Exploring the Most Beautiful Forests in Thailand: A Journey Through Lush Greenery and Conservation Efforts

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Author:  Caroline

Hundreds of little islands offering a myriad of activities ranging from raucous full-moon festivities to pristine diving, a capital containing temples positively dripping with gold and some of the best street food known to man. That is what most tourists expect upon traveling to the Land of Smiles. The luscious forests in Thailand are usually the terrain of the more adventurous traveler, here is why they should make it to your Thailand itinerary!

Thailand is home to some of Southeast Asia’s most diverse and lush forests. These forests carpet nearly 32% of the country’s total land area. Not surprisingly they play a vital role in conserving the biodiversity of not just the country but the world. Housing an estimated 8% of the world’s plant species.

You might be thinking “I do not go on holiday to spot 50 shades of green plants”, and I would be inclined to agree with you. What piqued my interest was how visiting the forest in Thailand can have a profound impact on the local communities living in and around the area. 

Be it from entrance fees to national parks, booking a local tour or staying in a homestay, one thing is for sure: By exploring these lesser-known parts of Thailand you will get a much more authentic experience while ensuring your hard-earned pennies support the local economy.


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Sunset view at Khao Sok Forest in Thailand
Sunset view at Khao Sok Forest in Thailand

 A Glimpse into Thailand’s Forests

Thailand’s forests are classified into four main types: tropical rainforests, dry evergreen forests, deciduous forests, and mangrove forests. Each of these forests offers unique landscapes and ecological features, contributing to the country’s rich biodiversity.

  • Tropical Rainforests: Found mainly in southern Thailand, areas like Khao Sok National Park are home to a remarkable variety of plant and animal life. These rainforests are characterised by their dense vegetation, high rainfall, and an abundance of wildlife. Khao Sok, in particular, is renowned for its ancient rainforests, which have existed for over 160 million years. Visitors can experience the breathtaking beauty of towering limestone karsts, dense jungle, and diverse flora and fauna, including the rare rafflesia flower, which is the largest flower in the world.
  • Dry Evergreen Forests: These forests dominate central and eastern Thailand, with parks such as Khao Yai showcasing a mix of evergreen and deciduous trees. Dry evergreen forests have a unique composition of trees and plants that can withstand drier conditions compared to tropical rainforests. Khao Yai National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a prime example of this forest type, offering habitats for elephants, tigers, gibbons, and myriad bird species. The park’s rich biodiversity and scenic landscapes make it a popular destination for eco-tourists.
  • Deciduous Forests: Flourishing in the north, places like Doi Inthanon National Park display beautiful seasonal changes and host several rare species. Deciduous forests are characterised by trees that shed their leaves seasonally, creating a stunning display of colours during autumn. Doi Inthanon, known as “the roof of Thailand,” is the highest peak in the country and features a diverse range of ecosystems, from lowland deciduous forests to high-altitude cloud forests. The park is home to unique bird species, such as the green-tailed sunbird, and offers spectacular views of terraced rice fields and waterfalls.
  • Mangrove Forests: Lining the coastal areas, these forests serve as crucial barriers against erosion and support a wealth of marine and bird life, evident in areas like Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. Mangrove forests are vital for coastal protection and provide nursery habitats for many marine species. Khao Sam Roi Yot, meaning “three hundred peaks,” is Thailand’s first coastal national park and features a mix of mangrove forests, limestone hills, and freshwater marshes. The park is an important bird-watching site, hosting migratory birds such as the painted stork and the white-bellied sea eagle.

The Evolution of Thailand’s Forested Areas

Historically, Thailand was heavily forested. In 1961, the Royal Forest Department (RFD) reported that over half of Thailand’s land area was covered with forests. However, by 1998, forest cover had drastically fallen to 25.28% due to deforestation driven by agriculture, logging, and urbanisation. This drastic reduction led to significant social and environmental issues, prompting the Thai government to implement a logging ban in 1989.

Interesting to note is that the logging ban in turn had a profound effect on the plight of the Thai Elephant. Elephants were traditionally used in the logging industry and as this toppled over, many families were left with elephants to feed but little means to support them.

The deforestation had severe consequences for both the environment and local communities. The loss of forest cover led to soil erosion, reduced water quality, and increased vulnerability to natural disasters such as floods and landslides. Additionally, many rural communities, which relied on forests for their livelihoods, faced economic hardships.

The Thai government established a network of protected areas, including national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, to safeguard the country’s most ecologically valuable and biodiverse regions. These protected areas play a crucial role in conserving endangered species and preserving critical habitats.

