As Thailand’s largest contiguous forest, the Dong Phaya Yen-Khao Yai forest complex is home to some 800 species of fauna, including more than 20 endangered and critically endangered species.
While the chances of seeing a king cobra, Asiatic black bear, tiger or clouded leopard are extremely rare, quite a few visitors spot gibbons, badgers, wild boar, box turtles, tree frogs, green tree vipers and a few different types of pythons. Nearly all visitors encounter macaques and barking deer, and a marvellous array of butterflies flutter through the park in June and July.
Wild Asian elephants occasionally show up in the morning and late afternoon at salt licks and around Sai Sorn Reservoir, both found amid the grassland within a few kilometres of the visitor centre. Elephants are also seen along roadsides with some regularity, though we’ve yet to spot one in four visits to the park. (You have a much better chance of seeing wild elephants in Kaeng Krachan and Kui Buri national parks than Khao Yai.)
Crocodiles often lounge near Pha Kluai Mai Waterfall; in late 2016 a foreign tourist got a nice bite on the leg after attempting to take a selfie in front of one of them. Many types of tree snakes and constrictors blend into the canopy and experienced guides know how to spot them. While not as common, pit vipers, cobras, king cobras and several other venomous snakes also slink amid the jungle.
Khao Yai is also a top bird-watching destination hosting well over 300 species, including hornbills, owls, silver pheasants, green magpies and many types of bulbuls. The dry months from December to April are best for birding, with migratory birds swooping through Khao Yai in April. Serious birders should look into doing a personalised tour with Ms Nang of Thailand Your Way or an expert guide at Khao Yai Nature Life.
The most easily accessible wildlife observation tower, Mor Tan Jarn, is located down a short trail near Sai Sorn Reservoir and a couple of kilometres south of the visitor centre. You can also hit the Nong Pak Chi observation tower after a three-kilometre hike that begins a few kilometres north of the visitor centre. Both are set amid the park’s central grassland and are best if you hope to spot elephants and grazing animals.
Wildlife enthusiasts might also head further east, beyond the park boundaries, into the Wang Nam Khiao area to look for herds of wild gaur. Around 90 of these endangered mammals graze on a mountain called Khao Phaeng Ma, which was reforested in the mid-1990s after farmers had felled trees to plant corn. An observation tower is located off Route 304, which cuts south between Khao Yai’s eastern edge and the western side of Thap Lan National Park.
Located close to 100 kilometres southeast of Khao Yai’s northern gate, a gaur-viewing tower stands four kilometres down a dirt road and we were told that it’s not signposted in English. If you speak Thai, you can contact the Khao Phaeng Ma Conservation Group at (087) 870 7788 to arrange a trip, or ask a tour company for help.
If you want to learn more about the area’s wildlife, check out this comprehensive list of species.
By David Luekens.
Last updated on 10th January, 2017.