Even on a short vacation in Thailand you can experience two of the world’s greatest natural wonders – the rainforest and the coral reefs. In both of them nature comes alive in its most colorful and fantastic shape.
See our Thailand Map for the locations of these wonderful nature destinations.
Khao Lak – Between the Jungle and Reefs
Thailand’s best place to combine visits both to the coral reefs and a rainforest is the nature friendly beach resort Khao Lak.
Khao Lak is conveniently located close to Ko Similan islands, Thailand’s best diving destination, and Khao Sok National Park, the country’s most majestic rainforest.
Read more: Diving in Thailand
Ko Similan islands can be visited both on diving and snorkeling trips, either on a day-trip or on multi-day liveaboards. Ko Similan’s deserted islands are covered by untouched jungle and surrounded by coral reefs teeming with marine life.
Wonderful Khao Sok National Park is located an hour’s drive from Khao Lak. Khao Sok is Thailand’s largest preserved rainforest. You can hike on the well-marked paths on your own or with a guide, and paddle on a kayak by a stunning lake surrounded by majestic limestone mountains. You can get a taste of the rainforest in a daytrip, but Khao Sok is best enjoyed on a few days stay.
Another easy and memorable daytrip from Khao Lak can be done to Phang-Nga Bay, which magnificent limestone island scenery has appeared as a canvas for James Bond’s adventures. The best way to enjoy Phang-Nga Bay’s scenery is to join a kayaking trip, which takes you through maze-like mangrove forests and around limestone islands of fantastic shape.
Mystical Landscapes of Krabi
Krabi is another stunning place to enjoy the natural wonders of Thailand. Krabi’s limestone landscape is of almost mystical proportions, and great for rock climbing and exploring numerous caves covered with stalactites, stalagmites, and ancient rock paintings. In Krabi you can also kayak through mangrove forests and dip into hot springs.
Nearby is a lowland rainforest, Khao Nor Churchi, though it is smaller than the aforementioned Khao Sok.
Which one should you choose, then, Khao Lak or Krabi? Krabi is a much busier destination but blessed with gorgeous karst sceneries. Khao Lak has quieter beaches and better dive sites. Read more: Krabi vs. Khao Lak.
Khao Yai, Where the Wild Beasts Roam
If you want to spot wild animals, the best place is, however, Khao Yai National Park, which is located three hours by car from Bangkok. The varied landscape of Thailand’s oldest national park consists of evergreen jungle and savannah.
Khao Yai’s animals are easy to spot thanks to jeep safaris, which are organized in the afternoons and evenings. The animals are not afraid of jeeps, and it is almost guaranteed to see wild elephants, large gaur oxen, and many other jungle dwellers.
Khao Yai is also a great place to see wild gibbons. The Greenleaf Guesthouse organizes morning hikes in the jungle with a guide who is specialized in the tracking of the long-armed apes. It is an unforgettable sight to see the gibbons swinging from branch to branch on the treetops of the jungle.
Hiking in Northern Thailand
The mountains of Northern Thailand are a popular hiking destination. The leisurely hikes usually last a few days, and combine a bit of walking, bamboo rafting and elephant riding. The nights are spent on exotic hill tribe villages. The hiking is done in a leisurely pace, and one doesn’t need to be in a particularly good physical shape to join the trips.
Instead of great wilderness you’ll spend most of your time hiking in an arable countryside. And there are no real rainforests in the Northern Thailand no matter what the tourist brochures and touts tell you. Instead the jungles consist of bamboo and evergreen forest in Northern Thailand.
Popular places to go on for hikes are Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Pai. Beware though, that northern Thailand is well on the tourist trail, and most of the hill tribe villages usually visited might seem less exotic than you wished for. The inhabitants have seen scores of other travelers.
If you are looking for roads less traveled, Umphang is a good option close to the Burmese border. Umphang’s scenery is fantastic, the forests thick and the villages more remote than anywhere else in Northern Thailand.