Khao Yai National Park
National Parks of Thailand; Thailand National parks; Khao Yai national Park; Khao Yai; Waterfalls of Thailand’s national Parks; Waterfalls of Khao Yai national Park; Khao Yai Waterfalls; Waterfalls in the raining season; Trekking in the National parks of Thailand; Trekking in Khao yai national Park; Khao Yai Trekking; Khao yai Jungle Trekking; Jungle trekking khao Yai National Park; Jungle Trekking Khao Yai; Trekking Khao Yai; Jungle trekking Thailand; Jungle and waterfall tours in Thailand; Jungle and waterfall tours in Thailand’s national parks;Waterfalls of Thailand; Trekking in Thailand;Jungles of Thailand; Trekking; Jungles; Waterfalls.
Procrastination is the stumbling block of an indecisive mind. Ideas not followed through on, plans postponed, or not completed, and opportunities missed due to poor option taking – or lack of option taking – are situations that most of us encounter in our lives at some point or another; even more so if one becomes bogged down in the daily grind of city living.
I’d been considering a trip up to kao yai, in the wet season, for quite a while. I’ve always maintained that if one is to go and have a look at some waterfalls then the only time to do it is when the rivers are in full flow; at the peak of the rainy season. After all, isn’t that when the unbridled, raw power of nature is at it ‘s best? The sedate spills, trickling over the rock ledges during the dry season, seem rather lame in comparison. I was in Bangkok in September and the rain was bucketing down on a daily basis. I knew the rivers would be at their peaks and that any cascading falls, in the mountainous regions to the North, would be in full flow. I had no reason not to pack my bags, grab my camera and head to the hills except I kept finding barely plausible reasons not to; I had personal admin to attend to; I needed to meet with a friend for dinner; I had a date with a hot little number; and so on and so forth.
I eventually ran out of excuses and with the mundacity of urban living beginning to close in on me again; finally nailed down a day that I was going to head for the wide open spaces. With the weekend, and the rugby, out of the way Monday morning dawned overcast, and wet, as I grabbed my kit and headed down to Golden Car Rentals at Victory Monument. Another mate, and long term expat resident of the City of Angels, had given me the heads up on the their inexpensive car rental rates. A small, four door saloon will only set you back 1200 Baht per day and the rate includes full insurance. Their yard, and office, has no English language signage visible but they’re located on Din Daeng Road directly opposite the New Century Park Hotel. After presenting my passport; my freshly minted Thai drivers license, and the rental fee, the obligatory paperwork was filled in and I was on my way up the Don Muang Tollway by 10.00 am. To ensure a relatively smooth run up to kao Yai I’d printed out a whole bunch of google maps but the fact is I needn’t have; the directional signage all the way to my eventual destination was more than adequate in ensuring one doesn’t lose their way. I’d pre-booked acommodation, for two nights, at the Kirimaya Spa and Golf resort: http://www.kirimaya.com/resort/index.html
The rates were a tad expensive, for this time of year, but the standard of the facilities was top notch and well worth the advertised daily rates. After a relatively sedate three hour drive I was pulling into the parking area in front of the hotels’ lobby. An hour later I was back on the road and heading for the entrance to Kao Yai National Park. The Park has one road in and out and and spans mountainous, jungle clad terrain nestled between Pak Chong and Prachin Buri. I was entering through the gate on the Pak Chong side. The checkpoint has a fee booth and as I pulled up alongside the entrance rates were clearly advertised; vehicles 50 baht, Thai Nationals 40 Baht and foriegners 400 Baht. Yep, that’s right, the Thai rate is one tenth of the entry fee for foriegners. I thought that was a bit on the nose but, after handing over my newly aquired Thai driving license for inspection, received a rather pleasing response.
“Gow sip Baht, ka,” said the lovely smiling booth attendant.
I handed over the fee, got my tickets and, as I motored into the park, couldn’t help thinking that the three hour ordeal I’d gone through a week earlier at the Drivers Licensing Registry to renew my Thai license had, in the end, been well worth the patience test involved. I’d was also given a coloured booklet with information about the attractions in the park. Most of it was in Thai but a small section, towards the rear, was in English. I pulled over on a wayside and took a few minutes to read through it. As I realistically only had enough time to visit one site, in the remainder of the day available, I wanted to make sure it was going to worth the drive to get there. Soon enough I had my intended target; Haew Narok waterfall. At just on 53 clicks from the entrance gate, it was listed as one of the biggest waterfalls in the Park. The fact was it was actually closer to the Prachin Buri side entrance gate than the Pak Chong side. Not to be deterred I put the car into gear and settled in for the one hour drive through the winding, jungle clad mountainous road.
