After visiting Ayutthaya we took the train to Pak Chong on the far outskirts of Khorat (Nakhon Ratchasima). From there we took a truck-taxi to the Mu Si area just outside one entrance to Khao Yai National Park. We spent three nights in Mu Si and two complete days in the park with a guide. You can see a lot of the park in one full day certainly. If you're really in it for the wildlife, we'd recommend two days.
We were in it for the wildlife. This page is ordered roughly from insects to mammals in terms of wildlife. Spoiler alert: we did not see tigers (which are almost never seen in Khao Yai) or elephants (which are often seen here). We saw definite evidence of elephants, including some very trackable footprints. This is as close as we got though, it's an elephant scorpion (called that just because it's big). Don't mess with these.
There are a lot of insects in Khao Yai. We could do an entire page of spiders alone but that might discourage people from visiting. If you're hiking in Khao Yai, keep an eye out for spider webs, the spiders are large. There were some truly fabulous moths as well. Fabulous moths? Yes. This is one of them, well camouflaged.
Onward to reptiles. There is one Siamese crocodile in the park. Yes, one. They don't entirely know how she got here but you'll find her upstream of Haew Suwat, probably shortly past the signs that tell you not to go swimming because of crocodiles. It's an exaggeration, there's only crocodile. Still wouldn't recommend swimming.
More common are water monitor lizards like this one (which was quite close to the park headquarters actually). They mostly stare at you and lie in the sun.
Our best reptile picture is this green viper. We are told that while they do pose like this to strike (downwards at ground animals and insects), this one is sleeping. We did not test this theory because we are also told that their bite, while not generally fatal, is extremely painful. This one was along the river trail not far from where we saw the crocodile.
There are of course plenty of birds in Khao Yai. Nearly all of them were new to us and our guide was able to identify just about all of them - in Thai. Sometimes in English. This is a kingfisher and we'll leave it at that.
The premier bird at Khao Yai is the hornbill. There are four types of them and this is the best picture we have of a Great Hornbill. We saw them multiple times, always far up in trees or flying overhead. We watched them through scopes as well, we just didn't ever get a really nice clear picture of one.
There are three types of deer living in Khao Yai. The most common (and really common at that) are sambar. They're everywhere, particularly around the campgrounds. This one went running by at the restaurants across from the park headquarters. Later he grabbed someone's lunch and ran off with it. There are many animals at Khao Yai willing to grab your lunch and run off with it (or eat it in place).
Less common are barking deer like these. This is a mother nursing her young. They're much more skittish than the sambar are and we only saw a few during our two days here. The least common deer species is the mouse deer. We did not see them at all.
This is a giant squirrel in a tree surrounded by the fruits he was up there to eat. With the tail these grow to about 3 ft (1m) long. That's a big squirrel. We saw them only out on hiking trails but they were relatively common. They make a fair bit of noise up in the trees and there's a constant stream of discarded fruit and nut parts falling when they are eating.
At dusk, Khao Yai offers night drives around the central portion of the park. These are pickup trucks, you sit in the back on benches while a guide with a powerful spotlights stands against the cab and sweeps the fields and trees for critters. This is an awesome experience and if you're in Khao Yai you should definitely do it. We saw an enormous number of deer (sambar and barking), an owl and the highlight were these Malayan porcupines.
Not technically in the park but since we were there two days we spent one dusk in the park and the other a few miles away in a field to watch bats come out at sunset. Lots of bats. We watched a stream like this come out of the mountain for maybe 20 minutes before we headed back to town.
Of course there are otters on this page, but you probably already suspected that if you're familiar with our trips. Asian small-clawed otters live in Khao Yai, This family of at least four (three in the water) were just behind the parking lot at the visitor center.
This is a pig-tailed macaque. You see them everywhere in Khao Yai but mostly along the roads (which are warm and people stop to feed them) and around the restaurants and campgrounds. You are not supposed to feed them. Even if people don't feed them they are pretty adroit at stealing what they want. Keep your belongings close around macaques.
The wildlife highlight for us were gibbons. They're out there in Khao Yai but apparently not all that common according to our guide. We saw no less than three groups of them on three different hikes in three different parts of the park. We heard them more often than that. They have a very distinctive set of noises. These are white-handed gibbons.
Of the family groups we saw, two of them had a more than passing interest in us. These were both encounters well away from the roads and populated parts of the park. In one case we went considerably off trail in search of them after hearing the noises from a distance. Once we found them they circled us a bit and stayed in the area for about ten to fifteen minutes before moving on. They are fun to watch and they are acrobats in the trees.
Having finished with all that wildlife we will now break for food. There are two restaurants across from the visitor center in Khao Yai. There may be more than that in the high season but we visited in July during the rainy season and only two were open. The food was generally pretty good. It's typical Thai fare. Thai people told us food was spicier in Isan and in the far south than it is in Bangkok or Chiang Mai. Khao Yai qualifies as Isan. The food we had in Mu Si (multiple restaurants) was the spiciest we had anywhere in Thailand. This is a whole fried fish and Pad Kaphrao (English spelling varies wildly). Pad kaphrao is minced meat with basil and a lot of chiles, typically served with some sort of egg (an omelet in this case). The north entrance of the park (around Mu Si) has a variety of restaurants and there's even a small night market at the road junction. Most of the restaurants don't have names but we found the food to be good.
On to the hiking. There are a lot of trails in the park. We hiked on maybe six different ones. Trailheads are not always obvious so if you're here without a guide you might want precise directions to some of them. This trail (apparently called #2) is in that category since it's just a gravel pull off along the main road. This giant fig tree was somewhere along it.
The easiest trail to find and to hike is the #1 nature loop located directly behind the visitor center where this bridge is. It's a loop trail (you may have guessed that from the name). Notice our fashionable white socks. Those are leech socks and you want them everywhere you go in Khao Yai. At least if you're here in the wet season. Leeches here are mostly found on land. Upping the creepiness, they actually will chase you in their slow but effective manner. They follow vibration so when you stop hiking to admire something in the trees, you may look down and find these guys converging on you from all directions. It's a little on the 'yuck' side. They will get on your shoes, our experience was that they will also get on your socks and your pants and maybe higher. Tuck everything in. About 90% of all the leeches we saw in Khao Yai were on this one trail.
There are many overlooks in the park, most of them show miles of jungle covered hills. In the distance here is the area around the Mu Si entrance to the park.
Khao Yai is also famous for its waterfalls. There are many that can be visited. This is the trail to Haew Narok. We're including this picture because the trail there, while short, has a considerable descent. Of course you get to climb all this on the return. While we were hiking, there was another group of hikers, one of whom kept rustling his poncho (it was constantly on the verge of raining). Our guide suggested he stop crinkling the plastic because it was attracting macaques who thought it might be food. While they were staring at the falls, the macaques came and stole the poncho (in crinkly plastic) from his back pocket, so that was probably good advice.
Once you get there, you'll get to see this view of the falls. Well... maybe. This is the advantage of the wet season. The falls are really impressive all over the park. Another advantage is fewer visitors but more wildlife. On the down side.. leeches. Also it rains a lot.
Another well known falls, this is Haew Suwat. A movie took place here so a lot of people come to see it. We haven't seen the movie so we can't really comment on that, but it's a pretty spot. There is basically no hike at all from the parking lot to this viewpoint. You can descend to river level for a closer view.