Watching Wild Elephants in Kui Buri National Park, Thailand (+Photos)

Located about 85 km southwest from the popular beach resort of Hua Hin, Kui Buri National Park is recognized as being one of the best destinations in Thailand for viewing elephants.

Having visited Kui Buri National Park several times before, I was keen to share this natural gem with friends visiting from back home in the UK. On hearing of gorgeous landscapes where elephants and other wildlife roam freely, they were excited to add this to their plans.

Because the park doesn’t open until 2 pm each day, we—or the adults, at least!—enjoyed a couple of pool hours in the morning at our base in Hua Hin.

Once the teens had rolled out of bed, grunted, and grabbed some brunch, we set the GPS and started on the hour-and-a-half drive to reach the national park, famous for being one of the top spots to see wild elephants in Thailand.

Traveling to Kui Buri National Park

Approach Road

Approach Road

The drive from Hua Hin to Kui Buri National Park is pretty straight along a major highway for most of the way, branching off for the last 30 minutes or so to wind through countryside villages where chickens peck by the roadside, and you encounter more tractors and motorbikes than cars.

Mountains loom in the distance as you leave the sounds of the sea far, far behind. We made a quick photo stop at Yang Chum Reservoir, a few miles before the elephant observation site, to add more to the day.

Although we had our own car for this trip, I’ve previously visited using private and public transport, perhaps the most adventurous time involving a late-night bus, an overnight stay in Kui Buri town, and an informal taxi to the park headquarters. This time, we noted other visitors arriving in private cars, on rented scooters from Pranburi (brave souls!), and as part of small organised day trips, presumably from Hua Hin.

Checking In for Safaris

National Park Sign

National Park Sign

The last part of the drive led through dense rubber plantations, with overhanging trees blocking the sunshine and building an atmosphere of suspense. The gloom cleared, and we found ourselves in a large and mostly empty car park, the sense of isolation making my friends question whether we’d arrived in the right place.

I directed them to a clean toilet block and a small snack counter before hustling them into the small ticket office. Each visitor must pay for national park admission on top of group safari fees.

At the time of visiting (October 2023), park fees were 200 THB for foreign adults, 100 THB for foreign children, 40 THB for Thai adults, and 20 THB for Thai children. Each group of up to eight must also pay the safari fee of 850 THB, which includes a pickup truck, driver, and local guide. Binoculars are available to rent for 100 THB.

We snapped some pictures of the park sign—probably trying to buy a little time while wondering how best to haul ourselves into the back of the waiting truck—then clambered aboard, some more gracefully than others!

Visiting Tips

Pickup Truck

As a side note, I’d recommend wearing shoes with decent grip and clothes that allow flexibility because of getting into the pickup. Additionally, although there’s not much walking involved, you can jump out of the truck at observation points, and the ground can be muddy and slippery.

The weather was pretty overcast, and we had a sprinkling of rain while on our safari, but nothing to dampen our spirits. However, if you’re visiting during the peak rainy season (June to October), you may be grateful for a rain poncho and a dry bag—once you’ve left the car park, there’s minimal shelter.

For the same reason, hats, glasses, and sun cream are handy on a bright day. If you’re sensitive to dust, you may want a mask or scarf to cover your mouth and nose, and a bottle of water is most welcome in the heat and dust.

The park opens daily from 2 pm until dusk. However, it’s closed every June for maintenance and rejuvenation.

Driving Through the Park

Misty Mountain

Misty Mountain

After arranging ourselves on the narrow benches in the back of the truck, we bumped across the uneven terrain, eagerly hoping to spot elephants. Dense mists hung over a rising mountain, although the morning drizzle hadn’t dried the earth enough to prevent dust clouds as we drove along the rough tracks.

We spotted signs of construction work, which our guide explained was to create more watering holes for the several local elephant herds.


Passing pickup trucks paused to discuss possible sighting areas, the anticipation rose with every crackle of the driver’s radio. As we admired the rugged surroundings, we questioned our guide about other animals that roamed the local area.

He explained that—alongside the headline elephants and gaur—the area was also home to shy-and-rarely-sighted leopards, diverse bird species, and various reptiles. Apparently, the adjacent mountains, providing a natural border between Thailand and Myanmar and mere miles away, are also the playground of tigers, their presence only known thanks to tracking devices.

Our driver patiently paused each time we wanted to peer into the trees, willing an elephant to appear. Birds twittered and called from their hiding places in the lush greenery, and we caught a flash of colour and quickly glimpsed a mighty hornbill high in the treetops.

Elephant Conservation and Sustainable Tourism

Wild Elephants

In the past, elephants plagued local farmers, destroying their lands and munching their crops. Eventually, however, people saw the value of protecting the local wildlife, and a sustainable eco-tourism project was born.

Reforestation efforts encourage creatures to remain in their natural habitats, allowing farms to flourish, and locally-led safaris provide further income for villagers. Plus, because of the financial incentives and an affinity for the land, surrounding communities are involved in anti-poaching and protection initiatives. Tourist income helps with conservation work.

Spotting Gaur

Spotting Gaur

After starting to think that Lady Luck just wasn’t on our side that day, we caught sight of a herd of gaur grazing just a short distance away. You’d be forgiven for thinking that these bovine creatures are like regular cattle at first glance, but a closer inspection with the aid of binoculars reveals their actual size and muscular build.

Indeed, these massive creatures, native to South and Southeast Asia, are the largest type of wild cattle. Seeing them is made even more special because they are a vulnerable species.


We continued to a lookout point where, despite waiting patiently, there was little to see except kaleidoscopes of butterflies in a wide array of shades, birds, and more gaur far in the distance.

Our guide reassured us of another observation area where we may have more success. I gently reminded my friends that there are never guarantees of seeing wildlife while secretly feeling guilty about spotting many elephants on previous visits.

Elephant Expectations

Elephants in the Distance

Elephants in the Distance

Continuing our bumpy drive, piles of dug building our hopes, we suddenly noticed flickers of grey and movement down a side track. Could it be?!

Our pickup quickly backed up, and we watched in awe as three elephants strolled out of the tree cover to uproot grass with their trunks. Our guide explained that the elephant trio was likely a mother, father, and child, with one of the elephants noticeably smaller than the others.

Young Elephant

Young Elephant

Fortunately, the elephant family stayed eating for some time, allowing us to quietly observe them from a distance without another soul in sight. Rustling, bird songs, and camera clicks were the only sounds until another pickup truck joined us about ten minutes later.

Eventually, the three elephants lumbered across the track, disappearing from view into the forest and leaving us with the feeling of witnessing something quite magical.

High Hopes and Other Wildlife



Our safari continued with a renewed sense of purpose, taking us past several skittish deer and even more gaur. We joined a small crowd at another lookout point, everyone hoping to see elephants come ambling across the lower plain.

I’d previously witnessed 33 elephants from the same spot—information I withheld from my friends—so hopes were high. A ranger kept urging people to be quiet and patient, assuring us several elephants were nearby.

Unfortunately, none came into view by the time we sadly had to leave the park for its dusk closing time, and we followed several vehicles back to the car park.

Returning to Hua Hin

Elephants Spotted

Although we saw relatively few elephants on this visit, the varied wildlife, views, and peaceful atmosphere made this a winning afternoon for all. Nighttime was fast approaching, so after a bathroom visit and loading up on more snacks from the kiosk, we started the drive back to Hua Hin, keen to hit the main road before being enveloped in darkness.

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