Thailand’s Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary
A place where Tigers still roam free
The UNESCO-listed Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary is a remote natural jewel in Thailand’s province of Uthai Thani. Located along the border with neighbouring Myanmar, few people (both Thai and foreign) visit this unknown and off-the-beaten-track gem. It is, however, one of Thailand’s most important conservation areas, and home to a rich array of flora and fauna – including a number of threatened and rare species.
Statistics suggest that up to 77% of all large mammals found across Southeast Asia still roam freely in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary. Due to the park’s enormous ecological significance, only certain areas are open to visitors (the main headquarters, the Saiboe Ranger Station, and the Huai Mae Di Ranger Station).
The remote and rugged jungle is home to Thailand’s largest population of wild tigers, with around 100+ big cats estimated to inhabit the dense forests. It is thought that Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary comes second only to India for its number of wild tigers.
Even more impressive, thanks to anti-poaching and protective measures, this is the only place in Southeast Asia where the wild tiger population is actually increasing.
Taking into account that past estimates suggested there were around 350 Indochinese tigers left in the wild (found across Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Laos), Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary’s efforts take on even more significance.
Cameras and armed guards help protect not only the tigers, but the prey and habitats that are essential for their survival.
Furthermore, the sanctuary is believed to be home to the biggest herd of gaur in Thailand – another species in decline. Additionally, there are still some researchers that maintain the possibility that there could be small numbers of the rare Sumatran white rhino roaming the expansive forests.
Other creatures that call the sanctuary home include elephants, leopards, deer, boar, bison, Asiatic wild dogs, macaques, langurs, gibbons, otters, monitor lizards, snakes, frogs, butterflies, and bird species such as peacocks, hornbills, eagles, magpies, and vultures.
A friend told me about Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, largely connected with his admiration for the late Seub Nakhasathien (more details to follow). My curiosity was piqued, and we made plans to visit.
After an overnight stay in Uthai Thani and what felt like a long drive, we finally reached the remote sanctuary. The rangers looked surprised to see visitors, let alone a foreign visitor and took time to tell my friend (who then translated to me) more about their work.
On seeing a brightly decorated truck with the words “Home of the Tiger” proudly displayed, I could barely contain my excitement.
Although I knew the chances of actually seeing a tiger were slim, I was still hopeful as we set off on one of the walking trails. We did see what appeared to be large paw prints in the dusty surface, but alas, no actual tigers!
We stumbled across some wild boar and saw skittish deer through the trees, but other than that, my only wildlife sightings were of birds, butterflies, small lizards, and macaque monkeys (of which I am not a fan!).
Walking the trails was, nonetheless, exciting, with the anticipation of seeing large creatures and just the knowledge that I was treading the same paths that big cats might choose to walk along.
We spent some time up a watchtower, observing birds and admiring the rolling green views.
I did want to visit the waterfall, but we were advised not to by the rangers, as they had apparently recently spotted a tiger drinking from the waters. While this made me even more desperate to go, my friend’s common sense and warnings of danger won out.
As well as the gorgeous landscapes, the peaceful atmosphere, and the remoteness, another highlight for me was visiting the former home of Seub Nakhasathien.
A major conservationist, environmentalist, educator, and demonstrator, Seub Nakhasathien was once the head ranger at Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary. One of the most passionate conservationists in Thai history, Seub Nakhasathien worked hard to protect the forests and their wildlife. He helped introduce legal measures for environmental protection, faced down fear to tackle illegal poaching, raised awareness within the population, and fought tirelessly for Thailand’s wildlife.
Sadly, the stresses and strains of being so devoted to a cause took a toll on Seub Nakhasathien’s mental well-being. Overcome with stress, anxiety, and sorrow at the harm caused to the environment, he tragically took his own life in 1990.
His death was not, however, in vain. It encouraged people to pay attention to the plight of nature, inspired more people to take active roles in conservation, and helped secure the protection of Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary.
You can look inside the small and simple home where Seub Nakhasathien used to live and pay your respects to the great man at the large statue erected in his honour.
While I spent just one day at Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary and only followed independently accessible trails, I would love to return and spend more time following various trails with ranger guides.
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
There is no public transport to Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary. It is easy to reach by road if you have your own vehicle.
If travelling independently, regular buses and minivans connect Uthai Thani town center with Bangkok, Nakhon Sawan, and other nearby towns and cities. From there, it is still a further 100 kilometres to the park’s entrance. You can negotiate a price with a taxi at the bus station for a return trip to the sanctuary, though expect to pay around 2,000 THB for the service. With the biggest choice of accommodations located close to the town center and little traffic passing close to the park, it really is advantageous to have a return trip booked.
Alternatively, a more convenient way of enjoying the sanctuary is to take an organized tour. Multi-day tours depart from Uthai Thani center, though they must be booked in advance.
Do – Activities & Attractions
Arrange a thrilling three-day wildlife safari with Tontan Travel.
Hike various short trails within the sanctuary, including Khao Hin Daeng Nature Trail, Khao Pakdee Nature Trail, and Pa Teng Rang Nature Trail.
Admire Saiboe Waterfall.
Sit patiently and quietly in one of the watchtowers for higher chances of seeing a variety of creatures.
Learn more about – and pay your respects to – the passionate environmentalist at the Seub Nakhasathian Memorial.
Stay – Accommodation
Although there is a large camping area at Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, it is presently not open to the public. Should it reopen, visitors can take their own gear and rent a pitch for a very low cost. Or there are tents and sleeping bags available to rent for affordable prices. There are various accommodations in the surrounding area, though private transport is usually necessary to make the most of your trip.
