Articles

Outdoor Adventure Gems in Thailand

Jeff Goldman, spouse of Kathryn Goldman, DPT PC Thailand

As a trailing spouse in Thailand since February 2015, I’ve had the special opportunity to pursue my passions as a health nut, nature explorer, exercise fiend, and sustainability advocate in over 15 provinces and 20 national parks across this stunning country. Many locals and foreign tourists have given me tips and assistance for visiting popular sights as well as enjoying off-the-beaten-track wonders.

It’s been quite challenging to get useful, comprehensive and updated information on where to hike or bike, what conditions to expect, and how to manage logistics.  Only small tidbits are on offer from sources in government, tour agencies, or all kinds of websites, especially in English. But it’s also hard to get information in Thai, as few Thais seek out independent, outdoor adventures.

So, I hope the dense, practical notes and photos below of some of my favorites help you discover fulfilling places to adventure! A few quick, general tips:

  • Camping in national parks can be easy, fun and affordable. The parks that offer camping have tents, sleeping bags and cushion mats already set up for visitors for around 300 baht per night per tent (shared by 2 people). Elephants regularly walk through the campground at Kaeng Krachan’s Ban Krang camp.
  • As with all sights in Thailand, avoid weekends and holidays when the crowds and traffic reign.
  • While bicycles are often easy to rent, good helmets are not, so bring your own.
  • Hiking trails are sometimes closed for weather, mudslides, repairs, etc., so check with locals.
  • Thailand’s stunning nature is under extreme threat from reckless tourism, development, a culture of exploitation and littering, lack of economic alternatives, and more factors, so please act responsibly towards people and the planet!
  • A few useful websites:

Outdoor Adventure Gems:

Kaeng Krachan National Park

Great for jungle hikes and animals, cycling, and birding.  About 100 km from Phetchaburi (public transport to Kaeng Krachan town), two unconnected sections of park:

  1. Reservoir area – public transport from Kaeng Krachan town, great walking and cycling on 6km of very scenic reservoir roads. About 1-2 days visit. Can motorboat on lake 45 min for 600 baht/group. Scenic camping on bluffs if not crowded. Bungalows on site, and many guesthouses (some rent bikes) just  1 km from park entrance. Can swim in river below dam and take raft ride.
  2. Mountain area – closed Aug 1 to Oct 31 for rain risks; great hikes in dense rainforest with lots of birding, seeing wild animals (elephants, snakes, hornbills, monkeys, porcupine, etc.) About 2-4 days visit. Can cycle (rent from some guest houses) outside park, not in park, but can drive car or taxi. Good guest houses (www.kumnangpaya.com owner speaks English) 1km before park entrance or tent rentals and food at 2 campsites. 15 km from reservoir entrance and no public transport, so bike or drive. Best hike is on only road, steep 15 km from Ban Krang camp to Panoen Thung camp (1000m elevation). Also hike in jungle to Thorthip waterfall, 8km round trip from end of road, trailhead 6 km beyond Panoen Thung camp.

Cycling in area: Rural loop that accesses mountain section, around 25 km around.

Kaeng Krachan NP-elephant

Wild Elephant in Kaeng Krachan National Park

 

Sam Roi Yod National Park

In province of Prachuap Khiri Khan, near Pranburi  town, about 2-4 days visit. Great mix of hiking, cycling and relatively undeveloped Sam Roi Yod beach as convenient, scenic place to stay. Can swim and kayak – but no snorkeling –  and beware of jellyfish much of the year. Lots of small restaurants. Tourist van from Bangkok (089-170-4340 or 086-764-1559, 089-1714844 or 085-403-6113) or Hua Hin (098-945-1002 English or 089-411-3705 Thai). Easy to rent bikes at guest houses, like kid-friendly Dolphin Bay Resort (032 825 190 or 095 775 7357) which is also a good landmark in middle of beach. Ask locals or guest houses (especially Dolphin Bay Resort) for tourist information and how to cycle everywhere. Cycling 4 km along scenic Sam Roi Yod beach. Cycling loop – around 20 km – from Dolphin Bay Resort to national park marsh to village road along base of hills back to beach. Scenic, safe bike ride north to Khao Kalok beach and short 45 min return hike, 14 km from Dolphin Bay Resort. Bike from resort 8 km to freshwater marsh ranger station, top birding spot with villages, idyllic boat trip to see birds when enough water (100 baht/person per hour for 1-2 hours). Usually take boat around 7am or 5pm, take usual mosquito precautions in largest marsh in Thailand. National park main area is flat biking – 9km from Dolphin Bay – with beach (camping and bungalows) and 1.5 hr round trip hike to magical Phraya Nakhon Cave. Other side roads in park to Sai Cave, and other caves. Bring flashlight. 20 km south from Dolphin Bay to boat ride on canal (1 hr 20 km ride for 500 baht for 6 people. About 3 km south from canal ride is Khao Daeng Viewpoint (20 min up, 15 min down, for 360 degree view)!

