Thungyai Naresuan


Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary (14°55′-15°45’N, 98°28′-99°05’E) is a World Heritage Site situated in the Kanchanaburi and Tak provinces of Thailand alongside the western  border with Burma and located at the southern end of the Dawna Range.

Notable bird species include White-winged Wood Duck, Kalij Pheasant, Burmese Peafowl  and Green Peafowl

The sanctuary is not open to the general public, but permission may be given to researchers, naturalists and education groups for specific purposes. Some 400-500 visitors come each dry season. Permits can be obtained from the Wildlife Conservation Division in Bangkok, or from the Chief of the Sanctuary. Thung Yai is accessible by road (mostly unsurfaced) from Bangkok via Kanchanaburi. The journey takes 10-12 hours. A four-wheel drive road passes through the sanctuary from the headquarters to a mining concession on the international border.

The Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary (Thai: เขตรักษาพันธุ์สัตว์ป่าทุ่งใหญ่นเรศวร) is a protected area in Thailand in the northern part of Kanchanaburi Province and the southern part of Tak Province. It was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1972 and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1991 together with the adjoining Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary.


Location and topography

The sanctuary is at the western national border of Thailand with Burma, in the southern area of the Dawna Range. It extends northeast of the Three Pagodas Pass from Sangkhla Buri District (Kanchanaburi Province) into Umphang District (Tak Province).


The wildlife sanctuary stretches over an area of about 369,000 ha and is the largest protected area in Thailand.[2] Together with the adjoining Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary (Thai: เขตรักษาพันธุ์สัตว์ป่าห้วยขาแข้ง) it constitutes the core area of the western forest complex which represents the largest agglomeration of contiguous protected area in mainland Southeast Asia, 622,200 ha.[1][3]


The area is predominantly mountainous and composed of various limestones interspersed with massive intrusions of granite and smaller outcrops of quartzite and schist. Elevations range from about 180 metres at the Vajiralongkorn Reservoir in the south of the sanctuary to its highest peak, Khao Tai Pa, at 1,811 metres. Major rivers are the Mae Klong and the Mae Chan which originate in the Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary and join in Thungyai into the Upper Khwae Yai which feeds the Si Nakharin Reservoir. Various smaller rivers in the south and southwest feed the Vajiralongkorn Reservoir while in the northwestern part of the sanctuary the Mae Kasat and the Mae Suriya flow into Burma.[4]


Climate and Rainfal

The climate of the region is characterised by three seasons: a hot, wet season from May to October, a cooler, dry period from November to January and a hot, dry season from February to April. Average minimum and maximum daily temperatures range from 20 °C to 33 °C in the wet season, 15 °C to 35 °C in the hot, dry season, and 10 °C to 29 °C in the cooler season. Day-time temperatures can exceed 40° in April while nighttime temperatures of 7 °C are not uncommon in the cool season.


The average annual rainfall decreases from the western part of the sanctuary receiving 2,000 to 2,400 millimetres a year to annual rainfalls of between 1,600 and 2,000 millimetres in the eastern parts of the sanctuary. Over 80 percent of the rain is brought by the southwest monsoon from the Andaman Sea.[5]


Flora and habitat types

Phytogeographically the sanctuary lies at the interface between the terminal southern ridges of the eastern Himalayas and the equatorial forests of the great Sunda Shelf. As most of the sanctuary is botanically unexplored, scientific knowledge about its rich flora is sparse.


montane evergreen forests cover about 15 percent of the sanctuary and occur along the mountain ridges above 1,000 metres where moisture levels are high.


Seasonal or dry evergreen forests are found on about 31 percent of the area, predominantly on land lying between 800-1,000 metres elevation. Gallery evergreen forests occur along permanent watercourses, where humidity is high and the soil perpetually moist. They are often categorized under dry evergreen forests, but are particularly important to the sanctuary’s fauna.


Mixed deciduous forest is the most common forest type in Thungyai, covering about 45 percent, predominantly in areas below 800 metres elevation.


Dry dipterocarp forest is a formation unique to mainland Southeast Asia and is found on about one percent of the area.


Savanna forest and grassland covers about four percent, predominantly in the thung yai or “big field” covering about 140 km2 at the centre of the sanctuary.[6]


The remaining four percent of the area are categorized as secondary forests, fallow areas, and swidden fields in the nomination for the World Heritage Site, but include also various bamboo forests which are not included in this classification.[7]



Like the flora, the fauna of Thungyai provides a specific mix of species with Sundaic, Indo-Chinese, Indo-Burmese and Sino-Himalayan affinities due to the sanctuary’s particular biogeographic location.


