Visitors to Thailand enjoy an abundance of options when it comes to selecting which national parks to visit. There are over 150 to choose from covering every region of the country. Coming under the jurisdiction of the Department of National Parks (DNP), they have been established to protect wildlife and areas of natural beauty.
The remote locations of some of the kingdom’s parks means they aren’t all easy to reach unless you have your own transport. In our round-up, we’ve highlighted some of the most popular and easiest for tourists to reach. From the mountainous scenery of Doi Inthanon in the north to the quiet sandy beaches of Tarutao in the south, we hope to inspire you to get up close to nature on your next trip to Thailand. Shown here in alphabetical order is our selection of some of the best national parks to visit in Thailand.
1) Ao Phang Nga National Park
Ao Phang Nga incorporates parts of the Phang Nga coastline, but is best-known for the islands and limestone karsts that form the dramatic seascape of Phang Nga Bay. Even visitors who haven’t been here may recognise the islands of Khao Phing Kan and Ko Tapu which famously featured in the 1974 James Bond movie, The Man With the Golden Gun. The bay is also home to the floating Muslim village of Ko Panyee.
If you’re staying in Phang Nga town, Khao Lak, Krabi or Phuket, day trips to Phang Nga Bay can easily be arranged. Taking a tour that includes sea kayaking is an ideal way to explore the mangrove system. Although day trips are the most common way to visit this area, overnight stays are possible at Ko Panyee if booked with a reputable tour agent. Please be aware of local customs if you wish to stay on Ko Panyee.
2) Doi Inthanon National Park
Standing at 2,565 metres above sea level, Doi Inthanon is the highest mountain in Thailand. The eponymous national park is located in Chiang Mai province a couple of hours drive south-west from Chiang Mai city. Being so high above sea level, temperatures are cool throughout the year and in the cool season months (November-February) temperatures can drop low enough for frost to form.
Doi Inthanon National Park is home to nature trails, waterfalls and Royal Projects. It’s also the location for photogenic twin pagodas dedicated to King Rama IX and his wife, Queen Sirikit.
3) Hat Nopparat Thara-Mu Ko Phi Phi
This marine national park in Krabi province was established in the early 1980s. The park covers stretches of the Krabi coastline (including part of Nopparat Thara Beach) in addition to a collection of islands including the Phi Phi Islands. No park fee is charged if you are staying on Phi Phi Don (where the only accommodation for Phi Phi can be found), but a park fee is collected if you visit neighbouring Phi Phi Leh or other islands such as Mosquito Island (Ko Jung) or Bamboo Island (Ko Mai Pai).
The park also covers the islands which are visited as part of the popular ‘Four Island Tour’ from Krabi: Ko Poda, Ko Gai and the twin islands of Ko Tup and Ko Mor. The latter three islands feature a sandbar that appears and disappears depending on the tide and is known in Thai as Talay Waek.
This marine area is excellent for diving and snorkelling, particularly when visibility is at its best from around mid-November until early May.
Mu Ko appears in the name of a number of Thai national parks with the phrase translating in English to a “group of islands”.
4) Kaeng Krachan National Park
If you’re staying in the Hua Hin or Cha Am area, a trip inland to Kaeng Krachan National Park makes for a good alternative to a day at the beach. The largest national park in Thailand was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2021 and is considered to be one of the best wildlife spotting locations in Thailand with hundreds of bird species and host of mammals living here including elephants, leopards, gibbons, bears and deer. Other highlights of the park include a scenic reservoir and Pala-U waterfall.
5) Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park
If you are staying in Hua Hin, the Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park makes for an excellent day trip. Highlights of the park include caves, mangrove forests, freshwater marshes, beaches, nature trails and viewpoints.
Although there is some ambiguity over how the name Khao Sam Roi Yot originated, it translates as the ‘Mountain with Three Hundred Peaks’. Any tour office in Hua Hin or Cha Am can arrange trips to Khao Sam Roi Yot which will typically include a stop at Bang-Phu fishing village, a boat trip and a trek to Phraya Nakhon Cave and the royal pavilion.
6) Khao Sok National Park
Khao Sok National Park is a must-visit destination for anybody travelling in southern Thailand. The park is home to the largest area of virgin forest in southern Thailand and is said to be a remnant of one of the oldest rainforests in the world. Wild animals found here include elephants, deer, macaques and gibbons. The rare Rafflesia kerrii plant – renowned for its huge flowers and pungent smell – blooms in some parts of Khao Sok .
