The term sounded like some sort of alien slang as it rolled off the tip of my tongue. As alien as the term seems, here I am, with my family of four, strapped up in a Klook van my parents had rented for our 1-week stay in Khao Yai; then bounded straight to the middle-of-nowhere place after getting off our long flight from Don Muang Airport (DMK). Everything around me had dulled to white noise. The mild broken English chatter of our local Khao Yai guide/van driver with my parents. The occasional jerks of the van upon halting and sudden swerving within a daily bustling Thai road traffic. The tropical heat on an average Thai cloudy day, which was the least to say bearable.
As I watched one of the many trucks swerving passed us with eye-catching colourful patterns sprayed onto its sides, my mind couldn’t wrap around a question. Instead of pulling the stops at common destinations like Bangkok, Phuket or Chang Mai, why were we going through all the trouble of making a 2 hour plus journey to a strange far-out place called ‘Khao Yai’? Yet, at the end of our 1-week stay in Khao Yai, I found it difficult to part away from this hidden place and longed to return for a future stay. This unexpected sleepy yet quirky destination, most had never heard of, had certainly charmed its way to our hearts with its many unique charms and delights.
1. Chasing sunflower dreams, fuzzy friends & strawberry-picking
Being a nature person at heart, I indefinitely never leave out highlighting the nature of all the places I visited. Khao Yai, in my opinion, is such a rewarding destination for nature-lovers or those looking to escape away from city life. It would really be plain bad luck if one sleeps away at the teeming abundance of Nature and outdoor activities this destination has to offer.
Plus, an added bonus for all newcomers, this far-out travel destination does have tropical temperatures during the day. However, you will be surprised to know that temperatures normally sink down around 20°C or a few degrees below when night approaches.
Feeling slightly more energised after a morning spent at Khao Yai National Park, we headed for the Bloom.
We initially visited Khao Yai with the hopes of getting a picture with its famed sunflowers (rumoured to tower slightly over people’s heads). Unfortunately, our sunflower dreams were dashed when our guide told us that the sunflower season had just ended. Hence, there were really more wilted sunflowers left in such flower farms. After that unfortunate news, we bounded for the Bloom with flickering hopes in our chests.
We were not disappointed.
As the name jested, our visuals were delightfully gifted with a kaleidoscope of colours that swept us off our feet. Sweeping carpets of blooming flower fields that spread across a slightly larger version than your normal neighbourhood park. A sight so captivating that it can only be described as a floral painting being brought to life. No sunflowers to be seen, that’s for sure. Instead, patches of lavenders, marigolds and yellow trumpet trees, pink-white spider lilies, red roses and other flowers dotted the landscape. Just like one of those paint-by-number colouring canvases.
Resting against a yellow crescent moon sculpture, I was high up enough on a hill to survey the entire flower park. From afar, I could see people getting lost while wandering on narrow fairy-like stone paths that wound across the flower park. The mesmerising array of various flower patches blooming among trimmed green hedges, which carved up the park’s central huge flower maze. A weathered marble fountain featuring two embracing gleeful-looking cherubs. Where there was a fairytale Cinderella carriage engulfed in baby pink blossoms at one park corner, a mini twinkling Ferris Wheel sculpture glimmered on the other end.
Sadly, like most of the places we visited, there were only very few people wandering about in this lonely floral wonderland. Yet on the flipside, we got to roam around acres of its marvelous flower fields as we please. Thus, we left that evening with our hearts flower-full and flowery scents messing our olfactory senses.
‘It was literally straight out of a painting!’ was all my starstruck self could dwell on. The startlingly similar visuals this secret location shared with the Italian location it was remodeled after, was just simply astonishing.
We had barely crossed half of the plaza square when my mum swept us away in a furious flurry of burst shots. It was a sweltering day, hotter than normal, when we visited the plaza. Once again, there was a noticeably lack of tourists in the open square. Thus, for the whole duration, I felt uncomfortable while we traversed over the heated Italian cobblestone streets.
Eventually, we found out where all the casual bunch of plaza tourists had scrambled off to. The end of the mini plaza square slowly opened up to a wide-open area of sprawling green grass, accompanied by tiny ponds and small hills. Amidst all that, a mini petting farm and various photo-taking spots sprung among the sea of green. Despite the intense heat, we had a delightful afternoon overall. Falling head-over-heels repetitively while petting and feeding fuzzy llamas and sheep. Gleefully strawberry-picking and purchasing our basketful. The enjoyment of both activities quickly chased away all feelings of exhaustion.
