Travelling the beautiful back roads

Natural wonders await those who take a road trip from Nakhon Ratchasima to Ayutthaya

Using catapults to shoot seeds into the forest at Pha Kep Tawan. (Photos by Punsita Ritthikarn and Phattharakorn Samanen)

Tucked away at home during the Covid-19 pandemic, I inevitably found it hard to fight against depression and loneliness. After my utopia island in Nintendo's Animal Crossing had lost an air of excitement, I needed a new start to reconnect with the beauty of nature and warm sunshine in the real world again. Eventually, I discovered the splendour and tranquillity of Thailand's northeastern countryside.

Starting with the D-Hope village in Nakhon Ratchasima, I spent the day riding an old bicycle around the lagoon and then cycled a few miles to collect fresh vegetables from an organic garden with villagers. When lunchtime came, they taught me how to make fresh spring rolls from red and green cabbages from the organic garden.

Meanwhile, one of the D-Hope villagers shared with me a proud story about her organic mushroom farm. This project offered her a new sustainable lifestyle with a rich opportunity to generate long-term income and develop our nation's local economy, including tourist attractions. This village is called D-Hope because people turn their local vegetables and fruits into One Tambon One Product value offerings, like crispy fried mushrooms in sweet sauce.

In the late afternoon, I paid a visit to another community, Ban Suk Somboon, where locals welcomed me with a set of lunchboxes wrapped in a Thai loincloth. In each box, there was spicy Isan food featuring mixed mushroom and vegetable salad, chilli paste, and sticky rice with lotus stem in kaeng som.

This community is famous for its Arabica coffee called Café Tunten. Generally, the term tunten means feeling excited. However, villagers use this word to describe how they feel when collecting fresh coffee beans in their garden, filled with deadly snakes like the king cobra. Still, they are thrilled after drinking the coffee. Fortunately, I didn't have to collect those Arabica beans myself since Café Tunten's owner let me enjoy making freshly brewed coffee instead.

D-Hope, Nakhon Ratchasima. 

Located near Ban Suk Somboon, Thap Lan National Park is where many tourists go hiking to put up their tents on top of a natural grassy mound and wait to see starlight after the sunset. During the day, I indulged myself in this national park's spectacular mountain scenery. While wandering through the woods, I reached the the Pha Keb Tawan viewpoint where locals and travellers shoot wild tree seeds with their wooden catapult to plant a new forest. Although this reforestation was such an interesting activity, I couldn't figure out how to pull my catapult and shoot tree seeds far away from where I stood. Sadly, I gave up and went back to the hotel.

A 100km drive from Thap Lan National Park brought me to the Le Monte hotel at Khao Yai. This hotel is reminiscent of Spanish-style architecture. Before reaching the residence, my van passed a floral garden full of colourful cosmos and sunflowers with windmills. This garden is a perfect spot where visitors can rest and take photos. Later, I had my first outdoor movie night at the Recall Isaan Isan Concept. This natural, relaxed place is 4.7km from the hotel. Although I didn't entirely understand the movie's Isan language, I was satiated with the sound of Thai traditional music and delicate flavours of local cuisine such as spicy soup with pork ribs and grilled chicken with green papaya salad.

Cosmos garden in Nakhon Ratchasima. 

On my second day in Nakhon Ratchasima, I visited Research Lamtakong, a botanic garden dedicated to the collection and preservation of beautiful wild plants and insects. This research centre astonished me as it displayed every rare bugs I caught playing Animal Crossing such as emperor butterflies, Queen Alexandra's birdwings, Madagascan sunset moths, orchid mantis and walking leaves. Apart from the insect collection, Research Lamtakong instils in children the love of small creatures. Families can join a wide range of recreational activities, including planting a small forest in a bottle, collecting grasshoppers' eggs from soil and finding cryptic mantis hidden inside trees.

At the end of this Nakhon Ratchasima trip, I went for a healthy lunch at the Western-style cafe Greenme Organic Farm. This fancy cafe uses fresh ingredients from its backyard garden to beautifully composed dishes such as Garden of Eden spring roll and pan-seared salmon steak with butter sauce. Greenme Organic farm also has an educational tour for children, who gain hands-on experience in organic agriculture and animal farming.

Afterwards, I embarked on my final journey to Ayutthaya. Before letting myself immerse in this ancient city's local culture, I receive a positive perspective on life from Thann Wellness Destination.

Thitipat Supapattranon, Thann's founder, redefined the meaning of wellness as "the absence of illness and distress" and "a lifelong process of making decisions to live a more balanced and meaningful life".

Following this new definition, Thitipat expanded his natural aromatherapy and skin brand into this outrageously luxurious resort and spa, which later restored my energy and fostered better relations with nature through both outdoor and indoor activities. For example, water bikes, paddleboards, hot yoga and facial workshops.

Recall Isaan Isan Concept at Khao Yai. 

