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Sai Yok National Park/Thailand

Introducing Sai Yok National Park

The 500-sq-km Sai Yok National Park (0 3451 6163; www.dnp.go.th; admission 400B) is not as well developed as other national parks but it is Kanchanaburi’s most accessible wilderness. Within the main entrance of the park, you’ll find limestone caves, remains of a bridge on the Death Railway and Japanese cooking stoves (actually little more than piles of brick). There’s also a network of clear streams that bubble up from springs in the park, and a cave where people go to watch clouds of bats stream out at dusk. Unfortunately, the park does not produce detailed hiking maps or much in the way of visitors information for English speakers.

Near the visitors centre is the misnomer Nam Tok Sai Yok Yai (Sai Yok Yai waterfall), which is better described as being a small cascading creek than a big waterfall. It empties into Mae Nam Khwae Noi near the suspension bridge. It was at this park that the famous Russian-roulette scenes in the 1978 movie The Deer Hunter were filmed.

Notable wildlife in the park includes Kitti’s hog-nosed bats (the world’s smallest mammal), regal crabs, barking deer, blue pittas, wreathed hornbills, gibbons, Malayan porcupines, slow loris and serow. There are also wild elephants that occasionally cross over from Myanmar.

Forestry department bungalows (0 2562 0760; bungalows 800-2100B) are available at Sai Yok National Park; they sleep up to six. Incredibly scenic are the raft guesthouses near the suspension bridge that are totally deserted on weekdays during the rainy season – just you and the river. One of the prettiest ones is Saiyok View Raft (0 3451 4194; r 700B), which has rooms with private bathrooms that look out on to the river. Ask when making reservations about arranging meals, as food options are limited. There are a row of permanent food stalls near the visitors centre.

The entrance to the park is about 100km northwest of Kanchanaburi and 5km from Hwy 323. You can take the Sangkhlaburi-Kanchanaburi bus (50B, two hours, frequent departures) to the turn-off and hire a motorcycle taxi from the main road to the entrance. Tell the driver that you want ‘náam tok sai yok yai’. The last bus back to Kanchanaburi passes at about 3.30pm.

From the raft guesthouses near the suspension bridge, you can rent long-tail boats for sightseeing along the river and to the caves Tham Daowadung or Tham Lawa. Chartering a long-tail costs about 400B per hour, but rates are negotiable.