Back in the day, a weekend getaway for most Bangkokians usually meant spending a night or two at the beach in Pattaya or Hua Hin _ or, in case of a long weekend, on Koh Samet. While the combination of sea, sand and sun has never really lost its holiday appeal, more city dwellers today are heading northeast for a quick recharge among the region's lush rollicking hills and valleys. Located just a little over two hours from Bangkok, Khao Yai over the last few years has become a new "it" destination, offering expanses of unspoiled nature, numerous themed resorts, adventure-based attractions while also playing host to music festivals, including Thailand's largest, the Big Mountain Music Festival.
Thanks to its idyllic landscapes, Khao Yai lends itself nicely to "concept" resorts, and is home to several establishments paying homage to all things exotic and outlandish.
Palio Khao Yai is one of those places that never fails to attract attention. And how could it not? The famous shopping street boldly stands out from the lush green backdrop with its rust-orange faux-Tuscan decor that just begs to be on Instagram. If spending a few hours here isn't enough, travellers can also stay overnight at the Palio Inn, a 12-room boutique hotel on the same premises that boasts similar Italian-inspired facades.
The novelty of Palio may prove to be short-lived, especially to frequent visitors to Khao Yai (in fact, there's talk of a complete revamp some time next year), and that's where a place like Provence Khao Yai comes in. As the name suggests, this unique project draws its inspiration from the rural region of southern France. It started as the personal fantasy of Preeraya Bunnag, co-owner of imported furniture shop Magnifique in Sukhumvit Soi 31, who is head-over-heels enamoured with Provence-style homes, and had this crazy idea of having one built in Thailand. Three challenging years later, a gorgeous five-bedroom house finally appeared on Khao Yai's horizon, featuring pale salmon washed walls, terracotta roof tiles, a meticulously-manicured garden and a swimming pool reflecting nothing but the vast blue sky.
Pride and joy of Ms Preeraya and her husband Perter Chie, the house truly embodies the spirit of southern France in northeastern Thailand courtesy of a team of specialists from Provence brought in to oversee construction. Unlike Palio, Provence Khao Yai was not designed as a tourist attraction, but judging from the amount of attention it receives, it could very well have been. Once completed, the project will consist of 23 villas, ranging from three to five bedrooms, creating a Provence style village that's sure to be a spectacular sight.
Another addition to Khao Yai's ever-growing list of attractions includes the Bloom, a botanical garden that doubles as a music venue and resort. Owned by magazine tycoon TV Pool, the park claims to be the largest in Thailand, and features a conference room, spa, cafe, restaurant and a handful of curiously European zones such as Victorian Park, Mega Veggie Site and Starry Fountain, where you're welcome to toss a coin and make a wish. As for accommodation, a promo rate for a "boutique tent" starts from 1,200 baht (inclusive of American breakfast for two) from the regular rate of 3,800 baht.
Travelling to Khao Yai from Bangkok is a breeze. The fastest and most convenient way is by taking a minivan from Victory Plaza (BTS Victory Monument station). Leaving every hour, the minivan goes directly to Pak Chong, and costs around 180 baht per person. Call 08-0981-9603 or 08-1999-3707 for more information.
If you prefer more leg room, buses may be a more comfortable option. Services depart every half hour or so from the Northern Bus Terminal at Mor Chit, and cost around 190-200 baht.
Alternatively, a minivan (with a driver) is available for hire from 1,800-2,500 baht per day (petrol not included). This is ideal especially when travelling with a family or in a group. Try Bangkok Van Centre (08-1483-0805 or www.bangkokvancenter.com).
Palio Khao Yai
Thanarat Road, Moo Sri, Nakhon Ratchasima. 04-436-5888. Opening hours: Mon-Thu 10am-8pm, Fri-Sun 10am-10pm.
Provence Khao Yai
8/6 Moo 5, Kudkla-pansuk Road, Moo Sri, Pak Chong, Nakhon Ratchasima. 08-9223-7878. Visit www.provencekhaoyai.com.
357 Payayen, Pak Chong, Nakhon Ratchasima. 04-475-6336. Opening hours: Mon-Fri and Sun 8am-8pm, Sat 8am-10pm.
Entrance fee: 100 baht or 200 baht at weekends and on public holidays. Visit www.thebloom.co.th.
About the author
Writer: Chanun Poomsawai