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Top 6 National Parks in Thailand You Must See

If you are like me and love nature and trekking/hiking through the jungle to find some amazing waterfalls and caves, then I have some great adventure spots to share.

I fell in love with Thailand 12 years ago. When I visited Thailand the first time, I stayed for only 1 month. The second holiday I managed to stay 2 months (my boss in Holland wasn’t so happy) and the third time I called my boss and told him that I wasn’t coming back for work and I promptly made Thailand my second home. 🙂

I worked in the big city, Bangkok, due to my personal training business.  But I always looked forward to when I could escape the pollution and traffic of Bangkok and visit the natural parks and country side. Marie and I have been fairly lucky in that we have managed to take a trip out almost every month since we married 5 years ago.

I think we’ve crisscrossed almost the whole of Thailand during our stay here, and most of it was done on my BMW GS1200 motorbike.

Because I’ve been to probably more places in Thailand than the average foreigner or even Thais…

I believe sharing with you my top 6 Thai National Parks, makes sense. Most of the ones I’m going to list are not frequented by foreigners. So if you’re “white,” like me, you might be the only farang (white person) there.

Note: This list reflects my personal opinion and is not listed in any specific order of preference.

So here we go:

1.Khao Sok Natural Park  http://www.khaosok.com/

This amazing place makes you feel like you are in the Avatar movie set. Some of the landscape really looks different and until you’ve visited you won’t know what I mean. The park can be explored by elephant-back safari, hiking trail, and raft, canoe or kayak via the Sok river.

On our way to our floating bungalow on Khao Sok lake

Khao Sok National Park is a nature reserve in southern Thailand containing dense virgin jungle, tower like limestone quartz formations and the man-made Cheow Lan Lake. It’s home to rare species such as the giant parasitic Rafflesia flower, hornbill birds, gibbons and tigers.

We traveled there on our motorbike and stayed in a cute floating bungalow called: Khao Sok Smiley Lake House http://khaosok-smiley.com/

This is how our bungalow looked. You can dive straight into the lake from the front door 😉

It’s absolutely worth your money, you’ll pay around 5000THB per night during low season (probably more during high season) and compared to other guest houses in town this might seem a bit expensive, but this was for 2 people, 2 days and 1 night, and everything was included, food, board, and 1 day trip. Food was simple, they gave us a basic  Thai breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The day trip included in our package was a trip to this amazing waterfall that ended up in a cave. We went with a group of about 20 folks but some were a bit scared to swim in the cave. We were provided with little head lights but the dark cave and the deep water with a fairly strong current frightened quite a few folks so the group split up and only a few of us continued till the water got too high and the end opening was too small to continue through.

Apparently, during high season the water isn’t quite so deep and you can swim directly through cave and come up on the other side. But we went during rainy season, so we weren’t able to get through due to our guides deciding the water was too high and rough to complete the trip. Despite not being able to go completely through we had a grand time, and upon returning, we tried to convince the other group that stayed back to give it a shot but by then our guides said it was too late and that the water was only going to get higher and stronger.

Hiking through the Khao Sok “jungle”

When we weren’t on a guided tour, we could dive into the clear cool lake directly from the door of our floating bungalow.  They also provided us with free of charge kayaks and we got to explore the lake on our own.

We felt that we weren’t in Thailand during our stay in Khao Sok lake and we hope that we get to see it again before we leave Thailand.

Evening safari on a river boat

 

See a short video of our adventure here:

2. Pai

The next on my list is Pai. Located in the north of Thailand around 146km north-west from Changmai, is a sleepy, super chill town in the middle of the mountains.

Some people compare this town with Bangkok’s Khao San road as there’s a lot of backpackers and an active night life, but believe me its nothing like that.

Marie, myself and Marie’s cool parents (Paul & Sunny) drove to Pai on motorbikes all the way from Bangkok. Our favorite guest house was along the Pai river, called Pai Country Hut http://www.paicountryhut.com/ it was an adorable bamboo hut that cost only 500thb/night

 

Check out the video below:

The best time to go to Pai is around December when the weather is nice and cool, actually it was a bit cold esp when riding on a motorbike.

