Khao Yai will always be known more for its National Park reserve, and UNESCO site, famous for its wildlife and irritable elephants. Although this area I have never actually been to before, as we always borrow cars when visiting, and people here do get worried about elephants potentially attacking and trampling their cars. And we inevitably promise to stay outside. However, there is more to Khao Yai than elephants and the National Park, where outside the reserve’s boundaries there is still a lot of nature and scenic attractions in Khao Yai, although the main pull for the region is, in fact, the cool mountain climate. And given its proximity to Bangkok, which is about a 2 hours drive away, Khao Yai has become a year-round retreat for the well-heeled folk of the city folk. So now it has become somewhat of a resort region, with themed attractions, and unlikely sites scattered throughout the hills. Meaning independent transport is necessary to make the most of the area. As public transport will not work. So we have been to Khao Yai four times now, along with the neighbouring hills of Wang Nam Kiew (‘Green Water Palace’ in English), and it is a region we are always happy to go back to. As it’s just a really nice area to escape.
A Home Away from Home
With its rolling hills and clean air, Khao Yai seems about as close as it gets to a ‘Little Britain’ in Thailand, only this would be Britain in the summer time, without the miserable weather. Although grey skies do come in rainy season. And I remember on my family’s most recent visit to Thailand when I picked them up at the airport, before driving to spend the night at the Chateau de Khao Yai. And along the way, we passed The Cotswolds, Thames Valley, and Kensington English Gardens, which is obviously a bit odd having just arrived from the UK. “Welcome to Thailand”. But they do still talk about this overnight stay, as if it were the best part of Thailand, which I guess is understandable, given the rest of it, they were hiding from the relentless heats of the lower planes of Isaan. Anyway, I find this is the real charm of the area, the cool British climates, which as well brings unlikely agriculture, like strawberry fields, and I even managed to bag myself some fresh garden peas at a local market. My first since leaving the UK more than four years before. So it is a bit like a home away from home, although I can’t say I ever felt homesick.
The European Cliches
So now the region has become somewhat like a European theme park, in parts, with all the much-loved clichés of top European destinations. Which again may seem bizarre, but I find stranger is that the themes actually do fit with the landscapes and the climate in these cooler heights of the hills. Although it does go over the top at times and feels a tad tacky in parts, and they may have gone overboard with the Leaning Tower of Pisa, for example, next to Toscana Valley. But for many locals, as well as international travellers, this may also be the closest they ever come to experiencing the real Europe. And the kicker is just how cheap it is in comparison, so I manage to afford experiences here, like staying on the grounds of a French Chateau, and wine and dining at the vineyards, which I otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford in Europe. And themes do cover all the popular European destinations, and neighbouring Wang Nam Khiao has even come to be called the Switzerland of Isaan, although the prominent theme in Khao Yai is undoubtedly Italy. And this includes Primo Piazza (left), Palio (right), and the rather massive development of Toscana Valley (above).
Romance in the Hills
The climate and scenery are obviously more popular with local Thai’s, who have to live in unrelenting heats, and the area is, therefore, perfect for an escape for romance. And we did similar before on the run up to Valentine’s when I brought Fanfan to Khao Yai, to indulge in the played-out clichés and celebrations of the celebration. Only I upgraded them, where instead of buying her flowers, I brought her to flower gardens. And instead of buying wine, I took her wine tasting at the vineyards. And instead of buying her a punnet of strawberries, we picked them together in an adorable English garden. Not to forget our overnight stay on the grounds of a French chateau. And all the flowers, white picket fencing, and heart shaped topiaries in between. But I left the most romantic gesture to last, with an unplanned visit to an open farm, so Fanfan could feed the sheep. Cute, fluffy, huggable sheep. Which I find is the real way to any Thai girl’s heart. Or at least that’s what I thought, only we arrive at the stable to find the sheep neglected and alone. As apparently it’s now all about alpacas these days. Goofy looking alpacas, with goofy looking scarves. I got to feed them grass.