Adventure Travel in Thailand

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Northern Thailand

The north of Thailand is a mountainous and rugged country, closer in appearance to southwest China and Tibet than to coastal southeast Asia. The entire area covering Northern Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos is still fairly wild country, long closed to exploration and still relatively unknown to naturalists. The area's sparse population has until recently had very little impact on the rich ecosystem of this region, and the north is even today one of the most untouched and unexplored parts of Asia. Although wild elephants no longer roam the hills, other species still thrive in abundance, especially in the area's two national parks: Doi Suthep-Pui and Doi Inthanon.

Doi Suthep-Pui National Park

This majestic forest park covers a mountain that is situated a few miles from Chiang Mai, Thailand's second largest city. Despite its proximity to an urban center, Doi Suthep is is a wonderful place to encounter wildlife. The Park also houses a royal palace, two Hmong hill tribe villages, and a 600-year-old Buddhist monastery, Wat Prathat.

A lush evergreen forest can be found on the eastern slope of Doi Suthep, close to Wat Prathat. This distinct zone, which begins at about 1000 meters and ascends another 400, harbors a great number of lowland bird species. Above 1,400 meters the vegetation dries up considerably, though there are rich, sporadic clusters of dense forest in ravines and shaded areas. In these isolated pockets of vegetation can be spotted more of Doi Suthep's many birds.

Doi Inthanon

This incredible park is centered around Doi Inthanon, Thailand's highest peak, accessible either by automobile or by a challenging trek. The various altitude zones along the way host many different species of flora and fauna. Along with the abundant wildlife, some spectacular waterfalls can be found within the park, the most dramatic being Vajirathan waterfall, which drops 100 meters. Like Doi Suthep, Doi Inthanon contains several hill tribe villages, most of them Hmong and Karen.

Much of the base of Doi Inthanon is used as agricultural land by the Hmong. At about 1,500 meters the fields give way to evergreen forest, and the park's rich flora and fauna explodes into view. Doi Inthanon is particularly famous for its birds: over 380 species live inside the park. Bird species appear everywhere, including rufous-throated partridges, shortwings, and the slaty-bellied tesia. Above 1,900 meters a delightful cloud forest takes hold, hiding lichens, mosses, and orchids. The mountain's summit is covered with magnolia, rhododendron, and a thriving population of sunbirds.

Wildlife in Doi Suthep and Doi Inthanon

Because of the proximity and ecological similarity of the two parks, it comes as no surprise that they are quite similar in terms of the wildlife they support. Over 300 species of birds have been spotted in each of the parks, including woodpeckers, the black-hooded oriole and many others of special interest to bird watchers. Many primates live in the parks as well: gibbons, macaques, leaf monkeys, and others. Other animals include the Asiatic black bear, Indian civet, barking deer, giant flying squirrel, Chinese pangolin, and more than 30 different species of bats.

Central Thailand

Khao Yai National Park

Khao Yai is the most popular park in Thailand, and with good reason. Located north of Bangkok near the Korat plateau, the park covers an area of over 2000 square km. Within this extensive tract lies one of the biggest and most pristine rain forests in Asia, a treasure that has made Khao Yai an ASEAN National Heritage Site. The terrain can be mountainous (Khao Yai means Big Mountain), and the forest itself changes in places from savanna to evergreens and other trees. The abundance and diversity of species supported by this range of ecosystems is magnificent.

Hundreds of species of birds can be seen here, including the vernal hanging parrot and the crested serpent eagle. Animal species include Malayan sun bears, tigers, gibbons, leopards and more. Khao Yai is also an ideal place to see wild elephant. Somewhere between two and three hundred live within the park, hiding and feeding in the forest during the day and venturing into open areas at night, the best time to view them.

Southern Thailand

Thaleban National Park

This lush tropical park sits at Thailand's southern tip, far out along the Malay Peninsula. Thaleban is carpeted with a remarkable semi-evergreen rain forest, which features flora and fauna more indigenous to Malaysia and Sumatra. Over 200 species of birds inhabit the park, including the peregrine falcon (the world's fastest animal), black baza hawk, helmeted hornbill, and the dusky crag martin. Interesting mammals such as the lesser mousedeer, white-handed gibbons, dusky leaf monkeys are sighted with regularity.

Hill Tribe Treks

From the decaying splendor of ancient Chiang Mai there are a variety of options for more anthropological adventure travel. One choice is to go on a hill tribe trek. Led by a knowledgeable guide, travelers can trek far up into the northern mountains to visit one or more of the several tribes that inhabit the region. The tribes are distinct ethnic groups, many of which migrated to Thailand from as far away as Tibet or central China in the past few hundred years, and each maintains its own separate cultural practices.


Founded in 1257, Sukhothai was the first capital of Thailand. The old city and its magnificent ruins are located about 12 kilometres from modern Sukhothai, in Thailand's northern hills.

Part of ancient Sukhothai's wonder is its very brevity. It lasted only about 100 years, but during that time it produced a collection of temples and monuments rivaling that of any city in history. Wat Mahathat, an enormous complex of temples, statues, and gardens, and it is only one of the ruins in old Sukhothai.

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