The twisting road winds up to an elevated plateau and 17 kilometers from the park entrance stands an HQ complex which includes lodge style accomodation, restaurants and a visitors center. With the limited amount of daylight available to me I pushed on to Haew Narok; I’d stop by the HQ complex the following day. Just on an hour after paying my entry fee I was pulling into the carpark of Haew Narok waterfall. The site is well set up for visitors and includes a restaurant, toilet facilities, and an information kiosk. There is no fee required to go down to the waterfall and the direction is clearly marked by signage. I grabbed my ruck sack and camera and walked over to the park ranger sitting at the information kiosk. There was a sign saying something about all visitors to be back in the carpark by 5 pm due to the presence of wild animals in the area between 5 – 6 pm. I glanced at my watch and noted that it was just on 3.30 pm; I still had an hour and a half to get down to the waterfall and back. The park staff, sat at the kiosk, pointed towards the start of the trail.
“Mai glai, neung kilo,” she said with a relaxed smile.
As I began working my way down the trail it became quite apparent the site was very well set up for visitors. Sometimes the trails, at some of the national park sites in Thailand, are barely visible but at Haew Narok this was not the case. The infrastructure was highly impressive. With a one meter wide concrete footpath to follow, and properly constructed bridges over the streams and rivers, the going was very easy for visitors. At what I estimated was approximately the mid-point, of the trail down to the waterfall, was a properly constructed foot bridge spanning the wide exspanse of a swollen, muddy river. I stopped in the middle and banged off a couple of shots. The heavy monsoonal rains had the brown tinged river in full flow and, no doubt, the waterfall was probably going to be quite a spectacular sight. At the 400 meter marker peg I caught the first sounds of a rumble in the distance. At the 200 hundred meter marker peg that distant rumble had developed into a full blown roar.
The final stretch of the track is a steep climb down a well constructed stairway. The 210 steps, to the the viewing platform, zig zag down the near verticle hillside. There are safety rails and landings in place to make the descent a relatively safe exercise. At the top of the stairway there was no mistaking the over powering roar of the waterfall below. Sometimes we travel to places to see and experience things which, quite often, underwhelm our expectations. As I got ever closer to the maelstrom of water pouring over the rock ledge I could see that my expectations were about to be well exceeded. By the time I reached the bottom of the stairway the volume of water coming over the falls was quite an incredible sight; it was nature in it’s raw, full fury. The contant spray, and draft, coming off the massive flow as it plunged into the pool below was creating a misty rain which hung in the air and dripped off the trees above; getting some in focus shots was not going to be an easy assignment. Luckily I had a hand towel with me so I was able to cover the camera and keep it dry while I selected the settings I wanted for each shot. I’d then whip the towel away and, with the fine mist settling on the lens filter almost immediately, bang off a shot as fast as I could before getting the camera back under the towel again.
A Thai photographer, also there, noted my ingenuity and set about doing the same thing with his shirt. After getting about twenty shots I decided the camera had probably seen enough moisture for the afternoon. I packed it into my ruck sack and then just hung out on the upper viewing platform enjoying the spectacular sight before me as thousands of liters of water, per second, poured over the ledge. With the clothing fully soaked and, hopefully, some good shots bagged I made my way back up the stairway. A few minutes before 5 pm I was back out in the carpark and breathed a sigh of relief that I’d avoided the wild animals. I glanced at the sign and, with a bit of a cynical snigger, wondered how the animals would know the difference between 4.55 and 5 pm? To cap off a great start to my trip to Khao Yai, the the sun broke through the overcast skies and provided some nice late afternoon lighting for the wild elephant I came across, feeding at the roadside, during the drive back. I spent fifteen to twenty minutes watching it eat it’s way along the roadside while slowly moving in, to a reasonable position, to get some shots.
