Just 160km northeast of Bangkok, Khao Yai is Thailand’s third largest National Park. Meaning “large mountain” in Thai, the region comprises a crescent-shaped mountain range with forested peaks that reach up to 1,350m. Because of this elevation, the climate here brings warm and sunny days then cool and dry nights, making the area not just popular with weekend merry-makers from the city but also great for agriculture.
An ideal getaway for active nature-lovers, the National Park boasts many a hiking trail, ranging from those that take a morning or afternoon, to more arduous journeys that require overnight camping. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to lush verdant peaks, glorious waterfalls and streams, as well as interesting wild life such as elephants, gibbons and a wide range of birds one can look out for when trekking through.
Khao Yai’s biodiversity and optimal climate have also resulted in many farms and plantations spread across its lands. In fact, with currently four wineries established here, Khao Yai is Thailand’s very own budding wine region. A growing interest in the local produce as well as the laid back lifestyle the region affords in contrast to bustling Bangkok, is propelling Khao Yai to become a welcome getaway for visitors into the Thai capital.
Here are 5 things to check off your Khao Yai to-do-list:
Visit a vineyard
GranMonte Vineyard and Winery’s 16 hectare estate comprises 10 hectares of vineyards, a winery, an Italian restaurant Vin Cotto, and a charming guesthouse with six rooms for those looking for a quintessential wine region escape. Owned by the Lohitnavy’s, GranMonte is one of the leading Thai wineries, having amassed a roster of awards from international wine competitions. Their flagship wines include a fruit-forward and aromatic Viognier that has been aged for six months in barrel to give it body; as well as the Asoke Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah blend, which is aged for 14 months in new French and American oak barrels to result in a full bodied red full of red fruit, spice, and elegant tannins.
Even if you are not looking to stay overnight on the property, GranMonte’s daily guided tour brings one around the vineyard as well as into the winery, before ending off with a tasting flight of four wines that they produce. It makes for an enlightening afternoon, learning about wine growing and wine making in a non-traditional wine-growing and -making region. Don’t forget to pop by their gift shop to get a jar of their homemade grape jam!
GranMonte Vineyard and Winery
52 Moo 9 Phayayen, Pakchong, Nakornrachasima, Thailand 30320. Tel: +66 044 009 543 / +66 044 009 544
Tuck into some delicious food
They started out as a small shack serving up Isaan fare, but Pen Laos has upsized into a buzzing eatery, where crowds gather—regardless of meal time—to sample their tasty dishes. As its name suggests, Pen Laos’ rendition of Northeastern Thai food carries a bit of Laotian influences. Dishes not to be missed include the som tam lao (B60), which features pickled fish in the otherwise ubiquitous spicy papaya salad; and the kai na yang samoon prai or herbal grilled chicken (B120/220).
Khao-yai ,Pakchong, Nakhonratchasima, Amphoe Pak Chong 30130. Tel: +66 083 461 3666
Need a sweet ending? How about some ice cream that is light as air and fluffy as clouds? For that, you’ll have to head to Farm Chokchai. This family-friendly and educational agro-tourism destination encompasses a fully-integrated dairy farm, cattle ranch, and even a theme park complete with ATV adventure zone. It is also the only place where you can get your hands on a cone of Chokchai’s Airmilk ice cream, a soft serve made using the farm’s fresh, top quality milk.
159-160 Moo 2, Friendship Road, Pakchong, Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand. Tel: +66 044 328 485
Get up close and personal with some animals
While at Farm Chokchai, you are not only able to go on a 2.5 hour agro-tour that’ll teach you the ins and outs of rearing cattle and producing milk, you can even sign up for an ice-cream making workshop, or just choose to feed the growing calves.
If you are looking for more furry animals, head to Primo Piazza (see below), where you can have a go at feeding donkeys, sheep, and alpacas!
Take your #OOTD at these cool places
Made to resemble a little Italy, Primo Piazza is home to cafes, restaurants, little alley-ways with cobblestone streets and picturesque mountains in the background. Find a quaint alley, take a selfie and upload it onto your Instagram – it’s highly probably that some friends will think you are gallivanting in a small Italian town.
Mu Si, Pak Chong District, Nakhon Ratchasima 30130, Thailand. Tel: +66 081 922 9000, +66 044 009 9005
For the #hipster who needs their regular caffeine fix, fret not. Even up in the rustic reaches of Khao Yai, one can find an effortlessly cool cafe where you can sip on your flat white or drip coffee while looking cool. Spread across The Birder’s Lodge’s compound are five tiny-house accommodation options, a wooden barn that is home to a knick-knack flea shop and holds a monthly farmer’s market (see below), as well as a stylish cafe dressed in calming wood and verdant greens. Not only is every corner of the cafe worthy of a photo spread in a interior design magazine or furniture catalog, the drinks and snacks served up here are equally Instagram-worthy. Think: cotton candy affogato!
The Birder’s Lodge
282 Moo 10, Tumbol Musi, Pak Chong, Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand 30130. Tel: +66 44 300 185
Buy some local produce
Time your visit to Khao Yai on the first weekend of each month and you’ll be able to experience the monthly farmer’s market held at The Birder’s Lodge’s Barn.
Inside the cavernous wooden barn, you’ll find stalls by boutique farmers from around the region peddling fresh produce like melons, cucumbers, limes, avocadoes, and many other vegetables and fruits. Other food items to look out for are local coffee, honey, and chillli pastes that you can easily bring home as souvenirs.