In the 1980s,Ratchaprapa Dam was constructed as part of a hydropower plant to provide electricity to southern Thailand. Part of the area was flooded to form Cheow Larn Lake, a serene expanse of water fringed by limestone mountains and karsts.
Khao Sok National Park is located in Surat Thani province, but can easily be reached from Khao Lak. Although it’s possible to visit on a day trip from Khao Lak, the better option is to spend at least a night or two here to appreciate the natural beauty of the area. There are a variety of options covering all budgets including the wonderful Elephant Hills, 500 Rai Floating Resort or Anurak Community Lodge.
7) Khao Yai National Park
Established in 1962, Khao Yai was the first of Thailand’s National Parks. Although the park spans a number of provinces (Nakhon Nayok, Nakhon Ratchasima, Prachinburi and Saraburi) it is the town of Pak Chong in Nakhon Ratchasima (aka Korat) which is the main entrance point. At around 100 miles from Bangkok, Khao Yai is one of the easiest national parks to reach from the Thai capital. Day trips can be arranged from Bangkok, but if you’d prefer to travel independently you can take a bus or train to Pak Chong. If you book accommodation in advance, many places will arrange to pick you up at the train or bus station.
Khao Yai is known for its wildlife and is one of the two best places in Thailand (along with Kui Buri) to see elephants in the wild. The park and surrounding area has long been popular with Thai travellers and there is plenty of accommodation to choose from if you would like to stay in this area.
8) Kui Buri National Park
Out of all the national parks in Thailand, Kui Buri is the best one to visit if you’d like to see elephants in the wild. Although no wildlife sighting is guaranteed, there is an extremely good chance of seeing wild elephants and other wildlife such as gaur (wild cattle) as part of a safari trip in Kui Buri.
It’s possible to camp at Kui Buri, but if you don’t have your own transport the easier option is to visit on a day trip and book transport from nearby Hua Hin or Cha Am.
9) Mu Ko Ang Thong
This collection of 42 islands in the Gulf of Thailand was once used as a hideaway by pirates. Nowadays, it is a haven for tourists who visit here from nearby Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan.
Highlights of Ang Thong National Marine Park include the Emerald Lake and viewpoint at Ko Mae Ko which is accessible by stairs. There is another viewpoint on Ko Wua Talap which offers spectacular views of the islands, but does take some legwork along a steep trail to get there. Pack a pair of trainers in your day-pack and swap out your flip-flops if you intend to do the climb.
10) Mu Ko Chang
Ko Chang is the best-known and most developed of the dozens of islands that form the Mu Ko Chang National Park. Located in the eastern province of Trat, other notable islands in the Ko Chang archipelago include Ko Kood, Ko Mak, Ko Rang and Ko Wai.
The park headquarters are located on Ko Chang where the bulk of the land that forms the park is located. This area away from the coastline is characterised by evergreen forests, waterfalls and walking trails. Visitors to the beaches of Ko Chang aren’t required to pay the National Park fee, but you will if you visit the waterfalls or go on a snorkelling or diving trip to the other islands in the Mu Ko Chang National Park.
11) Mu Ko Similan
Located in Phang Nga province, the Similan Islands are one of the best diving and snorkelling locations in Thailand. Trips can be organised from Khao Lak or Phuket.
Similan translates as nine in a Malay dialect and Mu Ko Similan National Park did originally include nine islands. The park’s boundaries have since been extended to also incorporate Ko Bon and Ko Tachai.
Although the Similan Islands do all have individual names they are also referred to by number. Some of the islands (1,2 and 3) are completely off limits as part of a protected marine area. This is to maintain the reefs and protect the endangered green turtles that hatch their eggs on the beaches of these islands.
12) Mu Ko Surin
Located close to the Similan Islands, the Surin Islands are also recommended for their natural beauty. There are five islands here with Ko Surin Nuea (Nuea = north) and Ko Surin Tai (Tai = south) the two largest. Ko Surin Nuea is the location for the National Park headquarters and visitor facilities.
Ko Surin Tai is home to the Moken community. Sometimes referred to as Chao Leh (People of the Sea), the Moken have a close affinity with the sea and have lived on the island long before it became a national park. Visitors to the Ko Surin Tai are asked to be respectful of the Moken way of life when visiting the island.
