Weekend fix

Two districts not far from the capital are full of fun, nature and culture attractions

Some 38km from Muak Lek and 75km from Muang Saraburi, Tham Dao Khao Kaeo is a natural cave and serves as a prayer hall and meditation centre for Wat Tham Khao Kaeo. The cave has several large chambers with beautiful stalagmites and stalactites. Red, black and brown spots, which are minerals inside the rocks, are visible on the ceiling of the cave, also home to many bats. To get to the cave, visitors must climb stairs, 100m from the foothill. Call the temple on 086-134-5452 or 087-929-5846. photo: photographer

Muak Lek district in Saraburi province and the adjacent Pak Chong in Nakhon Ratchasima, well-known for their lush scenery, many attractions and proximity to the capital, make good weekend getaways. Waterfalls, farms, vineyards, dairy products, steakhouses and curry puffs add to the fun and frolics.

Covering 681km², Muak Lek, 139km from Bangkok, is the largest district in Saraburi. It is surrounded by the hills of Phetchabun, which separate the Central Region from the Northeast. To the south of Muak Lek is Khao Yai National Park, Thailand's first national park. Muak Lek is crossed by Mittraphap Road and the Northeastern Railway.

Saraburi is in the Central Region and is 108km from Bangkok. Prince Damrong Rajanuphap, or "The Father of Thai history", believed Saraburi was established in 1549 during the reign of King Phra Maha Chakkraphat of the Ayutthaya kingdom and was originally located near a swamp in Sao Hai district.

Saraburi is rich in natural and historical attractions, festivals and temples. Its most important temple, Wat Phra Phutthabat, enshrining the Lord Buddha's footprint, was built in the 17th century and is one of the Kingdom's most popular pilgrimage sites. For nature lovers, Saraburi boasts two national parks, Chet Sao Noi and Khao Sam Lan, as well as several beautiful streams and waterfalls such as Muak Lek.

The 1,825km² Pak Chong is the biggest district in Nakhon Ratchasima by area and the gateway to the Northeast from the Central Region. Pak Chong or "mouth of the channel" was named during the reign of King Rama V when the northeastern railway was being constructed. The Nok Yung and Noi mountains were blasted through to make a hole (chong in Thai) for the railway.

In Muak Lek, along Highway 2224 is the Chet Sao Noi Waterfall and Thai-Danish Dairy Farm, the country's first dairy farm where visitors can enjoy farm tours and milk cows or feed calves.

About 9km further on the same route is Muak Lek Arboretum, 37km from Saraburi town along Mittraphap Road. Covering an area of 300 rai in what was once part of Dong Phaya Yen Forest, the arboretum serves as one of the country's key centres for the cultivation and study of rare perennial plants. Visitors can cross Muak Lek stream via two small suspension bridges and see various kinds of plants and flowers.

Adventure seekers may want to test their physical strength and courage at the zip line at Rai Kusuma Resort amid the lush scenery and over a natural stream. If you want to trek and pray, Wat Tham Dao Khao Kaeo in Lam Phaya Klang, about 30km from Muak Lek, is the best place. Walking up 100 stairs, leads to a very large cave where one can explore the mysterious beauty of nature or pray before numerous Buddha statues. Witness the astonishing sight of hundreds of bats flying out of the cave at sundown.

Those wanting to further their trip to Pak Chong and Khao Yai National Park can travel another 30km and stay overnight, as accommodation ranging from 5-star resorts to homestays are abundant.

One can spend the entire day trekking or visiting beautiful waterfalls in Khao Yai National Park, or the more easily accessible natural and cultural attractions. Culture lovers can explore a living museum called Villa Musée, which portrays the Siamese way of life about a century ago in a colonial-style house, antiques and old photographs.

Those wanting excitement can choose from a wide range of outdoor activities -- horse-riding to egg-collecting at Farm Mor Por, about 6km from Villa Musée. Soak in fresh spring water and enjoy swimming at Ban Tha Chang Spring, about 4km from the farm. The fun continues at various farms and local shops along Thanarat and Mitraphap roads filled with delicious curry puffs, fresh farm fruit and ice cream.

