Khao Yai is the name of Thailand’s first national park. But today, the name is increasingly being associated with Thai wine and the finer side of the travel lifestyle. That’s because the northern foothills of this 2,168- km area national park, which lies largely in Nakhon Ratchasima Province (Korat) but also includes parts of Saraburi, Prachinburi, and Nakhon Nayok provinces, is home to some of the country’s best-known vineyards.
The national park is the oldest and best-known natural sanctuaries in Thailand, with more than 300 animal and bird species and 2,000 types of vegetation. Since its proclamation as a national park in 1962, it has become an easy getaway for many Thais and expats from Bangkok. But not until it emerged as Thailand’s premier wine region, had it really seeped deeper into the consciousness of mainstream travellers.
Today, the so-called Khao Yai Wine Region at the scenic park’s northern latitude (14.3) has made a visit in the area even more potentially interesting and enjoyable. The vineyards of PB Valley Winery and GranMonte Winery are located at altitudes of 300-350 m above sea level on the western side of the national park, while the Chateau des Brumes Winery is on the extreme eastern boundary.
PB Valley is the birthplace of the Thai wine region; Asoke Valley, home to the GranMonte vineyard and winery is known for its beautiful yellow blossom flowers special to the Khao Yai region; and Wang Nam Khieo District over the mountains east of the national park where the Village Farm Winery is located, exemplifies the area’s beauty and all-year-round cool weather.
Even if you’re not into wine and vineyards, the Khao Yai Region beckons as a destination. Besides seeing one of the oldest and best-known nature sanctuaries in Thailand – an Asean and UNESCO World Heritage Site even – there is so much to enjoy: the cool weather, the diverse flora and the fauna, the variety of eco-tourism attractions and activities, and yes, the several vineyards just outside the park. The vineyards are all set amid beautiful and varied landscapes and especially at this time of year, which is wine harvest season.
The season, which runs from November to March every year, enhances the region’s peaceful aura, environmentally friendly atmosphere,not to mention its beautiful scenery and temperate climate. The wineries have their own on-site accommodation (with restaurants and other services and facilities) and offer activities and tours – wine tours are becoming popular – for a different, enjoyable holiday experience.
Until recently, most people do not associate wine tours with the so-called traditional Thai holiday experience and hence, joining one can be very exciting. All the vineyards now offer professionally conducted, tailor-made, wine tours, which can include – depending on the winery organising them – private wine tasting, wine and fine dining pairing, vineyards and winery visits and strolls, cellar-door shopping, wine classes, and in some, even wine spa and Thai massage. It might also be interesting for visitors to witness first-hand sustainable and experimental viticulture (as in GranMonte), meet the winemaker and how they support the local community.
Special activities are also organized by these wineries during the harvest festival – as a group or in solo – such as ‘Rhythm in the Vineyard’, ‘Jazz in the Vineyard’, ‘Night Harvest Festival’ in February and the ‘Wine Festival’ in November, and more. Of course,if those are not enough,you can book other activities such as exploration of the Khao Yai National Park, visits to waterfalls, enjoying the nearby theme parks, and several world-class golf courses. The nearby Chokchai Farm – producer of meat and dairy products – might also be interesting to some.
From late November to March is best— as they are within wine harvest season, and all the vineyards go out of their way to offer special activities for all visitors to enjoy.
The vineyards are destinations in themselves, and each vineyard has an interesting story to tell as well as tons of activities on offer, especially during the wine harvest season. The rest of the Khao Yai National Park also makes for great sightseeing programme, if you are interested in nature and have time to spare.
As this is a wine region, the best buys are Thai wines and by- products, as well as souvenirs and keepsakes. All wineries have their own shops featuring their unique products and more.
At the Khao Yai Wine Region tours, wine and fine dining is intrinsic part of the experience. PB Valley has two restaurants offering scenic views, and Western and Thai specialities partly matched to the wines grown in the estate. There is the Great Hornbill Grill Restaurant with over 100 menus of authentic and fusion style international cuisine together with famous exotic Thai dishes in their unique style. The place has a 200-seat capacity with an optional of outdoor dining on the terrace over looking the vineyard or air-conditioned country style decorated rooms.