From colourful terracotta-toned buildings to strawberry-picking spots and fuzzy friends amidst lush vineyard greenery, the unmistakably Mediterranean vibes filled the atmosphere. At that exact moment, it really felt like we were all really travelling in Italy.
Palio Khao Yai
A quaint Tuscan village which features pretty pictures and quirky shopping. Talk about another charming picturesque location.
I could not help but admire the rust brown terraced rooftops and white arched windows of sunshine yellow, rust brown and maroon red buildings as my family wandered around the sparsely crowded cobbled streets of Palio Khao Yai. All around us, tireless street vendors beckoned and hollered out their prices before shops displaying arrays of glittering trinkets and multi-coloured homewares.
The sudden sound of rattling maracas and blaring trumpets eventually drew us to the main village square. There, a walking live band was performing beside a central marble water fountain, surrounded by fuchsia pink bougainvilleas and wooden rest benches. With the rays of the setting sun filtering through the streets and visitors strolling casually around, it felt like a still moment in time. The end of a sunny day in real Tuscany.
2. A week round of Instagrammable café afternoons and eccentric eateries
I swear, for that entire week stay in Khao Yai, the aromatic smell of coffee beans literally lingered in my nose wherever we went. The still moments of calm sepia light. The light-hearted café atmosphere of lounging customers. All elements which drugged my mind into some sort of caffeinated trance the entire week. If café afternoons were not enough, our unique dining experiences at eccentric eateries were the icing on the cake.
The Chocolate Factory
Chocolate lovers, I dare you to miss this place!
After dropping by Farm ChokChai for a morning visit, we found ourselves grabbing a much needed tea break in this aesthetic café. A café promising coffee, baked goods and most importantly, Chocolate Indulgence. Afterall, this is the Chocolate Factory we are talking about. Walking through the glass entrance doors, my mouth was already watering at the overwhelming smell of coffee and chocolate that hit my nostrils instantly. Plus, who could miss the dazzling entrance photo-spot of large chocolate bar replicas?
Hoards of customers were lazily lounging around coffee tables and chatting. Then, there were some like us. A lot of us who were either perusing the baked goods. Or crowding around a large glass room and staring wide-eyed at bakers, who were busy tempering chocolate, icing cakes and baking pastries. With the soothing jazz café music, our tea break that afternoon was a pleasant one. Satisfyingly filled with cakes, coffee and chocolate goodness to the brim.
The café aesthetics was like the cherry on the top. Ranging from reflective glass windows, polished wooden floors, and the assortment of suspending twinkling fairy lights and miniature potted plants. Those were probably the reasons why everything seemed slow-mo like a lazy Sunday afternoon. Hence, it made it all the more difficult for us to eventually leave the place.
Yellow Submarine Coffee Tank
An architectural wonder of a modern black container splat in the middle of dense forest far-out. Literally in the middle of nowhere.
To be clear, this café was the most hidden – thus, it brought the most agony to navigate to during the course of our trip. It took us multiple twists and turns and stopping a local passer-by for directions before we finally reached the place.
I admit, the shady sight of a plain glass container surrounded by pitch black walls in the middle of dense forest made me reconfirm with my parents if we have indeed arrived at the right destination.
Never judge a book by its cover.
Beyond the café’s uniform black walls, we were greeted with a modern café building covered from head to toe in glass, brown wood and liquorice black in effortless, minimalist design. In the cafe, you can spy two sorts of customers. Casual customers having friendly chatter over coffee tables inside narrow dimly-lit café corridors. A handful who lounged lazily in an outside barista with reflective black volcanic ash walls featuring their wavy reflections. All of this just made the café an even more perplexing enigma than its super hidden location.
Lucky to find a coffee table inside the crowded café, we feasted on ice-cream waffles and iced coffee drinks with the shadows of dense trees waving to us through rectangular windows.
Vineyard summers filled with succulent grapes ripe for picking.
Such summery vibes instantly hit me once my eyes laid on the lush green hedges surrounding a modern brown barn-like café building like a maze.
This far-out vineyard café no doubt made a pretty picture. Sitting picturesque overlooking a wide blue lake in the midst of rolling green carpets of grass for miles. This was at least less perplexing to locate, as compared to its previous colleague. Sunlight filtered softly through overarching triangular windows, adding to the serene ambiance of enjoying coffee afternoons.
