This is a full guide and review of our two-day experience with Greenleaf Guesthouse and Tour in the Khao Yai National Park in Thailand. We had an amazing time with the company and wanted to share our experience with the world for anyone wanting to make a similar trip.
After a week in Bangkok, we decided to move on and get out of the city. Our initial plan was to head straight up to Chiang Mai via Ayutthaya, but after reading about Khao Yai National Park and the fantastic Greenleaf Guesthouse and Tour we decided to head out to the jungle instead!
NEED TO KNOW INFORMATION:
COST OF ACCOMODATION: 300 Baht per night (per room)
COST OF TOURS: 500 Baht for half day tour, 1,500 Baht for full day tour, 1,800 Baht for both (per person)
HOW TO BOOK: Email email@example.com
TRAINS & BUSES: Can be booked to Pak Chong from Bangkok via 12GoAsia.com, search below.
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Greenleaf Guesthouse Review
Greenleaf Guest house in Khao Yai national park is a well-established operation that offers accommodation and two options for tours in the national park. They will pick you up from the station in Pak Chong which is really convenient if you are coming from Bangkok by train.
The rooms are basic but well looked after. Each has a private bathroom and shower, though there was only cold water when we were there. The rooms each have a fan but no air-conditioning. There was free WiFi right the way across the grounds.
There were washing facilities on-site as well as home-cooked food. Payment is made in cash, so make sure you bring enough with you as there is no ATM available locally.
The food at Greenleaf is superb, all cooked by hand in the kitchen right beside the outside eating area. The fried rice became our go to favourite, but you also have to try either the green or red Thai curry for a main meal. Yum!
We absolutely loved our time with Greenleaf Guesthouse. It was a really convenient service to be picked up from the station and it was our first stop outside Bangkok on our 3-month Southeast Asia sabbatical.
The team were knowledgable when in the park and fantastic hosts when back at the guesthouse. The communal areas make it easy to meet up with other people and the property set in the lush grounds make it feel like you’re right in the jungle.
We would definitely visit again, fingers crossed we get to see elephants next time!
Greenleaf Guesthouse Half Day (Evening) Tour
With a mix of couples from around the world (Poland, Italy, France and Belgium), we headed off for our evening of adventures.
We all hopped into the back of a truck and headed off towards the jungle.
Stop 1 – Ban Tha Chang Spring
The first stop off on the trip was the Ban Tha Chang Spring. With it being the weekend of Labour Day, it was really busy, with the local people coming to enjoy a splash around in the rejuvenating pools.
Ban Tha Chang Spring is famous for its crystalline blue waters, caused by the high calcium carbonate content. The spring is at the bottom of a limestone mountain, and it’s this that gives the water its beautiful blue colour.
Whilst we were playing around at the edge of the water, Joe our guide headed off and returned with a massive millipede! What a whopper! He let it have a walk on us. They are so strong, even when walking vertically it managed to cling on, giving us a little tickly massage.
Stop 2 – A Flock of Parakeets
The birding skills of the guides at Greenleaf Guesthouse are legendary, and they proved it as we were driving to our next destination. They pulled over to the side of the road and asked us all to jump out.
After setting up the scope, they pointed out a big flock of parakeets settling down for the evening at the top of a tree. I have no idea how they managed to spot them from such a distance!
Stop 3 – Keaw Sara Pad Neuk Cave
The next stop was our first bat cave.
We were issued with torches, before heading down an incredibly steep staircase into the darkness.
It was an amazing place, also used by monks for meditation. Kudos to them for sitting down here by themselves in the dark. That is some serious commitment! There were lots of small shrines and statues that occasional appeared from the darkness to scare the life out of us!
One of our guides disappeared into the darkness whilst Joe was telling us about the history of the cave and came back with various little monsters, including this tailless whip scorpion. This little guy is technically a spider, but it only walks on six legs, with the front two modified for sensing its way around in the dark. Despite a rather menacing appearing, it is in fact completely harmless.
A little further on in the cave we found a tarantula sticking its head out a little alcove. Thankfully it was far too quick for Joe to catch it, a blessing if ever I’ve known one!
The main reason we were here was not for creepy-crawlies though, it was bats.
And whilst this was only a starter before the main course of two million later on, it was really impressive.
Joe took us gradually through the cave, using a number of different tactics to help us learn about them.
The best moment, was switching all the lights off and cupping our hands to our ears. He then made us creep slowly forward into a different part of the cave. The tinny squeaks grew louder, and the whooshing of wings seemed to be travelling right past us. When we switched the lights back on and looked up, we were underneath hundreds of them, stretching and testing their wings ahead of a long night of bug-catching.
It was a great experience, but not one for the claustrophobic or chiropterophobic (though if you are scared of bats, surely you’ve signed up for the wrong tour!)
