Chase the butterflies
Published/Last edited or updated: 25th March, 2019
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 to the west, but also far less touristy.
Show up on a weekday and there’s a good chance you’ll be sharing the park’s 594 square kilometres only with its many 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 on a weekday. Our first stop was Pang Sida Waterfall, located off a short trail less than a kilometre past the park’s visitor centre. Several small sets of falls flow over short drops before you reach the largest tier, where water cascades over a 10-metre slope into a pool that’s suitable for a dip.
We then discovered dozens of butterflies on the smooth rocky surfaces near Pang Sida falls, where they gather to drink from the puddles. Butterflies in bright orange and white, and black and blue, joined 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 we entered the “official” butterfly zone, where puddles of sugar water lure them by the hundreds. A few info boards with names and pictures of the more than 400 types of butterflies found in the park are posted near a concrete sculpture of a butterfly that looks more like a killer mosquito out of some ill-conceived horror flick.
We drove further north to a gated checkpoint that gives way to a red-dirt road. The region beyond this gate is so remote 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. In this area we were told to watch out for wild elephants, though we didn't see any.
We did spot a brown eagle that shot out suddenly in front of us over the road, showing off an impressive wingspan. It eluded our camera before disappearing over the old-growth treetops within seconds. At a remote (and deserted) camping area halfway up the road, however, a handful of macaques were more photogenic.
After 25 kilometres of winding through the jungle we emerged at a viewpoint where the vast green mountains of Thap Lan National Park to the north are visible. The only sounds were the buzzing of dragonfly wings and leaves rustling in the breeze. Here we took advantage of one of the picnic tables and enjoyed the sticky rice and grilled chicken we'd brought along.
Pang Sida Waterfall is more refreshing and tranquil than dramatic, but we've heard about some larger falls reached by one- to two-day treks elsewhere in the park. Khwae Makha Waterfall, for example, features several tiers with water plunging from from 70 metres above a pool surrounded by dense jungle. If wanting to explore these and the other falls found deep in the jungle, it’s necessary to stop by the visitor centre and arrange for a ranger to accompany you. This could be a challenge, depending on language barriers and whether or not a ranger feels like making the trek.
We found Pang Sida to be an impressive, almost untouched mass of jungle that's worthwhile especially for those willing to slow down and look for wildlife. Compared to Khao Yai, for example, it has few specific attractions, but the atmosphere is serene and free of tour buses. Those looking to settle into the nature will find basic bungalows starting at 600 baht per night, and tents rented for 225 baht. There's also a small restaurant in this same area, near the visitor centre. The park draws few foreign visitors so don't expect much English to be spoken by officials.
The visitor centre and Pang Sida Waterfall are located a short distance off Highway 3462, just north of the village of Tha Yaek and around 30 km northeast of the provincial capital of Sa Kaeo. We were told told that public minibuses may run from Sa Kaeo to the park during butterfly season, but we've not verified this. The park can also be hit from the border crossing town of Aranyaprathet, 60 km to the southeast.
Address: Sa Kaeo province, Thailand
T: (037) 556 500; (037) 243 775;
Coordinates (for GPS): 102º12'8.45" E, 13º58'55.44" N
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
Admission: 200 baht
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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