Thailand has some 50 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries covering more than 25,000 square kilometres. Evenly spread throughout the kingdom, such places afford nature lovers opportunities to enjoy Thai flora and fauna in unspoiled surroundings. The most popular in terms of convenient accessibility and immediately visible attractions are as follows :
Khao Yai National Park lies some 200 kilometres northeast of Bangkok, covers more than 540,000 acres, has an average elevation of 800 metres and a highest peak of 1,351 metres. The park supports elephants, tigers, bears, giant hombills and other protected wildlife, countless species of wild flowers, trees and spectacular waterfalls.
Doi Inthanon National Park in Chiang Mai province covers Thailand’s highest mountain (2,565 metres). Forest above 1,800 metres is covered with lichens and wild orchids while at lower levels several lovely waterfalls share the mountainside with Meo and Karen hilltribe villages.
Ko Samet in Rayong province is the focal point of a Marine National Park. The narrow, 6 kilometre long island numbers among Thailand’s most beautiful islands and is fringed by splendid beaches, dazzling coral reefs and limpid waters ideal for snorkelling and scubadiving.
Erawan National Park in Kanchanaburi province is extremely popular. The mountainside forest setting contains the seventiered Erawan Waterfall, widely regarded as one of Thailand’s loveliest cascades.
Sam Roi Yot National Park in Prachuap Khiri Khan province provided major settings for the award-winning movie The Killing Fields. A multi-peaked, thinly forested limestone mass rises majestically from coastal marshes that host numerous waterfowl species. Caves, islands, fine beaches and frequently seen wildlife comprise major attractions.
Khu Khut Waterfowl Park in Songkhla province occupies 520 square kilometres of the Great SongkhIa Lake and hosts some 140 resident and migratory species.
Ao Phang Nga National Park in Phang Nga province featured prominently in the James Bond movie The Man With The Golden Gun. Verdant limestone islands, honeycombed with caves and aquatic grottoes, soar perpendicularly from almost perpetually calm waters. Major attractions include prehistoric rock paintings and a stilted Muslim fishing village.
Tarutao Marine National Park in Satun province, 31 kilometres off the southern Thai coast near the Thai-Malaysian Indian Ocean maritime border, is a 51 -island cluster covering some 1,400 square kilometres, and offers some of Southeast Asia’s best scuba-diving waters.
Ko Samui and Ang Thong Marine National Park, covering an area of over 250 square kilometres, is located in Surat Thani province and composed of various islands noted for silvery sand and colourful coral reefs. Access to the islands can be made either from Ban Don, Surat Thani or Don Sak in Nakhon Si Thammarat.