Among the mammal species living in Thungyai are lar gibbon (Hylobates lar), various species of macaque (Macaca) und lutung (Trachypithecus), Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti), Indochinese leopard (Panthera pardus delacouri), clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) and Asian black bear (Ursus thibetanus), Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus), Indian elephant (Elephas maximus indicus), gaur (Bos gaurus), hog deer (Cervus porcinus), sambar (Rusa unicolor), Fea’s muntjac (Muntiacus feae) und Sumatran serow (Capricornis sumatraensis) as well as many bat species probably including Kitti’s hog-nosed bat (Craseonycteris thonglongyai).


Banteng (Bos javanicus) and wild water buffalo (Bubalus amee) are known to occur in the adjoining Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary and may exist in Thungyai too.


Indications for the occurrence of Vietnamese Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus) and northern Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis lasiotis) in the area are recorded from the 1980s, but have not been confirmed since then.[8]


Bird species sighted in Thungyai include white-winged wood duck (Cairina scutulata), kalij pheasant (Lophura leucomelanos), grey peacock-pheasant (Polyplectron bicalcaratum), green peafowl (Pavo muticus), spot-billed pelican (Pelecanus philippensis), Oriental darter (Anhinga melanogaster), painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala), greater adjutant (Leptoptilos dubius), red-headed vulture (Sarcogyps calvus), mountain hawk-eagle (Nisaetus nipalensis), lesser fish eagle (Ichthyophaga humilis) and all six species of hornbill (Bucerotidae) living in mainland Southeast Asia.[9]


The nomination for the two wildlife sanctuaries, Thungyai Naresuan and Huai Kha Khaeng, to become World Heritage Sites[10] lists some 120 species of mammal, 400 birds, 96 reptiles, 43 amphibians, and 113 species of fish, but research on the biodiversity in the sanctuaries is sparse.



Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic stone tools have been found in the Khwae Noi and Khwae Yai river valleys and parts of the sanctuary were inhabited by Neolithic man. For at least 700 years, the Dawna-Tenasserim region has been home to Mon and Karen people, but burial grounds in Thungyai and Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary have not been systematically researched.[11]


The Thai name “Thungyai Naresuan” refers to the “big field” (thung yai) or savanna in the centre of the sanctuary, and to King Naresuan, a famous Siamese ruler who supposedly based his army in the area to wage war against Burma sometime during his reign of the Ayutthaya Kingdom from 1590 until his death in 1605.[12]


The Karen people who live in the sanctuary call the savanna pia aethala aethea which may be translated as “place of the knowing sage”. It refers to the area as a place where ascetic hermits called aethea have lived and meditated and may do so even today. The Karen in Thungyai regard them as holy men important for their history and identity in Thungyai and revere them in a specific cult.[13]


Historical sources as well as local oral tradition suggest that settlement of Karen people in Thungyai did not occur before the second half of the 18th century. At that time, due to political and religious persecution in Burma, predominantly Pwo-Karen from the hinterlands of Moulmein and Tavoy migrated into the area northeast of the Three Pagodas Pass, where they received formal settlement rights from the Siamese Governor of Kanchanaburi. Sometime between 1827 and 1839 the Siamese King Rama III established this area as a principality (mueang) and the Karen leader who governed the principality received the Siamese title of nobility Phra Si Suwannakhiri. During the second half of the 19th century, this Karen principality at the Burmese border became particularly important for the Siamese King Rama V (Chulalongkorn) in his negotiations with the British colonial power in Burma regarding the demarcation of their western border with Siam.[14]


At the beginning of the 20th century, when the modern Thai nation state was established, the Karen in Thungyai lost their former status and importance. During the first half of the 20th century, external political influences were minimal in Thungyai and the Karen communities were highly autonomous regarding their internal affairs. This changed in the second half of the 20th century, when the Thai nation state extended its institutions into the peripheral areas and the Karen re-appeared as chao khao or “hill tribes” on the national political agenda, as forest destroyers and illegal immigrants.[15]


