A Solo Adventure: Chasing Waterfalls and Wildlife at Khao Yai
This past weekend was my first long weekend off from school since Tuesday, December 5th was the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s birthday and Father's Day. Our school gave us both Monday and Tuesday off for this national holiday. Many fellow Americans at my school planned on going to Chiang Mai, the unofficial capital of the north in Thailand, Khon Kaen, and Phuket. So many of these destinations sounded intriguing and are on my list of places to see, but I decided that what I most desperately craved to see was nature.
The city I live in, Pattaya, is full of things to do and see. It is a major tourist city due to its beaches and proximity to Bangkok. After spending the past month here, I wanted to move away from the urban area and spend some time on my own to process my thoughts about this big move to Thailand and appreciate the beautiful greenery around the country. The answer became clear: I needed to go to a national park. Hence, I booked my Airbnb for Khao Yai National Park, the first National Park in Thailand, located just about 2-3 hours north-east of Bangkok. This trip was important and meaningful to me since it was my first time traveling solo in Thailand, and therefore, is something I wanted to share with others.
Destination: Khao Yai National Park (KYNP)
Dates: December 1st-5th 2023 (4 days, 4 nights)
Travel Companions: Solo Travel
Price Range: $$$
Friday, December 1st: Travel Day
Leaving Pattaya: Since I worked on Friday, I came home after school and showered, ate an early dinner, and got ready to head out. I grabbed the last bus from Pattaya to the Mo Chit station in Bangkok, which left at 6 pm and lasted about two hours.
Arriving in Bangkok: Once I arrived, I called a Bolt to my highly recommended accommodation, the Yoo Yen Pen Sook Hostel. It is about a 10-minute ride to the Mo Chit bus station, making it a convenient area to stay in since I had to be back the next day to catch my bus to Pak Chong, the big city closest to the national park. The hostel was clean, the beds spacious and comfortable, and all for a great price of 470 baht or $13.40. The hostel even had a women’s only floor with a keycard-locked room which made me feel safer as a solo female traveler.My breakfast of Jok/ Thai Congee. Jok is a rice porridge that is made from rice cooked in a lot of water until it breaks down to the consistency that is thick and creamy. Alone Jok is not all that exciting, so you add red pepper, green onions, soy sauce, ginger, eggs, and sugar to taste.
Saturday, December 2nd: Bangkok and Travel to KYNP
Morning in Bangkok: When I woke up, I grabbed Jok for breakfast at a stand about a five-minute walk from my hostel. After this, I headed north to the Chatuchak Weekend Market, the biggest one in Thailand with over 15,000 stalls. I bought myself a skirt and some butterfly pea tea, items I have wanted in markets in Thailand but never bought in hopes of pacing my spending. I spent about an hour and a half roaming in the market and began coming up with a list of the souvenirs I wanted to bring home for my family. After this, I went to rest in the hostel for about 40 minutes, then packed my bags and headed out for my commute to the bus station.
Butterfly Garden and Commute to the Bus Station: Before heading to the bus station, I wanted to explore Chatuchak Park where I found the Bangkok Butterfly Garden and Insectarium. Admission was free, though all the signs in the museum portion were all written in Thai. The greenhouse was beautiful, and I spent probably about thirty minutes wandering around the moderately sized area searching for the butterflies. It made me feel like a kid again and brought me so much joy to chase after them to see their wings when they landed. After I left, I headed to the bus station, grabbed lunch at the cafeteria, and got on the 1:30 pm bus to Pak Chong.
Arrival into Pak Chong: When I arrived at Pak Chong, the bus dropped me off at the side of the road an hour and a half walk from the city center. Since Bolt and Grab do not work in this area, I called a taxi and paid the Foreigner tax of about 500 baht, about four times the cost of a normal taxi. Once I arrived, I rented a motorbike, grabbed dinner at the market, and headed to my accommodation for the night!A picture of a mama gibbon I saw in the wild with her baby. This photo was taken on Monday while on the 6 hour hike to Haew Suwat Waterfall.
Sunday, December 3rd: Day 1 at National Park
Morning ride through the park: I arrived at the national park close to 9 am. My goal was to go first to the visitors center to get more information about the different trails at the park. I stopped multiple times from when I entered the park to when I arrived at the visitors center (they are 25 minutes apart) to admire the viewpoints and monkeys around the park.
