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Khao Yai

Khao Yai, only 206 kilometres from Bangkok, is Dong Phya Yen's last surviving forest from the times of agricultural pioneers. An enormous natural reserve, Khao Yai National Park covers the Phanom Dongrak mountain range and bridges four provinces'. Sara Buri, Nakhon Ratchasima, Prachin Buri, and Nakhon Nayok. It is the third largest and the most popular national park in the kingdom, recognised by trekkers and tourists alike as one of Southeast Asia's most. treasured natural heritage sites. Khao Yai is abundant with many rare species of fauna and flora. Botanists estimate it is home to between 2,000 and 2,500 species of vegetation and over 300 species of birds and animals. It is also one of the world's most important research centres for hombills. Indeed, Khao Yai's many natural charms attract a steady stream of researchers, trekkers, photographers, travellers, biologists, and adventurers from all around the world.

How to get there - When to visit
The 3-hour journey to Khao Yai begins on Phahonyothin Road. Turn right at Rangsit onto Highway 305 toward Nakhon Nayok. From there, take Suwannasorn Road 33 to Naresuan Monument, taking a left onto Prachin-Khao Yai Road, a total of 160 kilometres. Roads through Khao Yai National Park itself are safe and well maintained, easily negotiable by larger tour coaches and buses. To see as much of the park as possible, try returning along an alternative route. For instance, if you went via Prachin Buri Road, why not return along Mittraparp Road and take in that much more of the spectacular scenery. The best time to visit Khao Yai National Park is between October and February, from the tail end of the rainy season, when the park's many waterfalls are most dazzling, to the beginning of summer.

Where to go
In addition to many panoramic lookouts, such as those at km. 30, Khao Khaew Pha Trorrijai, and krn 9, the highest and perhaps most stunning views the park offers are from Khao Rom at 1,351 metres, Khao Learn Sung at 1,326 metres, Khao Khaew at 1,292 metreg, and Khao Sam Yod at 1 , 14 2 metres. At these altitudes, the breeze is high all yearround. Nong Pakchee Pong Ton Sai, just beyond the Park Office at km. 30, offers the unforgettable experience of witnessing wild elephants first-hand. The park is also rich in sparkling waterfalls, the most popular being Haew Suwat, Haew Narok, Krong Kaew, Pha Kuay Mai, Haew Pratoon, and Haew Sai. These are all easy to reach and well worth the short, scenic trek.

Where to Stay - Where to eat
Khao Yai National Park has 24-hour electricity, and the Royal Forest Department can accommodate up to 1 000 visitors in its 1 6 bungalows and 4 camping areas. Reservations can be made with National Parks Division's Accommodation Services, Tel. 579-0529. Additionally, many luxurious hotels and resorts are situated at the foot of Khao Yai on Thanarat Road. Most take full advantage of the natural setting. There are also plenty of good restaurants in the area to choose from, offering amongst other dishes, spicy eggplant salad, tofu with minced pork, and stir fried vegetables. The River Side Restaurant, located along Lam Takhong Dam on Kong Vaccine Road, offers oysters in a pan that comes highly recommended. For nature lovers, Khao Yai has three animal observatories: Nong Pakchee, Mo Singhto, and Nong Khing. Four sightseeing tours by plane can also be arranged, flying from Kong Kaew to Haew Suwat, Dongtiw to Mo Singhto, Dongtiw to Nong Pakchee, and Dan Chang to Pong, a total distance of 40 kilometres. For further details, please contact the Royal Forest Department.

Famous souvenirs from this area include Dan Kwian pottery and Mudmee Thai silk, which can be found at nearby Korat Market along with many other souvenirs. Not to be missed are the Moo Yo (Thai pork sausage), shredded pork, and Chinese sausages.

Pah Taem

Ancient cliff paintings on the 1 70-metre cliffs of Pah Taem depict people, animals, tools and other traditional symbols. Visitors to Pah Taem National Park can view this rare example of ancient art amid the natural wonders that inspired it along ago.

How to get there
From Khong Jeam District, follow Highway 2 1 34 to Highway 2 1 12. Turn right and continue along this road for five kilometres to Pah Taem, a total distance of approximately 18 kilometres.

Where to visit
Several mushroom-shaped stone piles, which locals have named Sao Chalieng, adorn either side of the road leading to Pah Taem. Further along, visitors will find Pah Taem's many wateefalls, the largest being Sroi Sawan, followed closely by Tung Na Muang and Saeng Chan. A wealth of smaller falls surrounds the area, namely Pah Jek, Pah Meoy, Phu NaTam, Suan Hin, Phu Jorn Koem, and Huay Pok.