Also, Thann's owner believes that kindness "makes our life happier and meaningful", adding another monkey that gives a banana to show mercy. Accordingly, there are four wise monkeys at his resort to educate his clients' hearts.

After the sheer relaxation at Thann, I started to explore the history of Ayutthaya's glorious past at Chao Sam Phraya National Museum. This museum has three buildings displaying a superb collection of historical artefacts.

On the ground floor, there are wood carvings and white stone Buddha sculptures in Dvaravati, Lopburi and Ayutthaya styles. Going upstairs, visitors encounter two secret rooms where photography is not allowed to protect many of the gold artefacts and small pieces of silver jewellery found in the crypts of the prang tower after being stolen by police officers and authorities with a gang of thieves.

This classic tale of stolen golden treasure from the prang tower aroused my curiosity to revisit Ayutthaya Historical Park, where a group of robbers secretly excavated and opened the crypts of Wat Ratchaburana and Wat Maha That. I felt increasingly sad when seeing how the greed for gold ruined parts of these two splendid temples.

However, the Old Town's new dessert bar, Bussaba, took away my sorrow with its signature tasting menu, featuring five tiny pieces of Thai traditional desserts that blended Thai and Western styles into one bite, representing Ayutthaya's cultural diversity.

Using catapults to shoot seeds into the forest at Pha Kep Tawan.

Similarly, Prasert Chanyachat, the founder of Kanom Thai Kai Whan shop in Phak Hai, doesn't follow his mother's original recipe for sanejan. He changes the main ingredient from the herb to chocolate so a new generation would fall in love with this Thai dessert. At the same time, the chef at the restaurant Baan Thai Khlong Sra Bua works her culinary magic for customers as she wants her guests to "eat what we cook for ourselves". Apparently, a few shops, restaurants and cafes in Ayutthaya aim to build brand identity with their adaptation of Thai traditional cuisine.

Ban Kong Por, the sufficiency economy learning centre was, my final destination for this Ayutthaya trip. Following King Bhumibol Adulyadej's sufficiency economy philosophy, this small community fosters a positive learning environment where local people together with the young generation harvest crops and raise ducks, make salted eggs and craft palm leaf fish mobiles.

This road trip from Nakhon Ratchasima to Ayutthaya is part of the project "MICE 7 THEME" organised by the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau. Visit the Facebook pages of Isan MICE and Brand New MICE Experience for more information.

Thann wellness resort in Ayutthaya

Four wise monkeys at Thann Wellness Destination in Ayutthaya 

Aromatherapy Bath at Thann Wellness Destination in Ayutthaya

Spa room at Thann Wellness Destination. 

Wat Mahathat, a Buddhist temple in Ayutthaya. 

Chao Sam Phraya National Museum. 

Wat Ratchaburana was built in the reign of King Borom Rajathiraj II in 1424. 

A Buddha head embedded in a Banyan tree at Wat Maha That.

SuriyanChandra Restaurant. 

Chao Sam Phraya National Museum 

Wat Ratchaburanna was built in the reign of King Borom Rajathiraj II in 1424. 

Baan Thai Khlong Sra Bua. 

Chao Sam Phraya National Museum

Thai dessert at Baan Thai Khlong Sra Bua. 

Kanom Thai Kai Whan shop in Phak Hai 

Thai traditional desserts at Kanom Thai Kai Whan shop in Phak Hai. 

Bann Kon Por Sufficiency economy Learning Center 

Collect duck eggs at Bann Kon Por Sufficiency economy Learning Center 

Prepare to make salted duck eggs at Bann Kon Por Sufficiency economy Learning Center 

Busaba cafe 

Tasting Menu at Dessert Bar By Busaba

Making palm leaf fish mobiles at Ban Kong Por learning centre in Ayutthaya. 

Thann Wellness Destination in Ayutthaya. 

Thann Wellness Destination in Ayutthaya. 

OTOP products from D-Hope, Nakhon Ratchasima Community 

Botanical garden in Nakhon Ratchasima 

Le Monte Hotel Khao Yai 

Graffiti Wall, Le Monte Hotel Khao Yai 

Green Me organic Farm, Khao Yai. 

An organic farm at D-Hope village in Nakhon Ratchasima. 

D-Hope, Nakorn Ratchasima Community 

"Cafe Tunten", Mu Ban Suk Sombun, Nakhon Ratchasima. 

Recall Isaan Isan Concept at Khaoyai 

Outdoor movie night at Recall Isaan Isan Concept 

Graffiti wall at Recall Isaan Isan Concept 

Shooting a slingshot to shoot seeds into the forest at Pha Kep Ta Wan 

"Cafe Tunten", Mu Ban Suk Sombun, Nakhon Ratchasima

Mu Ban Suk Sombun 

Amazing Bug Encounter at Research Lamtakong in Nakhon Ratchasima 

Research Lamtakong in Nakhon Ratchasima 

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