I get a lot of questions from other hikers around the world about what it's like hiking in Thailand. So I think it is time I write an article about it. Below are the key topics I will go over.
Hiking safety and dangers
Hiking quality and difficulty
The costs involved
The best time to hike
What gear to take
How to prepare
All key topics will mostly be divided into within national parks and outside of national parks.
Hiking safety and dangers
Hiking in Thailand is for me a fairly safe adventure just as long as you take the necessary precautions. There are two types of hiking areas in Thailand; you can either hike outside or inside national parks.
Hiking inside national parks is obviously safer as there are rangers nearby who will track when you enter and exit nature trails or mountain ascents. More and more now certain hikes, even nature trails, within national parks require you to have a guide which is something I really hate. For some this may be an added comfort as then you can really enjoy the experience without worrying too much. Trails in national parks are usually well sign posted and looked after.
Hiking outside of national parks is where drastic swings of safety can occur. A few of the hikes I have done, Krok E Dok for example, are really out there in terms of safety. A hike like Krok E Dok can go wrong in so many ways. However, there are also hikes like Khao Laem in Ratchaburi which is probably at the safer end of the spectrum but are still quite tough psychically with no immediate support nearby. Trails outside of national parks are usually not sign posted or looked after at all. Some trails become totally impassable during the rainy season. The rate of foliage growth is ridiculously quick and no one is around to cut the foliage back for you, so it is either cut or turn back. Cutting through foliage will completely destroy your energy levels so there is that to consider as well. GI's in Vietnam had a massive problem with this but they had no option as using the trails was too risky.
Of course the trail itself is not the only issue you can have with hiking in Thailand. Thailand is a tropical climate and is pretty much hot and humid year round. Dehydration is your biggest concern and one, as a foreigner, I suffer from on a regular basis. My partner doesn't seem to suffer from it at all but then again she was literally raised in the jungle. For those who have not suffered from it, dehydration is a horrendous and scary experience. You will become disoriented, have a massive headache, numb extremities, poor decision making and slurred speech; your body is basically shutting down and it is no joke. Luckily most of the times I have had bouts of entry level dehydration is at the end of the hike just as we are getting near to the car, it is still really horrible and to find yourself in this condition at the top of the hike would be a very dangerous situation to be in. Always make sure you take more than enough water and some electrolyte gels or drinks as an immediate fix.
Other dangers you might come across on your hiking experience in Thailand is the wildlife. Thailand is full to the brim with all sorts of dangerous wildlife. Tigers, elephants, snakes, spiders, ants, wasps, centipedes, leeches, ticks and wild boar to name a few. When comparing this to places like America, Thailand is not actually too bad. I would be most concerned about elephants and snakes in Thailand. Elephants kills many people every year in Thailand and a snake bite at the top of a hike is pretty much a death sentence outside of a national park. I would also mention that cuts in the jungle need to be treated immediately. There is bacteria in the jungle which we as westerners have never been exposed to and can wreak havoc on us. We use iodine to treat any wounds and then seal them with waterproof plasters. Dengue and Malaria are a massive issue and I do not believe for one second this is confined to the border areas like the professionals say it is.
Hiking access in Thailand is increasingly becoming more and more difficult if you are looking for that independent experience. Most of my outside of national parks hikes are to this day still completely open but Krok E Dok has now been closed up with a gate across the road and a couple of locals manning the post. I expect more of them to come under national park money making 'safety' restriction in the future.
Other hikes within the national parks are increasingly becoming guide only. This is not really because of the safety aspect but rather because the rangers want to make additional money. There is also an increase in porters from the local community who also take care of the trail. So in some ways it is opening up hikes that were not accessible to most which is definitely a good thing as everyone should be able to experience the beautiful nature on offer. However, as with many things in Thailand, they will make it a blanket rule and without Department of National Park's say so, everyone will have to take a guide no matter what you show or tell them. We get lots of, 'mai daiiiiii' meaning cannot on our travels.
Most roads to my hikes are fully accessible and my girl (Yaris 2015) has been able to make it every time. I would assume this is the case with most hikes but I would obviously do some background checks or ask me if your not sure.
Another thing I would mention is if you are making videos hiking in the Thai jungle, for Godsake do not have one hand holding a flipping camera. You need two hands to hike and you are seriously putting yourself at risk of death by doing this. This is one of the reasons I don't make videos, the other being it ruins the point of what you are doing.
Hiking quality and difficulty
Trails within national parks are usually of good quality and are accessible year round. They will be sign posted with carved out trails and even sometimes steps. There will be ropes in places and sometimes water points along the way, although I would treat this water before drinking it as it will be from the natural rainfall runoff. Trails in the national parks are generally not difficult but some can seem ludicrously dangerous in areas from a western point of view. Thai's and Thailand definitely have a low threshold for what is considered dangerous and a couple of times in national parks we have not accepted that certain safety precautions have been put in place to make sure what we are about to do is safe to a reasonable standard. for us, If a fall would result in death or being paralyzed and you're not tied in, we take a pass because we love and respect our lives.
