Reconnecting with nature has never felt more important. We’re wanting fresh air and space – and lots of it! The idea of being closer to nature and at one with the great outdoors is shaping the way we travel.
And while we’ve been away, nature has been thriving! So we can think of no place better to make a beeline for on holiday than the gorgeous national parks of Thailand. These protected spaces represent the most fantastical elements of the natural world. There are caves big enough to house temples, emerald lakes hidden amongst surreal limestone islands, ancient rainforests that shelter elephants, and remote archipelagos that feel like they’ve dropped off the ends of the earth. Make them part of your trip itinerary and you have the makings of the ultimate getaway.
Here are Red Elephant Reps’ top national parks in Thailand that nature lovers and Indiana Jones types will definitely want to explore:
1. Ao Phang Nga National Park
The dramatic karst scenery of Phang Nga Bay famously starred in the film, The Man with the Golden Gun. But this area, not far from Phuket, is so much more than just the ‘James Bond Island’. Over 42 surreal limestone rock formations plunge into emerald waters. Wildlife thrives in the cliffs, caves, mangrove swamps and shimmering lagoons – all of which can be explored by boat and sea kayak, allowing access to an ancient secret world. There is an abundance of reptiles like flying lizards, Bengal monitor lizards and tropical vipers as well as rare birds, macaques, gibbons, fruit bats and fiddler crabs. Visit Koh Panyee, a village built on stilts in the shallow water at the base of an island, home to a community of fishermen.
2. Doi Inthanon National Park
The granite mass of Doi Inthanon, part of the Himalayan mountain range, rises 2,565 metres above sea level and is the highest summit in the country. Located in Chiang Mai province, the ‘Roof of Thailand’ is a paradise for nature lovers with almost 400 species of birds, as well as animals, flowers and fauna. Hiking trails lead to thunderous waterfalls and magnificent temples including two sacred stupas built in honour of the late king and queen’s 60th birthday anniversaries. The misty and refreshingly cool summit affords jaw-dropping views over the surroundings. During late January and early February, the native Siamese Sakura trees show their blossoms, turning the scenery into beautiful shades of pink.
3. Mu Koh Lanta National Park
This marine park consists of 16 islands in the southern part of Krabi province. The mangrove forest on Koh Lanta is a beautiful sea of green trees with roots that wiggle deep beneath the water. It can be explored by pathways or via boat along the small canals that snake through the mangrove. Offshore, Ko Talabeng has dramatic limestone caves that you can explore by sea kayak. Ko Rok Nai is a beautiful small island with a crescent-shaped bay backed by cliffs, fine coral reefs and a sparkling white-sand beach. Koh Haa is popular for snorkelling due to the good visibility and plenty of marine life, including turtles. On very rare occasions, dugongs can can be spotted off the coast of Koh Lanta!
4. Khao Sam Roi Yod National Park
Lace up your hiking boots and capture the beauty of Sam Roi Yod up close. Located about 40 km from Pranburi, Khao Sam Roi Yod National Park, which means ‘Three Hundred Mountain Peaks’, is home to mountain-caves, forested trails, freshwater marshes and hundreds of limestone peaks covered in lush greenery. Many of the cliffs are riddled with stalactite and stalagmite-filled caves. It’s worth the steep, sweaty and arduous climb up to the beautiful Phraya Nakhon Cave. On arrival, you will be greeted by the incredible sight of a shaft of sunlight shining through a hole in the roof of the cave onto an exquisite Thai-style pavilion that was built for King Rama V.
5. Ang Thong National Marine Park
The stunning Ang Thong National Marine Park is an archipelago of over 42 islands located off the east coast of Koh Samui about one hour by speedboat. Here you will find deserted islands, hidden lagoons, rugged limestone rock formations and pristine beaches. There is one nomadic village at Ko Wua Ta Lap and another at Ko Phaluai – the other islands are uninhabited. Visit the beautiful saltwater Emerald Lake, also known as Talay Nai – this incredible inland lake was the inspiration for the book, The Beach. Discover the rich biodiversity of the sea with activities such as snorkelling, swimming, sea kayaking and diving.
6. Khao Yai National Park
Located about two hours drive from Bangkok, Khao Yai is Thailand’s first official national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 2,000 sqm are blessed with a landscape of low steep-sided mountains, tropical rainforest, cascading waterfalls and a rich diversity of plants and animals. Many charismatic species of animals can be found here including gibbons, macaques, barking deer, bears and quite a few reptiles. With a bit of luck, you may even run into elephants! The three-tiered Nam Tok Haew Narok, or Hell Gorge Waterfall, is the highest waterfall. But do check out Haew Suwat Waterfall – Leonardo di Caprio jumped from it in a scene from the Hollywood blockbuster, The Beach.
Author: Deb Davad