Get in touch with nature at these beautiful parks just a few hours outside the capital.

While there's a lot of places you can go to shop, eat and party in Bangkok, take it down a notch and get to know the capital on a more intimate level. Apart from the culture, dizzying rows of shops and endless street food stalls, Bangkok is awash with beautiful parks, cascading waterfalls, trekking trails, exciting safaris and animal watching sessions. There's plenty of time to plan before the next long weekend (the next one is in April over the Good Friday long weekend on Apr 14). So hit the drawing board, gather your friends and check out these national parks which are just a couple of hours away from the hustle and bustle of the city center. Tip: you can only get to most of these places by car, so it'll really help if there are a couple of drivers in your entourage.

Khao Yai National Park

Siamese Fireback. Photo credit: Rushenb (via Wikimedia Commons)

Thailand’s first national park, covering an area of 2,168 sq kilometers, is popular for its migratory birds and reptiles.

How far: Just three hours’ drive north from Bangkok, but there’s no direct public transportation. 

Main attractions: Popular activities include animal watching with two wildlife watchtowers (Mo Sing and Nong Phak Chi) providing 360-degree views of the park. Night safaris are popular, too, though you’ll need your own car and also to contact the park office before 6pm. There are also over 20 trekking trails to choose from (between 500m and 8km long), which also afford spectacular views of the nearby waterfalls, Haew Nerok and Haew Suwat. While you can have a family picnic on the trailing ground, there are also several restaurants around.  

Where to stay: There is a campsite at Pha Kluaymai where tents and sleeping bags can be rented on arrival $0.40/night for children and $0.80/night for Adult (see contact details below). There are also plenty of hotels in the vicinity. Perched by a lake, in the foothills of Khao Yai National Park, Atta Lakeside Resort is home to 243 rooms spread across nine low-rise buildings. Rates start at $624/night for a one-bedroom suite. The quaint woodern cottages at Birder’s Lodge start at a much more affordable $121/night.

Entrance fees: Adults $16, Children $8

Amphoe Pak Chong, Nakhon Ratchasima. Contact: +66 (0) 2-562-0760. Open daily 8am-5pm.

Erawan National Park

Erawan Fall. Photo credit: David Iliff (via Wikimedia Commons) 

Famous for its seven-tiered waterfall, this park is located in the province of Kanchanaburi and is named after the mythic three-headed white elephant of Hindu culture.

How far: Three hours’ drive northwest from Bangkok.         

Main attractions: The Erawan Falls is the heart of the park, with its sheer emerald green pond, hidden caves and limestone hills. The park is famously good for swimming and picnicking—just keep in mind that food is not allowed beyond the second tier. Do not expect too much animal watching, either, as there are only a limited number of trails with few aquatic animals. Sai Yok National Park is also in close proximity (see below). 

Where to stay: Families or groups can stay at the park bungalows ($32 for 2 people, $48 for 4 people)  or rent a tent ($6/day for 2 people, $10/day for 3 people). There are many accommodation options nearby—a stay at River Kwai Park & Resort (+66 (0) 92-647-2430) starts at around $48/night.

Entrance fees: Adults $12, Children $8

Erawan National Park, Tha Kradan sub-district, Kanchanaburi. Contact: +66 (0) 3-457-4222, +66 (0) 3-457-4234, +66 (0) 819148791. Open daily 8am-4:30pm.

Kaeng Krachan National Park

Kalij Pheasant at Kaeng Krachan National Park. Photo credit: Jason Thompson (via Flickr)  

This is the largest national park in Thailand with the most diverse wildlife. Famous as a bird and butterfly-watching place, the park is home to over 420 species of birds and approximately 300 butterfly species. It’s also well-regarded for its stunning morning mist.

How to get there: Three hours’ drive from Bangkok.

Main attractions: The Ban Krang campsite is where you can rent tents or sleeping bags from the visitor center and enjoy watching birds and butterflies. You'll find many of these bird species around the campsite, though this is not strictly within the rainforest area. If you are adventurous, there are few trekking routes to explore the jungle or you can relax by the waterfall.

Where to stay: Tents and bungalows can be arranged at HQ (contact details below) or there are hotels 5km from the campsite like Kaengkrachan Boathouse Paradise Resort from around $113/night. If you intend to camp, it's $1.20/night. 

Entrance fees: Adults $12, Children $8

Huai Mae Priang, Kaeng Krachan District, Phetchaburi. Contact: +66 (0) 3-245-9293. Open 24 hours.

Kui Buri National Park

Herd of Wild Elephants. Photo credit: Kosin Sukhum (via Wikimedia Commons)

Home to a large population of gaurs (Indian bisons) and considered the best place to see wild elephants, this park sits in the province of Prachuap Khiri Khan. The park touches the Myanmar border and Kaeng Krachan National Park to the north.

How far: Four hours’ drive south from Bangkok, though there is no direct public transportation to the park.

Main attractions: Huai Luek Wildlife Watching Area has their own open-air safari vehicles that can be taken on spot. Also, the 15-tier Huay Dong Mai Fai Waterfall is not to be missed. Do take your swimsuit to chill at the pools under the waterfall, too. If you’re lucky, you might spot a deer or golden jackal. Do bring your own food as there are no restaurants nearby.

Where to stay: Advance reservations are needed if you want to stay in the bungalows ($73/night) or tents ($11/night)—see contact details below. Other hotels are located some 50km from the park. 

Entrance fees: Adults $8, Children $4

Hat Kham, Kui Buri District, Prachuap Khiri Khan. Contact: +66 (0) 3-264-6296, +66 (0) 84-435-2086. Open 24 hours. 

Sai Yok National Park

Houseboats in Sai Yok National Park. Photo credit: Drimascus (via Wikimedia Commons) 

Sitting beside the River Kwai, the park is home to raft houses, waterfalls and caves, with plenty of history to be explored.

How far: Three to four hours’ drive northwest from Bangkok.

Main attractions: Sai Yok Noi Waterfall is popular for the beautiful in the way it flows through the forest and limestone rocks. Adjacent to the waterfall is Nam Tok Railway Station, the final station of the historic "Death Railway" line. You can also take a trip along the river by hiring a long-tail boat ($16/half-hour). If you’re lucky, you might spot a water monitor or barking deer by the water. There are many caves to explore but remember to bring a flash-light along. Look out for the rare Kitti’s hog-nosed bat, which was first discovered in this park. It’s also very close to Erawan National Park, meaning you could cover both places during your trip.

Where to stay: You can stay at one of the private raft houses, while bungalows and tents are also available for hire (starting from $11). There are plenty of hotels around the area, too, including Goodview Resort and Camping with prices around the $80 mark. 

Entrance fees: Adults $12, Children $8

Sai Yok, Sai Yok District, Kanchanaburi. Contact: +66 (0) 867007442. Open daily 7am-5pm.

Several airlines fly direct between Singapore and Bangkok, and flights that long Good Friday weekend are starting $208 on Jetstar, or $367 on Thai Airways, if you fly on Thursday.