Trails outside of the national parks are a total hit and miss but one can always use the seasons to determine whether or not a trail will be passable. During the rainy season many of the trails will become impassable without a very sharp machete, a lot of time and a lot of wasted energy. The quality of the actual trail is surprisingly good but I think this is due to most of these trails actually being used by the locals for foraging. We literally met one guy near the Burmese border who was going to see a family member in Burma and used the trail to bypass border bullshit. So the trails are always well trodden but during the rainy season can be impassable due to overgrown foliage. I would say trails outside of national parks are more difficult because they are not catering to everyone but only a select few. They are usually only used by local communities who are skilled at hiking through the jungle.
The costs involved
National park entry fees can run between 100baht to 400baht (Foreign prices) depending on whats on offer. You can get some really good deals for 200baht, most notably Chaloemrattanakosin National Park has two great waterfalls with the main waterfall, Tri Treung Waterfall, being a hike through the waterfall valley with an amazing inlet cave at the top. Car fees can also run from 20baht to 50baht per car but can be more expensive or less expensive for bikes and bigger vehicles. Other costs involved within national parks can be guide fees, porter fees and rubbish fees. Rubbish fees, usually 1000baht, will be refundable upon return with given bag full of your rubbish. You obviously then still have transportation fees which depends on whether you have a car or not. We can get to decent hikes around Bangkok on one tank of gas which is about 1000baht.
Outside of national parks it is all free free free and who doesn't like free. The only costs you will incur here are gasoline and maybe a bruised ego if you didn't make it up a hike this time. I really prefer these trails because I am a free junkie and you will not see anyone other than locals.
The best time to hike in Thailand
Most national park trails will be open all year round and will only be closed to give the environment a chance to recover from all the human activity. The weather and foliage SHOULD NOT effect the trail openness but some rangers can get lazy and decide they would rather not cut through thick foliage in the humidity hell that is the rainy season. Things grow quick in the rainy season, you could cut through a trail one week and it totally grows back within the next week, so it is a big job.
Outside of the national parks you really need to do some background work and possibly have a locals contact details so you can ring them and ask them how the trail is. Thai's in the sticks of Thailand are so bloody nice, they will probably go and check the trail out for you and report back. Another good way to check is to look on google maps and see if anyone has been there recently and uploaded pictures. I would try to avoid hiking in the dry/ hot and rainy seasons unless you can deal with the heat or you have up to date info/ connection where you are going.
I would say in general for all areas, November to January is the best time for hiking. December can definitely been a great time to hike because of the low temperatures, low humidity and volume of water at waterfalls. Passed December the water volume in waterfalls takes a dive and they just aren't worth it. Waterfalls can also be very danergous to visit during high rainy season as there can be flash flooding. This happens every so often with fatalities even in national parks. I think the rangers have become quite paranoid about it as it does not happen as often as it did when I first came here.
What gear to take
This goes for both national park and outside of national park as you cannot always rely on a ranger to have what you need. I will make a list below of what we would typically take on a one day hike of about 10km eachway or 2-3hrs each way.
2.5-4 litres of water each. Buy a hydration bladder, we use the Osprey hydrolic 3L reservoir. A good tip is to put some ice on your bladder and to use cold water, that way it will keep you and your water cool.
Some electrolyte gels or drinks for instant recovery from dehydration.
A sugary snack or two.
We like to take sucking sweets as we feel it helps with concentration and it is something you can eat on the go.
Some sticky rice and any type of meat. Maybe one before and one in the middle of the hike.
Waterproof heavy duty plasters, anti-bacterial wipes and iodine.
An emergency flare - can also be used to ward off animals. (Probably not needed or allowed within a national park)
A knife or machete. (Probably not needed or allowed within a national park)
Some rope. (Probably not needed or allowed within a national park)
A GPS would be helpful but to be honest most hikes have 4G signal. Fun to save coordinates.
A good pair of hiking shoes - we use Merrell Accentor GORE-TEX male/ female versions.
leggings and long sleeve sports top. This will help with mosquitos etc
Mosquito and leach spray. We use Sketolene Jungle Lotion Spray 70 ml Mosquitoes & Leeches Repellent For Jungle.
How to prepare
Hiking in Thailand is very different from hiking anywhere else in the world. The heat and humidity drains you even with sufficient water, food and electrolytes. You will need to have a high level of fitness to keep your wits about you. I recently took a friend up Krok E Dok (Sorry, still closed), he was an experienced hiker from America and he was totally devastated by the time we got down, as was I even after years of doing this.
You burn up a chunk energy/ minerals just hiking and then the heat and humidity is taking the same sized chunk again. Not to put you off or anything but seriously be prepared for feeling shit even if you have drunk and eaten all that I have advised in this article. I would definitely prepare hydration of your body 24hrs before, eat lots of fruit and then on your way to the hike continue to hydrate. Get some sticky rice and meat to eat before the hike and during the hike. Our favourite snack to take is sticky rice and salted pork. Usually this is easily found along the way to the hike in the small communities you will pass. Stretch like a mother fucker before, the last thing you want is cramp halfway up a mountain in 100% humidity.
Mentally prepare yourself and turn back when your gut tells you to. There are no prizes here and not wanting to fail could very easily cost you your life in this place. Hiking into the jungle is massively rewarding but it is massively challenging on your body and mind. Luckily if you are in the right spot mentally, you can overcome some of the physical and environment issues. Assume it is going to be hard, assume it is going to be dangerous, plan and prepare, know your limit and when to turn back. I would also have some cold snacks and refreshments waiting for you in the car.