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When the stresses of city living get too much, these green havens within easy striking distance of the Thai capital offer blissful respite in three unique national parks
Bangkok may seem like it is in an entirely different universe to the picture postcard visions of Thailand familiar from tourist brochures. But the truth is that it’s not all that difficult to escape the country’s exciting, but enervating capital for a few days with several national parks within a handful of hours. These beautiful spots are replete with crashing waterfalls, verdant jungle, stunning beaches and ancient holy sites.
Thailand’s first national park is one of the easiest excursions from Bangkok due to its proximity to the city (it’s under three hours away). Just because it is convenient, doesn’t mean it is not wild though. Over 300 species of tropical birds, as well as mammals including gibbons, Asian black bears and wild elephants, call this forested expanse home. In addition to wildlife, the park has numerous towering waterfalls. These include Haew Suwat, which had a starring role in the big screen adaptation of The Beach, and Haew Narok, one of the Thailand’s highest falls. Khao Yai is also notable for an array of nearby attractions and amenities ranging from PB Winery – one of Thailand’s finest wineries – and numerous championship golf courses.
To stay the night, Kirimaya is a serene retreat near the national park. Elegant rooms feature contemporary Thai design, while tented villas provide novelty as well as luxury.
Often overlooked by travellers making a beeline to the islands in the south of Thailand, Koh Samet is a brilliant beach option for visitors with limited time in the Kingdom. The T-shaped island, which measures just 6.8 kilometres from north to south (around 70 full size football pitches), is located just off the mainland in the Gulf of Thailand just 200 kilometres from Bangkok, making it a simple getaway from the capital. Indeed, its convenience is reflected at weekends and public holidays when hotels fill up with Thai urbanites eager to soak up some rays and enjoy the lively nightlife. Its proximity to the city, however, should not detract from Koh Samet’s idyllic qualities. The eastern seaboard of the island is indented with picture perfect bays of gently sloping white sand. What’s more, it has a uniquely dry microclimate ensuring year-round good weather. While it can get rather busy at northern beaches such as Hat Sai Kaew – a 1km-long, 30-metre-wide beach translated literally as Crystal Sand Beach — during peak periods, things are rather more peaceful further south. Seclusion seekers will savour the laid-back vibe at coves such as Ao Wai, Ao Kiu Nok and Ao Karang.
To stay, book at the all-villa resort Paradee, regarded as one of the most prestigious addresses on Koh Samed.
A few hours east of Bangkok near the charming riverside town of Kanchanaburi is Erawan National Park, one of Thailand’s most visited natural sites. Though there’s plenty of wildlife to spot here – with sambar deer, macaques, wild boar and other critters roaming the evergreen and deciduous forest, the main attraction here is the park’s multi-tiered waterfall. The waterfall is 1,500 metres long and has seven tiers, each of which offers safe swimming. Be warned, while beautiful, the falls get mighty crowded at weekends and on public holidays.
To stay, X2 River Kwai Resort is located on the famous river and offers sweeping views of the nearby mountain ranges.