To protect the environment, much of the interior of the Surin Islands is off limits to the public. Visitors should observe signs and the directions of the park officials. Although most travellers visit the Surin Islands as part of a day trip, overnight stays are allowed at the National Park bungalows and campsite. This allows visitors to charter their own longtail boat to enjoy snorkelling in a more leisurely fashion compared to a day trip. Longtails can be hired directly with the Moken or via the National Park HQ.
Best time to visit the Similan Islands and Surin Islands
The best weather is from November-April which also corresponds to the diving season for the Similan and Surin Islands. Optimum underwater conditions for divers and snorkelers can usually be found in February and March. The Similan and Surin Islands are open to visitors from October-May. Outside of these months, the marine parks are off-limits to tourists.
13) Sai Yok National Park
If you’re travelling to Kanchanaburi, try to find time to stay for at least a night or two in Sai Yok National Park. Home to caves, waterfalls and walking trails, there is some wonderful accommodation in Sai Yok in the form of floating bungalows on the Khwae Noi River.
14) Tarutao National Marine Park
Tucked away in the far south-west corner of Thailand is the province of Satun. This corner of the country still tends to fly under the tourist radar, but visitors that do travel here shouldn’t miss the Tarutao National Marine Park. Covering an area of around 540 square miles and with more than 50 islands (most uninhabited), this is a great place to get away from it all and enjoy empty beaches and wonderful scenery.
Stay in tents or comfortable national park bungalows on Ko Tarutao and take in those amazing Andaman sunsets. Relax on Ko Bulon or chill out on Ko Adang as you unwind into the sabai sabai lifestyle.
15) Than Bok Khorani National Park
The attractions of Than Bok Khorani in Krabi province can be split into two different areas; those on the mainland north of Krabi town and the offshore Hong Islands. To visit both areas you would need to allow at least two full days. On the mainland near Ao Luek you can find waterfalls, nature trails and kayaking.
For most travellers, it is the Hong lslands which are the main attraction of this area. Longtail boat trips to this collection of tropical islands can be arranged from any tour office in Krabi.
Thailand’s national parks in the movies
Whether you’ve visited any of Thailand’s national parks or not, you may be familiar with some of them already thanks to Hollywood. Of all the movies that have been filmed in Thailand, it is The Beach which is the best known with Maya Bay in the Phi Phi Islands featuring as the idyllic island hideaway. But the scene where Leonardo jumps into the waterfall was actually filmed at Haew Suwat Waterfall in Khao Yai National Park. While the movie adaptation used the Phi Phi Islands, in Alex Garland’s novel it was the author’s visits to the Gulf of Thailand and Ang Thong National Marine Park that provided the inspiration.
For those of us of a certain vintage, The Man With the Golden Gun will always be associated with Phang Nga Bay with Bond and Scaramanga duelling against the backdrop of the limestone rock formations. And staying with vintage films, the classic Russian roulette scene from The Deer Hunter was filmed in Sai Yok National Park.
Good to know
There is an entrance fee to visit Thailand’s national parks. The price varies according to the category of the park, but as of 2023 the fees for non-Thai visitors ranges from 100-500 Baht. If you visit as part of an organised tour, this will sometimes be included in the price you pay, but double-check when booking. In some instances you will be required to pay at the entrance to the park. Fees should always be clearly marked in Thai and English.
Opening and closing dates
Many of Thailand’s national parks close for at least part of the year. This is typically in the low season or rainy season to allow for rejuvenation and to keep visitors away from trails and caves that can become dangerous in wet weather. If you are planning to visit any national park in Thailand, check locally with your hotel or tour operators.
The Department of National Parks does have a website where you can make bookings online, but it isn’t very user-friendly. Booking in person at national park offices is usually an easier option or you can ask local tour operators to make the arrangements for you.
Weekends and public holidays
Thailand’s national parks are popular destinations for Thai travellers on weekends and public holidays. At destinations like Doi Inthanon, traffic is especially busy over the New Year holiday.
Please note that single-use plastics are banned at all of Thailand’s national parks.
In 2021, stricter laws were also introduced to help protect coral reefs in Thailand. Sunscreens that contain harmful chemicals which can damage coral reefs are no longer permitted at any of Thailand’s national parks. Please do not use or bring sunscreen which contains any of these chemicals:
- Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3, BP-3)
- Octinoxate (Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate)
- 4-Methylbenzylidene Camphor (4MBC)
Instead, look for reef-safe sunscreen or one which uses mineral-based products such as zinc oxide.
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