Baan Chai Khao Home Stay – With lush fruit trees in the immediate surroundings and mountains and forests all around, the peaceful Baan Chai Khao Home Stay is a terrific place to immerse yourself in nature. The large, single-story wooden house on stilts has various clean and comfortable guest rooms, all accessed from the main covered walkway. The open-sided walkway is lined with seating, where you can relax and enjoy the cool breeze and awesome views. Guests have access to the kitchen should they wish to prepare their own meals. It is a private accommodation that can accommodate up to nine people. The owner will interact with guests as much or as little as required. Having your own transport is highly recommended.
BanSaenSook Resort – Accommodation at BanSaenSook Resort is in small but modern, clean, and cozy chalets. There are chalets for two, three, and four people. Some rooms have a double bed, some have two single beds, some have one double bed and one single bed, and some have two double beds. Each chalet is ensuite. The basic chalets have air conditioning, a hot water flask, and a small seating area. The deluxe options have a TV, fridge, and kettle. The on-site restaurant serves popular Thai dishes such as stir-fried pork or chicken with rice, spicy soups, and omelet on rice. Ample parking is available.
Country Home Resort – The large Country Home Resort is a top place to escape everyday life and unwind in a peaceful, natural setting. There are various room and home types to suit varying budgets and groups sizes. From the basic rooms for two (complete with A/C, a fridge, and a TV) to larger homes like the three-bedroom, ten-person, two-story Riverview Loft House (with a living room, two bathrooms, and multiple TVs), you are all but guaranteed a comfortable and pleasant stay. There’s an on-site restaurant that serves typical Thai dishes, and the resort has a swimming pool complete with sun loungers around the edge. With advance notice, the resort can help arrange diverse activities and trips too.
Eat – Restaurants
There is a small, basic restaurant within Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, close to the parking area. It serves typical Thai dishes, such as vegetable fried rice, chicken fried rice, and pork with holy basil. You can refuel and refresh while surrounded by nature and enjoying the views.
With limited availability of meals close to the park, it’s recommended to at least carry drinks and snacks with you.
You’ll find a small selection of typical Thai restaurants within a 25-minute drive of the sanctuary, most of which are casual joints where meals are prepared in a large wok as you wait.
You’ll find the greatest choice of eateries in Uthai Thani town center. Most serve popular Thai fare in a relaxed setting. Check out the riverside Ruan Par Pra Mong for seafood and fish specialties, and Puan Restaurant for a huge menu, nicely presented dishes, reasonable prices, and a comfortable, air-conditioned dining room. Dishes include tempura, tom yam kung (hot and sour soup with shrimp), grilled fish, noodle salads, squid soup, som tam (spicy papaya salad), larb (a cold salad with minced pork and mint), fish cakes, and fried rice. Hongthai Egg Noodle has a nostalgic air and serves Chinese-style egg noodle dishes. S&W Steak Café is popular with meat lovers, and 71 is an all-you-can-eat Thai-style hot-pot buffet.
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary is open daily between 6 am and 6 pm year-round. Do note, however, that some trails are subject to closures.
The cool season, between November and February, generally offers the best chances of spotting a variety of wildlife. The lower temperatures also make exploring the great outdoors a lot more pleasant.
Waterfalls are at their fullest, and the landscapes are verdant and lush in the rainy season (July to October), though heavy downpours and storms can make it difficult to enjoy outdoor activities. Plus, mosquitos and leeches are more of a nuisance in the wet season.
Safety – Possible risks
While seeing wild animals is thrilling, always keep in mind that these are not tame creatures and that they can act unpredictably and aggressively. Keep your distance! Even if you don’t come face to face with a tiger, there are other animals that inhabit the sanctuary, such as elephants, deer, and wild boar, all of which can pose a risk to travellers. Always heed any warnings and advice given by park rangers.
Let people know of your whereabouts and plans, particularly if you plan to explore alone.
Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated in hot temperatures, and take steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitos. In the rainy season, leech socks can be useful.
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim to those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed.
Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
At the time of publication, there was a 200 THB entry fee for Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary. If travelling in your own vehicle, you will also need to pay a 30-THB vehicle fee.
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
Don’t leave any trash behind in the sanctuary! Take everything away with you and discard it later. Try to avoid taking plastic bags and polystyrene containers into natural areas. To help the planet in general, why not consider using a refillable water bottle rather than buying bottled water every day?
Always pay attention to any guidance given by park rangers; if they tell you to avoid specific trails, for example, it is for your own safety and/or for the good of the park. Also, be aware that many parts of the sanctuary are off-limits to visitors for reasons of preservation and conservation. Don’t be tempted to stray into forbidden areas.
Respect the environment and avoid doing anything that could damage the landscapes (such as picking flowers or clearing pathways through thick undergrowth), don’t make loud noises that could disturb the wildlife, and certainly don’t light any fires.
Reality Check – Be Aware
Although Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary has Thailand’s largest population of wild tigers, it is highly unlikely that you will actually spot any of the magnificent creatures. Be prepared to see tracks, feces, and other exciting evidence of tiger inhabitation rather than the animals themselves. There’s a good chance of spotting smaller creatures, such as deer, birds, and lizards, though no sightings of wildlife can be guaranteed.
If you do not have your own transportation and don’t opt to visit as part of a tour, expect to encounter transportation difficulties, language barriers, and delays. Nothing is impossible, but independent travel to Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary certainly isn’t a walk in the park!
Even if you only experience the stunning landscapes, the thrill of knowing you’re walking the same lands as tigers, and the moving memorials, a trip to the remote and barely visited Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary is still more than worth the effort.
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