Khao Ya
Three hours outside of Bangkok, Khao Yai is Thailand’s third largest national park

Last weekend, two friends and I ventured out of northern Thailand to take on Bangkok and its surrounding areas.  Wanting to get out of cities for a bit, we hopped on a bus from Bangkok to Khao Yai National Park, “up there on the podium with some of the world’s greatest parks” according to Lonely Planet.  Stunning scenery, wildlife, and great hiking were just a few of the highlights of our trip.

When given the option of a full day or half day tour, two of use opted for the whole day, wanting to see as much of the park as possible.  We headed out with a guide at 8AM and within the first fifteen minutes of being in the park, we heard a group of gibbons screaming and saw a great hornbill in a tree.  According to our guide, gibbons are tailless monkeys that spend most of their time in trees and walk on two legs rather than four.  Great hornbills are giant birds that look like toucans, but are actually a nonrelated species.

It’s easy to understand why we thought it was a toucan. Thailand is home to four species of hornbills.

After taking a few more sightseeing stops, we began our long awaited trek through the jungle.  Despite the fact that it was only three kilometers, it took a few hours to complete the trail.  Along the way, we stopped to look at interesting trees, insects, and animals.  We again saw monkeys in trees, but they unfortunately moved too fast for photographs.

trees Kao Yai
The trees were all incredibly tall, shielding much of the forest floor from sunlight.

On our way to the waterfall, we saw a group of wild elephants playing in some dirt, presumably to protect themselves from the sun.  A few times, people got too close and were charged at by the biggest of the group, but luckily no one was hurt.

wild elephant Kao Yai
A few went and hid in the forest while others stayed out and continued to cover themselves in dirt.

Though the waterfall was filled with other tourists, it was a nice place to sit for a bit and relax.  The chaos of traveling from Chiang Mai, being in Bangkok, and getting to the park definitely made the few minutes of observing the beauty of nature appreciated.  After being in Chiang Mai for around a month, I had almost forgotten how amazing Thailand outside of cities could be.

Though much of the Thai population lives in rural areas or villages, visitors only tend to see the cities and a few other destinations meant for tourists. Having the opportunity to see the countryside and a real jungle was one of the highlights of my time here so far.  For anyone interested in studying in Thailand or anywhere in Southeast Asia, taking some time to see nature far away from the cities should be a priority.

waterfall Kao Yai
There was an unexpected number of other visitors at this particular site, but the sound of the waterfall made it peaceful nonetheless.

Our tour ended on an especially high note, as we just happened to drive past a mother elephant and her adolescent child playing in a salt lick.  The sun was setting and the temperature was getting cooler, making this the end to a perfect day of exploring Thailand’s wild side.

Elephants in Thailand

Chad Stein  is a student at the University of Pittsburgh and a TEAN Featured Blogger. Chad is currently studying abroad with TEAN on the Thailand/Vietnam semester program.