Looking beyond Bangkok, it is not difficult to realise why Khao Yai has gradually caught the attention of foreigners. Just three hours from the Thai capital, this verdant and cool region is a popular day trip even for the locals.
Khao Yai, which means Big Mountain, has lured visitors with its bucolic scenery and educational farm activities that are ideal for families.
Khao Yai National Park
Nature lovers will be enchanted by the beauty of the national park. It was established in 1962 and is the third largest national park of Thailand. Khao Yai National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site, is an oasis teeming with wildlife and primeval jungles.
After paying the fees at the foot of the mountain, we drove up the hill, and as we ascended, temperatures dipped. We stopped at one of the several vantage points to marvel at the dense jungle with its tall canopy of trees.
There are two types of forest found here - mixed deciduous forest on lower slopes and evergreen forest on higher slopes. There are several waterfalls to visit and we headed for the more popular Haew Suwat Waterfall, which cascades down a 20m cliff into a large pool below.
The waterfall is 8km east of the visitors' centre and is also accessible by one of the easterly roads. Near the waterfall, we saw wild orchids and flowering hoya parasitica trailing down tree trunks.
If time permits, head for the short hiking trail to Nong Pak Chi Wildlife Observation Tower, which is a manageable path with views of the grassland overlooking a peaceful lake. Here, you will see the fertile evergreen dry forest grown with Cogon Grass (known locally as Ya Kha). The Sambar Deer or Gaur (Indian Bison) is often spotted during the early hours or late evenings grazing on the Cogon Grass. Unfortunately, we didn't manage to catch a glimpse of it.
There are many elephant riding centres in Thailand - the centre at the Jungle House Hotel offers a worthwhile experience.
The park has made it user-friendly to allow non-riders to walk along an adjacent boardwalk to click shots of the elephant riders.
The highlight was when we approached the riverbank and the elephant traversed the shallow river to cool itself in the hot sunny weather.
At the end of the ride, the diligent elephant was rewarded with fresh bananas from a nearby stall. We walked around the vicinity to see the numerous furry rabbits and some beautiful peacocks reared in the park.