The King was committed to setting aside public lands to preserve the habitats of endangered species and in many cases these species are now thriving.
King Bhumibol launched many other initiatives to safeguard the environment as well, including reforestation projects, campaigns to protect watersheds, the Royal Rainmaking project, Royal Development Study Centres and environmentally progressive Royal Development Projects.
From the outset, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit Kittiyakara shared the King’s vision of a sustainable Thailand and worked tirelessly in support of this vision. Her Majesty travelled to every corner of the Kingdom with the King and has also initiated various environmental projects herself.
Internationally protected sites
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has designated five World Heritage Sites in Thailand:
• Ban Chiang Archaeological Site cultural site in Udon Thani province, declared in 1992.
• Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex natural site in Saraburi, Nakhon Nayok, Prachinburi Sa Kaeo and Buriram province, declared in 2005.
• Historic City of Ayutthaya – cultural site in Ayutthaya province, declared in 1991.
• Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns cultural site in Sukhothai and Kamphaeng provinces, declared in 1991.
• Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries natural site in
Kanchanaburi, Tak and Uthai Thani provinces, declared in 1991.
ASEAN Heritage Parks
Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Heritage Parks came about through a shared recognition of the vital need to conserve areas of particular biodiversity or exceptional uniqueness throughout the ASEAN member states. All ASEAN Ministers of Environment collectively signed the ASEAN Declaration on Heritage Parks in December 2003.
Designated ASEAN Heritage Parks in Thailand:
• Ao Phan Nga Marine National Park.
• Ko Surin Marine National Park.
• Mu Ko Similian Marine National Park.
• Kaeng Krachan National Park.
• Khao Yai National Park.
• Taruato Marine National Park.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a membership union composed of both government and civil society organizations. The IUCN’s mission is to provide public, private and non-governmental organisations with the knowledge and tools that enable human progress, economic development and nature conservation to take place together. Created in 1948, it has become the world’s largest and most diverse environmental network. Thailand’s relationship with IUCN began in 1948 when it was one of the first Asian signatories to the IUCN Charter. IUCN located a regional office in Bangkok in the 1990s, and in 2001 the Thailand program office was established.
The seven IUCN categories are:
• Category Ia: Strict Nature Reserve.
• Category Ib: Wilderness Area.
• Category II: National Park.
• Category III: Natural Monument or Feature.
• Category IV: Habitat/Species Management Area.
• Category V: Protected Landscape/Seascape.
• Category VI: Protected Area with sustainable use of natural resources.
WHILE Bangkok is at times obscured in a haze generated by over-development, visitors to Thailand are often impressed at the abundance of well-maintained national parks and other public spaces that are off-limits to developers.
Thailand ranks well globally in terms of land set aside as protected areas in proportion of national territory -- around 20%. That’s 513,120 square kilometers (510,890 km² of terrestrial parks and 2,230 km² of marine parks), and in the coming years this figure is projected to rise to 25%. Which means practically every part of the country is within a short drive of a national park, forest park or nature reserve, and every weekend thousands of Thais, expats and tourists take advantage of this fortunate circumstance.
An informal survey of Bangkok expats and diplomats found that those who had visited the country’s national parks and other protected areas were without exception impressed with their natural beauty and their management.
Several had high praise for national park rangers and other staff they’d come across. None were distressed with the two-tiered pricing system that sees foreigners charged more for park entrance than Thais, and there was general agreement that the experience is worth the money.
According to the Thai language website of the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department (DNP), the Kingdom’s protected areas include132 terrestrial national parks, 24 marine national parks, 94 forest parks, 60 wildlife sanctuaries and 56 non-hunting areas. Another 23 land national parks, two marine parks and seven non-hunting areas are in the establishment phase.
All of Thailand’s protected areas are monitored by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and each type has a specific designation under the IUCN system. For example, national parks, both terrestrial and marine, fall under category II.
Conservation in Thailand really got off the ground with the passage of the National Park Act B.E. 2504 (1961), which also triggered the establishment of other types of protected areas.
National parks are officially proclaimed by a royal decree which comes into effect after publication in the Royal Thai Government Gazette. Khao Yai National Park became the country’s first national park when the Gazette published its official announcement on September 18, 1962.
