Home to some of the world’s most fascinating (and threatened) species, Thailand’s national parks and marine parks work to protect the wildlife and landscapes of our planet. These six are carrying out some of the most vital work, finds Emma Higgins
As Thailand’s first national park, founded in 1962, Khao Yai has decades of experience in looking after Thailand’s beautiful wildlife and nature.
The park is located three and a half hours northeast of Bangkok. It spreads across four provinces (in large part the Nakhon Ratchasima province) and covers an area of more than 2,000 sq km.
Khao Yai is also part of the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex, a UNESCO-recognised area of Thailand made up of five parks protected for their biodiversity.
There’s a vast array of wildlife in Khao Yai. Highlights include elephants, bears, gibbons, 300 bird species (including Thailand’s largest population of hornbills), and reptiles, such as pythons, Chinese water dragons, and crested lizards.
Indochina Tigers (Dreamstime)
Next to Khao Yai is Thap Lan, also part of the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex. What’s special about this national park is the fact that, in 2017, camera footage revealed a breeding population of Indochinese tigers here, a critically endangered species that have seen a significant decline in numbers since 1990.
The tigers dwindled in Thap Lan due to illegal hunting and habitat damage, but anti-poaching measures and law enforcement has allowed them to finally start to increase in numbers once more.
It’s unlikely you’ll see one of these majestic beasts in the wild, but just to know that they are returning to this area is reason alone to admire Thap Lan.
In the future, conservation groups intend to build viewing platforms in the park, so that visitors can see wildlife. Perhaps that might even include tigers one lucky day.
For birdwatchers, there are few better national parks to visit in Thailand than Kaeng Krachan. Covering 2,915 sq km in western Thailand, in Phetchaburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan provinces, and hugging the border with Myanmar, Kaeng Krachan is Thailand’s largest national park. More than 500 bird species have been spotted here.
The Wildlife Conservation Society have been working in the park and its surrounding natural areas to help maintain wildlife through monitoring and research. Their work mainly focuses on the endangered species of tigers and crocodiles within Kaeng Krachan’s borders.
Fortunately for twitchers, birds flourish here, so on any given day you can spot rarer species such as the white-fronted scops owl and grey-headed fish eagle, plus seven species of hornbill.
Endangered sea turtles are the stars of the show Ko Similian National Park. This string of 11 islands, 70km off the coast in the Phang Nga province of southern Thailand, is hailed as home to some of the best scuba diving and snorkelling in the country.
As well as the likelihood of seeing turtles here, there is an array of colourful coral life, fish species, such as the Blueface Angelfish and Clown Triggerfish, as well as sharks and rays.
The Similians are home to some of Thailand’s important turtle nesting grounds. The white sandy beach of Ko Huyong is a known area for this and thus a fragile environment. Stick to keeping a respectful distance in the water. Hawksbill and Green sea turtles are often spotted around the islands of Ko Bayu or Ko Ba-Ngu.
For turtles, it’s also worth highlighting the Mai Khao Martine Turtle Foundation, whose excellent work in Sirinath National Marine Reserve and surrounding areas saw them win top prize in Nature, Marine and Heritage category of 2016’s Green Thailand Awards.
Elephants play in the river (Tourism Thailand)
Located close to Kaeng Krachan and spread out across 970 sq km, Kui Buri is the best park in Thailand for elephant-spotting. The herd of wild elephants here is around 230-strong, and it’s easy as a visitor to find them roaming around and bathing in the park’s pools.
Kui Buri is also home to one of the largest populations of gaurs in Thailand, with around 100 individuals.
Wildlife-watching tours can be easily arranged at the park’s headquarters, where you can also sort out accommodation if you wish to stay overnight in camping or bungalow facilities. The viewing platforms at Pa Yang substation also provide a good environment for seeing groups of elephants.
Marine life (Tourism Thailand)
Covering 20km of coastline, surrounding waters, and seven islands including Koh Muk, Koh Kradan, and Ko Cheuk, Hat Chao Mai is a marine national park in Thailand’s Trang province. The main reason for visiting this reserve is that it’s home to the endangered dugong.
Seeing one of these mysterious creatures isn’t easy. They are what makes this protected area so important, though. You can increase your chances by taking a special dugong-spotting cruise.
There’s plenty of other fascinating marine life here, too, including sea otters. Hat Chao Mai is also home to black-necked storks, herons, sea eagles, and more.
This is a top place to go kayaking. Glide around the park’s waters keeping your eyes peeled for its collection of resident species.
Main image: Waterfalls of Khao Yai National Park (Dreamstime)