Even if you’re not into wine and vineyards, the Khao Yai Region beckons as a destination. Besides seeing one of the oldest and best-known nature sanctuaries in Thailand — an Asean and UNESCO World Heritage Site even – there is so much to enjoy: the cool weather, the diverse flora and the fauna, the variety of eco-tourism attractions and activities, and yes, the several vineyards just outside the national park. The vineyards are all set amid beautiful and varied landscapes and especially at this time of year.
The wine harvest season, which runs from November to March every year, enhances the region’s peaceful aura, environmentally friendly atmosphere, not to mention its beautiful scenery and temperate climate. The wineries have their own on-site accommodation (with restaurants and other services and facilities) and offer activities and tours – wine tours are becoming popular – for a different, enjoyable holiday experience.
WHAT TO DO
Until recently, most people did not associate wine tours with the so-called traditional Thai holiday experience and hence, joining one can be very exciting. All the vineyards now offer professionally conducted, tailor-made, wine tours, which can include – depending on the winery organizing them – private wine tasting, wine and fine dining pairing, vineyards and winery visits and strolls, cellar-door shopping, wine classes, and in some, even wine spa and Thai massage. It might also be interesting for visitors to witness first-hand sustainable and experimental viticulture (as in GranMonte), meeting the winemaker and how they support the local community.
Of course, if those are not enough for you, you can book other activities such as visits to waterfalls, enjoying the nearby theme parks, and several world-class golf courses. The nearby Chokchai Farm – producer of meat and dairy products – might also be interesting to some.
WHEN TO GO
November to March are best times to visit
Each vineyard has an interesting story to tell as well as tons of activities on offer but the rest of the Khao Yai National Park also makes for great sightseeing program, if you are interested in nature and have time to spare.
At the Khao Yai Wine Region tours, wine and fine dining is intrinsic part of the experience. PB Valley has two restaurants offering scenic views, and Western and Thai specialties partly matched to the wines grown in the estate. The 200-seater Great Hornbill Grill Restaurant with over 100 menus prepared in their unique style.
GranMonte’s VinCotto Restaurant is located in the most scenic part of the estate. It specializes in home-style cooking served in generous portions at affordable prices. Every dish on the menu is Sakuna Lohitnavy’s culinary creation, and can be enjoyed amid the vineyard surroundings and the park’s mountain range.
Village Farm has two restaurants that epitomize country living at its best: The Old Barn, which serves delightful European cuisine; and The Restaurant.
All the vineyards offer accommodation. The Great Hornbill Nest is located near the Great Hornbill Grill amid gardens and vineyards. All cottages are located on top of the hill above the vineyards. At Village Farm accommodation concept is one of country living with style and comfort. Private and exclusive accommodation is available at The Guest House @ Granmonte. Alternatively, you can elect to book a hotel or resort anywhere in Khao Yai, and many are within minutes reach from the vineyards.
At Escape Khao Yai, a Sansiri property, one can relax and hangout amid the mountains and fresh air, underneath the iridescence of the twinkling fairy lit trees on the hotel’s lawn. Hotel rooms at Escape Khao Yai (Tel: 092 823 2590, email email@example.com) including breakfast for two, start at only THB 3,200 net per night from Sunday to Thursday nights, and THB 3,700 net per night on Friday and Saturday nights, until Feb. 29 only.
Villa Malinee Khao Yai (Tel: 082 563 3444) offers pleasant accommodation with variety of amenities. Situated 7km from the main road among the nice scenery of Khao Yai, it’s an ideal place for those who want tranquility but stay close to all key destinations. The hotel has that special intimate atmosphere which makes you feel like you’re in your own home. Villa Malinee style mixes valuable antiques and original artworks with contemporary twist. Each spacious seven rooms offer contemporary comfort and amenities in the unique European style.
Birder’s Lodge (Tel: 089-077-1159, 086-514-9874; www.birderslodge.com) Perfect for bird-watchers, as the name implies, you’ll be sleeping in an air-con tent equipped with hotel amenities under the trees, plus you have the added bonus of being just next door to Primo Posto at Birder’s Lodge. Of course, there are many other forms of accommodation, to suit your kind of preferences and budget.
Khao Yai National Park — Travelers from Isan (Northeast), Bangkok, and beyond often visit the national park. The fee is THB 400 for foreigners (THB 200 for children), and THB 40 for Thais or Thai residents, plus THB 50. Food is available from private concessions within the park as are bicycles.
Kayaking and rafting services are also available. You can also enjoy “wildlife spotting” – an evening activity — available via pick-up trucks in the early evening. Sightings are usually limited to deer and civet cats, but sometimes elephants too. There are also slideshow presentations at the visitor center on weekends and public holidays (10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m.) and meeting rooms are available for seminars and workshops.
For those who are so-inclined, there are camping zones in the area too. You can bring your own tent or rent one at the camping ground, and lodges and cabins are available for singles and groups. There are over 50km of hiking trails – some take just one-hour to do, others take three days.
For animal watchers, the observation towers at Nong Pak Chee or Mo Sing offer an opportunity to see Great Hornbills, gaur, and sometimes elephants (in the early morning). Gibbons are common too, and at 5:30 p.m. thousands of wrinkled lipped bats emerge from a cave 3km outside the northern gate for their dinner.
Paleontologist “wannabes” might be interested to see dinosaur’s footprints at the Klong Pa Kang-Wang Haew (but you may need a four-day trek to see a dinosaur footprint!). And of course, the waterfalls: Haew Narok, Haew Suwat, Haew Sai and Haew Pratoon – for that something exhilarating in your trip.