Thailand has an extensive National Parks system providing great opportunities for those wishing to hike and observe the diverse flora and fauna of Southeast Asia. Camping facilities are often quite good and most have friendly visitor’s centers and hiking trails. Many resorts have recently been built near some National Parks for those with families or unable to do extensive trekking. Photographic opportunities are endless in and around the parks. There are several national parks near Hua Hin. This page lists a few and will list more further afield as time allows.
On this page:
Kaeng Krachan, Petchburi Province
Khao Sam Roi Yot, Prachuapkirikhan Province
Erawan, Kanchanaburi Province
Chalern Rattanakosin, Kanchanaburi Province
Sai Yok, Kanchanaburi Province
Khao Laem, Kanchanaburi Province
Sri Nakarin, Kanchanaburi Province
Kaeng Krachan National Park,
extending along the Burma border from neighboring Petchburi Province, is Thailand’s largest national park, occupying an area of almost 3,000 km2.
This park has vast tracts of some of the healthiest tropical rainforest in
Thailand that also extend deep into Burma.
The large reservoir behind the Kaeng Krachan Dam has many restaurants and
guesthouses and facilities for boating.
Wildlife abounds in the park, with over 40 mammal species including elephant,
tiger, clouded leopard, Malayan sun bear, Asiatic black bear, barking deer, lesser mouse deer, tapir, the armored Malayan pangolin, and several primates.
Crocodiles, formerly common in Thailand, are said to inhabit remote swamps
in the park and Karen hilltribesmen also claim there are Sumatran rhinoceros
in the mountains along the border with Burma. This later claim is very doubtful.
There have been sightings of over 250 species of birds. These include the great and blue-throated barbets and
black-eared black shrike babbler, the green broadbill and red-billed malkoha, the rachet-tailed treepie, along with serpent eagles, scarlet minivets, kaalej pheasants, grey peacocks and the endangered woolly-necked stork. There are several species of hornbill and there is also an overly friendly Greater Hornbill that lords over customers at the canteen near the park headquarters and visitors center which is about 8 km beyond the dam.
Karen villages are scattered through the park and arrangements may be made
to visit them. Long persecuted as abusers of the park, recent projects (some
sponsored by the Royal Family in this park) have been directed at encouraging
the Karen to act as custodians of the park habitat.
The park is understaffed and anti-poaching activities take up far too much
of the rangers’ time. There are few roads within the park but there are a
few trails. Hiking overnight without a guide is not recommended. Those who
want to trek in the park may hit it lucky and find a guide available but it’s not always
Kaeng Krachan is about 90 km northwest from Hua Hin. Getting there by public
transport is difficult so it’s best to hire a vehicle either in Hua Hin or
Tha Yang, the district town south of Petchburi at the turn-off to the dam
The park extends south along the Thai-Burma border, following the Tanawsri
mountain range, to west of Hua Hin. There are several waterfalls in the park
and the Pa La-u waterfall can be reached directly from Hua Hin.
Khao Sam Roi Yot
Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, about 60 km south of Hua Hin, is a favorite among bird watchers as many migratory fowl break in the fresh water lagoons and mangrove swamps each year (over 300 species can be seen, especially in August and September). The park is one of only two sites in Thailand to support a nesting colony of purple herons and there are also Malaysian plovers, painted storks, pond herons, great and small egrets, stilts, and eagles, including the white-bellied, spotted, and the imperial.
Thailand’s first marine park, Khao Sam Roi Yot offers both quiet, white-sand beaches and towering limestone outcroppings. Wildlife include deer, serow, macaques, dolphins, slow loris, porcupine, mongoose, linsang and langur.
The name Khao Sam Roi Yot officially means Mountain of 300 Peaks though some locals claim that long ago a boat ran aground here and there were 300 fatalities–this version
ties with the legend that long ago the area was populated by pirates and highwaymen who preyed on boats and travelers when not hiding in the many caves. Perhaps there’s still some treasure hidden?
The view from the top of Khao Daeng, near the park headquarters, provides
a beautiful panorama of the park, including glimpses of the agile serow.
The visitor’s center at the headquarters is quite informative and was built with the help of volunteers from Canada and the United States in the 1990’s.
In addition to the beaches and limestone hills there are three caves of note in the park, Tham (cave) Kaew, Tham Sai, and Tham Phraya Nakhon.
Phraya Nakhon is the largest, made up of two caverns and a pavilion built in 1896 for a visit by King Rama V. This pavilion is a spectacular sight when viewed in the early morning when light first breaks through openings in the roof of the cave.
Though the oldest marine park in Thailand, things are not all great at Sam
Roi Yot. As with many of Thailand’s natural treasures, this park has had
many environmental problems during the recent past and the construction of
shrimp ponds on park grounds has severely endangered the habitat of
native and migratory wildlife.
