From the dusty canyons of the north to the rain-soaked primeval woodlands of the south, the resplendent islands of the Gulf waters to the rolling rice plains in the heart of the country, Thailand packs in one hefty dose of outdoorsy attractions. Whether you come here to stalk hulking Asian elephants or wonder at paradisiacal waterfalls in the company of cheeky macaques, to kayak around empty karsts or to see rare turtles in the reefs, this list of the most awesome national parks in the Land of Smiles is sure to have you covered…
Erawan National Park
Starting us rolling with its seven-tiered waterfalls and swathes of wild jungle up in the Tenasserim Hills, the Erawan National Park is surely one of the most awesome in the Land of Smiles. It's got hidden cataracts in the forests that babble in steps over the muddy hills, shimmering, crystal-clear pools beneath the cliffs, and even the occasional water slide or nibbling school of fish. We head this way on our LBW tours from the lazy river town of Kanchanaburi, which sits along the winding Kwai just a little to the south.
Ao Phang Nga National Park
With its soaring, needle-like spires of chiseled limestone, jungle-topped cliffs, arched stone creations and hidden beaches, the Ao Phang Nga National Park might just be the poster boy for the wonders of the Andaman region. Fragmenting out into the Indian Ocean just north of Phuket, it's not only relatively easy to get to but also great for kayaking, SCUBA diving, wild swimming, and oodles of other adventure pursuits. Oh, and be sure to add in a trip to James Bond Island – a spot where 007 himself once trod.
Kui Buri National Park
Rolling down from the untrodden hillsides that mark the border with Myanmar in the west, the green pastures and highland gallery woods of the Kui Buri National Park are known as some of the best places to go in search of the elusive wild Thai elephant. And while those great galumphing beasts are surely the piece de resistance, it's also possible to do some amazing treks, spy out slinking golden jackals, and sleep in safari bungalows deep in the leopard-stalked forests. Not bad, eh?
Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park
Anyone who's ever seen Danny Boyle's 2000 film The Beach (they say it inspired a whole generation to travel to Thailand) should be able to pinpoint at least roughly where the Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park hides out in the waters of the Gulf. A series of resplendent limestone islands that peak out of the sky-blue waters, it is packed with sweeping dashes of verdant mangrove, multi-colored coral reefs (keep an eye out for the sea turtles!), and shimmering beachfronts of cotton-white sand (head to Ko Wua Ta Lap for some of the best).
Khao Sok National Park
A whole world of adventure and action, exploration and gasp-inducing wildlife awaits in the Khao Sok National Park, which sits sandwiched between some of Thailand's largest inland lakes and dressed in some of the last vestiges of the country's primeval rainforest. The result of that enticing cocktail is a place where langurs share the canopies with gibbons, elephants crash through the undergrowth, and the glowing sunrises over the waters are like nothing you've ever seen before. (The location of Khao Sok in the heart of south-central Thailand means a visit here could be a great extension to LBW's Island Teaser West tour.)
Mu Ko Similan National Park
It's just a couple of hours on the ferry to leave behind the hustle and bustle of Phuket and the mainland party towns and enter the enthralling enclave of the Similan Islands. Set out in the Andaman Sea, they are brimming with rings of coral gardens both hard and soft, where the underwater plant life blooms in ochre red and sky-blue turquoise. There are beaches aplenty too, from the turtle-spotted coves of Ko Huyong to the rugged inlets of Ko Payang. For the best departure point to Mu Ko, consider heading up Thailand's west coast, to the resort area of Khao Lak.
Tarutao National Park
The chances are you've seen the Tarutao National Park in the travel brochures. Famed for its glimmering beachfronts of sand so white you'll need to squint to see them, and fringed by swaying groves of coconut palms, the 57 isles that make up this marine reserve close to the Malaysian border are nothing short of paradises. There are just a few accommodation choices here, and the journey down south from the main towns of the Thai coast can be a long one. That said, the payoff is clear: handsome Mo Lae Bay, leaf monkey-dotted forests, the beautiful sunset views across Ao Ta Lo Woo - the list goes on.
Doi Suthep-Pui National Park
This one's for the travellers who make it all the way to the buzzing northern town of Chiang Mai (that's anyone on our bucket-list-busting Treasures of Thailand tour). Sitting amidst the rolling hills and sweeping forests up there, the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park is packed with galumphing Asian elephants and babbling rivers. Hiking is one of the top draws, largely on account of the occasional eco lodge, campsite and wealth of marked trails. Don't forget the walking boots, and get ready to be cooling off in muddy forest pools as the sound of Buddhist shrines echoes through the woods.
If you can remember any awesome moments in the national parks of Thailand, or can think of any other nature reserves in the Land of Smiles that are totally worth the detour, we'd love to hear about them in the comments below! Or, if you think it's about time you joined the millions heading to this picture-perfect corner of Asia each year, why not check out our awesome range of trips to Thailand.
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