Highlights in Pai:

The Pai Canyon (Pha Chau)

Yup, it is a small canyon and it looks similar to the Grand Canyon except you are in the mountains of Thailand. The reddish cliffs and sandstone hills are breath-taking and perfect for hiking and taking beautiful pictures. Again, I felt like I had climbed into a worm-hole and ended up outside of Thailand.

Seriously, I lived in Thailand for 11 years before I heard anything about Pai, or the Pai canyon. I’m still curious why it isn’t as well know as it deserves to be, but I guess I’m happy that I discovered it now, before the tourist hordes take it over.

Pai Hot springs.

Now there 2 different hot springs in Pai. One is called Sai Ngam hot spring and the other Tha Pai Hot spring.

Check out that awesome clear water!! The temperature was also perfect..the outside temp was around 12-14 degrees while the water was around 40-45 degrees

 

The Sai Ngam is by far my favorite as this will cost you only 20 baht per person for entry, plus 20 baht for your scooter and is way more natural and more beautiful with less tourists than the Tha Pai Hot spring where you pay 300thb entry and have to share the water with a lot more people and screaming kids.

Also it’s a great road to drive on your motorbike. It’s 11km from Pai, going through the mountains, towards Mae Hong Son.

Tham Lod Cave

I’ve seen my fair share of caves in Thailand, but this one took me by surprise by it’s sheer size and complexity. In my opinion it is Thailand’s most amazing cave.

The Tham Lod Cave system is around 1,666 meters long and it features some of the most amazing stalactites and stalagmites that I have ever seen.

This cave was apparently occupied in the pre-historic era from 9000BC to 5500BC by the Hoabinhian hunting tribe. A community of hunters who made axes and hammers out of stone and bones. You can still see some proof of their existence in this cave.

What makes this place so special is you’ll have to enter this cave with a bamboo raft and a guide holding an old fashioned kerosene lantern to light up the place, there’s a lot of fresh water going through the cave with some huge black fish swimming underneath the raft.

On the Bamboo raft…sorry that you can’t see it so well

A closer view of the massive big fish swimming through the cave

The guide with the lantern will then stop at several places in the cave were you have to climb up and hike to different chambers and view amazing sights of lime stone and grand columns of stalagmites. Some are over 20 meters high!

Entrance fee & opening hours: Guides with lanterns only 150 Bath per group (always handy to bring your own flash lights too) Bamboo raft inside the cave (recommended) 400 THB. Opening hours: 9:00am till 6:00pm.

43km from Pai, take the 1095 road direction Mae Hong Son.

3. Chaloem Rattanakosin National Park

We visited this park just a couple of weeks ago and what I like about this park is there aren’t very many tourists. It’s a small place and beautiful place (it’s only 59 km² and is the smallest park in Kanchanaburi Province) but what makes it special is that it is so close to Bangkok you can drive there and back on the same day and still get to enjoy the nature. Its main features are fertile forests, steep limestone mountains, waterfalls and mysterious caves.

Amazing rock or once upon a time coral inside the cave…

Checking out the featured spots is also relaxing due to the park’s small size. You only have to walk 500m before you enter the first cave. After trekking to the other side of the cave, you get to trek through 1.5km of light jungle to reach a small but refreshing waterfall. If you go another 1.5km further there’s an even bigger cave and waterfall.

Check out some of the massive trees we saw…

…and how I almost broke my back trying to climb like Tarzan…

4. Erawan National Park

Not far from this park is the more popular Erawan waterfall. https://www.thainationalparks.com/erawan-national-park I would recommend that you visit this park as early as you can in the morning to avoid the busloads of tourists. There’s lots of “spa” fish in the waterfall so if you stand still they will start nibbling all the dead skin from off your body. If you are ticklish it’ll be a bit uncomfortable, but you can also just sit on the side and let the “spa” fish give you a natural pedicure 😉

Don’t worry this pic manages to make the fish look huge..they are actually very friendly

Within the same natural park, around 80km away there’s the Hin Dat Hot Spring. This hot spring was accidentally found by Japanese soldiers during the Death Railway construction, in 1943, World War II period. This natural hot springs flows hot throughout the entire year.

What I like about this hot spring is that there are 3 different pools with 3 distinct temperatures: 1. Warm 2. Very hot 3. Very cold. So you can jump in the hot bath first and then cool down in the cold waterfall right next to the hot spring. Another amazing option you have at this hot spring is that they offer rejuvenating Thai massage for very reasonable prices. I’d go back there just for the massages.

