In this account of my visit to Kaeng Krachan National Park in the Thai Jungle, I will explain how you can visit this National Park on the border of Thailand and Burma/Myanmar.
Covering almost 3000km/2, Kaeng Krachen is the largest national park in Thailand.
Why visit Kaeng Krachan National Park?
The rainforest at Kaeng Krachan is a nature lovers paradise. With over 450 species of birds, 300 of butterfiles, and over 30 types of mammal including leopards, tigers, bears and elephants, all completely wild, it would be impossible to visit and not witness a spectacular display of Mother Earth’s finest.
I’m sitting writing this in my tent in the middle of the jungle that borders Thailand and Burma. There is a cacophony of noise going on outside from the myriad creatures that call the night their own. It’s almost 9pm and pitch dark outside thanks to the thick canopy overhead. Walking back to the tent fireflies danced and flickered around us.
Blue glassy tigers (Ideopsis vulgaris macrina)
Welcome to the Jungle
It’s been an incredible day in the jungle. From the adrenalin fuelled drive in in the back of an open pick-up truck, to the three-hour hike through dense rainforest which yielded amazing scenery and more creatures than we could have possibly hoped to see.
A small black snake slithered across our path within a few minutes of setting off and it wasn’t long before we saw lizards, huge spiders (a tarantula that was bigger than my hand), birds and monkeys. Giant butterflies drifted through the air, replete with bursts of metallic blue , black and white. The whole place was alive and you could feel the beating pulse as we followed the Pranburi River deeper into the forest.
It took some effort to get to the campsite at Ban Krang, but then most things worth doing do. There is no public transport to the national park and the only options are driving, taxi or hiring a car and driver. We took a coach from Bangkok Airport at 8am (Exit 8, floor 1, 269THB per person).
The journey took three and a half hours to Hua Hin Airport, where we disembarked and took a minivan taxi (2,000 THB, 1 hour) to the main office and visitor centre at Kaeng Krachan National Park. There we paid our park entrance fee (300THB per adult, 100 for Thai Nationals), our 30THB camping fee and the 1,400THB for a pickup truck to collect us from the visitor centre near Kaeng Krachan Town the 35km to Ban Krang campsite in the middle of the jungle.
Edit: The shrill screech of a monkey above us has just made me jump out of my skin. My heart is racing a little, though I’m more concerned about the tigers, leopards and elephants that roam the park to be perfectly frank, and the scorpions, the tarantulas, the spitting cobras, the 18 foot reticulated pythons… Actually I should stop now as I will never sleep ( I can confirm I didn’t sleep a wink)!
Thai Safari at Kaeng Krachan National Park
The ride into the jungle was a good introduction and acted as a mini safari. We saw two Crested Serpent Eagles among other interesting wildlife as we raced through the dense foliage with the wind rushing through our hair. After forty five minutes or so we reached the Sam Yot checkpoint and entrance to the national park. Here we had to show the tickets purchased back at HQ and changed drivers before racing on up into the mountains, with nothing but lush green foliage as far as the eye could see.
We were dropped off at the national park campground at Ban Krang. Two tents stood a few metres off into the trees and an office building/photo gallery, small bar and toilet block completed the camp. A few metres from the buildings and down a small slope a river forded the road and hundreds of butterflies danced around the water. The camp was flanked by large evergreen trees and topical shrubs and flowers, with birds and monkeys chirping and screeching in the canopy.
We were given a large 5-man tent (500THB for the night) and instructed to erect it on a wooden platform with a roof as the monsoon rains were on their way. After that we went up to the bar/restaurant and ordered some food which was absolutely delicious. My girlfriend had a Thai soup with chicken and coconut milk which was absurdly tasty (60THB) and I opted for the pork with garlic and basil (60THB) and we shared a bowl of rice (10THB).
After dinner the park ranger indicated a hiking trail through the jungle that we should take and told us it would take about two hours. It was just before 3pm and we were advised that the sun sets around 6pm so we had enough time.
A walk in the jungle
We followed the Panburi river and crossed it back and forth, scrambling through undergrowth and spiders webs. We kept our eyes peeled for snakes on the path as this jungle is home to some of the most venomous on the planet (kraits, cobras and pythons all live here) and also for other interesting wildlife. A large lizard sat on the path in front of us and wasn’t fazed at all. It was almost as if it had been a model in a past life and we happily snapped pictures of the scaly creature from all angles before moving on. Large spiders scrambled around as we went and one the size of my hand scuttled onto a leaf next to us and made me jump. It had two legs missing but that didn’t seem to thwart its efforts at manoeuvring. It was an appalling sight for an arachnophobe and made walking through the cobwebs even more intimidating. If one of its relatives lands on my face I think I’d have a genuine heart attack!
