Aug 12 2012

Chasing butterflies at Pang Sida National Park

Published by at 5:18 am under Northeast Thailand


Nestled in a remote, mountainous region near the Cambodia border in eastern Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province, Pang Sida national park is less accessible than Khao Yai immediately to the west, but is equally stunning. Pang Sida is also far less touristy; show up on a weekday and there’s a good chance you’ll be sharing the park’s 844 square kilometres only with its wild elephants and many other species of wildlife. If arriving between May and September, you’ll also get to frolic with the thousands of butterflies that emerge from the forest during wet season.

A great place to forget the world for a while.

A great place to forget the world for a while.

We visited Pang Sida as a day trip from Bangkok (the park is a four-hour drive from the city), and apart from a handful of local teenagers out for a picnic, we didn’t see any other visitors. Our first stop was Pang Sida waterfall, located off a short trail less than a kilometre past the park’s visitor centre. Here we found several small sets of falls scattered within the rocks of a clear mountain stream, which culminates at the main waterfall where elegant streaks of water cascade over a 10-metre high rocky slope into a pool that’s suitable for swimming.

Don't forget your swim suit.

Don’t forget your swim suit.

Several hovering butterflies could be seen immediately after entering the park, but we stumbled upon dozens of them on the smooth rocky surfaces near Pang Sida falls, where they gather to drink from puddles of mineral-rich water. Forgive me — I’m no expert on the many species of butterflies — but most of those we saw at the falls had large black wings with blue or white splotches. We also caught a glimpse of a few bright orange and white butterflies as well as several varieties of moths, including groups of small, vibrant yellow ones and larger white ones with intricate brown patterns adorning their wings.

It's a butterfly village.

It’s a veritable butterfly village.

Further up the road from Pang Sida falls, we entered the “official” butterfly zone, where puddles of sugar water lure butterflies by the hundreds. A few information boards with names and pictures of the more than 400 types of butterflies found in the park may also be found here, along with a freaky concrete sculpture of a bright orange butterfly that struck us as looking more like a killer mosquito out of some ill conceived horror flick than a butterfly.

Attack of the man-eating butterfly-mosquito mutant!

Attack of the man-eating butterfly-mosquito mutant!

We drove further north, to where a gated checkpoint stops all visitors before the road turns to dirt. The regions beyond this gate are so remote, we learned, that visitors are required to fill out a form before entering. Once on the road, we drove up and down steep hills through jungle so thick that we could hardly see a few metres into the foliage.

Into the jungle.

Into the jungle.

Along the road, we also saw several different types of butterflies, including a dazzling blue and yellow variety (sadly they were too quick to get a decent photo), and countless orange, black and white ones that come to munch on the poop of passing animals.

So that's how butterflies stay so pretty -- by eating poop?

So that’s how butterflies stay so pretty — by eating poop?

Our wildlife spotting highlight however was a brown eagle that shot out suddenly in front of us over the road, showing off a wing span that had to have been close to two metres in length. Unfortunately, it also eluded the camera as it disappeared over the old-growth treetops within seconds. At a remote (and deserted) camping area halfway up the road, however, a handful of monkeys were cordial enough to strike a pose.

The campground's been overrun by monkeys!

The campground’s been overrun by monkeys!

After 25 kilometres of winding through the jungle, we emerged onto a lookout from where the vast green mountains of Khao Yai to the west and Thap Lan national park to the north are visible from a place where the only sounds are the buzzing of dragonfly wings and leaves swaying in the breeze.

What the world looked like before roads, cities and twinkies.

What the world looked like before roads, cities and twinkies.

Pang Sida is one of Thailand’s largest national parks, making it — along with the aforementioned Thap Lan — a trekking paradise for those who have the time. Pang Sida falls are more refreshing and peaceful than dramatic, but a host of larger falls are located within one- to two-day hikes off a network of rugged mountain trails. Khwae Makha falls, for example, feature several steps with water plunging from one to the next from 70 metres above a pool surrounded by dense jungle. If wanting to explore these and the other falls that lie deep in the jungle, it’s necessary to stop by the visitor centre and arrange for a park-certified guide to accompany you.

You don't want to get lost out here.

You don’t want to get lost out here.

Despite the brevity of our visit, we found Pang Sida to be an impressive, almost untouched mass of wilderness that makes for a solid alternative to the far more touristy Khao Yai. The park entry point is located some 40 kilometres northeast of the provincial capital town of Sa Kaeo, and minibuses to the park may be caught from the Sa Kaeo bus station.

If coming with your own wheels, take route 3462 northeast from Sa Kaeo until you reach the village of Tha Yaek, and follow the signs to Pang Sida from there. The park is also just an hour away from the border town of Aranyaprathet, so Pang Sida could make for a relaxing side trip if coming from Cambodia. The park is open year-round, a few basic cottages may be booked online or at the visitor centre, and tents may be rented for use in the campground near the visitor centre, where a small restaurant also provides basic meals to visitors. Another campground lies further north but there were no facilities open when we visited. Unless you’re Thai or can produce a Thailand work permit, admission to the park is 200 baht per person.

Pang Sida National Park
Sa Kaeo province, Thailand
T
: (037) 556 500; (037) 243 775

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4 Responses to “Chasing butterflies at Pang Sida National Park” ...

  1. Greg McCannon 12 Aug 2012 at 6:50 am

    Nice write up. I wish the author would have done the 2-3 day trek out to those remote falls, but leaving them a mystery is also kind of nice. It’s places like this that keep me coming back to Thailand.

  2. Frannyon 09 Jun 2013 at 2:24 am

    Thanks for the info, stunning pics too!
    Just wondering, you mentioned driving in the park…do you think you could see many exciting parts of the park if you were just on foot? I really want to go, just for a day or 2 (never been to a national park before!) but can’t drive :(

  3. David Luekenson 09 Jun 2013 at 4:56 am

    Without a car, you could easily walk to Pang Sida waterfall (pictured above) and the area where a lot of butterflies hang out. You could also camp or rent a bungalow near park headquarters. You might need to arrange for a ranger to accompany you if wanting to hike to the outlying falls, which we didn’t do.

    Do you speak Thai? I think the whole experience of going alone without your own transport might be a bit daunting unless you’re really comfortable/experienced with travel in Thailand. The park is really remote, signs inside the park are all in Thai only, the brochures\maps are in Thai only and the park officials we met spoke limited English. The jumping off point for the park is Sa Kaeo, which itself is rather out there and sees few foreigners – don’t expect travel offices or even any English speakers at all.

    According to park headquarters, minibuses do run to the park from Sa Kaeo, though it seems to be an ‘on demand’ sort of thing. We were literally the only visitors when we were there. If I were going alone I’d probably try to come on a weekend when minibuses would run more regularly to transport weekending Thais.

  4. Frannyon 14 Jun 2013 at 1:36 pm

    Thanks for the advice!
    I speak a little thai, would be going with a few others as well, we’re all in thailand until October, teaching English :) and we’ve got some bilingual thai friends we can call if we’re in trouble haha
    Quite excited now…need to get this trip organised for a weekend soon! :D
    Thanks again :)

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