From single-day budget hiking trips to wildlife photography tours and multi-day private excursions that take you deep into the wilds, the Khao Yai area’s many tour companies will probably have what you’re looking for. Though many travellers hit Khao Yai independently, those who want the best chance of spotting wildlife should splash out for a local trail guide.
Most budget companies run group tours in songthaews (pick-up trucks with roofed benches out the back), while pricier private tours tend to rely on cars, vans or Jeeps. All tours include drinking water, at least one meal, leech socks, guide and often a pick up service, but some do not cover the park entrance fees.
Nearly every company offers a day tour inside the park for 1,300 to 2,000 baht per person, with discounts for kids, and a half-day tour to the Khao Luk Chang bat cave for around 500 baht. Several companies also run multi-day tours. They don’t all follow the same paths so do read on, but keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive list of all Khao Yai tour operators.
Starting with smaller outfits, we’ve heard great things about Ms Nang, a bird-watching expert who spent years living in the United States and is now the only guide available through her own company, Thailand Your Way. She specialises in private Khao Yai tours but has experience in several Thai national parks along with a great reputation. You might also consider Mr Jay, a soft-spoken wildlife photographer and jungle guide based in Pak Chong who offers affordable private tours through his Khao Yai Trekking page and local hotels.
Another excellent option for private tours is TonTan Travel, named after the trail guide and wildlife photographer owners who once served as fixers for a NatGeo Wild TV shoot. Single-day tours start at 1,600 baht per person, though TonTan is best known for multi-day jungle experiences. Itineraries are flexible, focusing on wildlife spotting, bird watching, photography, serious trekking or a little of everything. They also offer tours to Kaeng Krachan National Park.
Those looking to explore deep into the jungle should consider Khao Yai and Beyond, operated by locals from a village near the park. Offering only private tours, they employ trail guides who grew up in these wilds to lead multi-day treks to several waterfalls that aren’t hit by most companies. They can even arrange for guests to follow a local who spends her days searching for poisonous snakes.
Greenleaf is a go-to choice for backpackers, running daily group tours for hiking, wildlife spotting and a stop at Haew Suwat Waterfall for 1,300 baht per person. As with most companies they also run an afternoon tour to the bat cave. Both tours can be booked for just 1,500 baht per person, all up, and they’ll throw in dirt-cheap accommodation for tour customers. Greenleaf also told us that they’re happy to drop guests off at a campground and arrange for a pick up later.
Another reliable option is Khao Yai Garden Lodge, which unlike Greenleaf includes Haew Narok Waterfall in its standard group day tours for 1,450 baht per person. The veteran company also runs tours beyond the park, including to the local wineries and Phimai Historical Park, home to Prasat Hin Phimai. Private and group tours are available and the owner makes up for her lack of an online presence by doing a good job of explaining the options in person.
Based near the Tesco Lotus in Pak Chong, Bobby’s Jungle Tours is a popular budget outfit running one-and-a-half-day tours for just 1,500 baht per person. The itineraries, which are notable for including Pha Diao Dai viewpoint, seem to be more about hitting the highlights by car rather than spending a lot of time trekking. Bobby offers a two-and-a-half-day tour as well but there doesn’t seem to be much room for flexibility or private trips. Still it’s a good all-in option, offering cheap dorms and bungalows along with a pick up service.
Well-heeled travellers seeking optimal flexibility should check out Bangkok-based Wildwatch Thailand, which tailors private custom tours to Khao Yai and several other places. It’s notable for offering tours to Thap Lan, a more remote and rarely visited national park that connects to Khao Yai’s eastern side and is actually larger than Khao Yai itself. In addition to these, Wildwatch operates trekking and bird-watching tours to well over a dozen locations all over Thailand.
Khao Yai Nature Life is another long-running outfit offering accommodation along with high-end private tours of up to four days. Most of their tours seem overpriced compared to other companies, but we’ve heard that they employ an expert bird-watching guide for a full-day birding tour.
If you want to skip the private tour companies, trail guides can be hired directly at the visitor centre for 500 baht per three hours. However we’ve heard that guides from private companies tend to speak better English and do a better job of pointing out wildlife and rare plants than the park-provided guides.
The park also offers daily night safaris in which private vehicles follow a lead truck that shines floodlights into the forest in search of elephants, owls and snakes. It costs 500 baht per car and starts at 19:00 and 20:00 (you’ll have to go at 19:00 if not staying inside the park). On Saturday nights it’s possible to join other visitors for 50 baht.
Khao Yai and Beyond: 23 Moo 12, Pak Chong; T: (089) 946 1906; email@example.com; www.khaoyainaturelifetours.com.
Khao Yai Trekking (Mr Jay): Mittraphap Rd, Pak Chong; T: (089) 628 8224, (081) 282 8308; www.facebook.com/khaoyaitrekking/.
Thailand Your Way (Ms Nang): T: (089) 427 1823; firstname.lastname@example.org; thailandyourway.com.
TonTan Travel: T: (087) 874 5794, (081) 063 9782; email@example.com; www.tontantravel.com.
Wildwatch Thailand: 155/32 Floor 4, Sukhumvit Soi 11, Bangkok; T: (02) 651 1128, (081) 821 2575; www.wildwatchthailand.com.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 7th September, 2016.