SEVENTEEN PROTECTED AREAS along the Thai-Myanmar border make up the Western Forest Complex, the largest forest tract in mainland south-east Asia.
18,000 square kilometres of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks nurture a diverse range of species: 150 mammals, 490 birds, 90 reptiles, 40 amphibians, and 108 fish. Elephants can be seen in some of the southermost parks, while others are the best tiger areas, and other yet home to endemic birds. Opportunities for hiking, rafting, spotting, camping and caving are plentiful. While not part of the WFC, I have included two other parks, Doi Inthanon, and Nam Nao.
A chain of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries run up the western Thai border, and protect endangered species like tiger and elephant.
I didn't have to wait long to find wildlife in Mae Wong National Park. This fellow was in my boot in the morning.
I was the only person using the camp ground, although I had to share it with a number of lizards.
Fresh ans steamy, this poo found a short walk from camp, was identified by rangers as tiger.
Birdlife was good, better than the animal sightings, but either way, the forst and hiking and isolation was good.
Four hours further north, Mae Ping NP is less mountainous, with more open forest and grassland.
Park HQ staff told me my preferred camp ground was closed. However when I told them I was birding, they wrote me a note allowing me to use the area.
Thanks to the park staff, I was able to enjoy three peaceful days all alone, just me and the wildlife.
Early morning mist rising from the grassland. Plenty of birds found in this area.
Isn't nature wonderful? Lots of woodpeckers in this area, too.
Blue Crested Lizard giving me the eye.
A large observation tower in the middle of the campground was great for getting up to tree height for birding.
Sambar deer abound in Mae Ping.
Doi Inthanon is Thailand's highest peak (2565m) and forests around the summit is naturally different to other parks.
It is one of Thailand's most visited parks, although you wouldn't know it on the hiking trails.
A village in the centre of the park, Ban Khun Klang, is home to a few hundred locals, and has shops, restaurants, wi-fi and coffee.
The mountain is one of the country's best birding spots, but even the less nerdy will enjoy the trails.
If birds aren't you're thing, there are several waterfalls in the park.
A very short walk from the summit, boardwalks take you through the forests, a spot with heaps of birds.
A day trip from Chiang Mai is possible, but a day or three is much more leisurely.
Nam Nao National Park is where Thais come to experience cold mountain weather, and for sunrise views.
The sunrise crowds don't find their way onto the forest trails. Elephants roam the forests, close enough for us to smell but not see. Some were seen at HQ the day before we arrived too.
Between Mae Pin and Doi Inthanon is Taksin Maharat National Park, another park popular with Thais.
2,000 people camp here in peak periods like new year. Mum, Dad, kids and Grandma bring enough food to feed an army, cook, eat, and move on.
Named after the only king of the Thonburi Kingdom, Taksin the Great (1734-82), the park contains a number of large trees held in great esteem by Buddhists.
This is why I love camping in Thailand. That's about $10 worth of food there. Fresh, authentic Thai food, just a few minutes walk from camp.