Plans to protect the forests and wildlife at the upper Khwae Yai and Khwae Noi river grew in the mid-1960s. Due to strong logging and mining interests in the area, it was not before 1972 that the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary could be established, and Thungyai resistance was even stronger. However, in April 1973 a military helicopter crashed near Thungyai and revealed an illegal hunting party of senior military officers with family members, businessmen, and a film star, arousing nationwide public outrage which finally led to the fall of the Thanom-Prapas Regime after the uprising of 14 October 1973. After this accident and under a new democratic government, the area finally could be declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1974. After the military had taken power once again in October 1976, many of the activists of the democracy movement fled into peripheral regions of the country and some of them found refuge among the Karen people living in Thungyai.[16]


During the 1960s, not only timber and ore, but also the water of the western forests as hydroelectric power resources became of interest for commercial profit and national development. A system of several big dams was planned to produce electricity for the growing urban centres. On the Khwae Yai River the Si Nakharin Dam was finished in 1980 and the Tha Thung Na Dam in 1981, while the Khao Laem Dam (renamed Vajiralongkorn Dam) on the Khwae Noi River south of Thungyai was completed in 1984. The Nam Choan Dam, the last of the projected dams, was supposed to flood a forest area of about 223 km2 within the Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary.


A public dispute about the Nam Choan Dam project lasted for more than six years, dominating national politics and public debate in early-1988 before it was shelved in April that year. Pointing to the high value of Thungyai for nature conservation and biodiversity, dam opponents on the national and international level raised the possibility of declaring the area a world heritage site. This prestigious option would have been lost with a huge dam and reservoir in the middle of the two wildlife sanctuaries most promising to meet the requirements for a global heritage.[17]


After the dam project was shelved, the proposal to UNESCO was written by two persons who had been outspoken opponents in the Nam Choan Controversy and, in December 1991, Thungyai Naresuan together with the adjoining Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary was declared a Natural World Heritage Site by UNESCO. In the nomination, the “outstanding universal value” of the two sanctuaries is, in first place, justified with their extraordinary high biodiversity due to their unique position at the junction of four biogeographic zones, as well as with its size and “the undisturbed nature of its habitats”.[18]


Even though the UNESCO nomination explicitly emphasizes the “undisturbed nature” of the area,[19] and notwithstanding scientific studies supporting traditional settlement and use rights of the Karen people in Thungyai as well as the sustainability of their traditional land use system and their strong intention to remain in their homeland and to protect it,[20] governmental authorities regard the people living in Thungyai as a threat to the sanctuary and pursue their resettlement.


Karen villages in Huai Kha Khaeng were removed when the sanctuary was established in 1972, and in the late-1970s the remaining communities in Huai Kha Khaeng had to leave when the Si Nakharin Dam flooded their settlement areas. During the 1980s and early-1990s, villages of the Hmong ethnic minority group were removed from the Huai Kha Khaeng and Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuaries. The resettlement of the remaining Karen in Thungyai was announced in the management plan for the sanctuary, drafted in the late-1980s, as well as in the proposal for the world heritage site. But, when the Thai Royal Forest Department tried to remove them in the early-1990s, it had to reverse the resettlement scheme due to strong public criticism. Since then, the authorities have used repression, intimidation, and terror to convince the Karen to leave their homeland “voluntarily”, and placed restrictions on their traditional land use system which will inevitably cause its breakdown and deprive the Karen of subsistence.[21]


Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary is one of most interesting wildlife watching location in Thailand. Due to relatively clear visibility through the forest and abundance of all sorts animals it is very easy to spot wildlife. The sanctuary is home to largest population of tigers in Thailand, other relatively common species are banteng, elephants and leopards. Although being one of best bird-watching destinations it is quite unknown to many birders.


Inscribed as Wildlife Sanctuary in 1974, together with adjacent Thung Yai Wildlife Sanctuary both sites are the largest protected wildlife area in mainland Southeast Asia. It is located in the Dawna Range northwest of Thailand, covering 2780 km² mainly within Uthai Thani province but also Kanchanaburi and Tak provinces, bordered by Thung Yai Wildlife Sanctuary to the west. Huai Kha Khaeng and Thung Yai were jointly added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1991.


Huai Kha Khaeng is mainly hilly, consists of evergreen hill forest with Eleocarpus dominating the river banks, semi-evergreen, deciduous and bamboo forests. The sanctuary has several large rivers surrounded by grassland. The sanctuary is one of Thailand’s least accessible and least disturbed forest areas.


The species found in the sanctuary are mix of four different biogeographic zones; Indo-Burmese, Indo-Chinese, Sundaic and Sino-Himalayan. Many of species found here are rare, endangered or endemic. Around one-third of all mainland Southeast Asia’s known mammal species sad to be represented in the sanctuary.


