With wistful misty peaks, ancient hidden temples, otherworldly karst outcrops and dense jungle teeming with wildlife, Thailand offers a veritable feast for hikers.
Whether you want to conquer mountains, circumnavigate stunning sandy islands or simply make your way to Thailand’s biggest waterfall, there’s plenty to pick from. What’s more, with a superb transport system, it’s easy to reach most hiking trails independently – though there are plenty of excellent trekking guides available too.
So grab a heavy-duty insect repellent, pack some sunscreen and buy some leech socks, we’re about to set off. These are the best hikes in Thailand.
Scout new ways to explore the planet’s wildest places with our weekly newsletter delivered to your inbox. It’s worth the steep climb to Tiger Cave Temple © Balate Dorin / Shutterstock
Krabi’s Tiger Cave Temple
Best hike to a temple
0.6 miles (1km), half day, moderate
It’s a short, steep climb up to the 278m-high (912ft) limestone outcrop that overlooks Krabi Town, but hikers who successfully tackle the 1260 stairs to the summit are rewarded with a access to Wat Tham Suea (Tiger Cave Temple) and some stellar views. The temple takes its name from the belief that tigers once dwelled in the surrounding caves. Unfortunately there are no prowling big cats here, instead golden stupas and a large seated Buddha silently keep watch over the emerald forest and sprawling blue sea below.
Carry enough water for both the ascent and the humidity. Also remember to wear culturally appropriate clothing (trousers or long skirts and tops that cover your shoulders) as it’s a Buddhist temple. A hiking pole can be useful – both to haul yourself up and to keep the resident monkeys at bay.
Khao Yai National Park
Best hike in a national park
Distances vary, 2–3 hours, easy
Established as Thailand’s first national park in 1962, Khao Yai is the best place for a jungle trek near Bangkok. It boasts more than 50km (31 miles) of hiking trails that teem with macaques, gibbons, civets, barking deer and endemic bird species such as the Great Hornbill.
For solo hikers, there are a couple of short, circular trails that begin near the park’s headquarters. However, as wild elephants are often spotted in the reserve, guides are required for venturing any deeper into the rainforest. Avoid visiting on weekends and public holidays as cars often fill the motorable roads to the main sights, including the 150m-high (492ft) Haew Narok waterfall and Haew Suwat cascade, whose 25m-high (82ft) drop dazzled millions in Danny Boyle’s cult film The Beach (2000).
Follow the circular trail in Kew Mae Pan for impressive views © nirutti / Shutterstock
Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail
Best hike in Thailand
2.7km (1.6 miles), 2–3 hours, easy
The short Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail offers hikers a chance to see one of the most beautiful panoramic views in Thailand. Set inside the Doi Inthanon National Park near Chiang Mai, the 2200m-high (7218ft) Kew Mae Pan mountain stands only a few hundred meters south of Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest peak at 2565m (8415ft).
The trek itself is a short circular trail with boardwalks. It begins inside a forest of mossy trees and ferns that bursts with red rhododendrons between January and March. After passing the Mae Pan waterfall, the thicket thaws into a viridian grassland and leads hikers to the Kew Mae Pan Viewpoint (also called Station 9) that dominates the whole reserve and is known for its breathtaking sunrise views. Guides are compulsory here (200B per group).
Khao Sok is one the best jungle treks in southern Thailand © Sam Spicer / Shutterstock
Khao Sok National Park
Best jungle trek
Distances vary, 2–3 hours, moderate
Skirting the southern side of Cheow Lan lake, the dense forest and towering limestone karsts of Khao Sok make the national park one of the best jungle treks in southern Thailand. With 48 mammals roaming the forests, there’s plenty of excellent wildlife spotting opportunities too. It’s gibbons, macaques and barking deer for the most part, but more elusive species such as sun bears, clouded leopards and tigers have been known to make an appearance too.
Several trails, each around 12km (7.5 miles) long, start from Khao Sok village on the southern edge of the park. They then cut through dense forest and wind past tumbling waterfalls until they reach the southern shore of the lake.