Unfortunately I didn’t have a telephoto lens with me and, as I tried to get closer, it must’ve sensed my presence as it kept moving and keeping a safe distance between us. With the sun heading towards the horizon I decided to call it quits. The early start I’d had, combined with the the long drive and the physical activity in the afternoon, had me feeling quite hungry. I knew the restaurant prices, back at the hotel, would be a bit over the top – they always are – so I decided to drive back down the main road towards Pak Chong to see what was on offer food wise. Approximately five kilometers beyond the entry/exit gate, into the Park, I got a nice surprise; there was a Thai open air market in full swing in the fading light of the day. I parked up, got the camera out, and embarked on a sedate amble through the hawkers stalls to get some shots and also see if I could find some tasty snacks. As with all Thai outdoor markets there was plenty of colour and activity on display as the locals went about selling their produce in the cool of the early evening. There was all sorts of interesting fare on offer but I eventually settled on something I’ve developed a bit of a taste for; steamed sweet potato with coconut milk. It was a great way to end my first day at Khao Yai National Park.
After a solid nights sleep I rose early in anticipation of a full day ahead of me back in the park. I’d spent a bit more time reading through the info brochure again and put together a schedule which would see me first drop into the park HQ and then visit two waterfalls before finishing the day off with a drive up to one of the park view points. Even though the hotel rates were a bit on the pricey side I had to admit the rooms were very well appointed. The view from the patio, even though the mist was hanging low on the peaks, was quite serene as I looked out over the pool and golf links beyond. I’m not much of a golfer but I would imagine that for those that were keen on the game, the kirimaya was probably a great place to visit for a long weekend away from Bangkok. The bathroom also had an impressive size tub to help sooth away the aches and pains of a full days physical activity. As I got myself ready to head out into the day I looked at the large red smear on the bed spread. Unfortunately I hadn’t noticed the Leech I’d picked up during the trek to Haew Narok waterfall. Even though the pathways were were well constructed all the way down to the falls, and one didn’t need to go scrambling through the bush, the fact that it was the peak of the wet season meant that Leeches would be out in force. I’d been wearing high cut boots, long socks and full length cargo’s but one of the blood sucking little critters had still managed attach itself to the back of my calf. It must’ve been there for a couple of hours and really got it’s fill before being exploded all over the white bedspread when I’d flopped out for a cat nap after getting back from the afternoons outing. It was a bit of a mess to say the least. The mist was still hanging low over the nearby hills as I made my way over to the restaurant for breakfast. Towards the North, my intended destination for the day, it was looking ominously dark and, no doubt, it would be bucketing down on the peaks. As a side note, for anyone considering staying at the Kirimaya, the buffet breakfast is included in the room rate but is put on at the club house; a 200 meter walk from the accomodation. At just before 0800 am the clubhouse was still fairly quiet save for the odd group of hiso type Thais getting stuck into their eggs and toast. I piled my plate high with the buffet offerings; washed it down with a lukewarm coffee and was soon on my way to the park entrance again.
The kirimaya Resort is approximately seven kilometers down a side road just a couple of hundred meters to the right of the park entry point. By the time I reached the turn off the rain was absolutely torrential and mused that the day ahead should be interesting. Luckily I’d bought a my North Face gortex parker with me so the treks through the jungle would be wet but doable. Thankfully the fee booth sits under a wide roof so one is able to avoid getting soaked when paying for entry. I powered the window down to be greeted by a smiling, efficient looking male park employee.
“See roy ha sip baht krap.”
I still had my previous days tickets and, as I handed them over to him to inspect, looked back with a smarmy grin.
“Hmmm, Thai driving license mee mai?” he said, handing back my tickets.
“Chai krap,” I said as I held it up for him to see.
“Gow sip baht krap,” he replied, seemingly satisfied with my commitment to becoming Thai.
