Introducing Phu Chong Nayoi National Park
Sitting at the heart of the 'Emerald Triangle' is the little-known Phu Chong Nayoi National Park, one of Thailand's wildest corners and healthiest forests. Resident fauna includes elephants, tigers, Malayan sun bears, barking deer, gibbons, black hornbills and endangered white-winged ducks; though you won't likely see them.
The 686-sq-km park's primary attraction is Namtok Huay Luang, a waterfall that plunges 45m over a cliff in two parallel streams and has at least a little water all year. A short trail leads to a viewpoint and you can walk down 274 steps to the bottom where you can swim, though the water dries up around March. About 150m downstream is Namtok Praon La-or, also a pretty picture. Rangers love taking visitors on short bamboo-raft trips (300B for six people) above the falls, though for various reasons, this activity is intermittent. Between the waterfall and the lodging/visitor centre is Palan Pachad, a rocky field that features many wildflowers.
At the far end of the park, from atop Phu Hin Dang,there are superb views of the forest in Laos more than 300m below. It's a 55km drive from the main park area and then about a 3km hike. Because of land mines and poachers, this trip needs to be done with armed rangers. This is easiest to arrange at the main visitor center, but sometimes can be done on the road to the cliff.
Stargazing is superb here, so consider spending the night. There are six well-worn bungalows plus a campsite 2km from Huay Luang. A restaurant opens at least 9am to 4pm daily at the waterfall, and snacks and drinks are sold at the lodging area.
There's no public transport to the park and not much traffic in the park, so hitching requires patience.