Most common mammals in the park with almost guaranteed sighting during couple of days trips are four deer species (Sambar deer, barking deer, Eld’s deer and Indian hog deer), long-tailed macaque, Asian palm civet and boar. There is quite good chance to spot bantengs and elephants on the first watchtower 7 km east of headquarters. Huai Kha Khaeng is probably the best place in Thailand to see bantengs, another good location is Kui Buri National Park. Leopards are seen relatively often, but one may need up to weeks patient search to eventually see one. Tigers are relatively common, but sighting is quite rare. Tiger pawn prints can be seen along the trails and dirt roads regularly.


The sanctuary is an excellent place to see various bird species, underestimated by birders probably due to it’s remote location. Green peafowls, crested serpent eagles, red-billed blue magpie, common iora, white-bellied woodpecker, orange-breasted trogon, black-headed woodpeckers are few of many very common bird species found around headquarters and along the dirt roads.


Huai Kha Khaeng is not a typical tourist destination, not known much by local or foreign tourists. It is considered more as a wildlife study area and thanks to that it is one of the best preserved wildlife areas in entire country.


The sanctuary has a headquarters area that comprises of administrative buildings, staffs accommodation, a campsite, a visitor center, restaurant and a canteen. A limited area is allowed for visitors. Tiger Trail and Khao Hin Daeng Trail are two trails that can be walked without guidance and several longer trails that must be accompanied by rangers. Rangers can be arranged at the visitor center. There are three watch-towers all not too far away from headquarters. The headquarters area has a spacious campsite with shower facilities but there are no tents available for rent, there are also no accommodations for rent. Watch out for long-tailed macques stealing food from tents!


Entrance fee for foreigners is 200 THB (children 100 THB), 20 THB for Thai citizens (children 10 THB) and 30 THB for vehicles.


Seub Nakhasathien who was a former head of the sanctuary committed suicide in 1990 in the cause of nature and left his assets to Khao Nang Rum research station. The news of his suicide got big attention on the media and shocked the nation. Shortly after his suicide, the Seub Nakhasathien Foundation was launched in his memory to crusade against the destruction of nature.


Attractions of Huai Kha Khaeng


Headquarters & CampsiteShow on map

Headquarters is situated at the northeast part of the sanctuary accessible from Highway No 3438. The area comprises of Sup Nakhasathian Memorial, administrative buildings, staffs accommodation, a campsite, a visitor center  and a canteen.


Thap Salao River runs through the HQ area attracting some animals specially during the dry season. The river also has two contributing streams nearby named Nam Khun and Pong, both accessible from two different directions on the surrounding roads.


Trails at HQ area

The surrounding area has many official trails for hiking, relatively good maintained with good information. There are also several other non-official trails which could be allowed if permission gained from the visitor center.


Khao Hin Daeng Nature TrailShow on map

This circular and flat trail that starts from nearby HQ building passes through dipterocarp, mixed decidious and dry evergreen forests. The trail is good for bird watching with possibility to see tracks from other animals like deers and tigers. There are two options for this trail; a shorter option at 2.2 km which takes lesser than 2 hours and a longer at 4.7 km which takes around 3 hours to walk.


Home of Tiger Nature TrailShow on map

A 800 meters long circular trail with possibility to see foot prints and traces from tiger, leopard and other mammals. The trail starts near the campsite.


Khao Pakdee Nature TrailShow on map

A 3 km long trail that gradually descends a ridge into an area of fertile mixed deciduous forest, takes 2 hours to walk. When the rainy season ends and cold season starts, the forest gets mixed colours in red, orange, yellow and red, creating a beautiful view. Various bird species can be seen along the trail.


The trail starts from same point as the Home of Tiger Nature Trail and splits at a fork north.


Pong Chang Puak Nature TrailShow on map

A partly circular 1.5 km long trail passing a small pond and leading to Thap Salao River near near km8. There is a observation tower with the view over open space around river, possible to see banteng, peacock and other species.


Pa Teng Rang Nature Trail

A 1.2 km long trail passing by few artificially constructed ponds that attracts animals. The area is dry dipterocarp forest which changes colour area during the dry season.


Huai Kha Khaeng Nature and Wildlife Study Centre

Located 40 minutes drive south from headquarters near the Cyber Ranger Station, the site consists of a study area, a nature trail, viewpoint.


Cyber WaterfallShow on map

Located at the east side of the sanctuary, nearly 700-800 meters from Highway No 3282 on Khok Khwai River.

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