With the entry fee for the day sorted I powered off up the road into the still heavy rainfall. My first destination was the park HQ; approximately 17 clicks from the gate. Getting there involved a drive up through a twisting, turning mountainous road and, with the weather conditions being the way they were, I decided to forget that I was some kind of hotshot rally driver and just take it easy. Roughly five kilometers in the rain eased up and by the time I got up onto the elevated plateau it was non-existant and proved that there were, perhaps, micro climates – caused by the elevation differentials – within the park. In fact, as I traversed the flat expanse of the plateau area the bright sunshine, beaming down from the partly cloudy skies above, had me thinking that it was going to be a trekking friendly day after all. My optimism was short lived; as I began the ascent into the last couple of kilometers of peaks before the park HQ, the weather had closed in and light rain was beginning to fall again. Aproximately thirty minutes after paying my entry fee I was pulling into the visitors center carpark. Light rain was still falling as I climbed out of the car and took a moment to get my bearings. If you are coming from the Pak Chong side, as I did, then the visitors center, park HQ building and some eco style accomodation is on the left hand side of the road.
All in all the HQ area is very well set up and I could see that, during the dry season, the place would be crawling with visitors. The visitors center has plenty of info about the park, the waterfalls, and the type of wildlife one can expect to see during a hike through the jungle. There’s even a 3D relief map showing the elevations, trails, rivers and roadways. Unfortunately it’s all in Thai so it’s meaningless to the average foriegn visitor. In one corner of the building I spotted something that looked interesting; a skeleton of what appeared to be a buffalo. A closer inspection revealed that it was what was known as a Gaur. According to wkipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaur there were less than 1000 beasts estimated to be alive in Thailand just twenty years ago. If they do eventually become extinct I would bet it would be simply because they were eaten out of existence.
I wanted to push on to my next location, Haew Suwat Waterfall, but just as I was about to head out to the carpark the heavens opened up. It was time for a coffee and the ideal spot was the little open air cafe at the rear of the visitors center. I ordered an expresso and sat there under the dry comfort of the roof above looking out across the small river to dense jungle beyond. Every now and again I heard a hoot, or a screech, and wondered if it was one of the Hornbills which, according to the visitors center advertising, are quite populas in the general vicinity of Khao Yai. A few minutes later the rain had eased up and I was on my to Haew Suwat waterfall; a short 12 klm drive further up the road from the park HQ. The waterfall site is well set up with toilet facilities, restaurants and an information center bordering a sizeable, sealed parking area and I arrived there just in time for the next downpour. With the rain looking as though it was setting in for a while I decided to chill out in one of the restaurants and ordered a kao pad gai. The two young ladies manning the restaurant had their faces stuck in a lap top and, sure enough, they were absorbed with facebook. The wonders of the modern age; even out in the middle of nowhere they had a wifi link. My fried rice was plonked down in front of me just as a bunch of young Thai’s, thoroughly drenched, came dashing in out of the downpour. They’d come running across the carpark and from the general direction from which they’d come I surmised that they just been to have a look at the waterfall.
One of the things I’d noticed about the the locals is that they all seemed fairly blase about their attire, or lack of it, for the terrain and the conditions they were moving about in. The fact was it was the wet season and leeches were thick on the ground. I looked at ther exposed legs, and flip flop shod feet, and thought that maybe they were confident in the idea that leeches didn’t like Thai blood; too much chilli perhaps?
With the kao pad gai polished off, and the rain easing up, I made my way across the carpark to the directional signage for the Haew Suwat Waterfall. There was a short flight of stairs leading down to a viewing point at the top of the waterfall. As if on cue the sun came out and I got the camera to work as I inched my way right onto the very edge of the falls precipice. With the volume of water plunging over to the depths below it was certainly an impressive sight but I knew that there would almost certainly be a stairway down to the bottom to enable visitors to get an even more impressive view of the falls. After banging off a few more shots I made my way back up to the road, following more directional signage, to another trail a short distance away.
A cement footpath angled gradually down, along the side of the hill, and through a canopy of jungle. One hundred meters along there was another properly constructed viewing platform, with safety rails in place, jutting out over the steep drop. I stepped down onto it and the sight through the canopy, of surrounding trees, was quite spectacular with the sheer volume of water spilling over the falls. After banging off a dozen shots I stepped back onto the footpath and continued following it’s gradual downward gradient along the side of the hill. Approximately one hundred meters further on I found what I was looking for; the stairway down to the base of the falls. The stairway, like the one at Haew Narok, was a very solid cement and steel construction with interspersed landings, and continuous safety rails, all the way to the bottom. As I worked my way down the near vertical 150 steps I kept a good grip on the handrail as the step surfaces had become slippery with all the moisture of the rainy season. As I got closer to the bottom the roar of the falls got louder. So much so that when I arrived at ground level, and began moving towards the plunge pool, the draft and fine spray in the air was creating a misting effect.