In October and December, the world’s largest (and smelliest) parasitic flower, the Rafflesia kerrii, blooms, which can be quite a sight. Post-hike, Cheow Lan’s floating homestays, surrounded by fang-like karsts that rise from the water, are a popular spot to experience the lake and the northern side of the reserve.
Best island hike
Distances vary, 4–6 hours, easy to moderate
Motorcycles are the only vehicles allowed on the low-key island of Koh Jum, just off of Krabi. Fortunately, the most rewarding way to explore this paradisical atoll is on foot. The western coast has a flat trail that flits between coves and quiet beaches for 6km (3.7-miles), but for views as far as Ko Phi-Phi (on clear days), tackle the steep climb up Khao Koh Pu hill.
There are two trailheads that lead to the 400m-high (1312ft) summit. The most direct of which starts at the 2.9km sign on the circular road surrounding the hill. Navigating the empty rubber estates can be tricky, but locals will take guests up for about 1000B.
You won’t have to share the trail with many other visitors at Um Phang and Tak © Bangprikphoto / Shutterstock
Best multi-day hike
Distances and times vary, moderate to hard
Overlooked for the more popular Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son provinces, Um Phang and Tak offer spectacular hiking but with a fraction of the visitors. All treks start in and around the Um Phang Wildlife Sanctuary and use the Mae Klong River as a handy artery for deeper jungle exploration.
The region is great for multi-day hikes. Travelers could spend a week trawling its hills, bunking down at Karen villages and hiking south along the Burmese border to the Three Pagodas Pass at Sangkhlaburi, a border between Thailand and Myanmar that once was the main supply line for the construction of the Japanese Thailand-Burma railway in WWII.
However, most come to see Thailand’s largest waterfall, Nam Tok Thilawsu. From the wildlife sanctuary, it’s a two-hour hike to the striking cascade through dense palm, giant bamboo and strangler figs. Its pools are suitable for swimming too. Advanced hikers and peak-busters should attempt the grueling 20km (12.5-mile) slog to Mount Kagerla, the fourth highest peak in Thailand. However, at 1428m (4685ft), it’s not for the faint of muscle.
Best hike to an ancient temple
0.6 miles (1km), half-day, easy
It may not be a traditional hike, but few places are more inspiring than the Phanom Rung complex near Buriram. Standing on the rim of a dormant volcano, some 200m (656ft) above the rice fields of Isan, this 10th-century Khmer temple is built from pink sandstone.
Not only a striking archaeological site, the climb to Phanom Rung follows an ancient walkway flanked with the heads of Naga (serpent guardians), adding to its character. From the car park, the trail morphs into a stairway to the plateau where the main temple and its fifteen doorways await.
The climb of Phu Kradueng gets tougher as you approach the summit © mr_gateway / Shutterstock
Phu Kradueng National Park
Best hike to a peak
5.9 miles (9.5km), 4–6 hours, moderate to hard
Phu Kradueng (Bell Mountain) is the main peak in the namesake national park of Loei Province in northeast Isan. The climb isn’t that taxing to begin with, but it gets tougher as hikers approach the plateau-like summit. A campsite at the top offers hikers the chance to spend the night and rent bicycles for those wanting to explore the area at their own pace.
Locals typically complete the climb in a day, but staying over at the top affords hikers the chance to see a stunning sunset over the Mak Dook cliffs. Sunrise over the Nok Ann cliffs is equally compelling. The descent is hard on the knees; borrow one of the walking sticks on offer.
Bangkok Phrapradaeng Loop
Best hike near Bangkok
7.5 miles (12km), 3 hours, easy
Known as the “Green Lung” of Bangkok, this walking trail and bicycle path starts at the Bang Kachao Pier and has been protected by long-standing laws prohibiting the construction of tall buildings in this area. Hiking out here is a rare opportunity to see how the Thai capital looked a few decades ago.
Most of the route follows suspended pathways built above a mangrove swamp with a number of homes built on stilts. Try to hike on a Sunday when the Talad Bang Nam Phueng market sells delicious street food and all sorts of goods, from pearl earrings to coconut pancakes.