The national park system is administered by the DNP, a division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, from its headquarters in Bangkok’s Chatuchak district.
The DNP was established in 2002, before which park administration managed by the Royal Forest Department. In 1993 national parks administration was split between two divisions, one for terrestrial parks and
one for marine parks. The stated objectives of the Marine National Park Division are to manage marine protected areas in accordance with the National Park Act; to continuously revise and update marine park management strategies for conservation of natural resources and rehabilitation of marine ecosystems; and to provide recreation, education and research opportunities within the parks.
Following is a broad overview of protected lands in Thailand by category, with some specific examples:
Terrestrial National Parks
One of the most amazing things about Thailand is its diverse and extensive national park system, and terrestrial parks are by far the biggest part of the system. The parks provide safe habitats for endangered plant and animal species and preserve the natural landscape from destruction. They also provide a peaceful refuge for harried city dwellers. Tigers and elephants roam free in some parks, but unfortunately poaching and illegal logging still pose a threat despite the park rangers’ best efforts.
Khao Yai National Park
This first national park in Thailand, Khao Yai National Park, created in 1961, covers an area of 2,168 km² in Nakhon Nayok, Nakhon Ratchasima, Prachin Buri and Saraburi provinces. Altitudes range from 400 m to over
1,000 m above sea level. The highest point is Khao Rom at 1,351 meters, followed by Khao Lam at 1,326 m, Khao Keaw at 1,292 m and Khao Sam Yod at 1,142 m. The park encompasses the sources of five major rivers: Prachin Buri, Nakhon Nayok, Lam Ta Kong, Praplerng and Muag Lek Stream.
Reserved species of Thailand
Thailand has 15 designated reserved wild animal species, which are defined by the Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act of B.E. 2535 (1992). The Act prohibits hunting, breeding, possessing, or trading any of such species, except when done for scientific research with permission from the Permanent Secretary of the DNP, or breeding and possession by authorized public zoos.
The 15 reserved species are Chinese goral, dugong, Eld’s deer, Fea’s muntjac, Gurney’s pitta, Javan rhinoceros, kouprey, mainland serow, Malayan tapir, marbled cat, sarus crane, Schomburgk’s deer, Sumatran rhinoceros, white-eyed river martin and wild Asian water buffalo.
Of these fifteen species, the Schomburgk’s deer is already extinct, and Javan and Sumatran rhinoceros are locally extinct in Thailand. In June 2016, the cabinet approved a preliminary proposal to add four marine species to the reserved animals list: the whale shark, Bryde’s whale, Omura’s whale and leatherback turtle.
Khao Yai is the most popular national park in Thailand, especially with Bangkok residents as it’s only a two and a half hour drive. In 2017 more than one million people visited the park. Despite its size, it is one of the easiest national parks in Thailand for independent travellers to get around. The rich diversity of plants astounds first time visitors. The approximately 2,000 plant species can be grouped into five main vegetation types: dry evergreen forest, dry deciduous forest, hill evergreen forest and grassland. The park’s forests are teeming with wildlife. The approximately 70 mammal species include deer, elephants, gaurs, gibbons, wild pigs, macaques, tigers, civets, squirrels and porcupines. There are at least 74 species of reptiles and thousands of different types of invertebrates, which are often hard to see. Khao Yai National Park is also home to about 320 species of birds.
Nearly one million insect-eating bats live in a cave located about three kilometers north of the Park Chong entrance gate. You can reach the cave by taking a small dirt road that veers off the main road to the left just past a temple. After a few hundred meters take right turn and follow the track to the end. From there you can climb the hill to the cave.
Kaeng Krachan National Park
Kaeng Krachan National Park was declared a reserve in 1964 and designated as a national park on
June 12, 1981. It is the largest national park in the country, covering 2,915 km² of forest land. The park includes portions of Nong Ya Plong, and Kaeng Krachan districts in Phetchaburi province and a part of Hua Hin district in Prachuap Khiri Khan province. Kaeng Krachan consists mainly of rain forest on the eastern slope of the Tenasserim Mountain Range. The highest elevation in the park is a 1,513 m peak on the Thai-Myanmar border. The second highest mountain is Kao Panern Toong, with an elevation of 1,207 m. Two main rivers originate within the park, the Pranburi and the Phetchaburi rivers. The latter is impounded by the Kaeng Krachan Dam at the eastern border of the park, creating a lake with an area of 46.5 km².
