Thung Salaeng Luang shares some of the Communist history with neighbouring Phu Hin Rong Khla, though the topographies of the two parks are quite different.
Here you'll find bird-rich grasslands and Phitsanulok's largest waterfall -- Kaeng Sopha -- but not much in the way of historical sites.
Nicknamed Thailand's Niagara Falls due to its similar aesthetics (but despite its far, far smaller size), Kaeng Sopha roars dramatically over a pair of broad cliffs in September and October. While still worth a visit from June to August and November/December, the falls dry up to a trickle from January to May. A parking area is located right off Highway 12, a few km past the park's main visitor centre, and from there it's only a 300-metre-stroll down to the viewing platform.
While many visitors only stop to see Kaeng Sopha Waterfall, the 1,262 square-km park also contains several caves, limestone hills and a huge swathe of savannah grasslands to the south. However, most of this is a solid 40 to 70 km drive over often-inaccessible roads from the northern park headquarters; easier access to the grasslands is possible from Nong Mae Na in northern Phetchabun province, which is a long drive from Phitsanulok city.
But if you're a passionate bird-watcher, it might be worth the effort. The rare Siamese Fireback Peasant is among the 190 bird species known to live in the park. Wildflowers paint the grasslands with rich colours during November and December, and a handful of salt licks attract wildlife throughout the year.
Several types of accommodation are available near the northern visitor Centre off Highway 12, including a campground on the Khek River and several bungalows ranging from 1,000 to 4,000 baht (the smallest sleep four). Food facilities are minimal (the rangers offered us some som tam, but that was about it) so you might want to bring a stocked cooler if staying overnight.
Entrance to the park is 200 baht per person for foreigners, even if you're just checking out Kaeng Sopha Waterfall. For info on accommodation, check the park's official website. Between Phitsanulok and the park, you'll find a handful of privately owned resorts, an elephant camp and a few smaller waterfalls along Highway 12, which runs next to the Khek River.
How to get there
The easiest way to reach the northern visitor centre (at km market 80) and Kaeng Sopha Waterfall is by private car or motorbike -- it's a straight 70-km shot east from Phitsanulok city along Highway 12. You can also catch one of the Phitsanulok to Lom Sak local buses that run frequently throughout the day, asking to be dropped off at the national park.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 29th October, 2014.