Pak Chong Spring, or Ban Tha Chang Spring, in Moo Si is filled with fresh spring water all year round. Filtered by several layers of rocks high in calcium carbonate, the water is crystal clear and turquoise-coloured. Swimming is allowed in the four connected ponds except the watershed. The area is suitable for picnicking. Admission is free. Drinking alcoholic beverages is forbidden.

Located in Moo Si, Pak Chong, Villa Musée compiles colonial and traditional Thai houses, which have been brought from all across Thailand. It was established as a living museum by businessman Athada Khoman, who has a keen interest in traditional houses, furniture, antiques, books and photographs of Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Burmese and European history. A highlight is Prasenchit Mansion, a colonial house relocated from Bang Rak in Bangkok in 2013, which has been restored to its past glory. It was awarded the 'Outstanding Conservative Architecture Building' award from the Association of Siamese Architects under Royal Patronage in 2015. Admission fee is 400 baht. Visit www.villamusee.com.

Chet Sao Noi waterfall is in Muak Lek and offers a spacious shady swimming area and has seven levels. The height of each level is between 2-5m. The most beautiful spot is Level 4. The best time to visit is between November and April, since the water is crystal clear and the current is not as strong as in the rainy season, between May and October. The source of water is the 15km-long Muak Lek stream. The falls are open daily from 7am-5pm. Admission is free. Visit facebook.com/chetsaonoi.np or call the Chet Sao Noi National Park Office on 036-226-431. Pichaya Svasti

Farm Mor Por in Pak Chong is owned by physician Nopadol Saropala. It is a working farm with 10 breeds of horse. It has more than 70 horses, all from the UK, US, Spain and the Netherlands. Of the 10 breeds, five are ranked among the 10 most beautiful in the world — Arabian, Andalusian, Friesian, Gypsy Vanner and Rocky Mountain. The farm also has the three largest horse breeds — Shire, Budweiser Clydesdale and Belgian draft horse. Meanwhile, its American miniature horse, the world's smallest breed, stand at only 80cm. The farm is also home to many other animals, including 400 chickens, teacup pigs, goats, ducks and geese. The farm offers horse-riding classes and lessons are an hour-long. Pony rides into the nearby woods last 30 minutes and each pony is led by well-trained, friendly staff. Visitors can also collect eggs laid by free-range hens. Each day, about 250 eggs are laid. Visitors can also try washing, grooming and feeding some of the horses. The farm also offers hayrides in the surrounding orchards and plantations, as well as horse riding camps for children. Visit www.farmmorpor.com.

Located on 2,700 rai on both sides of Mittraphap Road, the Thai-Danish Dairy Farm and training centre is the brainchild of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and King Frederick IX of Denmark after the late king and queen visited Denmark in 1960. The farm was inaugurated by both kings on January 16, 1962. The farm first imported and raised Red Dane cattle, which are reddish brown. Thais, therefore, started calling them wua daeng, meaning red cows. At present, the more than 400 cows in this farm are mostly Jersey cows, which yield 15kg of milk per day each. Visitors can choose between one-hour farm tours or 2.5-hour ones. Activities range from visiting grass fields and forests to milking cows and feeding calves. Observe the making of fertiliser, enjoy a lasso and cowboy show, visit a small zoo with sheep, goats, camels, ostriches, along with other animals and buy dairy products. At the farm's nature camp zone is a natural fountain that runs into the Muak Lek stream, which originates from Khao Yai National Park and divides Muak Lek and Pak Chong. A one-hour farm tour cost 120 baht for adults, 70 baht for children, 60 baht for senior citizens above the age of 60, 100 baht for students and free for children shorter than 90cm. Visit dpo.go.th or call 036-344-926.

Adventure-lovers can try the Canopy Adventure at Rai Kusuma Resort in Muak Lek. The seven bases are walking on the single-sling Tarzan Bridge over a stream, a triangular bridge, a net, a base called the Flying Squirrel, a wooden staircase, a log bridge and a two-sling bridge. The fee is 250 baht. The resort also offers paintball at 300 baht for a 50-bullet game. Visit www.raikusuma.com/activity or call 036-721-286/7.

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