If you’re on a quest to make the most of Thailand’s natural treasures, then be sure to include a few of the Kingdom’s awe-inspiring national parks in your travel itinerary
Thailand’s glorious Ang Thong Marine Park is a stunning area of natural beauty within easy reach of Koh Samui
Exploring one of Thailand’s spectacular natural parks offers visitors an excellent opportunity to glimpse some of the Kingdom’s natural, untouched beauty in its purest form. These superb expanses of protected land and sea are home to a rich array of ecosystems, including everything from abundant rainforests to rich mangroves. In fact, the country is home to no less than 127 protected regions – including 22 marine parks.
In addition to the diverse array of tropical flora and fauna found throughout Thailand’s national parks, these vast spaces provide a sheltered habitat for an array of wildlife – some of which are endangered species.
We explore some of southern Thailand’s national parks – easily accessible for visitors based in Koh Samui or Phuket.
Wonders of the ocean
A network of tropical islands forms Thailand’s Ang Thong Marine Park
Koh Samui is the ideal base for visitors keen to explore the natural delights of Thailand’s sublime Ang Thong National Marine Park. Situated just to the northwest of the island, this pristine archipelago is home to 42 tropical islands that encompass an array of glorious sights from lush, velvety jungle to pristine, white sand beach.
The park comprises more than 100km2 of protected area at land and sea, and is home to a vast array of rich habitats for both animal and plant life. Hidden coves, towering limestone karsts and lush mangrove forests form just a few of the visual highlights. Many visitors book onto day-long boat tours to take in the visual delights of the park. An array of activities is also available, including sailing, hiking, snorkelling and diving.
The park is also a hotspot for animal lovers. While the craggy, limestone islands aren’t home to a huge array of wildlife; the larger jungle-covered islands provide a habitat for a rich selection of species. Mammals including otters, hogs and crab-eating monkeys can be glimpsed, in addition to a plethora of winged inhabitants from Brahminy kites to oriental pied hornbills.
Than Sadet waterfall is one of the highlights of this lush national park
The idyllic isle of Koh Phangan lies a 30-minute boat ride to the north of Koh Samui. Although Koh Phangan is significantly smaller than its southern neighbour, it packs in more than its fair share of stunning natural delights – including the Than Sadet national park. Established in 1983, the protected area takes its name from the river that winds across the island, which translates to ‘Royal River’ in English. In fact, 40 percent of Koh Phangan is protected. In total, the park encompasses 65.93km of protected area, including much of Koh Phangan’s forested interior plus several tiny atolls north of the island.
The Than Sadet waterfalls are perhaps the crowning jewels of the park’s emerald land-locked area. Watching the fresh water tumble across the colossal craggy rocks at Than Sadet waterfalls is a pastime that has been enjoyed by many – including several Thai kings.
Visitors that want to enjoy the finest views of Than Sadet often challenge themselves to the two-hour trek to its highest viewing point – Khao Raa. This mountain stands tall at 630m, but those that reach the peak will be rewarded with spectacular vistas over land and sea.
Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park a short boat ride from Phuket
Hat Noppharat Thata-Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park is another of Thailand’s spectacular protected marine parks, and is easily accessible for visitors based in Phuket. Measuring 387.9km2, the park stretches from the Thai mainland at Krabi province’s Nopparat Thara beach to the Phi Phi islands. This stunning area of natural beauty attracts plenty of visitors each year, and its towering limestone karsts have become an iconic symbol of the region.
The park’s islands and coastal hills are an extension of the mountain range that runs southwards from Phang Nga province. Steep, craggy cliffs, deep caves and velvety jungle characterises much of the landscape. The highest peaks are home to primary rainforest, while the lower elevations accommodate mangrove and phru forests.
For visitors exploring the marine side of the park’s national treasures, the Phi Phi islands are a common highlight. They are situated approximately 42km east of Phuket, and justifiably famous for their turquoise lagoons and white sand beaches.
Khao Sok National Park is home to some of the world’s oldest areas of rainforest
Spanning an area of 738km2, Khao Sok national park is one of Thailand’s most treasured protected regions. Situated on the Thai mainland, Phuket is the ideal jumping off point for those that want to spend a few days exploring the park’s natural wonders. The rainforest here – one of the world’s oldest – is partly tropical evergreen forest and partly tropical rainforest. The abundant green landscape is home to approximately 200 different floral species, making it one of the most bio-diverse areas on the planet.
The protected area also provides a rich habitat for wildlife, and visitors should keep their eyes peeled for hogs, Asian black bears and leopards. Those keen to explore tend to book onto tours with an expert guide. Though hiking and kayaking are two of the most popular activities, tubing, caving and ziplining are also popular. The park authority’s Elephant Hills Jungle Lake Safari is one of the most popular tours, and encompasses a boat ride across the spectacular Cheow Larn Lake, as well as kayaking and trekking.
Khao Sok National Park is home to the Cheow Larn Lake
Khao Sok National Park is widely acknowledged to be one of Thailand’s most untouched areas of natural beauty. In the 1940s, a deadly epidemic swept through the region. As a result, the majority of the people living here moved away. In the 1970s, Thai students who had joined communist insurgency groups infiltrated the region to keep the Thai army out – but they managed to keep our loggers, miners and hunters out as well, which helped the area to retain many of its natural gems. At around the same time, it was also discovered that Khao Sok was the largest watershed in southern Thailand. The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) decided to erect the Rajjaprabha Dam, and closed off the Pasaeng River to create a 165km2 lake – the Cheow Larn Lake. Today, this gleaming expanse of freshwater has become one of the park’s most picturesque sites.
Keep the following in mind if you’re planning to visit one of Thailand’s magnificent natural parks:
- Thailand’s national parks are protected areas of land and visitors should minimise their impact by travelling responsibly and leaving the natural ecosystems undisturbed.
- Hiring a local guide will not only spare you the pain of getting lost in one of Thailand’s national parks. He or she will also be able to provide a wealth of local knowledge and lead you to some of the nearby highlights that you might otherwise miss.
- Thailand’s national parks are home to some of the Kingdom’s most splendid untouched treasures, including scenery and wildlife that you’ll never want to forget. Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photos – lots!