5. Emerald Cave (Morakot Cave)

To enter this secret white sand beach you’ll have to swim about 70m through an underwater cave. It’s only accessible at low tide as the cave will be underwater most of the time…. It’s a real beautiful place and it is quite exciting swimming in the underwater cave, but unfortunately when we went there we weren’t able to enjoy the ambiance as there was a huge company bonding event being hosted on that “secret” beach. They were playing some weird relay games, blaring awful music and just ruining the place for the rest of us. I guess you can never be sure if there will be a respectful group there, but if you go as early in the morning as possible you might beat the large groups.

Location: Morakot Cave is located near Koh Mook island, Toward the northwest of Haad Chao Mai National Park, in Trang province.

Last but not least a “must visit” place nearby Bangkok is the…

6. Phraya Nakhon Cave in Khao Roy Yot National park, Hua Hin province.

***pic not taken by us…

This amazing cave has a beautiful small golden temple hidden inside the cave. It’s one of the most mystical places I’ve visit in Thailand. The sun comes through a hole in the mountain to shine directly on the small temple and makes it glow and sparkle.

Only the reasonably fit can visit this temple as it’s a fairly hard trek to get there.

First step to reach the cave is to drive to the small village of Bang Pu located at the beach. From there you can decide to take the boat or hike 30-60min through the mountains to reach Leam Sala beach.

We’re fitness trainers so (of course) we went for the hike…but the boat ride only cost 150 baht so it’s a good option if you want to relax while enjoying the sights.  Once you arrive at Leam Sala beach you will have to climb another 430 meters of uneven steep steps to enter the cave. Make sure you bring enough water as the mountain is very humid and you will sweat like crazy. But we thought the hike was absolutely worth it

So there you go, a few of my favorite caves and waterfalls in Thailand…There are many more but I must stop here or this post will be longer than it is and I think it is too long already 🙂

Thanks for reading…and of course please share away! 😀

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angkor Wat & Homeless on an Island…

Dec. 2011

…Cambodia Adventure Continued…

It’s really a different world in Cambodia, it’s like Thailand was perhaps 30+ years ago.

After our eventful 3rd Class train journey we were ever so happy to get into an aircon bus en route to Siem Reap.

We stayed at a cute hostel which kindly helped us organize a private tuk tuk service to the Angkor Wat sites.

Recently we learned that the Angkor Wat and the surrounding temple ruins are the largest religious monument in the world, with the site measuring 162.6 hectares. For more info check here: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/cambodia/travel-tips-and-articles/77381

Our private motorbike tricycle was happy to get going as soon as we finished breakfast. We were concerned that we would get hot, but actually the weather was quite pleasant and a bit chilly. During the 2nd day we actually brought some blankets and pillows from our hotel so we could have a cozy nap while traveling between the temple site

Wow! The ruins were more beautiful than we imagined and we wandered around taking a million pictures and exploring all the nooks and crannies we could climb onto without ruining anything.

Here are some of the pics we took:

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Apparently they have found more ruins, of not just temples but of massive cities showing that the Cambodian “empire” was more vast and developed than first perceived. I guess we’ll have to visit again to see the newly unearthed ruins 🙂 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/11/lost-city-medieval-discovered-hidden-beneath-cambodian-jungle

 

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Our private motorbike rickshaw…too bad we didn’t get our kind driver in the pic…

 

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The magnificent trees slowly reclaiming the ruins to the jungle were so beautiful!

 

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Goofing around in Angkor Thom the site where the Tomb Raider movie was filmed

 

We probably could have stayed longer,  but after  3 days we felt that we had seen the main temple sites and decided to travel to Phnom Penh.  We heard that the best and fastest way to get there from Siem Reap was by speed boat–so off we went!

The speed boat was a fairly modern large catamaran and they an air-coned area with comfortable seats. But we opted to stay on the deck so we could enjoy the breeze, watch the fishing villages appear and disappear as we zoomed by. While we were on the deck we also thought to get some tanning in, but Stefan forgot to wear suncreen and was red as a lobster by the time we reached Phnon Penh.