GranMonte’s VinCotto Restaurant is located in the most scenic part of the estate. It specialises in home-style cooking served in generous portions at affordable prices. Every dish on the menu is Sakuna Lohitnavy’s culinary creation, and can be enjoyed amid the vineyard surroundings and the Park’s mountain range.
Village Farm has two restaurants that epitomises country living at its best: The Old Barn, which serves delightful European cuisine; and The Restaurant. Whether it is fine dinning, contemporary cuisine or traditional country cooking, the ‘Village Cuisine’ always manages to surprise and delight guests with the quality of its produce and the talent in its kitchen. Meals are matched and complimented with their own wines.
Khao Yai National Park: Travellers from Isaan (Northeast), Bangkok, and beyond often visit the national park. The fee is Bt400 baht for foreigners (Bt200 for children), and Bt40 for Thais or Thai residents, plus Bt50 baht. Food is available from private concessions within the park as are bicycles.
Kayaking and rafting services are also available. You can also enjoy wildlife spotlighting – an evening activity – available via pick-up trucks in the early evening. Sightings are usually limited to deer and civet cats, but sometimes elephants too. There are also slideshow presentations at the visitor centre on weekends and public holidays and
meeting rooms are available for seminars and workshops.
For those who are so-inclined, there are camping zones in the area too. You can bring your own tent or rent one at the camping ground, and lodges and cabins are available for singles and groups. There are over 50 kms of hiking trails – some take just one-hour to do, others take three days. For animal watchers, the observation towers at Nong Pak Chee or Mo Sing offer an opportunity to see Great Hornbills, gaur, and sometimes elephants (in the early morning). Gibbons are common too, and at 5:30 pm thousands of wrinkled lipped bats emerge from a cave three kms outside the northern gate for their dinner. Paleontologist-wannabes might be interest to see dinosaur’s footprints at the Klong Pa Kang-Wang Haew (but you may need a four-day trek to see a dinosaur footprint!) And of course, the waterfcaallfse: Haew Narok, Haew Suwat, Haew Sai and Haew Pratoon – for that something exhilarating in your trip.
From Bangkok you can rent a car with driver for the day to visit the wineries and vineyards at Khao Yai. If you’re not familiar with Thailand, this might be the best thing to do. Otherwise, you can reach the vineyards via the following options:
There are three routes from Bangkok.
Route 1: Take Highway No. 1 (Phaholyothin) to Saraburi. Then take Highway No. 2 (Mitraparp Highway) to Nakhon Ratchasima. The total distance is 259 km.
Route 2: Take Highway No. 304 and proceed past Minburi, Chachoengsao, Phanom Sarakham, Kabin Buri, Pak Thong
Chai, to Nakhon Ratchasima.
Route 3: Take the Bangkok-Rangsit-Nakhon Nayok route then take Highway No. 33 to Kabin Buri and Highway No. 304 past Wang Nam Khiao, Pak Thong Chai to Nakhon Ratchasima. Be sure to bring a map if you’re driving on your own.
Ordinary buses leave the Northern Bus Terminal (Morchit 2 Bus Terminal) in Bangkok every 15 or 20 minutes. The Transport Co., Ltd. (known as Bo Kho So) has both air-conditioned and non air-conditioned buses departing also from the Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal daily. Air-conditioned buses leave Bangkok every 10 minutes all day, travelling time is
three hours and 20 minutes and the fare is Bt157. Non air-conditioned buses leave Bangkok every hour and travel time is four hours and 30 minutes and fare is Bt87. Call 02 936-2852/66 or click on www.traco.motc.go.th
Thai Airways International (THAI) flies to Korat from Bangkok twice a day. Air Andaman provides two daily flight services from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima. From the airport, you can rent a car or taxi to Khao Yai.