If you are visiting Thailand and are looking to break free from the big city, take a trip to nearby Nakhon Nayok province. It is a popular weekend destination for Thais, but it sees relatively few foreign visitors. This escape to nature is an eye-opener that lets overseas visitors see why local Thais love it so much.
Nakhon Nayok’s main beauty is found outside of the town and in the countryside. It is especially renowned for waterfalls and soft adventure activities, and there are many working farms that provide an authentic homestay opportunity. The province is within an hours’ drive from Bangkok, but it straddles the Isan region and neighbouring provinces of Prachin Buri and Nakhon Ratchasima as well as Khao Yai National Park, giving it a real mixed flavour when it comes to culture, traditions, and cuisine.
*’Bamboo Tunnel’ at Wat Chulabhorn Wanaram
First stop heading out of Bangkok was for a quick caffeine fix at Coffee and Tree with a Thai-style iced cappuccino. This got everyone moving and ready for the first stop, a visit to Wat Chulabhorn Wanaram and Nakhon Nayok’s up-and-coming attraction, the ‘Bamboo Tunnel’.
Walking through the bamboo arch is the main highlight of any visit. Those who come early in the morning are rewarded with fewer visitors, making it easier to have hipster-style Instagram moments by yourself or with friends and family. Anyway, the ambiance was chilled like you were in a Japanese garden, which always has bamboo as a symbol of peace.
*Coffee and Tree
Next came a surprising highlight based on the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s ‘sufficiency economy’ concept. Phu Karen, a 60-rai (23.7 acres), mixed-use farm-to-table agricultural learning centre. Its long wooden bridge in the middle of a working rice field makes visitors fall in love with Nakhon Nayok. Here they can discover the quaint Ratanchan Folk Museum in the original family house providing a snapshot of the Thai lifestyle from days gone by. There is also 100-year-old rice barn and free-range poultry farm.
Nearby Nang Rong Waterfall captures the natural beauty Nakhon Nayok is famous for, including its abundant flora and fauna, where it cascades over three levels with multiple drop pools below.
*Nang Rong Waterfall
Driving an ATV around Nakhon Nayok was up next, showcasing the first of several soft adventure activities the area is renowned. The ATV adventure wound through the mountains on a dirt track of more than 505 rai (200 acres). It took guests through the forest, wading through the mud, passed deer, and more on more than 20 kilometres of offroad track.
*Khun Dan Prakan Chon Dam
The next day, the first stop was at the large Khun Dan Prakan Chon Dam, one of Nakhon Nayok’s main tourist attractions and another of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s many rural projects. It is Thailand’s largest dam and is also one of the biggest concrete dams in the world. Visitors can walk across the dam to admire the picture-perfect views. The water offers a range of exciting ecotourism activities, including kayaking, rafting, and windsurfing.
*Chaophraya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital
Later a visit to the Chaophraya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital proved just what the doctor ordered. This is one of the oldest medical facilities in the country and a leader in promoting traditional Thai healing arts. Thai massage is practiced here by experienced, highly trained masseuses. It is both healing and customised to treat any ailment.
*Kaeng Hung Phoeng (the photos were taken in late July 2019)
It was good to limber up for what came next. After a 2.5-km walk into the jungle, the river rafting started a short distance above the Kaeng Hin Phoeng rapids (ranges from Class 3 to 5) and continued with a 100-metre ride through swirling eddies that forged their way through rocky crevices. This is the most popular white-water rafting in Thailand due to the proximity of Bangkok.
A quick stop at the Khao Yai Art Museum – one of Thailand’s finest independent galleries – was up next.
It is a private museum owned by Mr. Pongchai Chindasuk who opened it up to the public free of charge. His museum is filled with hundreds of paintings from various Thai artists that make the work in the gallery versatile and different. Not just only the artwork, the museum is surrounded by beautiful sculptures.
*Khao Yai Art Museum
The nearby Birder’s Lodge Farmer’s Market proved to be a treat full of fresh farm-to-table organic produce, fruit, handicrafts and homemade Thai food. This flea market is located in an old barn covered with green ivy beside a hip coffee shop of The Birder’s Lodge.
*Birder’s Lodge Farmer’s Market
After that, it was time to head back into Khao Yai National Park to the Haeo Suwat Waterfall, made famous by Leonardo Di Caprio, who leapt from the top during filming of ‘The Beach’.
*Haeo Suwat Waterfall
One of the most popular things to do in the Khao Yai National Park is to go on the Khao Yai Night Safari. Best to bring a warm jacket or sweater, it becomes surprisingly cold very quickly. During the hour and a half up in the hills, it was easy to spot at least 50 deer, a couple of porcupines and sloths, but wild elephants are very fickle and most often heard but not seen.
*Khao Yai Night Safari
Still it was great fun and a wonderful way to finish up a great excursion to Nakhon Nayok, Prachin Buri and Khao Yai National Park.