see everything, or just want to take it easy, they also have canoeing and bamboo rafting along several rivers.
The more active among us can hire a guide to battle hidden trekking trails. The rainforest is located in the wettest part of Thailand, so it is better to go in the dry season when the trails are less slick. Around 5% of animal species in the entire world call this their home.
Where to stay – Khao Sok River & Jungle Resort
One of the few national parks in Thailand that allows visitors to stay, take full advantage at the Khao Sok River & Jungle Resort. With comfortable beds and all the basic amenities, every room looks out into the garden with jungle views. Even when you go to bed it’s like you’re in the rainforest, with some fantastic sounds!
8. Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park
You know how computers come with screensavers of beautiful islands, turquoise waters and impossibly white beaches? Some of them were taken here. Yah, it’s pretty special.
Forty-two islands dot Mu Ko Ang Thong and each one is more scenic than the last (if you do them in the right order). The beaches are fantastic, but the real treasure is in the water. Here, some of the best diving, boating and snorkelling in Thailand take place. Diving is suitable for all levels but is a great place for beginners to get wet, as the average water depth is only about 10 meters. This coast also lends itself to some awesome snorkelling spots.
Kayaking and canoeing are really popular here and are great ideas. To see it all though, hire a boat. The area is quite large so it is really the only way. It also allows you to stop and jump in the water whenever you want (and that is a huge plus)!
Where to stay – Bungalows
There are six clusters of Bungalows located on the various islands of the park, however, the only way to book is via the government website linked above. These are definitely not resorts, as there is no hot water and the generator shuts off at night, but that is what is so magical about the place- being out in nature with no distractions.
9. Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park
The oldest maritime national park in Thailand, the crown jewel of Khao Sam Roi Yot is not, in fact, a water feature, but a cave. The structure of Phraya Nakhon Cave is very similar to the cenotes in Mexico, with a hole cut out of the top instead of the side. However, unlike those, this cave is not filled with water, but rather a pavilion.
Built in 1890 for the king’s arrival, the cave structure is iconic. At certain times of the day, when the light hits just right through the roof opening, it is absolutely breathtaking. There is a stone bridge that traverses the top gap named the ‘death bridge’. I imagine your travel insurance won’t cover it.
This park is also a hotbed for birdwatching, with over 300 species of birds being sighted in the area.
Where to stay – Numpu Baandin
One of the closest properties to the park, this is a great place to base yourself while visiting. It is a tranquil spot, with each room having a patio that overlooks the nearby lake. Cycle, motorbike and car hire are all available, making your trip to Khao Sam Roi Yot as simple as can be.
Thailand is called the “land of smiles” but it could easily be called the “land of lush forests” or the “land of natural wonders”. Whether you are a sun tanner, an amateur Jane Goodall, or a dive addict, Thailand’s national parks have you covered.
If I could only visit one, it would probably be Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park. It does not disappoint!
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