Ethical Elephant Sanctuaries Thailand

Conservation Efforts and Government Initiatives

In response to the rapid loss of forest cover, Thailand has undertaken various conservation efforts and initiatives:

  • Protected Areas: Establishment of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries such as Khao Yai, Doi Inthanon, and Khao Sok. These protected areas provide safe havens for wildlife and help to maintain ecological balance. The management of these areas involves monitoring and enforcing regulations to prevent illegal activities such as poaching and logging.
  • Reforestation Programs: Initiatives aimed at reforesting degraded areas and restoring ecological balance. One successful example is the “Plant a Tree” campaign, which encourages individuals and organisations to participate in tree-planting activities. This program not only helps to restore forests but also raises awareness about the importance of forest conservation.
  • Wildlife Conservation: Efforts to protect endangered species and their habitats. Programs such as the reintroduction of native species and the establishment of wildlife corridors are essential for maintaining healthy populations of animals such as elephants, tigers, and gibbons. Conservationists also work to address human-wildlife conflicts by implementing measures such as electric fences and community education programs.
  • Community-Based Forestry Management: Engaging local communities in sustainable forest management practices. Community forestry projects empower local residents to manage and protect their forest resources. These projects often involve creating community forest committees, developing management plans, and implementing sustainable harvesting practices. 

Thailand’s commitment to international agreements, such as the Paris Agreement, underscores its dedication to reducing emissions and increasing forest cover. The country aims to expand its forest area by 23% before 2030, balancing environmental sustainability with socio-economic development. And this is where we as tourists can lend a helping hand!

Wat Mahathat Sukothai Historical Park

Community-Based Tourism: The Key to Sustainable Conservation 

Community-based tourism (CBT) has emerged as a vital tool for sustainable forest conservation in Thailand. By involving local communities in tourism activities, CBT provides economic incentives for conservation and educates visitors about the importance of protecting natural environments.

  • Economic Benefits: CBT projects, such as guided tours and homestays, generate income for local communities, reducing the need for activities that harm forests. This additional income can support community development projects, such as building schools and healthcare facilities, further improving the quality of life for residents.
  • Cultural Exchange: Visitors gain a deeper understanding of local cultures and traditions, fostering respect and appreciation for the natural environment. CBT allows travellers to experience traditional lifestyles, participate in cultural activities, and learn about indigenous knowledge related to forest management and conservation.
  • Conservation Funding: Revenues from CBT often fund conservation and community development projects, bridging the gap between economic growth and environmental preservation. These funds can be used to support reforestation efforts, wildlife protection initiatives, and environmental education programs for local schools.

I was extraordinarily lucky to witness a beautiful CBT project when staying in the Boon Lott Elephant Sanctuary near Sukhothai a few years back. While it mainly serves to rescue elderly elephants, what struck me most is how the village surrounding the sanctuary was equally involved. While staying at the sanctuary we worked alongside villagers, shared meals together and learned about their local customs.

Khao Yai National Park in Thailand
Khao Yai National Park in Thailand

Five Most Beautiful Forests in Thailand 

Thailand has a lot of forests to choose from. It might seem daunting at first to figure out where exactly to travel to. I have listed five options below that should be able to spark an interest in even the most nature-averse traveller.

 1. Khao Yai National Park

Located in northeast Thailand, Khao Yai is the country’s first national park, established in 1962. Covering 2,168 square kilometres, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its rich biodiversity. The park is home to wild elephants, gibbons, deer, and over 300 bird species. Its evergreen forests and grasslands offer stunning landscapes and numerous hiking trails.The rangers keeping a watchful eye hail from the local community. 

See & Do: Explore impressive waterfalls like Heo Suwat and Haew Narok, embark on a night safari to spot nocturnal wildlife, and hike the park’s nature trails for breathtaking viewpoints. The park also features scenic drives, observation towers, and visitor centres with educational exhibits about the park’s ecology and conservation efforts.


2. Doi Inthanon National Park

Doi Inthanon, known as “the roof of Thailand,” is located in Chiang Mai province and is the highest peak in Thailand at 2,565 meters above sea level. The park spans 482 square kilometres and features a unique blend of pine forests, evergreen trees, and beautiful rice terraces cultivated by local hill tribes.

The tribal villages in this area earn their living from rice farming, coffee/tea trees, and silverware. As a visitor, you are contributing to their economic welfare by purchasing farm products and handicrafts straight from them.  

See & Do: Visit the stunning waterfalls, trek through lush forests, and experience the traditional way of life in a local homestay. Don’t miss the twin pagodas near the summit for panoramic views. The park also offers bird-watching opportunities, with over 400 species recorded, and educational trails that highlight the region’s unique flora and fauna.


 Thi Lo Su Waterfall into the Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary in northwestern Thailand
Thi Lo Su Waterfall into the Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary in northwestern Thailand

3. Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary

Situated in western Thailand, Umphang is one of the largest forest complexes in the country, covering 2,590 square kilometers. The sanctuary is home to diverse wildlife, including elephants, leopards, and hornbills. It is also the location of Thi Lo Su Waterfall, the largest and most spectacular in Thailand.