One last gift in this rural location. We came out of the cave by a different entrance, and were greeted by the temple of Wat Sa Nam Sai with it’s striking hillside statue of Buddha protected by the seven-headed Naga.
With the light fading, this was an unexpected addition to our nature-watching trip! As we wandered back to the truck, we saw monks sitting around drinking tea, looking completely content with the world. In a location like this, it’s not hard to understand why.
Stop 4 – Khao Luk Chang Cave
Our final stop was the ultimate one, and an experience that will rank right up there at the start of the highlight reel of our three month stay in Asia.
As dusk set in, and the sky turned from blue into an inky darkness, great waves of bats poured out of the cave above our head. We’d set up down the hill from the cave, as access is restricted, so we had the perfect viewing point to see the bats head off out into the distance.
The most striking thing was the noise. I’ve seen big murmurations of starlings like this as home, but I don’t recall the sounds that accompany them being quite this loud. Here the air was filled with the hum of wings beating. It was like an amplified version of the sounds you hear from a rotating fan, building as the bats came closer, and then quieting down as they made off over the hills. They came out in cycles, a constant stream, but not consistent numbers, giving a rise and fall to the sound.
We stood and watched for 15 minutes, and still they came. The official figure is somewhere around two million bats in this cave, that’s alot of logistics to work out for them! Eventually it became too dark to see them anymore, so we headed back to the truck.
With the full blood moon rising behind us, we bounced off down the dirt track back towards the Guesthouse, still dazed by an unforgettable experience.
One final surprise on the way back. One of the tour group had mentioned how much they loved mangoes so we stopped at the side of the road to do some negotiating with a local farmer. This was made much easier thanks to our Thai speaking guides!
I think we got a good deal? There was alot of shouting, pointing and squeezing, but we eventually walked away with two fresh mangoes to enjoy over the next couple of days.
All done for the day, we enjoyed green curry and fried rice back at the guesthouse, and headed to bed before another big day tomorrow.
Khao Yai National Park Full Day Tour
It was an early start today (well by our sabbatical standards!) for a day of animal watching and trekking in the jungle of Khao Yai National Park – Up, showered, eaten and ready to go by 8am! Go us!
We were joined by four other couples from Poland, Italy, France and Belgium. Nothing highlights the British way of travelling more than this scenario, being the only ones (driver and guide included) who couldn’t speak another language. ‘Learn French’ was quickly added back on to my to-do list.
OTHER KHAO YAI NATIONAL PARK TOURS
Entering Khao Yai National Park
We all hopped in the back of a converted Toyota Hilux, the go-to vehicle for rural pursuits around the world, and motored off towards Khao Yai National Park.
The park was fairly close by to our accommodation and we got there fast, what struck me as we drove into the park was the similarity in style to the Kruger National Park in South Africa. From the grand entrance to the rangers in full camo gear, this had a very familiar feel and quickly send tingles of anticipation down my spine.
After battling our way up some pretty serious gradients, we stopped off at a lookout point. Here we could see the vast scale of the area we were later to explore looking for the few wild elephants left (200-300 within this park). It was a sea of green, rolling mountains heading off long into the distance.
From here we climbed back into our truck and headed out looking for adventure. The way things generally work in national parks, is that whenever something cool is spotted, a minor traffic jam builds out as everyone hops out to have a look. Sure enough, a bit further up the road we stopped beside a few other vehicles to join a group of people pointing up into the tree canopy.
Gibbons!!! Wow, what a sight.
Up in the trees a long way up, a family of Lar gibbons were, quite literally, hanging out. Our guide set up the viewing scope, but we also borrowed cameras from some of the local amateur photographers, who were out in the park, enjoying their Labour Day national holiday.
We had a good few hours in the vehicle, stopping off numerous times thanks to the well-trained eye of our guides and the helpful animal-related traffic jams! The highlight was the spectacular Great Hornbill, the largest hornbill in Asia. It has a huge wingspan, and its wings unmistakeable whooshing sound when flying. For those of us with an over-active imagination, it’s easy to imagine pterodactyls up there, swooping through the treetops.
Trekking into the Jungle
When our bums had gone numb, our guide decided a nice two hour trek through the jungle was much needed. Ok, ok, it was clearly marked out in the Khao Yai National Park full day tour, and something we were looking forward to, but personally I’d been really enjoying sitting at the front of the pickup, overlooking the cab with the wind blowing away the last of the early-start cobwebs,
We pulled on our leech socks – a big cotton tie up guard you wear over your normal socks and trousers to keep the little biters away (super-sexy!) – and headed off into the darkness.
What first struck us was the noise, a mixture of shrieks, buzzing and bird calls. We proceeded in ant fashion, one after another in a single line following the guide.
We battled up muddy paths, and through springy branches that did their best to block the way. The landscape seemed to change every 50 metres or so, with the eternal battle for light that takes place in dense forest creating pockets of species grouped together.