The following link to wikipedia: http://wikitravel.org/en/Khao_Yai_National_Park is the page for khao Yai National Park. At the very top of the page is a photo of Haew Suwat falls during the dry season. The above photo was taken at the same location, save for a few meters to the right, and the difference couldn’t be more pronounced. During the dry season I had no doubts the plunge pool would be teeming with swimmers and the grounds around overwhelmed with visitors eating, screaming and running about. As I worked my way over the slippery terrain, towards the very edge of the plunge pool, the site was completely deserted apart from yours truly. Just as with Haew Narok waterfall the spray coming off the powerful volume of water cascading over the falls hung in the air and had the effect of slowly soaking everything in the general vicinity. Within a few minutes my clothes were becoming noticably damp so I decided to call it a day at Haew Suwat waterfall and head back up to the carpark.
My next, and final, waterfall site to visit was just three clicks back up the road towards the park HQ. The site at Pha Kluai Mai, just like previous two, was very well set up for visitors and included plenty of parking, toilet and showering facilities, restaurants and a large camping ground surrounded by the lush jungle. The weather, while still okay when I pulled into the carpark, was beginning to close in again. I stuffed my parka into the ruck sack and ambled over to the restaurant facility to pick up a couple of bottles of water before heading down the track. I also did a leech check. Even though the trail at Haew Suwat was paved all the way down to the falls plunge pool it was no gaurantee that wouldn’t pick up an unwelcome hitchiker; the trip down to Haew Narok was testament to that. I rolled up my cargo’s and did a thorough inspection around the lower leg/calf area; I was clean.
The trail down to Pha Kluai mai falls will actually take you all the way around to Haew Suwat falls. In hindsight it would’ve been better for me to have started here and done the full six kilometer loop taking in Haew Suwat falls. As they say, hindsight’s a beautiful thing; perhaps next time. The track started off okay but within 150 meters of leaving the car park it was obvious that a lot less effort had gone into maintaining this site; the trail quickly deteriorated into a jungle encroached, muddy track.
But, in a way, that was okay because it was actually more of a challenge with fallen trees across the trail; pools of mud to squelch through and stands of bamboo to brush aside. Every now and again I heard something go crash in the jungle on the hillside above me and I couldn’t help thinking that there was a distinct possibility it was elephants. There was plenty of evidence of elephant activity in the area as I pushed on along the trail. Every so often I came across an area that looked as though it had been flattened by a bulldozer. Elephants, by and large, aren’t all that eco friendly and they’ll leave a swathe of destruction behind them as they bash their way through the scrub to access water or the tasty morsels they get a hankering for. Not much, apart from the largest trees, slows them down and they are, surprisingly enough, quite nimble in even difficult terrain. The other dark thought that kept nagging away at me was the possibility of tigers. A friend, familiar with the area, had mentioned, before I came up here, that there were still tigers about in khao Yai. Whether there was, or not, one could never really know because most experts will tell you that the time you become aware of a tiger is when the thing is chomping into you. I didn’t fancy my chances of surviving a tiger attack with only a Swiss Army knife to defend myself with. Although, I once met a of couple korean special forces black belts who swore that it was entirely possible to defend oneself against a tiger attack. I had extreme doubts about their theory but they explained it thus: “You get a short stick, about eight inches long, and hold it in your clenched fist. When the tiger attacks, you drive the clenched fist sideways into it’s mouth then rotate ninety degrees. The stick jams the tigers mouth open and you pull out your hand. No problems,” they said completely convinced of what they were telling me. Somehow I think I’d stand a better chance with the Swiss Army knife.
The trail was skirting the river and it rose and fell with the undulations in the terrain. Most of the time the river was obscured by the dense jungle but, every now and again, there was a break in the foliage at a spot which I assumed was some kind of viewing point. Unlike the previous two waterfall sites I’d been to this one had no properly constructed access down to the viewing points; just rough hewn tracks with the odd step cut into the the sloping, muddy terrain. To get down to the river I had to push my way through the thick foliage and scramble down the slippery embankments.