His Majesty King Bhumipol Adulyadej visited Kaeng Krachan National Park many times, both before and after the construction of the dam. He was always very concerned about the conservation of this important watershed area, as indicated in this speech on October 29, 1979, when he said: “In Phetchaburi watershed forest, the officers must guard against deforestation, illegal logging or cultivation, because these cause drought.”
Kaeng Krachan is a rugged place. Most of the park consists of steep slopes covered in deep forest. Over three-quarters of the area is made up of slopes of more than 30%. About 85% of the vegetation is evergreen rainforest and another 10% is mixed deciduous forest. The park encompasses a very rich and complex ecosystem, with hanging lianas, ferns and orchids, and an abundance of fruiting trees and vines. The forest of Kaeng Krachan is unusually diverse because of its location at the juncture of continental Asia and the Malaysian Peninsula. Continental species such as oaks, chestnuts, and maples are found here, as are peninsular palms and fruiting trees. There are many commercially valuable trees including makhamong, takhian, yang, chanthana, taback, pradu and kritsana, so rangers must be constantly on the lookout for illegal logging.
As in the plant community, the animals in the park represent both Asiatic and Malaysian species. Over 400 species of birds are known to occur within the park’s boundaries, as well as 57 mammals. Larger mammals include elephants, gaur, sambar deer, banteng, serow, bears, Indo-Chinese tigers, leopards, both common and Fea’s muntjac, Malayan tapirs, white-handed gibbons, dusky and banded langurs, Asian wild dogs, otters, and wild boars. Among the birds in the park are six species of hornbills, red junglefowls, both Kalij pheasants and grey peacock-pheasants, wooly-necked storks, black eagles, and many species of songbirds, woodpeckers and other forest birds.
Thailand’s natural jewels: Ten of the most amazing national parks in Thailand
1 Erewan National Park is located in Kanchanaburi province and measure 550 km². The park was created in 1975.
2 Khao Yai National Park measuring 2,168 km² spans four province of Nakhon Nayok, Nakhon Ratchasima, Prachin Buri and Saraburi. The park was created in 1961.
3 Kaeng Krachan National Park in Prachuap Khiri Khan province measuring 2,915 km² was created in 1981.
4 Khao Sam Roi Yot Marine National Park is located in Prachup Khiri Khan province and measure 988 km². The park was created in 1966.
5 Kui Buri National Park, 964 km² in size in Prachuap Khiri Khan province was created in 1999.
6 Mu Ko Ang Thong Marine National Park is an archipelago of 42 islands covering 102 km² at the shore of the Surat Thai province in the Gulf of Thailand. The park was created in 1980.
7 Mu Ko Surin Marine National Park covers 135 km² in Phang Nga province. The park was created in 1981.
8 Khao Sok National Park, measuring 739 km² is located in Surat Thani province. The park was created in 1980.
9 Mu Ko Similian Marine National Park covers a group of islands in the Andaman Sea and of the coast of, and part of Phang Nga province. The park measuring 140 km² was created in 1982.
10 Ao Phang Nga Marine National Park covers 400 km² in Phang Nga province. The park was created in 1981.
Marine National Parks
Thailand has 24 marine national parks with two awaiting official approval. These are the 229 km² Mu Ko Ra-Ko Phra Thong site in Phang Nga province and Ao Manao-Khao Tanyong in Naratthiwat province, with an area of 58.08 km².
Khao Sam Roi Yot
The first coastal marine national park in Thailand was created on June 28, 1966, along the Gulf of Thailand in the Sam Roi Yot (mountain with 300 peaks) sub-district of Prachuap Khiri Khan province. Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park covers 98.8 km², of which 20.88 km2 are marine. The majestic topography of the park is the result of a series of jagged grey limestone formations that rise from the Gulf of Thailand and adjacent coastal marsh to a maximum height of 605 m.