See & Do: Trek through the dense rainforest with a local guide, visit Thi Lo Su Waterfall, and explore the natural beauty and wildlife of this remote sanctuary. The sanctuary also offers rafting trips along the Mae Klong River, allowing visitors to experience the stunning landscapes and abundant wildlife from the water.


Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park Forest in Thauland

4. Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park

Located in Prachuap Khiri Khan province, near Hua Hin beach, Khao Sam Roi Yot means “three hundred peaks,” reflecting its dramatic mountain landscape. The park covers 98 square kilometers and features a variety of ecosystems, including mangroves, freshwater marshes, and coastal forests.

Gliding through the mangroves of the park requires a boat, local fishermen substitute their income by renting their very own boats and navigating the waters with visitors.

See & Do: Hike to the Phraya Nakhon Cave to see the royal pavilion, take a boat tour through the mangroves, and enjoy bird watching around the lotus flower lake. The park also offers opportunities for kayaking, cycling, and exploring the diverse coastal ecosystems. Visitors can learn about the park’s conservation efforts and the importance of mangrove forests in protecting coastal communities from erosion and storms.


Khao Sok Forest in Thailand

5.  Khao Sok National Park

One of the oldest rainforests in the world, Khao Sok is located in Surat Thani province and spans 739 square kilometers. The park’s dense forest is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, including the rare rafflesia flower and several large mammal species.

See & Do: Stay in a floating resort on the picturesque Cheow Lan Lake, hike through the ancient forest with a local guide, and discover the unique wildlife and plants of this primeval jungle. The park also offers activities such as cave exploration, bamboo rafting, and night safaris. Visitors can learn about the park’s role in regional conservation efforts and the importance of preserving ancient rainforests for future generations.

Thi Lo Cho Waterfall or Namtok Saifon. It's located in Umphang

The Future of Thailand’s Forests

Despite significant conservation efforts, Thailand’s forests still face numerous challenges, including illegal logging, land conversion, and climate change. Continued government initiatives, coupled with community involvement and eco-conscious tourism, are crucial for the sustainable preservation of these vital ecosystems.

Travelers can play an important role in conservation by practicing responsible tourism. This includes respecting local cultures, minimizing environmental impact, and supporting community-based tourism projects that prioritize sustainability and conservation.

Eco-conscious travelers can contribute to conservation efforts by:

  • Choosing Sustainable Accommodations: Opt for eco-friendly lodges and homestays that follow sustainable practices and support local communities.
  • Minimizing Waste: Avoid single-use plastics, bring reusable water bottles and bags, and properly dispose of waste.
  • Respecting Wildlife: Observe animals from a distance, avoid feeding wildlife, and follow guidelines to minimize disturbance to natural habitats.
  • Supporting Local Businesses: Purchase locally made products and services, which helps to sustain the local economy and reduce the carbon footprint of imported goods.

Participating in Conservation Activities: Join volunteer programs, such as tree planting or wildlife monitoring, to actively contribute to conservation efforts.

Sukhothai historical park at sunset-

Why It’s Worth Visiting the Thai Forests

Thailand’s forests are a treasure trove of biodiversity, cultural heritage, and natural beauty. From the towering peaks of Doi Inthanon to the ancient rainforests of Khao Sok, these forests offer a sanctuary to wildlife and are the perfect stomping ground for the conscious traveler. 

By exploring these magnificent forests responsibly, travelers can contribute to the ongoing efforts to protect Thailand’s rich natural heritage. So, pack your bags, lace up your hiking boots, and embark on a journey through Thailand’s most beautiful forests, where every step you take you are not just burning off that Pad Thai you had for lunch but are in effect contributing to the future of the country.


ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR TRAVELING IN ASIA

THAILAND: Guide to Ayutthaya Historical Park
THAILAND: Ethical Elephant Sanctuary
THAILAND: Guide to Sukhothai Historical Park
SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL: Sustainable tips and tricks to use while traveling
ECO TOURISM: What is eco-tourism and why it’s important

Exploring the Most Beautiful Forests in Thailand: A Journey Through Lush Greenery and Conservation Efforts
Most Beautiful Forests in Thailand: Pin it
Exploring the Most Beautiful Forests in Thailand: A Journey Through Lush Greenery and Conservation Efforts
Exploring the Most Beautiful Forests in Thailand: A Journey Through Lush Greenery and Conservation Efforts

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Caroline Muller

Thanks for dropping in! My name is Caroline, and I am a full-time writer & photographer. With this blog, I hope to harness the power of travel to do good in the world. Think connecting with local cultures, sustainable tourism, and in-depth guides to known and lesser-known adventures. Adventure awaits!

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