Nong Pak Chi Wildlife Watching Tower: This was the first hike I did which was an easy 15-20 minute walk to the tower. The scenery on the walk was nice and the watchtower looked out onto a small lake. An enjoyable walk, though nothing spectacular.
Hike from Pha Kluaymai Campground to Haew Suwat Waterfall: This hike consisted of two waterfalls: Pha Kluay Mai Waterfall and Haew Suwat Waterfall. This trail took me about two and a half hours, including the thirty-minute break I took at the first waterfall where I ate a snack and journaled. I enjoyed seeing the first waterfall the most, mainly because the only way to access it was by hiking. This meant it was not overly crowded, whereas the second waterfall was very touristy and crowded since it is easily accessible via car/ motorbike and a 5-10 minute walk down to the fall. Another major highlight of this trail, beyond the waterfall and the rainforest scenery, was that it was full of a large variety of butterflies I saw on the path. It added an unexpected layer of magic and beauty to the hike.The view from the scenic spot that is unnamed. I drove my motorbike off the road and parked it in a clearing. There was a cement area you can sit at (it is like they are asking you to stop there) to overlook the scenic view.
Pha Diao Dai Cliff, Pha Trom Jai Cliff, and an unnamed scenic spot: These locations were my last stops of the day, and were conveniently only about a 3-minute drive from one another. Pha Diao Dai requires a bit of hiking but has a better view than Pha Trom Jai Cliff. The hike is manageable for all ages, as you walk on wooden platforms down and up rather than the ground. It takes less than 10 minutes to go down and the view is stunning. However, my favorite spot was this unnamed area on the way up to the Pha Diao Dai Cliff. There was a sign that specifically stated there was no parking. Nonetheless, I pulled over and highly recommend people to do the same (if you go by motorbike) since the views were incredible. It is not labeled on the map but is approximately a five-minute drive from the first cliff if you come from the north.
Monday, December 4th: Day 2 at National Park
Hike from Visitor Center to Haew Suwat Waterfall: I came prepared on day 2 for a long day of hiking. I had set my eyes on doing the longest hike the park offered. The total distance is about 8 km and takes an average of six hours to complete. One reason for my intrigue in this hike was the potential for seeing wildlife since the route is part of a foraging trail for wild elephants. Along the route, we observed gibbons numerous times and even saw them jump from tree to tree with their little ones hanging onto their mother. Another motivating factor for doing this hike is the variety in the greenery with rain forests, dry forests, and even bamboo groves. Though it was expensive to have a tour guide (1,000 baht), I was thankful to see so much of the national park and get familiar with the creatures that live there and see the depths of it. My tour guide even took us to a bonus hidden waterfall that I can’t find on any map from the park. To be fair, the path down to this first waterfall was very steep and difficult to get to, but once I arrived my jaw dropped to see how isolated and gorgeous the waterfall was.The secret waterfall my tour guide took me to. We reached this waterfall about 5 hours into our hike in the middle of the bamboo grove. We broke for lunch/ a snack here and remained here about 15 minutes taking it in.
Tuesday, December 5th: Return Home
Return to Bangkok and Pattaya: I got a van for my trips back and found it convenient and easy to use. I just looked up where the Pak Chong Bus station was and asked Thai people for guidance once I was nearby. I left Pak Chong at around 11 and finally ended up in Pattaya around 4 pm.
Advice/ Tips for planning:
- Pack electrolytes. Since I did two full days in the national park, it was imperative to replenish my body and protect myself from any dehydration.
- Stay at the camping grounds in the National Park and rent a tent, sleeping bag, and pillow. They also have cabins, though the cheapest cabin is 2,400 baht a night whereas camping costs about 200-250 baht per night. Staying overnight can keep you from paying another entrance fee into the park for day two. Just reserve these areas in advance!
- When you do hikes at the national park, expect to call a taxi back to your car after the hike, walk back, or hitchhike. Of the seven hikes the park has, only one has the same starting and ending point.
- Bolt and Grab do not work in this area, so it is important to get the information of a taxi company. The number my Airbnb host gave me is +66 623853138
- Go early in the morning. The park opens at 6 am and when I arrived at about 8 am I got to feel the crisp morning air and the low fog in the park which was so beautiful.
- Do the guided tours. Though they are expensive, my guided tour allowed me to feel very comfortable while exploring the park and going into areas that only a few people can see. Of the seven trails at the park, four have to be as a guided tour. For more information on the types of hikes there are, check out the Khao Yai website. My opinion is that it is worth it.