Khao Sam Roi Yot is known far and wide for the incredible diversity of its wildlife, particularly bird species. The park’s borders encompass open seawater, beaches, mangrove forests, freshwater streams, marshlands and limestone peaks. This rich mix of natural geography creates a variety of ecosystems, with ten distinct habitat zones in all. The higher elevations are sparsely covered by dwarf evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs that grow in the thin soil to rise above barren rock.
Thung Sam Roi Yot is the largest freshwater marsh in Thailand and provides an invaluable environment for a large number of birds, amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals. The IUCN has recognized these fragile wetlands as a site of global importance. Other areas of habitat include scrub, salt pan, mudflats, brackish waters, mangroves, sandy beaches, offshore islets and open sea.
Khao Sam Roi Yot has become a popular spot with bird watchers due to the approximately 300 recorded species found here, as well as the park’s accessibility. The freshwater marsh near the village of Rong Jay is a great place to view large water birds, songbirds and raptors.
There are also opportunities for a tremendous variety of recreational activities presented by the park’s fine sandy beaches, spectacular caves, mountain vistas, offshore islands, forest trails, open seas, estuarine wetlands and mangrove forests, all within a relatively small area.
Currently there are 94 forest parks in Thailand. Basically, these are areas deemed worthy of protection from development that are too small to be declared national parks. For example, Phae Mueang Phi Forest Park in Prae province, created in March 1981, is just 0.27 km²; Tham Pha Tup Forest Park in Nan province, created in October 1978, is 0.84 km²; and Kosamphi Forest Park in Sarakham province, established in October 1966, is only 0.20 km². As for larger forest parks, Than Ngam Forest Park in Udon Thani province, created in December 1984, has an area of 125 km²; Khao Luang Forest Park in Nakhon Sawan, established in February 1996, is 95 km²; and Phu Phra Forest Park in Kalasin province, created in October 1973, is 103.84 km².
Forest parks are governed by provincial administrations and fall under IUCN Category V, (protected landscape/seascape). Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Song, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Petchaburi, Kalasim Loei, Udon Thani and Kalasin are provinces with a large number of forest parks.
Thailand currently has 60 wildlife sanctuaries, which play a different role than national parks. Their primary purpose is to provide a safe haven for wildlife and as such access is more restricted, although some sanctuaries do offer limited access to visitors.
In 1991 Huai Kha Khaeng wildlife sanctuary and the adjoining Thungyai Naresuan wildlife sanctuary were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Huai Kha Khang sanctuary, situated in parts of Uthai Thani and Tak provinces, was established in 1972. Thungyai Naresuan in parts of Kanchanaburi and Tak provinces was established in 1974. Huai Kha Khaeng is classified as IUCN category IV (habitat/species management area) and Thungyai Naresuan is IUCN category Ia (strict nature reserve).
The DNP announced on June 8, 2018 on its Facebook page that the use of plastic and foam in all national parks is now banned. The ban includes marine and forest parks throughout Thailand.
The decision followed the worldwide attention Thailand received following the death of a whale in southern Thailand that was found to have more than 80 plastic bags in its stomach. The Facebook page explained that it takes 450 years for a plastic bottle to decompose, 20 years for a plastic bag, and over 1,000 years for a Styrofoam container. “Don’t let this problem be your grandchildren’s burden,” the DNP warned.
What not do to when visiting national parks and other protected areas:
• Don’t sound the horn or turn on headlights when you encounter wild elephant on the road. They may become frightened and attack. Park your car and keep about 15 m distance from the animal. Don’t leave the car and wait until the elephant go back to forest.
• Don’t feed animals in the parks. Among other negative results, some foods could cause problems in the animal’s digestion system.
• Don’t bring your pets and don’t release them into the wild. They can’t compete with wild species for food or territory and will probably not survive.
• Put your rubbish in the bins provided or, better yet, take your rubbish with you when you leave the national park.
• Avoid any activities that may disturb or pose danger to the animals and plants in the forest.
These are somewhat different from wildlife sanctuaries and as the name makes clear hunting is strictly forbidden. Currently there are 56 such places in Thailand with seven pending approval. Non-hunting areas are classified as managed resource sites under IUCN category VI (protected areas).