-Our Correspondent back from Bangkok
Bangkok : Established in 1962, Khao Yai was Thailand's first national park in Isaan, Thailand. It is now the second largest national park in Thailand and, in 2005, the area along with the surrounding Dong Phaya Yen mountains was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The 2,168 square kilometer forest, teeming with wildlife and birds, is only a few hours' drive from Bangkok and is popular with nature lovers as well as weekend visitors. The IUCN category II National Park comprises of mixed forests and rainforests with wide plants and grasslands and mountains with peaks from 800 to 3,000 meters above sea level.
Bird, butterfly watching, animal watching and trekking at Pha Kluy Mai Waterfall (Orchid's Cliff Waterfall) are the popular activities. The waterfall, which can be reached by walking, is a medium-size one and Wai Dang (Red Orchid) grow on its cliffs. The orchid is the symbol of the area.
Early morning is the best time to view the Great Hornbills, gaur, and sometimes elephants. Gibbons are most active in the early morning. You can also head out on the Night Safari "spotlight drive" for nocturnal wildlife in the grasslands. Possible wildlife sightings include civets, elephants, deer, porcupines, wild dogs, sambar.
Bicycles are available for hire from the park. Kayaking and rafting services are also available.
There are over 50 km of hiking trails - from easy to hard, one hour to three days. A guide is recommended for most trails if the tourist has no experience.
The nearby Italian-themed Palio shopping mall is a popular destination for the shopaholics. Palio Khao Yai was designed to resemble Italian-style architectural settings, using yellow and orange as its main thematic colours. It offers a wider range of goods and services including coffee shop, restaurant and garden, art gallery, bakery, a beauty and nail salon, souvenir shops.
Places worth visiting in the area include Farm Chokchai and PB Valley Khao Yai Winery. One of the oldest cattle ranches, Farm Chockchai was developed over forty years ago by Chokchai Ranch Group of Companies. Farm Chokchai now has over 5000 heads of cattle and 8,000 acre of land and is widely acknowledged as the biggest and most advanced dairy cattle operation in Asia.
Besides visiting the dairy farm which produces "Umm Milk," one can take part in milking of the cows and making ice creams. Nearby Thai cowboys demonstrate their skills at different times of the day in US Wild West style. Its Petting Zoo is popular with children.
The Chockchai Museum houses different agricultural equipment used at the farm about half a century ago. Knowledge Tour of Farm Chockchai has won Tourism Authority of Thailand's Award for Excellence in 2002, 2006 and 2009.
Visitors can also enjoy a night stay in 100 luxury tents in peaceful and natural surroundings at the boutique camp. After morning trek-king and a picnic style breakfast in the pasture, they can hold conferences at the fully equipped auditorium away from the din and bustle of the Thai capital. They can keep themselves updated as WiFi can be accessed here.
The Life Park near the Greenery Resort is a world class adventure park - the ultimate in fun and thrills in the heart of nature. Its rides are classified as Child/Family Ride, Mild Thrill Ride, Moderate Thrill Ride and High Thrill Ride. You can try the Thunder Hawk. There are also all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to drive over all terrains, as are LaZer Combat and X-Max. X-Max takes you up in seconds and hovering there, also for seconds, you can see the magnificent scenery of Khao Yai in 360 degrees.
PB Valley Khao Yai Winery is on 400 hectares of land. The largest winery in South East Asia, the winery with total operational area of 3,000 square meters. The Great Hornbill Grill restaurant located amidst the vineyards, which can accommodate up to 150 persons, offers Western and Thai specialties. There is a souvenir shop for shopping.
So what are you waiting for? Visit Khao Yai the next time you are in Thailand.