Bangkok, 20 August, 2021 – Experiencing Thailand in film often means racing through the bustling streets of Bangkok, partying on an island beach, or disconnecting for a while at a meditation retreat. While those excursions are viable choices for anyone planning a trip to Thailand, there are countless possibilities for immersing oneself in outdoor exploration unrivalled by other tourist destinations worldwide.
True to its depiction in popular film, Bangkok is a sprawling metropolis – the largest of other mid-size cities spread around the Kingdom. However, there is no shortage of nature to be experienced when visiting Thailand.
In fact, with 155 national parks in total, Thailand ranks third on the list of countries with the highest number of national parks globally. On average, there are nearly 2 national parks per provincein the Kingdom.
Ecotourism in Thailand has grown substantially year over year for the last 2 decades for domestic and international tourism markets alike. In 2019 alone, approximately 1.6 million tourists visited Khao Yai National Park – and that is only one of many parks to choose from around the country.
With lush forests and rolling hills spilling into rice-covered plains where jagged mountains meet sprawling seas dotted with picturesque islands, Thailand’s national parks encompass several different ecosystems. Visitors can partake in numerous outdoor activities, including everything from camping and day hiking to trekking and scuba diving.
Where the Water Runs Cold: Nam Nao National Park
Nam Nao, which means “cold water” in the Thai language, is a national park best known for its wildlife, waterfalls, widespread cave systems, and sunset views. In addition to being a national park, it is also one of Thailand’s most valuable nature and wildlife preserves.
Located in the Kingdom’s central Phetchabun province, approximately 150 kilometres west of Khon Kaen, Nam Nao National Park is home to over 220 species of birds and a host of elusive land mammals. The opportunity to experience a rare sighting of endangered wildlife in the park-such as leopards, various deer species, and even the infamous Asian black bear – is one of the most popular draws to the area for visitors each year.
Travelling to Nam Nao can be done in several ways. Regardless of which journey to the Park is taken, visitors can expect a breath-taking experience of the region that surrounds the Park.
One standard method to go to the Park is to first fly to Loei Airport and then drive approximately 2.5 hours to Nam Nao. Alternatively, visitors can take a public bus or private van that operates daily from Khon Kaen. These transit options are available for a small fee and stop at the main checkpoint to enter Nam Nao National Park.
In either case, the drive through the areas between a visitor’s point of origin and the Park itself is captivating. When going from Loei or Khon Kaen, the highway passes by another one of Thailand’s scenic national parks that is also home to one of its highest mountain peaks, Phu Kradueng.
The winding roads to (and through) Nam Nao National Park immerse visitors in emerald green forests, take them over peaks of high mountains, and offer abundant opportunities to stop and absorb breath-taking views of the valleys below.
The scenic viewpoints, often shrouded by clouds, are a stunning facade to an extensive cave system through the mountains and below the ground. The caves in Nam Nao National Park include Tham Yai Nam Nao, notable for being the third-longest cave in Thailand at 10.4 kilometres long. Additionally, Nam Nao is home to one of the deepest caves in Thailand, Tham Phaya Naak, at an impressive 133 metres deep.
Once inside the park, there are endless nature trails to choose from for daily hikes for visitors of varying physical ability. Regardless of which trail is taken, two fundamental consistencies are worth noting when deciding to walk in Nam Nao: leeches and elephants.
Leeches are tiny (and often invisible) blood-sucking invertebrates that thrive in Nam Nao’s jungle-like forests and are frequently joked about by locals. Park rangers and local vendors are accustomed to the presence of the leeches, which is why visitors to the Park will see long socks for sale throughout the Park and at the main entrance.
Additionally, visitors to Nam Nao National Park will notice signs around the Park, including on the trails, advising them to be cautious of wild elephants. Although an encounter with a wild elephant on a walking trail or on a car path is uncommon, it does happen from time to time. All visitors to the Park should beware of this risk when experiencing the area. Rangers at the Park’s main entrance will gladly give visitors a quick safety walk-through before setting them free on the vast nature preserve.
Accommodation in Nam Nao National Park varies. There are various homestays available around the Park, and tiny cabins and camping sites located within the Park itself; all of which are priced very affordably.
To preserve the natural abundance and sustainability of the Park as one of Thailand’s most valuable nature and wildlife preserves, Nam Nao National Park is closed from June to August every year.