Watching Wild Elephants in Kui Buri National Park in Thailand

Watching Wild Elephants in Kui Buri National Park in Thailand

Experience

Thailand’s Kui Buri National Park is located in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province. It sees relatively few visitors and is fairly unknown among international tourists. Many Thai people are also unaware of this fabulous hidden natural gem.

If you love wildlife and nature, I can’t recommend Kui Buri National Park enough. It’s the best place in all of Thailand to spot wild elephants; there’s more than a 95% chance of seeing the magnificent lumbering beasts on any given day. Add to that the high likelihood of seeing the rare and at-risk gaur, majestic hornbills, and other wildlife, and a visit to Kui Buri becomes highly compelling!

I heard about the national park and was eager to visit, mainly for the thrill of seeing elephants in the wild. I wasn’t disappointed! We spied our first elephant munching on leaves almost as soon as we’d set off along the dusty trail. Partially obscured by trees, the large elephant didn’t seem bothered by people staring as it ate.

Continuing along the track, there was exciting evidence of elephant life, with broken branches, ripped-up tree trunks, and large piles of dung. We drove slowly along the trail, peering into the bushes in the hope of seeing another elephant. The greenery-clad mountain range separating Thailand and Myanmar rises nearby, and the landscapes are rugged and wild.

You can only visit the national park with a local guide and driver. Sitting in the back of a pick-up truck helps create a safari-like feeling, and the anticipation deepens each time the truck slows or the guide cranes their neck to peer through branches.

There’s a viewing point in the national park where you can often strike it lucky and see elephants grazing in the open. As we approached the wooden shelter, we were excited to see a group of elephants below. There were ten beautiful creatures in total, with both adults and babies standing in clear sight.

After watching the elephants for some time, I left the national park, delighted to have been lucky enough to have spotted 11 elephants in their natural habitat.

I returned to Kui Buri National Park a second-time several months later. If I was amazed on my first visit, I was blown away the second time around! I sat on the dry ground at the hilly viewpoint observing no fewer than 33 elephants on the grassy expanse below. A herd of gaur grazed nearby, and white birds pecked in the earth, mulched up by the elephants’ large feet and heavyweight. The tranquility was only broken by the melodious sounds of calling birds, and the experience was rather magical. This time around, I was fortunate enough also to see colorful hornbills flying overhead and flitting through the trees.

One aspect that makes Kui Buri National Park so special is the fact that the locals are heavily involved in mutually beneficial eco-tourism initiatives. In the past, people and elephants didn’t live together so harmoniously, with elephants straying out of the forests to ravage farmland and eat crops. Reforestation projects and the creation of watering holes, however, played a vital role in replacing some of the elephants’ lost natural habitat and preventing the creatures from needing to forage for food.

Locals work as drivers and guides, taking visitors through landscapes that they have known for many years. This provides an income for local families, which in turn makes villagers keener to take part in conservation and protection efforts. Sustainable tourism in the national park also helps to raise funds for further environmental work.

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SEE – Photos & Videos

WSE Travel - Different generations of elephants

Different generations of elephants

WSE Travel - Elephants grazing in Kui Buri National Park

Elephants grazing in Kui Buri National Park

WSE Travel - Me and bird

Me and bird

WSE Travel - Track through Kui Buri National Park

Track through Kui Buri National Park

WSE Travel - Trees uprooted by elephants in Kui Buri National Park

Trees uprooted by elephants in Kui Buri National Park

WSE TRavel - Truck crossing a flooded section of Kui Buri National Park

Truck crossing a flooded section of Kui Buri National Park

WSE Travel - Wild elephants in Kui Buri National Park

Wild elephants in Kui Buri National Park

WSE Travel - Wild gaur at Kui Buri National Park

Wild gaur at Kui Buri National Park

WSE Travel - Young elephant with its mother

Young elephant with its mother

WSE Travel - Birds and elephants in Kui Buri National Park

Birds and elephants in Kui Buri National Park

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GO – Getting There

The easiest way to get to Kui Buri National Park is as part of an arranged tour or by rented vehicle. Tours operate from the popular beach town of Hua Hin; you can easily rent cars there too. A day’s car rental costs from 1,000 THB plus fuel.

There is no public transport to the national park. You could take a local bus to Kui Buri town, though do note that the town is around 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) away from Huai Luek Ranger Station (where the elephant-spotting safaris begin). Buses stop at the side of the highway on routes between Bangkok and Southern Thailand. From the town, you would need to arrange a private car to take you to the national park. This isn’t impossible—this is how I first traveled to the national park—but with no local taxis or car rentals, I do feel that I was just fortunate in being able to negotiate a ride to the park. I paid 1,000 THB for a vehicle to take me to several local places of interest en route to Kui Buri National Park, wait while I enjoyed the elephants, and then return to town.

Kui Buri town has a train station; trains from Bangkok leave from Thonburi Station and take around five hours. From the train station, you would still need to arrange transportation to the national park.

Another option would be to charter a taxi for the return trip from a nearby tourist area, such as Hua Hin, Cha Am, or Prachuap Khiri Khan town. You should expect to pay a minimum of 2,000 THB for a return taxi ride from Hua Hin, though prices do depend on your negotiating skills!

WSE Travel - Watching Wild Elephants in Kui Buri National Park in Thailand - Map

Watching Wild Elephants in Kui Buri National Park in Thailand – Map

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Do – Activities & Attractions

While the elephant safari from Huai Luek Ranger Station is the main thing to do in Kui Buri, you’ll still find a few other places of interest to fill your day with diversity.