Beneath suspending potted plants and rows of twinkling miniature light bulbs, customers can be seen casually flipping through magazines in this bohemian themed café. Then again, there were a few who chose to lounge at the outside patios. Such outdoor lovers can be seen enjoying potted pink bougainvillea or soaking in the sight of the still lake and acres of rolling green grass.
With airy guitar music blending with the slow-rising murmur of customers inside the café, we enjoyed a round of ice-blended slushies, coffee and more cakes on that fine weekday afternoon.
Ban Mai Chay Nam Museum & Restaurant
Two word I would use to describe this place.
If we thought that the extraordinary sight of a longboat restaurant floating on stand stilts beside a murky green river was enough to shock us yet, we were so wrong.
Marilyn Monroe made my pulse jump at the entrance.
A life-size figurine of her dressed in her famous white dress waved giddily at us. In her equally iconic pose with her white voluminous dress billowing in waves around her knees. The shock of seeing her was enough to hint to me that this was not some sort of ordinary restaurant we were just walking into.
Jungle vibes set by barrages of hanging pots of overgrown ferns suspending above our heads. The display of wonky intricacies and piling collection of strange antiques randomly popping out-of-the-blue or being featured on walls. All of this essentially adds the layer of ‘antique junk’ aesthetics to this extraordinary longboat restaurant/ museum.
Having lunch in such a setting, is no question, one of the more unique dining experiences I would grow to remember during my travels.
After tasting some sumptuous Thai dishes, we resorted to exploring the collection of curiosities and other mysterious trinkets this longboat housed. Ban Mai Chay Nam’s seemingly infinite hallways of eccentric curiosities temporarily transported us to the world of Studio Ghibli. I was literally reminded of the ‘Spirited Away’ scene. The part where Chihiro literally flew through a barrage of multi-coloured doors into Yubaba’s office. Yet, Wizard Howl’s bedroom with walls filled to the brim with eccentric glittering trinkets from ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ was another major contender to this as well. One hallway uncovering more secrets after the next.
3. Hold up. Did I see Quirky Hotels? (P.S. Not sponsored, yeah)
Yes, you got that right. My eyes were not playing tricks on me after all! We were literally hotel-hopping from one quirky hotel to the next. All for the sake of snapping photos in exquisite overseas locations ranging from European castles to French countryside escapes. In total, we visited three quirky hotels, but two stood out to me the most.
We literally got transported into a world surrounded by European castles and all its medieval chivalry.
Under cloudy skies, that fateful afternoon was spent tirelessly taking many photos. We frolicked around the European castle-like hotel exteriors, amidst tall blades of yellow-green grass and fields of fuzzy Lalang which tickled our bare kneecaps. Later, upon stumbling on a huge greenery maze, we got lost wandering within its hedgy network of winding green and maroon reds. Also, let’s not forget the fairy-like black iron sculptures which sprung like huge bird cages among the hedges.
The sharp grey castle towers and brick grey and white concrete castle walls furnished with light blue-framed windows. An architectural masterpiece indeed, visually similar to its European counterpart.
U Khao Yai
Ever dream of a French countryside escapade? Well, this dreamy place, another architectural masterpiece, certainly does its many reviews justice.
The French dream of a castle gate lobby entrance featuring two swirling brown-topped castle towers of brick brown with two high arched blue windows did not stop there. The sight of the guest accommodation inside the hotel literally made my jaw drop.
Imagine a line of mustard yellow French villas with brown terraced roofs overlooking a sleepy river dotted with green lily-pads and flat grey-brown stones which cuts across the peaceful square of rolling green lawns. Boughs of forest-green conifer trees swaying in the mild breeze and trimmed green-brown bushes resting along the riverside.
Seriously though, this looks like something out of a storybook.
Now, time for final thoughts….
Khao Yai, to sum it up, was a blast! An unexpected eventful getaway that I never knew I needed during the two-week semester break in between university work. To make it better, it was a quirky road adventure where we basically Klook-ed around sleepy Khao Yai.
Feel like taking a trip to this interesting, unknown Thai gem of a place now? Take note of all the places I mentioned! I guarantee you will have a quirky journey filled with lots of delightful memories in your next Khao Yai adventure such as mine.
Till the next time I gushed on another travel destination, เดินทางปลอดภัย (safe travels) on your future post-COVID trips, my lovely readers!
Written by: Celestina Lau.
Photos by: Celestina Lau