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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 10th December, 2014.