Make a quick photo stop at Yang Chum Reservoir if traveling to the national park independently. The freshwater reservoir is a breeding ground for several fish species, and you’ll likely spot keen anglers sitting patiently at the water’s edge. The views across the reservoir are splendidly scenic.

If you enjoy hiking, you’ll find several marked trails through Kui Buri National Park, starting at the main Visitor Centre some 23 kilometers (14.3 miles) from Huai Luek Ranger Station.

You can follow a short, self-driving nature route just outside the park entrance at Huai Luek Ranger Station. Although there’s little chance of seeing the main stars (AKA elephants) on the drive, you may spot various birds, reptiles, and rodents. Agricultural land stretches into the distance to meet the forests and mountains.

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Stay – Accommodation

There are no accommodation options at Huai Luek Ranger Station, though you’ll find a selection of accommodations in nearby Kui Buri town. Camping is also available at the Visitor Centre at the main entrance to Kui Buri National Park.

Camping – You can rent tents and sleeping bags at the Visitor Centre for around 300 THB per night. Do note that there are only basic facilities, and eating options are limited to snacks unless you take your own meals. You can pitch your own tent for 30 THB per night.

Ban Lek Resort – One of the cheaper accommodation options near Kui Buri National Park, Ban Lek Resort has basic but comfortable bungalow-style rooms. All rooms are en suite and have a fridge, TV, and free Wi-Fi. The peaceful resort has a convenient on-site café, and there’s plenty of outdoor space where you can relax.

Kuiburi Hotel and Resort – An attractive mid-range option near Kui Buri National Park, Kuiburi Hotel and Resort has an inviting swimming pool where you can cool down and unwind. You can also book various massages for even more relaxation. There’s a fitness center if you’re feeling active, and you can refuel in the coffee shop and restaurant. Room options include standard and deluxe rooms for two, suites, and charming villas.

X2 Kui Buri – If you want to treat yourself and enjoy the high life, the stunning design hotel of X2 Kui Buri is ideal. The award-winning hotel is located right on the seafront and surrounded by tranquil traditional villages. All the luxury villas have their own garden and terrace, and many boast a private plunge pool. You can savor Thai and international cuisine in the high-class restaurant, and the elegant bar is a fantastic spot for a nightcap. Enjoy blissful pampering in the spa and relax by the main pool, stroll through the delightful gardens, and have fun with a genteel game of petanque.

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Eat – Restaurants

Close to the national park, the main eating options are small, local Thai restaurants. Expect a handful of tables and chairs under lean-to shelters in what looks to be somebody’s yard. Menus are typically basic, using fresh ingredients to prepare popular Thai dishes like stir-fried pork and holy basil, chicken fried rice, and pad Thai noodles.

There are a handful of restaurants in Kui Buri town, most of which serve typical Thai fare. Many specialize in particular dishes, so don’t wander into a noodle shop expecting to find many rice options! Restaurants take full advantage of their coastal location, with fresh seafood featuring prominently in many recipes.

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Time – Seasonality & Schedules

While Kui Buri National Park is generally open year round, the cooler season (between November and February) is an ideal time to enjoy the outdoors. April and May, on the other hand, are the hottest months of the year; sitting in the back of a pick-up truck can be unbearably hot. Plus, a lot of the wildlife seeks out hidden, shaded spots, so your chances of seeing animals may be diminished.

If you plan to visit during the rainy season (July to October), do check that the park is open; it sometimes closes due to flooding.

The elephant-viewing trips at Huai Luek Ranger Station start at 2 pm each day (this section of the park is closed in the mornings). The last admission is at 5 pm, though people already in the park can remain until around 6 pm. You should plan to spend around one to two hours within the park.

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Safety – Possible risks

While local guides and drivers have plenty of experience and practice safe viewing of wildlife, it is important to remember that any animals you see in the national park are wild and can be unpredictable. Do not approach wildlife and do not get out of the vehicle unless you are given permission.

Mosquitoes can be an annoyance, particularly in the late afternoon and during the rainy season. Take bite avoidance measures like applying insect repellent and wearing long clothing.

Protect yourself from the sun and heat by wearing a hat and covering up with loose, long clothing. Don’t forget the sun cream and drink plenty of water.

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 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 to.

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).

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Pay – How much does it cost?

At the time of publication, there was a 200 THB entrance fee for foreigners visiting Kui Buri National Park. The truck ride costs 850 THB per vehicle. Visitors are not grouped together, so do be aware that if you’re visiting on your own, you will need to pay the entire safari cost by yourself. It is not possible to enter this section of the national park without taking the safari tour.

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Responsible Travel – Best Practices

Avoid doing anything that could cause distress to animals or locals, such as making loud noises and sudden movements. Respect the environment and don’t leave any litter behind. Keep in mind that this is an off-the-beaten-track destination and that facilities and services may not be quite what you are used to—go with the flow and try not to become frustrated with people.

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Reality Check – Be Aware

Seeing wildlife at Kui Buri National Park is a fantastic experience, and you are highly likely to see wild elephants and other creatures. Although the chance of seeing elephants is around 98%, you should remember that sightings of wild animals can never be guaranteed. Although unlikely, you should be prepared for the possibility of seeing just spectacular scenery and no creatures. Having binoculars can significantly enhance your experience, although it’s often possible to get excellent views of wildlife without them. Locals are friendly and will often go out of their way to help you. That said, if you are planning to visit Kui Buri National Park independently and do not have your own vehicle, you should expect at least some minor setbacks and delays. Being flexible with your plans and having a realistic budget in mind is essential.

Additional Resources
https://www.thainationalparks.com/kui-buri-national-park

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