This is the kind of place you could walk through everyday and see something different. The forest was so thick in places you wouldn’t know if there was an elephant standing a stone’s throw away.
In a quest for the energy that sunlight provides, some trees had grown to truly incredible sizes. Occasionally we’d find one with enough space around it to get an idea of how far up they went, but even then it was hard to truly comprehend how something can grow this big.
Imagining the things that have changed on this planet in the time this tree has been alive is mind-boggling. It’s amazing how little respect mankind gives to plants that have been alive so much longer than any human being. As we edge further and further into the countryside, trying to find space for ourselves, let’s not forget how long it’s taken for these forests to find a space of their own.
We stopped for spiders, birds and bugs, but the most impressive creature that showed itself today was this pit viper, hanging lazily from the branches of a tree.
After the walk we hopped back in the truck and carried on through the park. After a spot of lunch at one of the rest camps We ventured on to a couple of waterfalls, both impressive sights after the rainfall from the last few days.
One of them, is actually quite famous.
Haew Suwat waterfall featured in the 2000 movie The Beach, where Leonardo DiCaprio and his co-stars jump from the top of it whilst on the run. The film is set on the island further south in Thailand, but there is no such waterfall in Phi Phi Leh or in Maya Bay so they had to film in Khao Yai.
The second one required a climb of two hundred steps, which was a task with the ever increasing humidity! It was worth the trip though, with some beautiful old bridges along the 1km route.
After the walk out to the final waterfall, we chilled out at a rest spot some saw Crab-Eating Macaques, though these ones seemed much happier feasting on the leftover mango and watermelon that the cooks had thrown out into the bush.
Unfortunately one of the big goals of the trip didn’t happen. Despite lots of searching, we didn’t get to see any Asian elephants in the wild. Although we saw evidence of them, dung and footprints, all the guides and rangers said that the last spotting was three days previous. With so few in such a big area our chances were low, but we held out hope right until the last rainstorm forced us out of the park. It was a shame, but this is one of the realities of National Parks. If you want a guarantee, then go to a zoo!
Despite not seeing the elephants, this has been an incredible day. Thanks so much to Greenleaf Guesthouse and Tours for nearly 12 hours of amazing experiences.
And one last bonus on the way back….
It’s amazing the lengths so people will go to for their Instagram account!
Getting the Train from Bangkok to Pak Chong
This was our first time using the trains in Thailand, so we were a little nervous, but we had no need to be!
We had decided on the 1009 train as we needed to be in Pak Chong at around 1400 so we could be on the Greenleaf Half Day Tour that started at 1500.
The trains leave from Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok, which is easily accessible by taxi, or it has its own metro station if you are near one of the other stops on the line (perfect if you are staying in the Lumphini Park area.
The journey is just under four hours.
Thailand Rail Map
Metro System Map
Buying a Ticket to Pak Chong
It was really easy to buy a ticket. The guy at the counter spoke perfect English, booked us on to the 1009 train, and told us exactly which platform to go to.
The cost was 186฿ per person, less than we paid for the taxi ride to the station itself!
Because this journey is relatively long, you are allocated seats. The ticket that prints off tells you exactly which carriage and seat you are in. The only challenge is working out where you carriage will be on the platform, but the train arrived with enough time to walk down and find the right place.
If you are worried about booking tickets on the day – it is easy to book them online using the 12GoAsia website. Use the search form below to find a ticker and it will take you straight to their website. I used 12GoAsia to book all of our trains and buses on our Southeast Asia sabbatical, it is such a smooth process and reassuring if you’re worried about the language barrier.
The Train Ride to Pak Chong
As you can see from this photo, there is space above the seats for bags, which was more than big enough for a 50 litre rucksack. There is no air-conditioning, but the windows open fully, and a good breeze moves through the carriage when the train is moving.
There are sellers who walk up and down the carriages selling everything from bottled water and pop to cooked food similar to what you’d find on the street food stalls in Bangkok.
The seats are not the most comfortable, but the were good enough for this four hour journey.
It is a bit of a stop/start journey getting out of Bangkok, as the train has to stop at all the level crossing, but once you get out into the countryside it is a stunning journey.
The closer you get to Pak Chong, the better the views out into the countryside are, especially when the train hauls itself up into the mountains.
It stops at a number of beautiful little stations along the way, with more sellers trying to sell small products such as ice-creams through the windows.
Pick-up from Pak Chong Station
We arrived at Pak-Chong station at about 1340, so the train was actually a bit quicker than scheduled!
We had emailed Greenleaf Guesthouse to tell them which train we were on, and, as promised, there was a lovely lady waiting for us at the station. It was easy to find her in the company branded t-shirt!
She took us out to the car park, where we hopped in the back of a pickup truck. This really felt like the start of an adventure!
We were taken from Pak Chong over to the Guesthouse, which was about a half hour trip.
Once we arrived there was time for some lunch before the half day tour we had booked for the evening.
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