About 1 hr drive from Dolphin Bay to Kuiburi National Park, best place in Thailand to see wild elephants. Need own vehicle or tour from Dolphin Bay.

Khao Sam Roi Yod park-marsh trip

Marsh in Sam Roi Yad National Park

 

Thung Yai Wildlife Reserve

Great for wildlife, rustic camping, and hiking. Entrance near Thong Pha Phum. Need private permit with guide (e.g. Jack, 085-425-4434). Can camp, but no bungalows in refuge. Only allow around 100 visitors per day. CEO of mammoth Italthai construction company was arrested in early 2018 for poaching black leopards here!

 

Krabi Area National Parks

Although a popular beach area, there are 3 national parks within an hour by bike or public transport. It’s easy to rent bikes at many guesthouses around Krabi and Ao Nang. About 2-4 days visit.

Hat Noppharat Thara National Park – 18 km north of Ao Nang, beach with road curves 4-6 km around headland to lagoon and stunning limestone. Great hike at Tub Kaek beach, 7.4km round trip to breathtaking views, steep hike about 3 hours total.

Khao Phanom Bencha National Park – 30 km north of Ao Nang, virgin rainforest along the spine of 1950m-high Khao Phanom Bencha. Full of well-signed trails to scenic waterfalls, including the 11-tiered Huay To Falls, 500m from the park headquarters. Nearby and almost as dramatic are Huay Sadeh Falls and Khlong Haeng Falls. On the way into the park you can visit Tham Pheung, a dramatic cave with shimmering mineral stalactites and stalagmites. Birds and monkeys common. Hike 2 hr loop, about 4 km, from visitor center, very steep but shady. Good food at café. Summit hike, 3-4 days, starts from NE side of park.

Than Bokkharani National Park – 48 km north of Ao Nang. Emerald green pools, caves, rock paintings over 2000 years old. Park is shady, great cement trail 1.8 km. Other sights bike or car ride further to caves, islands. Easy public bus and walk 1.5 km to park entrance.

Hat Noppharat Thara National Park - Jeff on cliff

Jeff in Hat Noppharat Thara National Park

 

Ubon Ratchathani Area National Parks

Two stunning national parks are near Khong Chiam town. Hourly bus from Ubon to Khong Chiam town, with several guest houses and bikes for rent. About 2-4 days visit.

  1. Pha Taem National Park – lots to see and hike, cycle. Good 4.5 km loop of 700-year-old rock paintings near Pha Taem section, views of Mekong River and Laos from cliffs. Decent cycling from Khong Chiam, on rural road, ok traffic, about 18 km. Short cycling in park, but scenic. Nice hike around rock pillars, campsite, but hard to follow. Dry, deciduous forest on rocky and sandy soil, never leeches, so okay in rainy season. Campsite basic, not sure if electricity. Restaurant closes at 5pm, so bring food. Houses 2000 baht/night for many people. Soi Sawan section of park about 12 km on road from Pha Taem section, but great hike (11 km round-trip to cliffs and flower fields, forest).
  2. Kaeng Tana National Park – good hike from rapids/ restaurant, for about 2 km each way. Good hike from suspension bridge to island to stone fort, about 2 km each way. Great cycle from Khong Chiam, little traffic, about 10 km. Okay cycle to Tan Ton falls, 1 km N of junction at main road and turnoff to Kaeng Tana main section.
Pha Taem NP-Soi Sawan cliff view4

View from Soi Sawan Section of Pha Taem National Park

 

Phu Kadeung National Park

In Loei province, easy public transport, but avoid crowds as peak times attract 5000 overnight visitors. Hike up 3-4 hours steep, then majestic plateau with 50 km of trails. Visit 2-4 days at top’s Visitor Center. Well-marked hiking, rent mountain bike on plateau for 350 baht/day. Good food at scores of vendors, breathtaking cliff views and sunrise/set, evergreen forest, waterfalls, grasslands, no mosquitos in winter, tents preset for up to 5000 people. Porters available for hike up/down, charging station at visitor center on top for electric devices – uses solar energy.

Phu Kradeung NP-cliff view

Phu Kadeung National Park


To read more advice about traveling in Thailand click here.

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