Phnom Penh felt a bit more modern than Siem Reap. It’s a quaint city with a vibe especially along side the river. We enjoyed sitting in the cafes to people watch and we found that their is a lively outdoor night life. Small groups of folks were singing and dancing right along side the little stalls set up for the night market.

We didn’t stay in Phnom Penh city long as we heard that the beach town of Cambodia was Sihanoukville. To get there we rented a big bike (an old but decent Honda Super4)  and stashed our suitcases with our accommodating bike rental guy.

Our rented Honda Super 4...

Our rented Honda Super 4…

200+ kilometers later we found ourselves in Sihanoukville but while stopping for coffee we had seen an island off the coast and we were curious! We decided then and there to be spontaneous and head off to the island called Koh Rong http://www.kohrongisland.org/

The island looked pretty big on the map so we figured that the boat heading there would be pretty big too. We asked the captain of the boat  if we could bring the motorbike to the island and he started to laugh. Apparently the island was not very developed and that there were no roads, only dirt paths and buffalo trails to get supplies from the pier to the 5 “resorts” on the island.

We were a bit worried about our rented big bike, but we were determined to check out this “new” island so we paid a guy at the pier to take care of the bike (about 20 dollars per day)  and we jumped on the boat without a clue as to what we were going to find on this island.

We had never heard of this island before so we figured not many people had either. We just jumped on the boat and figured we would find some place to stay when we got there.

Boy, were we wrong!! The entire island was packed for the New Years holiday, even the maids rooms were rented out. As there were no roads and barely a bar of cell phone reception it was almost impossible to find out if the resorts across the island had any rooms for us.

We hung out in the bar for like 2 hours while the helpful bar staff tried to see if they could find a place for us. We also walked up and down the beach trying to find a place to stay for the night but nada…there was nothing to be found!

Out of desperation and frankly disbelief that we would be homeless for New Year’s Eve I (Marie) befriended some guys who had a diver’s bar/hangout.

I told them about how spontaneous we were that we ended up on an island without a single spare room and they laughed and told us if worse came to worse we could crash in their place as it was going to be closed that night as everyone was going to the main resort for the New Year’s Bash.

Well, it was getting dark and no one could find a place for us so we accepted that we would be sleeping behind their bar on New Year’s Eve. By now, I think everyone on the island had heard of the crazy homeless couple and the resort on the other side of the island found a spare mattress we could sleep on.  And it was no small feat getting the mattress to us, 2 teenage Cambodian guy had to trek about 2 hours following the buffalo trail to get it which made our make shift “behind the bar” accommodations that much more special!!  ?

We freshened up using a small bucket of fresh water right there on the pier. Got dressed for dinner and joined the New Year festivities.

It was a night/New Year’s to remember! –And it’s crazy experiences like these that made us realize that traveling and seeing new places is what we both love doing.

Some folks’ dream is to buy their own home, have kids or make lots of money.

We’ve found that ours is to TRAVEL and EXPERIENCE the thrill of seeing something new. Our world is so beautiful it’d be a shame not to see most of it before our time is up…

But our Koh Rong adventure didn’t end there!

The next day we heard that Survivor was being filmed on the other side of the island and we decided that we wanted to take a peek. We asked around and they said it was about 2-3 hours hike following the “red” buffalo trail through the jungle.

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I guess the buffaloes could just climb this trail, us poor humans had to climb up using ropes…

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Proof that we got lost..you can see the blue paint making the rocks…we were supposed to be following the “red” trail…heheh ;P

We set off with another couple we met on the beach earlier that day. 3-4 hours later we found that we had completely lost the “red” trail and were lucky we found a tree house bar in the middle of no where. We had some much needed water and coffee and decided that it wouldn’t be a good idea to still be wandering around when it got dark, so we started to retrace our steps.

We never did get a peek at the Survivor TV team, but we did find a most gorgeous beach. The sand was pristine white and the water was clear as glass…it was amazing!

On the gorgeous beach we found...actually this little "boat" is the only way they can get supplies from the big boats to the small resort we found on this side of the island...so quaint no?

On the gorgeous beach we found…actually this little “boat” is the only way they can get supplies from the big boats to the small resort we found on this side of the island…so quaint no?

We would love to go back to this island anytime!

