How does an expat family who thrives on hiking and outdoor adventure survive urban life in Bangkok?
They hit the road as often as possible! Even during the HOT season!
The problem that kept us homebound during the cool season was that a fractured foot in a cast kept us from going anywhere. Imagine trekking through the jungle with crutches…not feasible. We basically didn’t get to escape Bangkok during the short cool season, and now it’s summer here. After being stuck at home for over 6 weeks, we were itching to get out of the city for some fresh air and green space.
When given a 4 day weekend a few days after getting the cast off, we took advantage of the relatively short drive (3 hours) to Khao Yai National Park, Thailand’s first national park, established back in 1961.
Only having been out of my cast for a few days, I discovered my foot, ankle, and calf were too weak to walk much. I couldn’t put weight on my foot without an athletic shoe or Birkenstock on my foot, and had quite a limp, so hiking was really out of the question. But that didn’t stop us from totally enjoying our trip.
Here are 5 ways to enjoy Khao Yai when the heat is on (and when you can’t trek far).
1. Take it slowly
Inside Khao Yai National Park
The summer heat is nothing to mess around with in Thailand. Stay hydrated, and stop for fresh fruit at the stands along the way to and also inside the park. We were coming from Pak Chang, the northern entrance, and there are strawberry fields along the way at which to stop and buy fresh, juicy strawberries. You can even pick your own, if you’re up for that in the heat.
There are a ton of things to see and do in the park, and it’s a big park. Do not try to see it all. We went there with the goal to scope it out, get the lay of the land, to really be better prepared for our NEXT trip, when I will be injury-free and we can get more off the beaten path. We took time to stop whenever we wanted to take pictures of things we liked.
West of the park
Definitely take time to leave the highway and see the farms and vineyards that thrive at the base of Khao Yai’s western entrance. Find good directions at Travelfish. You can even stop at Chok Chai Farms or Dairy Home, the two dairies which are actually right on the highway, and get some delicious Um ice cream, and feed cows and sheep. These are nice stops especially with kids – yes, even the almost-14 year old liked feeding the calf a bottle of milk!
2. Go for the view
Inside Khao Yai National Park
Driving around Bangkok, we always have windows up and air con on, but in the park it was nice to roll them down for some fresh air; we could feel it getting cooler as we headed 30 minutes UP to Pha Diao Dai (Solitude Point). At about 4,200 feet elevation, the vista point was pleasantly cool. The coffee shack there made a surprisingly good iced latte. There was a trail that we didn’t take because of my injury, but some friends took it and said it was worth the 10 minute walk.
From Outside the Park
A stop at Granmonte Vineyard provides an opportunity to look out over acres of vineyards and up to Khao Yai’s western peaks. There are clean restrooms here (and the toilets are not squatties), and a restaurant, as well as wine tasting. This area is such a contrast to what you see along the highway from Bangkok – the houses are more traditional style, and set on acreage. Definitely a change from the daily view of concrete we have in Bangkok.
3. Celebrate low-season lodging prices
We found looking for lodging this time of year to be easy – there was lots of availability at many places. Many places have lower prices right now since high season for Thais will be July and August when it’s wet and rainy and super green (we plan to return then as well). We picked a place recommended by other staff at my school, Watermill Resort, and it did not disappoint (except maybe for the noisy geese that woke us up!)
I was interested to find out why some of the cottages were named after some towns near where I grew up (Fresno, Clovis, Monterey) and it turns out that the owners spent 22 years living in California. They have a fantastic piece of riverside property about 20 minutes from the north entrance to Khao Yai, and they’ve turned it into a wonderful getaway for those of us wanting to escape Bangkok’s busyness and noise.
Breakfast was delicious and set open air in a gorgeous covered area with a view of the working watermill. The kids were happy to swim in the pool, row the boats, swing on the tire swing over the river, play fusball, and ride bikes. We adults were happy to relax on the balcony overlooking the river!
4. Arrive at a would-be dry waterfall when they are filming a movie
We wanted to go see some water, maybe swim, and decided to meet some friends at Haew Narok Waterfall knowing it was a short walk and my recovering foot could probably handle it. When we got there, we saw trucks, equipment, and crews filming a Thai tv show. For the scene, a dry waterfall would not do, and in hot season the waterfalls are dry (rainy season ends by November), so the movie crew was pumping water (just a little!) over the falls. What luck for us! We were able to get those picturesque photos of an iconic rainforest waterfall after all. Because of the fact that this waterfall is right next to the road, it has a constant flow of people, so next time we go to the park and I can walk farther, we will hit the ones off the beaten path.
5. Focus on Food
Food is often the most memorable part of traveling. We loved our dinner with friends at Midwinter Green. It was set in a castle, with a huge outdoor seating area and live music. The breeze felt nice as the sun went down. The food and drinks were wonderful. We loved the farm to table aspect, and enjoyed a delicious cheese tray, tasty salmon, lamburgers, and pesto pasta that did not disappoint!
We stopped a couple of times for fresh fruit. One of the many great things about Thailand is that fresh fruit is never very far away!
Also, there was an open air restaurant at Haew Narok Falls which offered typical Thai plates such as khao pad gai (chicken fried rice), pad thai, cashew chicken, and som sum (spicy green papaya salad)
One evening We happened upon another great place not too far from our resort that had the most delicious fresh seafood and veggies. Keep your eyes open for the hidden gems, good food is all around Khao Yai.
That’s how we enjoy a national park trip when weather is sizzling and steamy. Now, as for how to enjoy Thailand’s beaches during the hot season, that’s a post for another time!