There was a series of falls along the trail and to be honest they were nowhere near as spectacular as the previous sites; more like a gradual decline of turbulent, gnarly rapids. At what I estimated was probably one kilometer in there was a properly constructed path leading down to the river. The problem was that the stairway had incurred significant damage from the intrusion of elephants. The cement stairway slabs were strewn about and there were large footprints in the the squelching mud all the way down the twenty meter slope. There was also piles of elephant dung everywhere and the site had a bit of a pong about it indicating the elephant activity in the area must have been fairly recent. I clambered down the slope and found a large rock to rest my ruck sack on as got the camera ready. In keeping with how things had been going, the rain started to come down again just as I was about bang off some shots. Even though the falls at this site had proven to be a bit of a disappointment, when compared to the other sites, I’d actually enjoyed the walk in more than anything else I’d done so far.
I was soaked through and covered in mud but that didn’t matter as I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I felt alive and completely invigorated buried deep in the jungle and the urban environment of Bangkok seemed another world away. With a few shots taken, and the rain becoming constant, I decided it was time to head back to the carpark. I took my time getting there as I wanted to enjoy the freshness of the jungle for as long as I was able to. Forty five minutes later I was back at the carpark and it was time to do a serious leech inspection of the lower legs. Taking a seat at one of the open air restaurants, I kicked off my boots to find that I’d picked up a few blood suckers during my hike. They were all around the ankles, and lower calf area, and some had even attached themselves through my socks. I reached into my ruck sack and pulled out the small container of table salt I’d bought with me. When it comes to removing leeches there are a couple methods that prove effective. Some say a burning cigarette is the best way to attack them but, if you’re a non-smoker, salt is the next best alternative. I poured a measure into one hand and then began sprinkling a few grains on the engorged little suckers. Normally it’s only about 4 – 5 seconds before they detach themselves and begin running for cover. A quick flick with the forefinger and they’re history.
After checking my boots and socks thoroughly, for any hide-outs, I put my footwear back on in preparation for the trip to my final destination for the day; Pha Diao Dai Viewpoint. The viewpoint, or lookout, is approximately two thirds of the way up to the radar station. The turn off is well sign posted and just after a checkpoint, five kilometers beyond the park HQ, which has a helicopter base nearby. The twelve kilometers of twisting, jungle encroached road was riddled with potholes and with more dark cloud rolling in, and the mist thickening significantly as I climbed towards the peak, I was beginning to think that I left it a bit too late in the day. After a careful twenty minute drive I eventually arrived at the car park for Pha Diao Dai viewpoint. As I stepped out of the car the change in elevation was noticeable; as the mist swirled about me I could feel a definite drop in temperature. There was a wooden platform, with some sort of map, directly opposite the carpark. In the gloom of the late afternoon I grabbed my ruck sack and walked across to the wooden construction to look at the map. It was an explanation of the site and showed a 446 meter man made trail, in a loop, through the distinctive high elevation forest. The trail was a boarded walkway with the focal point being the lookout, approximately halfway around.
There were stairways, to the forest floor, on either side of the wooden platform. It didn’t really matter which one you took because both came back to the starting point. Being a clockwise type of person, I went down the one on the left. The boarded trail was well constructed with changes in direction, and elevation, taking into account the stands of impeding trees and terrain differentials. The boards were slippery so I took my time negotiating the changes in direction to avoid a tumble. I continued on in an almost meditative state through the lush forest and, save for the occaissional tweeting bird, the place was silent in the gloom of the low hanging cloud. A few minutes later more daylight began to appear through the heavy wall of green and I was eventually standing at the viewpoint looking out into the mist shrouded world beyond. As the mist parted I caught a glimpse of a peak beyond and considered the fact that in the bright sunlight, of a clear day, this place would have a completely different mood to it and would, no doubt, also be crowded with sightseers. Light rain began to fall as the low hanging cloud moved in and obscurred the treeline on the distant peak again.
There are moments that we sometimes experience completely on our own; moments that are unique and are only experienced once in a lifetime. This was one such moment. After a few more minutes of absorbing the serenity and silence of the natural world at it’s best I moved off down the trail again. It had been a fantastic day; a hot bath and a sundowner was waiting for me back at the hotel.
Observations: There’s only one really; the rainy season is the best time to check out waterfalls – period – and don’t forget the salt.