We carried on into the jungle and it started to get darker and darker. Not much light penetrated through the trees high above. There is a certain eeriness to be had in places like these with all the strange sounds and creatures hiding in the shadows. After seeing a large skeleton I was reminded that the national park is also home to large predators. In the back of my mind was the thought of being followed by a tiger or leopard which was a little unsettling. Coming into contact with a tiger was almost an impossibility as the ranger had not seen one in 12 years of working there, but leopards were seen around the campsite frequently, and in pairs. Elephant dung down by the river indicated the presence of these fine creatures in the area too.
As it got later I started to worry about finding our way out of the jungle. There were pink ribbons tied to branches at intervals but it wasn’t always clear which direction one should follow. The path wasn’t very clear and fallen branches or trees obstructed us. More than a few times we had to turn back and look for another way. Always thankful to find another ribbon as the panic started to set in. It would be pitch black in one hour and I really would not like to be stuck in the middle of the jungle. I mean REALLY!
Eventually we came out of the bush and onto a dirt track and which was happy news indeed. The problem was there was no sign indicating which way led back to the camp. After setting off left for 20 minutes or, the track just seemed to lead back deeper into the jungle.
We turned around to try the other direction as it just seemed the right way to me, considering where we had come from. We walked the other way for over half an hour and I became worried that it wasn’t the right way after all. It would be dark in less than half an hour now and although it felt better to be on a track rather than in the undergrowth, I still wouldn’t relish spending a night out there.
We were interrupted by a racket going on overhead and saw some dusky-langur monkeys jumping from tree to tree high up above us. However what I saw next made my heart skip a beat; it was the giant hornbill that I had come to the park to see. This was number one on my list of things I hoped to see and there were two of these huge, beautiful birds sitting on a branch. They were very high up, perhaps fifty metres or more, but I was able to capture a couple of decent shots of them with their over-sized yellow bill and black and white plumage. These birds were massive and when they flew you could hear the sound of the wind beneath their wings.
Spirits lifted, we set off again only to round a corner into the camp. What amazing timing I thought. We ordered some more food from the restaurant and spent a couple of hours around the camp in the darkness. At about 8pm the ranger came over and said that a couple of porcupines had come out and led me to where they were, just behind the kitchen. Two of these fine creatures snuffled around on the ground with their long yellow quivers swaying gently as they moved. A third one joined the proceedings and I sat and watched for a long time before they left. Incredible!
After a terrible night sleeping on the ground (noise, comfort and thoughts of animals) we got up just before daybreak at 5am to watch the camp come to life. The monkeys were jumping from tree to tree and making a racket as hornbills glided through the early morning air. A black squirrel ran down a tree and the animal kingdom was coming to life.
We spent a few hours watching the monkeys eating breakfast; gorging on berries in the treetops. Bright orange youngsters clung to their mothers’ back’s and sometimes ventured off on their own to play or eat. There was a viewing platform which made seeing these creatures easier than looking directly up into the canopy.
At 8am our pickup truck arrived to escort us out of the park and to a bus stop near Kaeng Krachan town where we took a series of minivans down to Hua Hin.
How to get to Kaeng Krachan National Park
There is no public transportation to the park so you will need to hire a car or take a taxi. There are buses/minivans from the old Bus Station in Bangkok to nearby Kaeng Krachan Town a few kilometres away.
We took the bus straight from Bangkok airport (exit 8, hourly, 269TB per person, 4 hours). We arrived at Hua Hin airport and from there took a private minivan all the way to the park headquarters for 2000THB.
There is more information on the Thailand National Parks website
Getting to Ban Krang Campsite
We bought our tickets at headquarters and arranged for a pickup truck and driver to come and take us the 35km into the national park and to the campsite. This cost 1400. The ride takes around an hour.
Facilities at Kaeng Krachan National Park
At headquarters there is a campsite that overlooks the huge Kaeng Krachan reservoir. There is a restaurant and toilets also.
At Ban Krang there is a small restaurant selling basic but delicious Thai food at very reasonable prices. There is a toilet block and showers and a viewing platform for wildlife watching.
You can rent tents and sleeping bags at both campsites.
Entrance the park costs 300THB for non Thai nationals and 100THB for Thais. It costs 30THB per person to camp in the park with your own tent, or you can hire one for 500THB.
If you do not have a vehicle you must hire a car & driver from the head office which costs 1400THB. (This seemed to include the return trip out of the park to the nearest bus stop).
Visit the Thailand National Parks website for more information.
More of Thailand?
Looking for other wild destinations? Check out Japan’s Yakushima Island, the largest nesting ground for loggerhead turtles in the Asia Pacific region.