Article on Khao Sam Roi Yot from Bangkok Post, 12 May 1997.
Bungalows and a camp grounds are available or you can pitch your own tent
at either Laem Sala or Sam Phraya beaches. As with all national parks,
reservations for bungalows must be made in advance, at the National Parks
Division of the Forestry Department in Bangkok. Tel: (02) 579-0529.
There are also several hotels and resorts on Phu Noi Beach at Dolphin Bay,
just north of the park. Spending a night or two here will allow you to explore the park at your leisure while also enjoying the beautiful and quiet Phu Noi Beach.
The Erawan waterfall was known long
before the area became a national park in 1975 and this is the most visited national park in Thailand where many Thais like nothing more than visiting a grand waterfall.
Set in the Tenasserim Mountains and bordered by Sai Yok National Park in the west, the Salak Phra Wildlife Sanctuary in the south, the Sri Nakarin National Park and reservoir in the north and the Kwai Yai River in the east, Erawan National Park is about 65 km east of
Kanchanaburi and is 550 km2 in size.
In addition to the 1,500 meter, seven-tiered waterfall (many of the pools are ideal for swimming so, in addition to bringing good hiking shoes, don’t forget your swimsuit), Erawan also has caves, beautiful forests and 80 confirmed bird species. With up to 1,000,000 visitors each year, don’t expect much
wildlife near the falls but the park does have lar gibbon, slow loris, stump-tailed and pig-tailed macaque, and rhesus monkey. The visitor’s center is quite elaborate and there are daily slide shows on Erawan and other national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in Kanchanaburi.
There are bungalows and dormitories available in the park and also many hotels,
resorts, and “raft lodges” on the Kwai river between town and the park.
Ninety-seven kilometers from town, the smallest (59 km2) of the
parks in Kanchanaburi, Chalern Rattanakosin is known locally as Tham Than
Lod after a favorite cave in the park. Bordering on both Sri Nakarin
and Erawan, wildlife roam freely between the three parks. Unique
to Chalern Rattanakosin is the barking tree frog, a rare amphibian with a
croak that sounds much like that of a dog barking.
There are sixty-eight confirmed bird species including uncommon residents
of Thailand like the blue-bearded bee-eater, the white-bellied woodpecker
and the orange-breasted trogon and the paradise fly-catcher.
Unless you’re a real waterfall lover, the Sai Yok Noi falls, about 60km from Kanchanaburi and 30km before the entrance to Sai Yok National Park, won’t really impress, especially if you’ve been to Erawan. Those falls and the Sai Yok Yai falls nearer the park entrance are not all the park has to offer however.
Part of the Tenasserim Range, peaks in Sai Yok rise to over 1,300 meters. Wildlife include slow loris, serow, wild pig, barking deer, Malayan porcupine and white-handed or lar gibbon. Elephant, banteng, sambar, tiger and other large mammals may also be present. Most wildlife can be found in the western part of the park near the Burmese border.
Sai Yok is also the home of one of the world’s smallest mammals, the 2 gram Kitti’s hog-nosed bat which was discovered in 1973 at Tham Khang Khaw (Bat Cave). The colony is small and some have abandoned the caves due to disturbance by tourists so it important to remember to stay at least 10 meters away from the cave mouth when observing their single file exits to forage just after dawn and just before dusk.
There are sixty-seven confirmed bird species at Sai Yok, including the wreathed hornbill, the blue-winged pitta and the limestone wren babbler.
There are many caves within the Sai Yok boundaries, some of which entail both boat rides and hikes to access. The Lawa and Daowadung Caves are the best known.
Many visitors to the park return to Kanchanaburi via one of the many raft tours and raft lodges available near the falls. The 40 km journey can take several days but most rafts complete the trip in two days and one night.
Home of the multi-tiered Huai Kamin Waterfall and the Sri Nakarin reservoir, this park is very difficult to visit, 40 km down a very dilapidated dirt road from Erawan. The park has the Phra Cave with a towering Buddha image. Wildlife in in the Tenasserim Range include leopard, slow loris, civets, squirrels, and bats. Birds include parakeets, kingfishers, barbets, orioles, and bee-eaters. A buffer for Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary to the north but badly degraded by cattle farmers and poachers. Karen villagers also present. Bungalows are available but visitors wishing to stay overnight are expected to provide their own food.
Namtok Huai Yang
And last, Thailand from above: An example of unbridled development.
The red color in this image shows permanent vegetation; the light color shows where less permanent vegetation occurs, such as where forest has been cleared for agriculture.
Notice the well-defined border between Thailand and its neighbors. There’s no telling what a more recent image would show of Laos and Cambodia, now that those governments have sold large concessions to Thai and Japanese
If large-scale cutting continues as it has in the past, the habitat for the species shown on this page could be gone forever.