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Gibbons, wild Asian Elephants, and porcupines in Khao Yai National Park, Thailand

Tourists take trips to Yellowstone National Park in the United States for exciting encounters with wildlife, to African parks such as Serengeti, Masai Mara, and Kruger for incredible safaris, and to Khao Yai in Thailand to see large Asian mammals.

Only a two hour drive from massive and congested Bangkok, residents of the Thai capital do weekend trips to Khao Yai to see wildlife and get back in touch with nature. The tropical forests and grasslands of this national park cover a large enough area to provide forage and shelter for such big, charismatic fauna as Asian Elephants, Sambar Deer, Gaur (a rare, wild, Asian Ox), two species of bears, Gibbons, Macaques, and even a few Tigers.

Because much of the park is dense, tropical forest, the large animals of Khao Yai aren’t as easy to see as mammals in parks with wide open plains, but they are seen often enough to make this the most popular and heavily visited park in Thailand. This turns the campgrounds into veritable Thai jamborees each and every weekend but that doesn’t seem to reduce sightings of wild (and dangerous) Asian Elephants, semi tame and larcenous Lion-tailed Macaques, long-armed gibbons that hoot from the trees, massive, prehistoric-looking Great Hornbills (kind of like a giant, bizarre, old-world toucan), and plenty of beautiful Sambar Deer.

Visitors to the park who explore with an experienced, local guide are likely to see even more, especially if they go searching for animals at night. Tigers are pretty rare and avoid the limelight but elephants are just too big to hide. Other than the macaques and a variety of exotic, tropical Asian birds, some of the easiest animals to see are the large porcupines that visit the campgrounds at night. Covered in long quills that they rattle while walking among the tents, it can be disconcerting to see one of these dog-sized creatures stumbling around while walking to the restrooms but as long as you keep your distance, hopefully they will too (at least they aren’t carnivorous).

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