 

 

 

 

 

3rd Class Train Ticket to Cambodia (Flashback #1)

December 2011

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We thought let’s be adventurous and take the cheap 3rd class train tickets. The train was going to leave early in the morning so we thought we would survive the no-air conditioner trip as we would arrive at our destination just before the hottest time of the day. We always took the semi-private booths (1st or 2nd class tickets) so we figured to try the “real” local experience for a change (…OR it could have been my stingy Dutch guy instincts kicking in… :P)

 

THIS IS NOT WHAT WE HAD..this is what we chose NOT to have…LOL!

Ok, traveling with the 2nd class or 1st class tickets you get a cushioned seat which can be folded down into a bed at night. The night porter comes around and folds it down for you, he puts crisp white sheets on and tucks it in perfectly so it doesn’t wrinkle or come off in the middle of the night—you even get a little pillow. There’s also a little curtain you can pull out in front of your “bed” and wallah…you have a little bit of privacy!
We decided NOT to have that comfort when we chose to buy the 45thb or so 3rd class ticket Bkk to Aranyaprethet and boy were we in for a surprise!

 

We did NOT take this picture, credit goes to http://www.alexinwanderland.com/ sadly we didn’t take any pictures while we were on the train because we were too busy trying to keep our seats 😛

We boarded the train and were lucky to find a seat. All the seats were wooden benches and there was absolutely nowhere to stash our luggage. We didn’t bring much, but we had these little roller suitcases and they wouldn’t fit in the overhead racks. We ended up wedging our stuff in between our legs and hoped the train wouldn’t get too crowded.
The train stops quite frequently, possibly at every town it crosses and more and more people climbed on. We thought they would eventually turn folks away, but no, so long as they could squeeze into the train they were good to go.
Folks with baskets of fruit, fish, chickens, farm equipment, large cans and stuff we didn’t recognize were dragged in and fit into any available floor space. Chickens, backpacks and another smaller stuff were put into the luggage racks.
We noticed we were the ONLY farangs in our booth and we were sort of figuring out why…
At first it was am using to see all the variety of locals and cargo board the train but after an hour on our wooden bench our bums started to get a bit sore. We were starting to wish we brought our luxurious travel pillows with us, not for our necks, but to use as a bum cushion.

 
Just when our bums were getting numb and we thought surely no one else could fit in the train, I found myself getting roughly scooted to the side of my bench by a rather confident local. She just knew that she could fit in the 3 inches of wooden bench visible beside me. This lady was by no means on the lean side, she was a Big Mama, and I was amazed she managed to squeeze herself in and just to make sure she was extra comfortable she leaned to the side, closed her eyes, put her bare, smelly feet on Marie’s lap…dirty toenails and all!

 
Marie didn’t want to seem snooty so she very gently slipped her lap away from the feet, but no, this lady needed her feet up and she managed to find a way to get her feet in Marie’s lap every time! She pretended to be asleep the entire time so it was kind of awkward to point out to her that she was casually using someone as a foot stool.

 

I guess we felt so out of our element that we decided not to make a scene and do our best to stay away from the feet without directly confronting the lady that most likely didn’t speak a word of English. *** Maaaan, I wish I took a pic of the feet in the lap, I think we were worried if we pulled out our fancy phones or camera someone would have been tempted to steal it..I mean we were traveling with folks only spending 45thb!!!

 
Between the chickens, the perfume of fish, the constant jostling into some stranger’s body, and the feet in the lap, we didn’t get an ounce of comfort…but we looked on the bright side!
We were WIDE AWAKE the entire 6 hour trip so we got to see every inch of the beautiful countryside. We also were very thankful we had seats, standing for 6 hours in that crowded, uncomfortable environment would have been even more trying to say the least!!!

We arrived at Aranyaprethet a bit after 1pm and while we didn’t quite regret our choice to try the 3rd class train travel experience, I daresay we WILL NOT be doing it again…

 

The only thing that we went like any of our expectations was that there was a strong enough breeze from the open windows to keep us for sweating uncomfortably. It wasn’t exactly a cool breeze..but it was a breeze. I’m not sure how the trip would have been if it started raining though!
We decided then and there that basic comfort and hygiene while traveling is important and something that we didn’t want to do without! 😀

 

Cambodia Adventure to be continued…