Where to stay - Where to eat
A good selection of mid-range hotels are found along Chayang Kul and Keun Thani Roads. The menu in this area is strictly Thai, with a wide variety of traditional dishes prepared meticulously at Khum Thai Restaurant on Sai Rob Muang Road. At Lab Boon Thom O-Cha Restaurant on Lub Isan Road, try traditional Thai Lab, a spicy minced meat served with vegetables. Neramitr Restaurant and Khun Sood Restaurant, both on Ubon-Warin Road along the banks of the river, prepare a mouth-watering selection of seafood.

The area around Pah Taem is renowned for its local handwoven cotton, Khid, brassware, and basket-weaving, which are all available in town from the local market. Additionally, Ubon Ratchathani is famous for its Moo Yo (Thai pork sausages), and its Chinese and Northern Thai sausages.

Phu Kradung

Few people have not heard of Phu Kraclung, a very popular destination among college students. It is said you can hear a bell on its heart-shaped plateau during head-shaving ceremonies and Buddhist holy days. Legend has it that telling a lie on the mountain will bring bad luck. With a lush tropical forest and plunging waterfalls, Phu Kradung is home to a variety of wildlife. Among its many unforgettable sights, sunrise and sunset at Phu Kradung are reputed to be the most dazzling in the Kingdom.

How to get there
Follow highway 201 for approximately 70 kilometres and turn right at krn 276 onto Highway 2019. The Park Office is 8 kilometres down this road. From there, the park itself is a 5.5 kilometre walk away.

Where to go - When to visit
Phu Kradung is a natural amusement park, with towering cliffs, wide grassy fields, ponds and waterfalls. Mhak Dock Cliff is most impressive at sunset, while the large stone fields of Na Noi Cliff and the lush pine trees of Daeng Cliff are best seen during the day. At Lom Sak Cliff, visitors often queue up to take postcard- perfect shots of the overhanging rock and pine trees. Throughout summer, wild roses emit a sweet fragrance at Nok Nang Ant Cave (swallow Cave). Phu Kradung, a series of magnificent waterfalls, has been dazzling visitors ever since Wong Kwang and Pone Pob were first discovered by Pone King Phet. Pen, who was Pone King Phet's lover, is credited with discovering the nearby Pen Pob Waterfall. Kun Thong Yai Waterfall, considered the largest waterfall in Phu Kradung, should also not be missed. To all these, the tranquillity of Anadart Pond and Lan Wat Phra Kaew strike a perfect, natural balance. A word of warning: Visitors in the rainy season should bring along raincoats, waterproof boots or cross-training shoes, and pain-relieving ointment for snail and slug bites.Best time to visit Phu Kradung's many seasons are told in its flowers. Between November and December the rong tao naree flowers are in full bloom, and maple leaves are beginning to turn colour. A seasonal phenomenon known as the sea of mist is most beautiful at this time of year. The leaves change colour in early January and by February, the area's famous red roses are in bloom. Its fragrant white roses bloom in March. Summer is the best time to view the white orchids, and by April the pink krajeaw flowers blossom across the stony ground. In May, the tender vaew mayura and montien thong continue to grow and blossom. The National Park itself is closed between June and September every year.

Where to stay - Where to eat
After your adventures in the hills, several luxurious hotels await in town. Many are spread out along Charoenrat Road and Chumsai Road. There are also several midrange hotels in Loei-Wat Sapung. Good local fare, such as Bamboo Shoot Curry, Pak Whan (a kind of vegetable) Curry, Jaew Soup, Jaew Soup with crab, fish and mushroom, or Pak Whan with special local sauce, Pak Sean (a kind of vegetable), can all be purchased at the morning market in town. Au-Lam (a salty meat), minced duck with spicy salad, minced chicken with spicy salad, Kaw Phad, and rice noodles with sweet coconut cream are also available throughout the area.

Chiang Khan is famous for its delicious sweet dried coconut (Maprao Kaew) and the renowned one hundred percent cotton Chiang Khan comforter. Uncle Thong Sal from Na Hawe District ( 1 17 km. from town) creates the most beautiful Pah Kaw Hwaye. Another popular local product is the Pi Ta Khon mask.

