Khao Yai, Part 2: Of sprawling vineyards, an English-style tearoom and flying nymphs
At Khao Yai, we joined a guided tour at PB Valley Estate, the largest vineyard in the province. The guide explained that different grapes – Shiraz, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc and Colombard – are grown at the estate for their wine production.
Established in 1989 by Dr Piya Bhirombhakdi, the estate celebrated its first milestone with the harvest of 1998 and since then, it has never looked back. Its 1999 vintage proved that quality wine can be successfully produced in Thailand and at large, throughout the Southeast Asian region as well.
After the tour of the vineyards, we were introduced to the winery and its wine-making processes, followed by a wine tasting session.
From PB Valley Estate, we headed over to the Castle Restaurant & Tearoom at Thames Valley Khao Yai for some good coffee and delicious cakes. The interior is imbued with a unique and quintessentially English setting. This hotel has been inspired by the beautiful Thames Valley in England that has long served as a country getaway for the English elite, including royalty.
After coffee and cakes, we explored its beautifully landscaped gardens and castle-like surroundings set amid rolling countryside. There are many idyllic spots at Thames Valley to capture charming photographs for keepsake.
The Birder's Lodge Cafe, contrary to its name, is actually a large barn, housing vendors selling locally-brewed fruit wines, vegetables and organic products as well as garments and accessories. Here we sampled homemade salad creams, blended fruit juices, ice cream and even a bottle of artisan fruit wine.
Next on our itinerary was Primo Piazza. The intrinsic nature of a township is somehow quite impossible to simulate and copy, although "classic" buildings, cobbled streets and landscape features can be built. That was my first impression when strolling along the streets of Primo Piazza. It was like walking through a Hollywood film stage of a quaint Italian square, picturesque and beautiful nevertheless.
The key ingredients to the unique identity and charm of a Tuscany village are absent – mainly the people, the food and their daily way of life. What we have instead at Primo Piazza are charming Thai hospitality, authentic Thai food and pasta dishes prepared by Thai chefs as well as local handicrafts and wares. Visitors would definitely enjoy the warm and relaxing atmosphere and the quirky shops that have plenty to offer.
The rams here even know how to smile for the camera (although I feel that all they are really interested in are the blades of grass tantalising them).
In the square of Primo Piazza stands a poor copy of The Kiss in bronze. The original white marble masterpiece of the sensual couple was sculptured by French artist, Auguste Rodin. He originally named the sculpture Paolo and Francesca, after the story in Dante's Divine Comedy about a young noblewoman who falls in love with her husband's brother. In the story, the couple is killed by the jealous husband. Rodin however focuses on their loving embrace instead of their tragic demise. Rodin's lover and muse, Camille Claudel, is said to have inspired many of the artist's overtly amorous pieces, including The Kiss.
When I was in Paris, I visited the Musée Rodin, primarily dedicated to his work. I immediately fell in love with his brilliant masterpieces, especially the embracing nude couple locked in a passionate kiss.
The epic Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003) by Peter Jackson, based on a novel by JRR Tolkien, was a brilliant fantasy adventure that took the world by storm. All three movies were incredibly successful at the box office and collectively won 17 Academy Awards.
Today, if you would like to step into the realm of Middle-earth, Hobbiton, a movie set depicting this fantasy world is at hand. It is located on a working sheep farm near the North Island’s town of Matamata in New Zealand. A close friend of mine who visited the Hobbiton was very impressed with the tour and the entire experience he shared with his family there.
In Khao Yai, a big part of the Baan Suan Noi Resort is dedicated to the "hobbit" theme, complete with Hobbit-inspired homes, although furnished with modern amenities. Santorini-themed rooms and a block of European fairytale-style rooms (where we stayed) are available as well. With three diverse themes in one resort, there definitely exist many locations for photo opportunities.
Santorini in Greece is on my checklist of places to visit. The precious gem of the Aegean is dotted with whitewashed, cubiform houses clinging to cliffs overlooking crystal clear azure waters below. Being a true culinary paradise, Santorini holds great potential for being a promising Mediterranean escapade. Staying in a Santorini-themed room is insufficient to offer a true Argean encounter. Likewise, if you are looking for a more intense experience of the Shire and Middle-earth, visit Hobbiton in New Zealand. Or just as my friends and I did, explore Baan Suan Noi Resort with a camera and have fun.
Let us flashback to the beginning of our holiday, right before we embarked on our Khao Yai adventure. From Penang, we boarded a plane for Bangkok where we stayed a night at the Boutique Poo-Yai Ma. The rooms were comfortable and the walls of the boutique hotel were decorated with simple yet interesting life-size line drawing illustrations. Airbrushed shadows added depth to the murals bringing them to life.
We checked into our rooms that afternoon, freshened up and before long, we were making plans for the evening. We decided to enjoy a buffet dinner at Siam Niramit, serving the best of Thai cuisine. The dining hall was huge catering for a large crowd with rows and rows of authentic Thai dishes that were satisfying.
We had about an hour to indulge and savour our favourites before making our way to the courtyard for some entertainment and dancing. We were only too happy to join in the merry-making and learnt some new dance steps as well.
After that, we ushered into the 2,000-seater theatre for an enchanting performance. This has to be one of the world's largest stage productions armed with a legion of 150 performers, including real elephants and goats! The elaborate backdrops set the scenes to a spectacular tale of Siam and its vibrant heritage. I marvelled at the mystical netherworlds of Himpaan (a magical forest between heaven and earth) with riveting flying nymphs that soared through the skies. It was a wildly entertaining show!
We concluded that evening with a few bottles of Chang Beer back in our rooms. The brew was light, crisp and refreshing on the tongue. The natural easy-to-drink brew apparently uses water extracted from deep-water wells in Thailand, some over 200 metres below the ground. The taste of Chang Beer’s unique bright golden brew had a pleasant full flavour with a subtle hop aroma.
The next day, we boarded a comfortable van and headed for Khao Yai where we had a blast. We had an icebox filled with cool drinks, an entertainment system at hand and Phuddit, our friendly driver, was brilliant at capturing photos. He took us to the best places in Khao Yai. After spending a few unforgettable days in Khao Yai, we headed back to Bangkok. On our road trip back, we made a pit stop at a cornfield.
We spent a night in the vibrant city of Bangkok which has so much to offer – retail therapy, exotic food and exciting destinations. We had breakfast at the 5-star Pullman Bangkok, enjoyed a lip-smacking lunch at Siam Paragon and sampled light and fluffy soufflé pancakes at LeTAO.
Thailand has come a long way to strengthen its tourism industry, offering charming destinations like Khao Yai. It is not surprising that Thailand is one of the world’s leading travel destinations. All of us arrived home safely with fond memories of a fabulous holiday, celebrating the positive and powerful emotion of laughter among friends.
Written and photographed by Adrian Cheah © All rights reserved
5 December 2019