Phu Luang

With its fertile geography, Phu Luang's wide plateau remains cool year-round. Recently, its 530,000 rai of land was declared a Wildlife Conservation Centre.

How to get there
Follow highway 201 to Wang Sapung District. From there, turn right onto Highway 2250 and follow this road to the park entrance. The Provincial Administrative Organisation of Loei offers a three-day, two-night package tour including food and accommodation. Reservation must be made 15 days in advance.

Where to visit - When to visit
A special certificate is awarded by the Park Office to tourists who travel Phu Luang on foot. The route begins at Hlon Mon, the first stop before embarking on an adventurous jungle trek. Sights along the way include the pine forests of Lam Huay, Hlon Sao Yang Kew, and Hlon Hin Aew. Additionally, the trek passes by the fields of white roses and wild orchirds at Lan Hin Hlon Tae, and through Pah Kob, Pah Chom View, Hlon Chang Phung, and Suorn Ngu Hao. The trek normally takes three days to complete, and is accessible only between October and May.

Where to stay - Where to eat
After a tiring hike, relax in one of the luxurious hotels along Charoenratch Road. Alternatively, mid-range accommodation is available on Chumsai Road. Local Thai dishes are on offer at Sor Arhan Thai on Nok Kaew Road, and excellent Sukiyaki is prepared in the many restaurants along Chumsai Road. For afters, take your pick of fresh baked goods at Sawita Bakery on Charoenratch Road.

Pi Ta Khon masks are a popular item in Phu Luang. Local crafts also include exquisite silk on Pipatmongkol Road, and handwoven cotton on Sert Sri Road. Sweet tamarind, Chinese sausage, and dried pork are available in town at Damrong Panich Shop. Also, cotton flowers and Thai silk goods are readily available throughout the area.

Phu Wiang

Phu Wiang is Thailand's 'Jurassic Park'. One of Asia's richest sources of dinosaur fossils, Phu Wiang National Park's volcano-shaped geography links three separate districts of Khon Kaen Province: Phu Wiang, Si Chompoo, and Chomphae. A historical and geological wonder, Phu Wiang National Park is a natural tourist attraction.

How to get there
Follow the Khon Kaen-Chomphae route, Highway 12, for about 48 kilometres, turning right onto Highway 2038, and continue for another 18 kilometres to Phu Wiang District. From there, follow Phu Wiang-Ban Muang Road to km. 23, or "Pak Chong Phu Wiang", and continue to km. 30. At the entrance to the dam, turn left. Phu Pratu Thimah, the entrance to Phu Wiang National Park, is about 7.7 kilometres down this road.

What to see - When to visit
Phu Wiang's most popular attraction is its many dinosaur fossils. At Pratu Thimah, visitors can view the fossilised remains of Kamarasaurus, one of the larger vegetarian dinosaurs. Nearby, must see attractions include the 175 million -year-old shell cemetery, and the 68 footprints of carnivorous dinosaurs locked in the stony ground of Phu Wiang Mountain. Further up the mountain, about 18 kilometres from the park itself, a spectacular multi-leveled waterfall splashes 15 metres down the side of Phu Wiang. Next to Ban Hin Rong, Tham Pha Mue Daeng (Red Palm Cave) features enchanting prehistoric red palm cave paintings. From there, visitors can pay homage to the Sleeping Buddha image carved in stone in the Travarawadi style at the top of Yod Phu Wiang (Phu Wiang Mountain) The rainy season in this area starts in May and continues until mid-October. The summer months are between November and April, when the average temperature is around 26 degrees Celsius. As each season brings out a distinct feature of the area, the park remains open year-round.

Where to stay - What to eat
In town, there are many mid-range and luxurious hotels along Klang Muang Road and Sri Chan Road to choose from. Accommodation is also available in Phu Wiang National Park. For more information, please contact Phu Pratu Thimah National Park, tel. (043) 291 393. A trip to Phu Wiang would not be complete without stopping in town for steamed hot pot chicken on Rong Bung Kaen Nakhon Road, or other local dishes at Can Luang Restaurant on Na Muang Road and Krua Mae Ying on Supathira Road.

Pork and Chinese sausages, shredded and dried pork, Thai style crunchy peanuts, and Thai style dips are all favourites in this area. Visitors can find these, among other delights, at the city market, Naem Lub Lae shop, Jae Ratch, Lee Kung Sieng, Eu Koei Hieng, Toey Hua Yu, and Chua Ha Hieng shops.

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